Chicago Blackhawks- Niklas Hjalmarsson
When you look at the Blackhawks blue line the names that pop out are Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook. Rarely do you immediately think of 25 year-old Niklas Hjalmarsson as one of the team's top defenceman. Despite being a relative unknown, he's paired with Keith on the Blackhawks top defencive pairing and has been given the task of facing the Minnesota Wild's top players.
He's one of the Blackhawks best penalty killers and leads all Blackhawk players in time on the ice while shorthanded averaging 2:45 a game. New this year Hjalmarsson has also added some offence to his game. He put 10 points on the board in 46 games on the Blackhawks blue line.
Pittsburgh Penguins- Matt Niskanen
Much like Niklas Hjalmarsson, when you look at the Penguins blue line Matt Niskanen isn't the first name that comes to mind. But Niskanen had a solid season, putting up 14 points (3rd best for Penguins D) and averaging over 20 minutes a night. To pick an unsung hero for a team like the Penguins is so difficult as they have stars all throughout their line-up but Niskanen is a guy who is a consistent producing defenceman who continually flies under the radar.
Anaheim Ducks- Daniel Winnik
Daniel Winnik has turned himself into a key player for the Ducks. Winnik finds his home on the third line wing with Saku Koivu and Andrew Cogliano. The three of quickly become one of the Ducks most creative and dangerous lines combining for 69 points in the regular season. In addition to the lines offence, they've also become the Ducks go-to shutdown line and have been given the task of shutting down the always-dangerous Pavel Datsyuk.
Winnik has been a fantastic two-way forward this season, focusing on his own end first (+13) and still putting up 19 points. Daniel Winnik is the type of forward that teams win with and right now the Ducks are benefiting from his strong play. Look for him to play a big role in the Ducks Stanley Cup run.
Montreal Canadiens- Brandon Prust
When a guy is voted as the unsung hero of a team, then you can't not put him on the list. Brandon Prust has had a huge impact on the Canadiens. From helping with their physical play to mentoring Brendan Gallagher and Alex Galchenyuk, Prust has done it all for the Canadiens and he's even had an impact on the scoreboard.
Prust suited up for 38 games in his first season with the Canadiens and put up 14 points and led the team with 110 penalty minutes. He's stepped up as leader for the Canadiens and proved to be a very valuable asset. For the Canadiens to make a deep playoff run they'll need Prust to play his best and by the off-ice leader of the Habs.
Boston Bruins- Dennis Seidenberg
Dennis Seidenberg may be one of the most underrated defenceman in the entire Eastern Conference. He has a Stanley Cup ring, 52 games of NHL playoff experience and is one of the Boston Bruins top defenceman night in and night out. Yet he is continually overlooked.
Seidenberg is the type of player who can do it all. The coach has faith to send him into any situation. He ranked second in the NHL in plus/minus, was 2nd amongst Bruins defenceman in points (17) and he took just 5 penalties all season. He's the type of defenceman who understands just how valuable he is and what it takes to win. He laid his body on the line to block 115 shots this season, that dedication and heart.
St. Louis Blues- Chris Stewart
When I looked at the St. Louis Blues' stats from this season, I was shocked to see Chris Stewart leading the team in scoring. Chris Stewart is not only the Blues unsung hero he's also one of the most under-appreciated players in the Western Conference.
Stewart put up 36 points this season with the Blues, more than he has in any other season and doing so this year in just 48 games. He lead the Blues in goals, power play goals and points, despite playing four minutes a night less than David Backes who put up 28 points. The Blues in general are a pretty under the radar team, but despite that they've managed a 2-0 series lead over the defending Stanley Cup Champions. Teams overestimating Christ Stewart and the Blues can only help the Blues.
Los Angeles Kings- Trevor Lewis
Anytime your own teammates crown you the unsung hero of your team you know you're doing something right. Trevor Lewis plays wing on a line with Jarret Stoll and Dwight King, the line was a key part in the Kings Stanley Cup win last season. Once again the three will show what they can do in the playoffs. Dwight King was the surprise last playoffs scoring 5 goals and finishing 3rd on the team in playoff scoring and this post-season many are expecting Trevor Lewis to play the same role.
“He’s got the skill, he’s got the shot, he’s got the speed. Just a matter of not only our line but every line coming together and ramping it up an extra notch or two." ~ Jarret Stoll
Lewis finished with 14 points through 48 games while averaging 15 minutes a night and was one of the Kings best penalty killers. If the Kings are to come back from being down 2-0 in round one, Trevor Lewis will need to start scoring again.
