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The Unheralded: Atlantic Division

Part three of a four-part series, in which we brought together writers from all 30 NHL teams to discuss a player from each one, who is their 'unheralded,' or one not getting the love or credit they deserve for their play this season.

Mike Fail

Having spent the last two days defining unheralded, you should get the gist of it by now.

We took on the Metropolitan Division.

We headed out West to the Pacific Division.

Now we head back to the Eastern Conference to focus on the Atlantic Division.

Boston Bruins

Chris Abraham is here. He's one of resident good humans at Stanley Cup of Chowdah, and an all around good person around for hockey talk.

Matt Beleskey may have been the only person to think he wasn’t going to get 5 million, and he was expected to become the next player with a David Clarkson like contract. Taking a pay cut from the offered 4x4 contract the Ducks offered him, Beleskey gave the Bruins a chance to upgrade their defense with the cap saved. Whether they did is open for interpretation, but Beleskey has been every bit as advertised.

After his signing, Bruins fans over at SCOC started to break down what kind of role Matt Beleskey could have as a scoring replacement for Milan Lucic.

At 5-on-5, Beleskey is second on the Bruins in time on ice, only behind Loui Eriksson, and just ahead of Patrice Bergeron and Marchand. Beleskey is also tied for the most 5on5 goals for the Bruins, with Bergeron, Brad Marchand, and Jimmy Hayes. Beleskey is also just one point behind Loui Eriksson and Ryan Spooner in terms of 5on5 point production, and fifth overall in points per 60, behind Eriksson, Krejci, David Pastrnak and Ryan Spooner. Beleskey also has the most shot attempts on the Bruins. Beleskey doesn’t just match up well against the Bruins, but of the top 390 forwards in time one ice, Beleskey is solidly a first liner in offensive categories, save for Goals per 60 minutes and shot attempts per 60 minutes. Even if his on ice shooting percentage regresses (which it likely will), he is comfortably outproducing his $3.8 million salary. Through 44 games, Beleskey’s 20 5v5 points would put him first on the Ducks, 4 more than Corey Perry and Rickard Rackell. Those numbers aren't just based on ice time either, he would have the highest points per 60 on the Ducks as well.

His underlying numbers have also been solid, fifth amongst Bruins forwards in relative corsi of players with more than 50 minutes of ice time, behind the usual suspects of Eriksson, Bergeron, Marchand, and Marchand and Bergeron’s oft linemate, Brett Connolly. Beleskey has worked well on a line with Ryan Spooner and Loui Eriksson while David Krejci has been nursing an upper body injury, and has provided a physical presence in the Bruins top 6.

Simply put: Matt Beleskey has been providing top line point production and has second line underlying numbers, all while getting paid like a third liner. The next four years could tell a different tale, but so far Matt Beleskey has looked like a steal for Don Sweeney.

Also joining us to discuss that same team everyone loves from the Northeast is Asmean, overlord of Boston Bruina twitter, analatyics researcher and shot quality activists, who, as we know, is always reinforcing that Brad Marchand is a elite wing. And she is here with a current and updated version of a historical reading.

A Tale of Two Trads

By Asmean Dickens Fitzgerald

It was the best of times. The year was 2013, the day July 4th. The beers were cold, the sun was glistening, the BBQs were a-flaming. It was the type of day that made you feel invincible, like nothing could possibly ruin this picture-perfect summer day.

Haha.

It was the worst of times.

The second [sensitive material, click to view] was traded, it didn’t matter which guy we got back. You just knew that dude was going to be unfairly maligned and blamed for every collective failure. A missed net? Never should of trade segguin. Lose in a shootout? Nevr should of trade sequin. Didn’t make the playoffs? Nevar should of trad seguing. Your wife left you? Never should of trade segwin.

Them times kept getting worse.

Not only was Boston’s former crown prince tearing it up down there with Jamie Benn* but Loui suffered back-to-back concussions that saw his season significantly shortened. The trade looked like unadulterated shit, despite the bruins winning the president’s trophy that same season. It didn’t help that the bruins missed the playoffs the following season for the first time in 7 years. Lost in all that tragedy was Loui scoring 22 goals, but we’re not allowed to talk or be happy about that because we never should of trade segan.

And then this season happened. ~ Suddenly ~ the never-should-of-trade-sagin cries started to wane and a soft "always should of got loui, should resign loui" chant was becoming increasingly louder. Sources familiar with the situation confirm that is a common occurrence when a two-way, all-situations stud nets 39 points in 48 games.

