One under-the-radar player for every NHL team

The NHL is loaded with superstars from legends like Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin, to the next wave of megastars in Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. They should be the foundation of championship-caliber teams, and in most cases, they are. But it is not just about superstars when it comes to winning the Stanley Cup or competing in the NHL. You also need some strong secondary players to win. Here we take a look at one under-the-radar player for every team for the NHL 2021-22 season. 


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Yes, the most recent first-round pick (the No. 3 overall pick!) can be under the radar. Mostly because there was not much expectation for him to make an impact this season. When you look at the Ducks’ young talent Trevor Zegras and Jamie Drysdale get all of the attention and were expected to be the guys to step forward this season. And they still very well might! But McTavish has already made a noticeable impact and gives the Ducks another key building block for the future.  


Arizona Coyotes: Conor Timmins

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Timmins was one of the key pieces the Coyotes acquired from the Colorado Avalanche in the Darcy Kuemper trade and it presents a big opportunity for him to make a name for himself in the NHL. Timmins was lost in a numbers game with the Avalanche where he was buried behind one of the league’s best defensive groups. But he has the talent and ability to be a regular in the NHL. He will get that chance in Arizona. 


Boston Bruins: Jeremy Swayman

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With Tuukka Rask‘s future uncertain the Bruins’ goaltending position is currently in the hands of Linus Ullmark and Swayman. When they gave Ullmark a long-term contract in free agency it was expected that he would be the guy to take over the position. But Swayman is not giving that up without a fight and seems to have the inside track early in the year to be the guy. He had a promising debut a year ago and is definitely the player with the most long-term upside. 


Buffalo Sabres: Tage Thompson

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There is not much about this Sabres team to be excited about, other than maybe Rasmus Dahlin taking a big step forward. Thompson is interesting because, well, they really need him to do something this season. The Ryan O’Reilly trade has been such an enormous bust that Thompson becoming a useful NHLer would at least help salvage some of it. But it probably needs to happen this season if it is ever going to happen.


Calgary Flames: Andrew Mangiapane

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When you think of the Flames you probably immediately jump to Johnny Gaudreau or Mathew Tkachuk, and for good reason. But Mangiapane has quietly become one of the Flames’ most effective forwards the past couple of seasons, driving possession and scoring at a 20-25 goal pace over 82 games. Not a superstar by any means, but the type of second-tier player that every contending team needs to complement its stars. 


Carolina Hurricanes: Ethan Bear

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In a couple of years, we might be looking at Bear the same way we look at Jeff Petry in Montreal — an outstanding player that the Edmonton Oilers gave up way too early. The Hurricanes acquired Bear from Edmonton this offseason and are going to rely on him to play a significant role after the team lost Dougie Hamilton in free agency. He never really seemed appreciated for his play with the Oilers, but he is going to be helping a Stanley Cup contender with an opportunity to play big minutes. Do not be surprised when he becomes a steady top-four (and maybe even top-pairing) defender. 


Chicago Blackhawks: Connor Murphy

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Murphy has been one of the few bright spots on an otherwise lousy Blackhawks defense the past couple of seasons, and that will probably continue to be the case for the foreseeable future. Seth Jones is going to get all of the attention because of his contract and status as a big-name player, but Murphy will still be the best player on this defense. He is one of the few trades in recent years that Stan Bowman and the front office have not screwed up. 


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Colorado Avalanche: Devon Toews

Colorado Avalanche: Devon Toews

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Toews is currently sidelined for a bit to start the season, but when he is healthy he is one of the most underrated defenders in the league and a big part of what makes the Avalanche one of the best defensive teams in the league. They acquired him a year ago for two draft picks from the New York Islanders, and he was an absolutely perfect fit for their transition game. With him, Cale Makar, Sam Girard, and Bowen Byram the Avalanche have one of the best defensive groups in the league, and they are all young and just entering the prime of their careers. 


Columbus Blue Jackets: Eric Robinson

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You might not know the name Eric Robinson, but he has become a very effective forward for the Blue Jackets, and one that always seems to make positive things happen when he is on the ice. He is one of the most effective possession drivers on the team. He is not going to single-handedly change the Blue Jackets fortunes or be any kind of a game-changer, but he is still an excellent player and could even be a valuable trade chip come deadline time for a contender. A name to watch. 


Dallas Stars: Denis Gurianov

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Gurianov did not take the big step forward that was expected a year ago, but he remains a very effective player in Dallas. His speed makes him a weapon every time he is on the ice, and he remains a great 5-on-5 goal scorer relative to the minutes he plays. Seems like a player that could have an out of nowhere 30-goal season in his future. 