Vancouver Canucks- Jannik Hansen
Jannik Hansen finished the season as the 4th leading scorer for the Canucks behind the Sedin twins and Derrick Roy. Hansen put up 27 points in 47 games this season and continued to prove just how valuable he can be- despite being the 10th highest paid forward. Hansen kills penalties, spends time on the power play and uses his great speed for both offence and defence. He plays a great defencive game and was +12 on the year. He's one of the most versatile Canucks forwards as he can play either wing and fit in on any line.
Toronto Maple Leafs- Jay McClement
At the beginning of the 2013 season no one expected the Leafs to even come close to the playoffs. But thanks to a break out season from Nazem Kadri, stellar goaltending from James Reimer and great coaching from Randy Carlyle, the Leafs are in the playoffs. But aside from the big names on the Leafs another player who deserves some major credit is Jay McClement.
The biggest turnaround for the Leafs has been their penalty killing. Last season they were the 3rd worst penalty killing team in the league, this season they're 3rd best. Who's been killing all these penalties- Jay McClement. If you're questioning the impact that McClement could have had on the PK, just remember he was the cornerstone of the Avalanche PK that went from 30th to 12th once he joined.
McClement is a versatile forward who can fit anywhere in the line-up and take key face-offs when Tyler Bozak needs a break. He wears an A his jersey and provides solid veteran leadership for this young Leafs team. Picking up Jay McClement may have been one of Brian Burke's best moves.
Washington Capitals- John Carlson
Time to put another defenceman on the list. When you think of the Washington Capitals you don't exactly think of a shutdown defencive team, you think of the highflying Alex Ovechkin. Even the Capitals defenceman have exceptional offence and a prime example is John Carlson.
But Carlson's defence is extremely underrated. Carlson ranks 7th on the Capitals and 2nd in defenceman with 22 points. But aside from the offence Carlson is 2nd on the blue line with 59 hits and leads all Capitals defenceman with 17 takeaways. He ranked 3rd in the NHL with 123 blocked shots. Adam Oates also trusts John Carlson on the penalty kill and as a result is the Capitals best penalty killer averaging 2:53 on the power kill. Not bad for an "offensive-minded defenceman".
San Jose Sharks- TJ Galiardi
Galiardi is a player who has struggled to find his place in the NHL and at the beginning of this season it looked like he still hadn't found his place. But Galiardi picked up his play near the end of the season and began to look like the player of the future that the Sharks thought he was. He but up 14 points in 36 games with the Sharks and was a +1.
New York Rangers- Derek Stepan
It's easy to get over-looked in New York City. With all the bright lights, big names and sports teams there is so much happening in the city. The Rangers stars include the king Henrik Lundqvist, Rich Nash, Ryan Callahan and Brad Richards, but one player who's managed to fall through the cracks is Derek Stepan. For a player whoes coach was worried about centering the 2nd line, Derek Stepan has silenced all his critics.
The 22 year-old had a break-out season that saw him lead the New York Rangers with 44 points and 18 goals. He had a stellar end to the season, notching 3 game-winning goals and recording 7 multi-point games insuring his Rangers a spot in the Playoffs. John Tortorella has gone from being worried about the youngster to using him in any situation- Power play or penalty kill.
Detroit Red Wings- Justin Abdelkader
Aside from Red Wings fans, how many of you have heard of Justin Abdelkader? Now how many of you have heard of Pavel Datsyuk? Well Abdelkader is a winger on the Pavel Datsyuk line. He brings a strong net presence and is one of the Red Wings best Penalty killers. He put up 13 points in 48 games this season.
Ottawa Senators- Patrick Wiercioch
Senators rookie defenceman Patrick Wiercioch put up 19 points from the blue line, ranking him 2nd amongst Senators defence. Wiercioch has been brought up through the Sens program and has transformed into a solid offencive defenceman.
Minnesota Wild- Mikko Koivu
After a big offseason all the focus this season was on Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, someone who was overlooked was the guys wearing the C- Mikko Koivu. To the surprise of many Koivu actually out-scored James Neal, Corey Perry and Jarome Iginla, not bad for the Wild captain who was overshadowed. These numbers are typical for Koivu yet he still doesn't get the recognition he deserves around the league; Hopefully the playoffs will be his coming out party.
New York Islanders- Frans Nielsen
The Islanders this season were carried by the play of John Tavares and Evgeni Nabokov, but those two got a little help along the way. Frans Nielsen finished 4th on the team in scoring with 29 points, now while Nielsen has never lead the Islanders in scoring or even made an all-star appearance he's still a key member of their team. He's become a key member of the penalty kill and often generates short-handed chances based on his creativity. While Tavares may lead the way, without the help from players like Nielsen it would have been another year without a post-season birth for the Islanders.