This is the player Cherelli dreamed he would become. Cherelli believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter. And one fine morning, we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past, screaming, unironically: #ThankYouChiarelli.

* Just him, because Benn doesn’t actually go there

Buffalo Sabres

Andy Boron, managing editor of Die By the Blade here with some Buffalo perspective

Mark Pysyk is never going to be one of those defenders who piles up points, quarterbacks the power play, or earns consideration for an All-Star game.

Mark Pysyk skates against the Vancouver Canucks, November 2015. (USA Today)

Heck, at this point in his Buffalo Sabres career, he plays more on the third pairing than the top pairing.

But Pysyk makes up for his lack of flash with an abundance of skills that don't show up on the stat sheet. His smooth skating, quick and accurate passing, solid positioning, and excellent mind for the game are skills that are becoming more and more important every year as the league transitions away from big, slow, bruising defensemen toward a more dynamic type of player.

Ultimately, the best thing you can say about Pysyk is that he makes every partner he plays with better - he even turned Mike Weber from a traffic cone on skates to respectable defenseman - and that's why he's an underrated but essential part of Buffalo's rebuild.

Detroit Red Wings

Kyle, everyone's favorite dog owner, and managing editor at Winging it in Motown.

Alexey Marchenko during warmups before a game against the Ottawa Senators, November 2015. (USA Today)

I had to think way too long about this. So long, that it actually started to annoy me. I'm a Red Wings slappy, so all of our players are underrated. BUT, I'll go ahead and make my choice. Detroit's defense is, as the experts say, Bad with a capital B. I'm choosing one of our "young gun" defensemen in Alexey Marchenko.

This 24-year-old Moscow native was taken 205th overall in 2011, he's got a big frame coming in at 6'2" 209 lbs, but he's graceful with his skating. Marchenko isn't really the type of right-handed defenseman that lights up the scoresheet. While he plays well in the offensive zone, his work in the neutral/defensive zone are his meat and potatoes. I often say that "stay-at-home" defensemen are becoming obsolete, but I think Marchenko challenges that. He's got incredible vision, knowledge, and attention to detail. Mix that with his smooth hands, and puck-moving ability, and you've got a very dependable two-way blue-liner.

These are just a couple of examples, but Marchenko makes plays like this almost every night.

With a somewhat lackluster core of defensemen, Detroit is finding Marchenko to be a quintessential asset to their evolving organization. Outside of his game, Marchenko never smiles. He is Mr. Serious, and who doesn't love a grumpy Russian?

Florida Panthers

Jameson Olive, writer for the Florida Panthers here with the South Florida perspective

It’s easy to forget about Jussi Jokinen. The veteran forward has made a career out of being the man behind the scenes. He’s a player that does all of the little things right, but rarely makes a big enough splash to garner the spotlight.

However, in the midst of his second season with the Florida Panthers, the always-unflustered Finn wasted little time in earning the respect of both teammates and coaches for his versatility and willingness to do whatever it takes to secure a victory.

"He means a lot to our team," Panthers head coach Gerard Gallant said. "We talk about him every day. We take him for granted sometimes, but he can play any position and plays all special teams for us. It’s really important. We really like him. He’s scoring lots of points and contributing in all areas."

Jussi Jokinen skates against the Edmonton Oilers, January 2016. (USA Today)

With the unique ability to line up anywhere on the ice, the 33-year-old Jokinen has recorded eight goals and 28 points in 48 games this season while playing every forward position at least once. An invaluable member of Florida’s special teams, he also ranks third among Panther forwards in shorthanded minutes (105:25) and fourth in power-play minutes (123:00). Additionally, Jokinen ranks first among Panther forwards in both Corsi For (51.41) and Fenwick For (52.07).

On a team overflowing with some of the league’s top young talent, it’s no surprise that Jokinen is often overlooked as the hockey world continues to salivate over the bright future that is undoubtedly brewing in South Florida. In the present, however, it’s easy to argue that there are only a handful of players more valuable to Florida’s current playoff push than Jokinen.

Montreal Canadiens

Laura has a lot of hockey feelings. She sometimes writes about them on Habs Eyes On The Prize. She also produces a radio show that airs on SiriusXM’s NHL Network. It’s called Hockey Primetime with Conor McKenna. She likes dogs. Even though she’s a little scared of them. Dogs rule.