Detroit Red Wings: Robby Fabbri

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I am still a big believer in Fabbri because his career was derailed for so long for reasons beyond his control. Mostly injuries. He has been very productive since arriving in Detroit (and being healthy) and the combination of his skill, along with the opportunity to be a central part of a team’s offense, should give him an opportunity to shine and realize all of the potential he showed earlier in his career in St. Louis before the injuries started. 


Edmonton Oilers: Jesse Puljujarvi

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The Oilers are all about Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. We know that. I know that. You know that. We all know that. If they are ever going to do anything they will need some other players to step forward and become impact players alongside them. Puljujarvi is starting to get to that point. A top-five pick a few years ago, it has taken Puljujarvi some time to establish himself as a regular NHLer but he is rapidly becoming an outstanding top-six player for the Oilers and somebody that should be a key building block moving forward. 


Florida Panthers: Anthony Duclair

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After bouncing around the league Duclair seems to have finally found a home with the Panthers, and he is a perfect fit for the way that team plays. Fast, skilled, aggressive on the forecheck, and just an exciting player. He might have some things to work on away from the puck, but he has established himself as a 20-goal forward in the NHL and somebody that can be a part of something special in Florida. 


Los Angeles Kings: Adrian Kempe

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The Kings are loaded with young talent thanks to one of the league’s best farm systems, and they also still have some outstanding veterans including Anze Kopitar. One veteran that slides under the radar a bit has been Adrian Kempe. He is going to score 15-20 goals for the Kings over the course of an 82-game schedule and play a solid all-around game to help round out their top-six. Does he have a long-term home in Los Angeles given their rebuild and emerging talent? Maybe not. But he is is a nice bridge player to help get them there. 


Minnesota Wild: Joel Eriksson Ek

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Kiril Kaprizov is the player that makes the Wild go right now, but Eriksson Ek is right behind him in terms of important players. And he does not get a fraction of the attention. He is one of the best defensive players in hockey and has also developed a strong offensive game to go along with it. He signed a lucrative long-term contract extension this offseason that raised some eyebrows, but if he duplicates what he has done in recent seasons he will be worth every penny. 


Montreal Canadiens: Alexander Romanov

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Romanov is not going to be a huge force offensively or impact a game that way, but he was a very solid defender for the Canadiens and should get an opportunity to play a bigger role this season due to the absence of Shea Weber


Nashville Predators: Philip Tomasino

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The Predators are trying some sort of a competitive rebuild where they try to keep an eye on the future with their feet still in the present. That almost never works, but so many teams always try it. If it is going to work they are going to need players like Eeli Tolvanen, Cody Glass, and Tomasino to be impact players. Tomasino was Nashville’s first-round pick in 2019, No. 24 overall, and is getting his first real look in the NHL. 


New Jersey Devils: Yegor Sharangovich

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The Devils have one of the youngest rosters in the league and some intriguing talent that might indicate the sign of better days ahead. We know all about Jack Hughes and Nico Hischier, but Sharangovich was a big surprise last year as a rookie and one of their most consistent and productive players. If the Devils are going to be a playoff team any time soon they will need players like Sharangovich to be a huge part of that. Based on what he showed as a rookie, he is capable of it. 


New York Islanders: Oliver Wahlstrom

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The Islanders have an outstanding team but they do not have a lot of difference-makers on their roster. Mathew Barzal is a game-changer. Adam Pelech and Ryan Pulock are an elite shutdown pairing on defense but do not command a lot of national attention. If you want another potential impact player Wahlstrom might be it. He showed a ton of promise during his rookie season and has a great shot. He could be a perfect complementary piece for Barzal at the top of the lineup. 


New York Rangers: K'Andre Miller

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The Rangers are loaded with young talent. They have two top-two picks from recent drafts. A young franchise goalie. The reigning Norris Trophy winner in Adam Fox. Miller gets lost in the shuffle of that group a little bit, but he remains a top prospect and somebody that the Rangers are going to be counting on to be a significant part of their defense. He had a promising rookie season (he received Calder Trophy votes) and is looking to take a big step forward this season. 


Ottawa Senators: Drake Batherson

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The Senators are slowly but surely starting to build something interesting and they have some big pieces to build around, including Brady Tkachuk, Tim Stutzle, and Thomas Chabot. Drake Batherson is also a player they are counting on and have already invested in him with a long-term contract. He took a big step forward during the 2020-21 season and looks poised to take another step forward this season. He posted great possession numbers and scored at a 50-point pace a year ago. 


