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The Unheralded: Central Division

Part four 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

The past three days, we have defined unheralded.

We broke down the most unheralded players of the Metropolitan Division.

Then, we removed our East Coast Bias and broke down the Pacific Division.

We headed back East and explored the Atlantic Division.

Today, we take on the Conference of Death.

Chicago Blackhawks

Adam Hess, who writes for Second City Hockey, as well as at the Rock River Times, who got Teuvo Teravainen's autograph on 7/19/14 is here for the Chicago takes.

Playing for the Chicago Blackhawks in recent years, it has been difficult for many players to truly fly under the radar. However, when playing on a team with big name players such as Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, or Duncan Keith, many players can get overshadowed, and have their impact on the team’s success go unappreciated.

This is the plight of Niklas Hjalmarsson. Arguably the best "defensive" defenseman in the NHL, Hjalmarsson’s strong defensive play and incredible defensive impact for the Blackhawks tends to be unnoticed and unappreciated by the mass media, and therefore by many hockey fans as well.

Niklas Hjalmarsson makes a play on the puck against the St. Louis Blues, January 2016. (USA Today)

In his nine years in the NHL, Hjalmarsson has blossomed into the premier shut down defenseman. He has finished with a positive Relative Offensive Zone Start percentage just once in his career. That was 2008-09, in which he played just 21 game. Since 2010-11, his Zone Starts % Rel has never been higher than -5.19.  Despite being used in heavily defensive situations, he has consistently been dominant in controlling shot attempts at even strength. His 5v5 Corsi For% has been 52 or above in six of his nine seasons, and he’s never finished below 50.99.

Hjalmarsson is also one of the NHL’s best and toughest shot blockers. He has blocked 100 or more shot attempts (all situations) in six of his seven full years in the NHL. In the lockout shortened 2012-13 season he blocked 94 in 46 games, which paces out to 167 total blocks in an 82 game season. Watching Hjalmarsson block shots in a crash course in toughness, as well. It seems like at least once every three games, Hjalmarsson takes a shot to the leg that sends him collapsed to ice and hobbling desperately for the ice. However, he rarely misses a shift, and has missed just 23 regular season games in his seven full seasons.

Hjalmarsson’s ability and impact is not lost upon his teammates, nor on other NHL players and coaches. Prior to the 2014 Western Conference Final, Kings coach Darryl Sutter said the Blackhawks had three number one defenseman, referencing Keith, Hjalmarsson, and Brent Seabrook. Just last week, Lightning coach John Cooper said watching Hjalmarsson makes you ask how he isn’t an all-star every year.

However, that same effect has yet to sink in among the mass NHL media and the fans. Despite his strong defensive play, possession dominance, and impressive shot blocking, Hjalmarsson has never earned a single Norris Trophy vote or been an All-Star in his NHL career.  Hjalmarsson’s play is invaluable to the Blackhawks, though. He has been on all three of their Stanley Cup winning teams since 2010, and his contract is among the best in the league.  Due to the fact that he hardly receives the recognition he deserves from the national media, Niklas Hjlamarsson is definitely an unheralded hero for the Chicago Blackhawks.

Colorado Avalanche

Anthrax Jones is here, and three of the following four statements are true:

  • He was a contestant on the final episode of $25,000 Pyramid
  • Two specific breeds of muskrat are named for him
  • He has never seen a woman naked, either in person or online
  • He is banned from wearing running shoes in South America
I'm here to play a game. You're all invited to play along. Fire up your googles and type "2006 NHL draft".  Go ahead, I'll wait.  Are you there? Because we're gonna re-draft the top 5. This should be easy, right?

We'll start with the obvious #1, Jonathan Toews. He has the personality of an oil drum, but he also captained three Stanley Cup winners, and that doesn't happen by accident.

#2 is probably a little more contentious, depending on the flavor of player you like. Me? I prefer Claude Giroux over Nicklas Backstrom, but I see your argument if you want to reverse those two. Giroux 2, Backstrom 3, is my vote.

#4 is where it gets interesting for me. There are a few "name" players in this draft, but not as many as you'd think. Phil Kessel and the smaller fat guys orbiting him are in there, Jordan Staal was in there until he joined the witness protection program in 2012, but my #4 is a guy who ticks four really big boxes on every GM's list: big, skilled, right-handed defenseman. My #4 is Erik Johnson, and he's also my pick for the Colorado Avalanche's most "Unheralded" player.