Lars Eller’s biggest failing will always be that he was traded for Jaroslav Halak after the Canadiens’ 2010 playoff run. It’s been six years and many fans and media still have not been able to adjust their expectations for him or understand what he actually brings to the team. Nobody here has missed Halak in years, but Lars Eller is somehow still not living up to the expectations imposed on him by fans and media since that trade.

Lars Eller controls the puck against the Columbus Blue Jackets, December 2015. (USA Today)

In previous seasons, it seemed like nobody could appreciate what Eller brought to the table but a few fans and bloggers. He is a versatile two-way player with unbelievable hockey sense and vision, but who just isn’t going to net 30 goals or check Brad Marchand into the sun no matter how much we want to see that. He isn’t really going to get under people’s skin, he isn’t going to score a lot of beautiful goals, and he isn’t going to embarrass all kinds of goalies. Not that it doesn’t ever happen, it’s just not who he is.

What he is going to do is be reliable whether he’s playing as the third-line center (last year) or hanging out on Alex Galchenyuk’s wing (much of this season). He’s really tough to force off the puck, he’s always the first to know where to be in both defensive and offensive situations, and he knows how to use his linemates’ strengths. He’s very creative, albeit with limited hands, and he’s played impressively through struggles with bad luck, bad assignments, and bad linemates.

He’s also a hockey nerd. You know, like you and me. Listen to any post-game interview with him and then compare it with other NHL players. His assessment of what went wrong or right, both in his own play and his teammates, is more cerebral, accurate, and interesting than we are used to getting from NHLers. He’ll occasionally drop a quote that makes you wonder if he sits up all night reading advanced stats analysis. Even if he doesn’t, it’s clear he’s committed to getting better by amassing as much knowledge as he can.

It seems he’s being appreciated a lot more this season, largely due to how well he and Galchenyuk were getting along when Michel Therrien first put them together (incidentally, Michel Therrien did not seem to appreciate Lars Eller enough either, but then again, Therrien’s failings are widely documented at this point).

At the same time, it seems some fans and a large part of the francophone media will just never understand what the Canadiens have in Eller. They like to pick apart his (few) mistakes, blame him for losses, wonder why he doesn’t score a Phil Kessel amount of goals, say they prefer David Desharnais over him, wish the Canadiens would trade him away, and believe he is not pulling his weight on this team (often on nights when he is the only one doing so).

I choose to believe it’s because they’re a bunch of clowns who know absolutely nothing about hockey.

In conclusion: if you don’t like Lars Eller, you are probably a clown.

Ottawa Senators

Sean Tierney, who writes about hockey analytics and does a lot of very neat data visualization for Hockey Graphs, as well as for Today's Slapshot.

In Ottawa, it’s easy to get lost in the enormous shadow cast by Erik Karlsson. Ottawa’s blue line star dominates the headlines (and the ice time) and singlehandedly fuels the Senators offensively and defensively every night. When the conversation shifts from Captain Karlsson (rare), snipers Mark Stone and Mike Hoffman receive praise for their goal-scoring prowess.

But an unheralded player is steadily carving out his niche as a future fixture in the Sens’ top-six.

Shane Prince celebrates scoring a goal against the Colorado Avalanche, November 2015. (USA Today)

Shane Prince, drafted by the Senators in 2011, is a 23 year-old winger toiling away in the bottom-six for Ottawa this season. But don’t let his limited role confuse you. He’s sixth-best in Corsi for percentage on the team. Beyond reliable possession work, Prince is showing some untapped offensive touch. He’s a top-40 contributor in Goals For per 60 minutes in the NHL (for skaters with more than 300 minutes played). Though he’s playing the fewest 5-on-5 minutes of any regular Senators skater, Shane Prince is showing promise in his first year as a full-time NHLer.

There’s more to Prince’s game than good possession metrics and snappy Goals For numbers, Prince has also demonstrated developing skills as a passer. Prince currently sits ninth on the team in passes that lead directly to shot attempts for teammates. The passing data used in the graphic below (data courtesy of @RK_Stimp and the passing project) includes all situations, which punishes players like Prince who don’t see regular powerplay time. Despite this, Prince is in a very reasonable spot, especially considering that Chris Neil and Zack Smith are his linemates.