Philadelphia Flyers: Joel Farabee

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The Flyers are an intriguing team that could probably finish anywhere between first and sixth place in the Metropolitan Division and it would make sense. They have some great veterans in Claude Giroux and Sean Couturier to help lead the team. But Joel Farabee might be one of the more interesting players on the roster. He represents the next wave of talent for the Flyers and could be a game-changer in the very near future. 


Pittsburgh Penguins: Jason Zucker

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The Penguins paid a steep price for Zucker two years ago at the trade deadline and have received mixed results. The 2020-21 season was a disappointing one for Zucker and he is looking to rebound this season, hopefully by taking more of a shot-first approach. If he is able to accomplish that it definitely improves the Penguins’ top-nine and makes their forward group even more formidable. 


San Jose Sharks: Mario Ferraro

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The Sharks defense is loaded with big money veterans including Erik Karlsson, Brent Burns, and Marc-Edouard Vlasic. They are all starting to show some signs of slowing down as they get older, so there is going to have to be a changing of the guard at some point. Ferraro was a pleasant surprise on the Sharks defense a year ago — one of the few pleasant surprises on the team — and one of their steadiest defensive players. He should be ready to take a step forward this season to be a top-four player on their blue line. 


Seattle Kraken: Vince Dunn

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The Kraken made a huge investment in their defense this offseason, but Dunn might be the most interesting of their picks. He was one of the Blues’ most effective defenders the past couple of seasons but never really got a chance to take on a more significant role. He should get the opportunity in Seattle. Do not be surprised if he becomes to them what Shea Theodore was for Vegas. 


St. Louis Blues: Jordan Kyrou

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The Blues are still trying to keep their Stanley Cup window open and have a couple of young players stepping forward to help make that happen. Robert Thomas should be one of them, and Jordan Kyrou already is. He started to make his presence felt like a top contributor a year ago and is off to a great start this season as one of the team’s leading scorers through the first three games. 


Tampa Bay Lightning: Ross Colton

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The Lightning lost their entire third line this offseason with Blake Coleman, Barclay Goodrow, and Yanni Gourde all leaving through free agency (Coleman, Goodrow) or the expansion draft to the Seattle Kraken (Gourde). That line was a critical part of their past two Stanley Cup wins and it has to be replaced. The great thing about the Lightning all these years has been their constant pipeline of talent through the system. Colton might be one of the next players to come out of nowhere and make an impact. 


Toronto Maple Leafs: Alexander Kerfoot

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The Maple Leafs have their big-four at forward with Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, John Tavares, and William Nylander. They are all fantastic. But for as good as they are, you still need your secondary players to contribute, and Kerfoot is somebody that can be that sort of impact complementary player. At his best, he’s a 15-20 goal, 40-point player over 82 games. 


Vancouver Canucks: Conor Garland

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Garland was the secondary piece of Vancouver’s big trade with Arizona that also brought Oliver Ekman-Larsson to the Canucks. But Garland might end up being the most impactful player for the Canucks. Ekman-Larssono’s play has declined significantly the past two years and he still has a massive contract. Garland is a legit top-six producer, one of the most efficient 5-on-5 goal scorers in the league, and should provide great scoring depth for a team that has been way too top-heavy in recent years with its young stars. 


Vegas Golden Knights: Nolan Patrick

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If the Golden Knights have had one Achilles heel in their existence it has been a lack of impact players at center. Can Patrick be that player? He has not yet panned out as a No. 2 overall pick and is going to get an opportunity for a fresh start on a Stanley Cup contender. 


Washington Capitals: Anthony Mantha

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He is under the radar because he had a quiet stat line after the trade with Detroit this past season. But he is a fantastic player that is a perfect fit for the way the Washington Capitals play. Great size, talented, drives possession in a dominant way, can score. Do not be surprised if he has a huge season.


Winnipeg Jets: Neal Pionk

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When the Jets traded Jacob Trouba to the New York Rangers a couple of years ago it seemed like it might be a big loss. It ended up being a huge win for the Jets. Not only did they not have to pay Trouba the big contract he got from the Rangers (that he has not really played to yet), but Pionk might actually be the better player right now, both offensively and in terms of driving possession. He has quietly become a very good top-pairing defender and the best player on the Winnipeg blue line. 

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