Erik Johnson after scoring a goal against the Chicago Blackhawks, December 2015. (USA Today)
Since EJ was drafted in 2006, his two most identifiable flaws have been "HE FELL OFF A GOLF CART LOL" and "HE'S NOT JONATHAN TOEWS". The latter applies to literally every other human being in the history of the planet, and the former more than likely applies to you or someone you know and love after drinking a fifth of Jim Beam in the clubhouse before 18 holes on some shithole municipal course. Once you move beyond that, you see a big, mobile defender who plays an assertive and mean game, one who may not be in the top tier of defensemen in the NHL, but certainly one of the top 20, and definitely one worthy of my hypothetical fourth overall selection. Here's some proof:

Defensemen picked closest to #4 overall between 2000 and 2012: Klesla, Komisarek, Pitkanen, Suter, Barker, Jack Johnson, Hickey, Pietrangelo, Ekman-Larsson, Gudbranson, Larsson, Griffin Reinhart.  On that list of names, the only ones you'd take over Erik Johnson are Suter, Pietrangelo, and OEL. The rest of them are varying degrees of "bust" or "head case".  I'd take Erik Johnson on my team any day of the week.

Dallas Stars

Ann "Merrin" Atkinson is one half of the founding partners of Two Bearded Ladies and also writes for Defending Big D. She likes cozy fires by cold mountain lakes, candlelit dinners of red curry and tofu over white rice, and long walks around the concourse of the American Airlines Center. She can be found on twitter and making jokes about the Dallas Stars pin up calendar at

A lot has been made of the Dallas Stars meteoric rise early this season. (Their January flop, not quite as much.) In previous seasons, Jamie Benn could very well have qualified as an unsung hero on this team, but after the arrival of Tyler Seguin, his game winning goals in the Olympics, and his Art Ross last season, being overlooked is a thing far in his past. Deeper down our roster though, we have some likely candidates, and the Star I’m choosing to highlight is Colton Sceviour.

Colton Sceviour shoots a puck during warmups before a game against the Pittsburgh Penguins, October 2015. (USA Today)

He’s got the stats to back this choice up too. I’m pulling all of these numbers from War On Ice, 5v5, living that score adjusted life. His Individual High Danger Scoring Chances per 60 is 3.98, which is good enough for 7th on the team, ahead of Tyler Seguin. His Individual Scoring Chances per 60 is 9.16, 6th on the team ahead of Jamie Benn. And he is a monster in shot generation at 15.13 Individual Shot Attempts per 60. Fifth on the team ahead of BOTH Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn. This is while playing 4th line minutes and averaging 13 minutes of all situations time a night.

Plus, there's also his face.

Minnesota Wild

Tony Abbott is an editor at Hockey Wilderness as well as the host of the Hockey Wilderness Podcast. He’s known for both his irreverent takes on the Wild and his all-encompassing love for Mathew Dumba. His hobbies include sketch-comedy writing, Pokémon, and preventing his dog from eating rabbit poop. Follow him on Twitter @TonyWiseau

On other teams, Marco Scandella might be a top-pairing guy, logging big minutes in all situations and getting more opportunities to shine. But with Ryan Suter and his 29 minutes per game ahead of him on the depth chart, Scandella has to play a different role in Minnesota. Scandella’s the defenseman the Wild count on to handle the tough minutes, and despite that, Minnesota consistently manages to out-shoot opponents when he’s on the ice.

Scandella does more than influence possession, though. He also brings the offense, with his primary weapon being his booming shot. He’s an underrated passer, too, capable of turning defense into instant offense with smart breakout passes.

He’s not the most well-paid, or the flashiest, or even the best defenseman on the Wild, but his play at both ends of the ice is invaluable to the Wild.

Nashville Predators

Dan Bradley, who helps run On the Forecheck is a lifelong Nashvillian, aside from a stint in the Florida panhandle, and has followed the Predators since their inaugural season in 1998. He's a proud member of the Colton Sissons supporter's group, he's the guy who coined the term "Prince Filip" (which is an inside joke to his sister, who played Sleeping Beauty all the time growing up), and yes he has a lifetime hunting license. He also records The Predcast with some of his best friends.