For some context, Emmanuel Perry’s (@MannyElk) "similarity scores" app helps to identify players who are performing similarly (or performed similarly in past seasons). Prince’s closest 2015-16 comparable are Jussi Jokinen, Mathieu Perreault, Tomas Hertl, and Kris Versteeg. For the young Sens forward, this is excellent advanced stats company to keep.

Is he a household name yet? Nope. Not close. He’s completely unheralded. But Prince is a player on the rise in Ottawa and a young forward to keep an eye on.

(All statistical data sourced from Puckalytics)

Tampa Bay Lightning

Here to give us the Tampa Bay insight is GeoFitz4, a writer for Raw Charge. He also runs a podcast that's just getting off the ground called Two For Spearing. If you want an explanation on the name of his podcast, he'll be happy to elaborate for you. His choice for an unheralded player for the Tampa Bay Lightning is J.T. Brown.

J.T. Brown came to the Lightning in the spring of 2012 as a NCAA free agent after his sophomore season with the University of Minnesota-Duluth where he had won a National Championship as a freshman. Brown comes from an athletic family, his father being Ted Brown, who was a running back for 8 seasons in the NFL with the Minnesota Vikings. During his USHL and college days, he was an offensive force putting up over a point per game in his NCAA career. He pitched in points at a decent clip when he played for the Syracuse Crunch of the AHL. But in the NHL, his role is as a bottom six forward that plays with grit, speed, and tenacity.

J.T. Brown skates during warmups, December 2015. (USA Today)

Since the start of the Yzerman Era, the Lightning have been known for their ability to take smaller players and make it work in the NHL. Brown is no exception being listed at 5'10" and 175 pounds. He plays bigger than his size and is at his best when he's using his speed to forecheck and harass the opposing team. Additionally, his possession statistics have been very good, even on a team that is known for being a possession team. While only making $950,000 this year, he has provided a solid presence in the bottom six and has shown his flexibility in playing both wings on the third and fourth line. With an ever changing mix of line mates, Brown has remained consistent and is having perhaps his best NHL season so far. He's only 25 in his third full NHL season and still has some very good years ahead of him as a bottom six energy winger.

Toronto Maple Leafs

Scott Wheeler, site manager for Pension Plan Puppets, who has done wonderful things for the Maple Leafs corner of SB Nation's NHL coverage, here to dish his takes on all things Toronto.

If you define unheralded within the context of public opinion and fandom, you’ll never come to a conclusion as to who is widely unheralded in Toronto. Leafs fans have been divided on players like Tyler Bozak, Jake Gardiner, Joffrey Lupul, and Dion Phaneuf since they signed their respective longterm deals. There are fans that loathe Bozak and others that appreciate his role. There are fans that scream about Gardiner's ‘giveaways’ or ‘laziness’ and others that appreciate the way he drives possession.

PPP’s Katya Knappe wrote about the enigma that is Joffrey Lupul earlier this season. Phaneuf is the captain, and is the centre of endless debate. But perception among Leafs fans doesn’t influence a player’s role on the team. I’m more interested in the player who isn’t appreciated or recognized by the organization. Which player isn’t being utilized properly? Who is unheralded by his coaching staff. The answer: Brad Boyes.

Brad Boyes celebrating scoring a goal against the Columbus Blue Jackets, January 2016. (USA Today)

This season, the Leafs have dressed 13 regular forwards. Among them, Boyes ranks last in average TOI at just over 11 minutes per game and seventh in points with 12 in 33 games after sitting a handful as a healthy scratch. Behind him in production, players like Nick Spaling -- who has registered just four assists and 19 shots in 24 games -- average more than 15 minutes a night. On a per minute basis, Boyes ranks first on the team at a shade over two points per 60 minutes. This, while playing the majority of his minutes on a line with ECHL cinderella story Byron Froese and checker Shawn Matthias.

So it’s not as though his production is bolstered by cushy match-ups and offensive zone usage. Only two of his points have come on the powerplay, and he has driven possession at even strength more effectively than any Leafs forward while starting a negative relative percentage of his shifts in the defensive zone. Factor in that he’s only converting on less than 8% of his shots (well below league average), and you’ve got a player who is poised to breakout despite limited usage. If there’s one player who deserves a more consistent look near the top of the lineup on Babcock’s Leafs, it’s Boyes.

Be sure to check back in with us tomorrow as we take on the fourth and final division in the Central.

Editor's note: Some stats included in this article may be a bit outdated, as submissions from writers trickled in over the last 7 to 10 days.