While the NHL will hand out its share of awards at the end of the Stanley Cup playoffs, Sportsnet’s NHL web team decided to hand out some awards of our own.
Most Underrated Player of the Year
Winner: Nicklas Backstrom, centre, Washington Capitals
No matter what he seems to do, Nicklas Backstrom doesn’t get the credit he deserves.
Sure, Alex Ovechkin overshadows him in Washington. Heck, Ovi overshadows every player in the NHL save for Sidney Crosby, but this shouldn’t diminish Backstrom’s stock. He doesn’t get the acclaim of a Crosby, Toews, Getzlaf, Malkin, Kopitar or Datsyuk despite the fact he is on the same level as these players. Granted those centres have helped lead their teams to one or multiple Stanley Cups, but it seems Backstrom doesn’t even get the same level of respect as fellow elite No. 1 centre like Tavares, Seguin, Giroux or Stamkos when he absolutely should.
Part of being a great player is having an ability to make those around you better and truth be told the Great 8 wouldn’t be the player he is without Backstrom by his side. Through 81 games this season Backstrom has 77 points, good for seventh-best in the league, and many of those were setting up Ovechkin goals.
“We’ve played together since he got here and of course we have great chemistry,” Ovechkin told NHL.com in February. “Sometimes he just knows where I am, sometimes I know where he is. It’s a situation where you feel each other well. It’s been working all the time, and I hope it’s going to work like this more.”
A perfect symbol of Backstrom being perennially overlooked is the fact he has never been selected to play in an All-Star Game, including this year despite the fact he was leading his team in points at the time.
The fourth-overall pick from the 2006 draft has more points than anyone in his draft class, one that included Jonathan Toews, Phil Kessel and Claude Giroux.
Looking at his skill set, he has some of the softest hands in the league. We’re talking Datsyuk/Kane/Getzlaf/Giroux softness. He possesses savant-level hockey IQ and of all the Swedish centres to break into the league since Mats Sundin and Peter Forsberg in the ’90s, Backstrom is right up there with Henrik Sedin as the very best. In fact, only Joe Thornton and Henrik Sedin have more assists than Backstrom since he made his NHL debut in 2007.
Still, he’s more than merely a set-up man.
The Capitals are a dark horse to come out of the East and Backstrom’s play is a major reason why. In February, Capitals head coach Barry Trotz even said Backstrom should warrant Hart Trophy consideration. The 27-year-old leads his team in takeaways, faceoffs, and is at or near the top in all the advanced-stat categories for the Caps, plus he leads the league in power-play assists.
For these reasons, Nicklas Backstrom is our Most Underrated Player for the 2014-15 NHL season.
Most Underrated Player of the Year Runners-up
Roman Josi, defenceman, Nashville Predators
Clearly he benefits from having an elite partner like Shea Weber, but Josi is a tremendous blueliner in his own right. He’s fourth in the league in ice-time and fourth in points among defencemen. When the Preds signed him to a seven-year, $28-million contract in 2013 it seemed a bit lofty. Now it seems like a bargain.
Jaden Schwartz, left wing, St. Louis Blues
The argument can be made that Schwartz is the best all-around player on the best all-around team in the NHL. He’s often overshadowed by Olympian teammates David Backes, T.J. Oshie, Alex Pietrangelo, Jay Bouwmeester and fellow standout youngster Vladimir Tarasenko, but Schwartz could end up having the best career of all of them.
Jiri Hudler, centre, Calgary Flames
The Flames veteran set career highs in goals and assists and was stellar playing on a line with Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan. Hudler has more points than Stamkos, Malkin, Getzlaf, Giroux, Nash and Toews to name a few.