The Predators made a franchise-changing move earlier this winter by shipping off Seth Jones in exchange for Ryan Johansen. While some of us have been asking for this type of move for a long time, most of the fans in Nashville resigned themselves to another season doomed for another early exit due to the roster missing a piece. Instead, Nashville traded Jones for a piece that's been eluding them since their inception (no team has won the Stanley Cup since the lockout without a legit #1 Center, and solid depth behind them). This trade was made possible by the unheralded Ryan Ellis.

Ryan Ellis celebrates scoring a goal, December 2015. (USA Today)
Ryan Ellis has averaged over 1.00 points per 60 minutes during 5 on 5 play over the last three years, and is picking up more and more minutes since Jones' departure. His deployment has gotten tougher, but the production hasn't slowed down. And in true Predators fashion, Ellis is signed to a sweetheart deal ($2.5M AAV until the Summer of 2019) until he's 27. He plays a smart game, he pinches well, and cycles the puck as well as anyone on the roster. Power forwards like being on the ice at the same time as Ellis, and he's getting better at finding players with their sticks on the ice for passes and shots.

Ellis might not have the ceiling that Seth Jones has, but his development allowed the Predators to make a move to sort out this franchise over the long term, and Ellis will likely be here to see the brighter days because of it.

St. Louis Blues

Laura Astorian, site manager at St. Louis Game Time, and associate editor at Puck Drunk Love, here to serve up some Blues takes

The St. Louis Blues have a problem with goaltenders. It is usually a self-created problem, and one of perception. One goaltender who is perfectly fine is run off in favor of a newer, shinier model. The other goaltender, who is also a perfectly fine goalie, sits and waits for his turn. Brian Elliott has been waiting for his turn since the Blues acquired him back in 2011. That year, along with Jaroslav Halak, Elliott won the Jennings Trophy. Since then, he has played the best hockey of his career. Since then, he has been neglected for Halak, passed over for Ryan Miller, and shoved aside for the young upstart Jake Allen.

All of this has happened while Elliott captured the franchise shutout record and has been the only Blues' goaltender to win a playoff series since 2002. He has been reliable and dependable, has done everything asked of him, and has been consistently passed over by the team as a show of their gratitude. Fans are wondering if the push and pull has finally worn on Elliott. In the Blues' loss to the Canes on the 14th, Elliott was hooked, and his reaction was nothing if not pissed off.

He's been a good soldier, he's been an excellent stop gap, he's been a mentor, and he's been a solid goalie. And he's never been the real number one in St. Louis because no one is comfortable with anyone who has ever been in net, and the pads are always prettier on the other goalie's legs.

Winnipeg Jets

Garret Hohl, site manager for both Hockey Graphs, as well as Jets Nation

Mathieu Perreault making a pass against the Minnesota Wild, November 2015. (USA Today)

I want to nominate Mathieu Perreault as one of the least heralded players that deserve to be recognized. Perreault was underrated from the very start; he was drafted 177th overall in the 6th round by the Washington Capitals despite scoring nearly a point per game as a third line player in the QMJHL. The Acadie-Bathurst Titans lost a few players that summer, which thrust Perreault into a major role where he posted two 110+ point seasons in just over 60 games. Perreault then graduated into the AHL where he scored 168 points in 215 games between regulation and playoffs, including a 41 point in 40 games venture in 2010-11. The Capitals were not content though with Perreault’s development, trading him in 2013 to the Anaheim Ducks in exchange for John Mitchell and a fourth round pick, apparently to make room for Tom Wilson. John Mitchell never saw a NHL game and the fourth round pick was traded back to Anaheim for 18 games of Dustin Penner. The Ducks enjoyed Perreault in a depth role, but not enough to extend a qualifying offer.

The Winnipeg Jets were able to then sign Perreault for a steal at three seasons for three million dollars. There were some concerns that Perreault’s results were inflated due to being severely sheltered in a bottom-six role in the NHL, but he has played moments on the Jets top lines without ever slowing down.

We'll see you tomorrow as I do a little round-up on all this and put together my thoughts and commentary on this.

Editor's note: Some stats listed may be outdated at the time of reading, as write-ups were submitted over the last 7 to 10 days.