With the NHL season being nearly finished, we can fairly judge who had fantastic, average, or flat out bad seasons. Some get very recognized, like Connor McDavid who deservedly gets praised on a nightly basis for his brilliant season, while a player like Jeff Skinner has taken a ton of criticism for a very disappointing year in Buffalo.
While many players get recognized for their seasons, there are always plenty more who fly under the radar, whether it be due to the fact that they play for a small market team, or are being shadowed by other great players on their own roster. Regardless, these players deserve some credit, and this column is going to do just that. Here are the top five forwards deserving of more recognition for great 2020-21 seasons.
5. Mats Zuccarello
The player getting all the attention for the Minnesota Wild is rookie phenom Kirill Kaprizov, and deservedly so. The 24-year-old has played a huge part in the Wild being one of the most surprising teams in the entire league this season, and barring a huge upset will win the Calder Trophy this year. However, he hasn’t done it all on his own.
33-year-old Mats Zuccarello has also had a terrific season and deserves some credit for it. The Wild were criticized during the 2019 offseason when they elected to give the veteran forward a five-year , $30 million deal in free agency. It was a questionable move at the time given his age, but is undoubtedly benefitting the team right now. After just an ok season in 2019-20 in which he had 15 goals and 37 points in 65 games, he has been fantastic this year with 11 goals and 35 points in 41 contests.
4. Carter Verhaeghe
Prior to the 2020-21 season starting, many fans may not have even recognized the name Carter Verhaeghe. Despite being on the Stanley Cup winning Tampa Bay Lightning’s roster last season, the now 25-year-old suited received limited minutes and was often a healthy scratch. In 52 regular season games last year he had just nine goals and 13 points, while putting up an equally disappointing two assists in eight playoff games.
After the season had ended, the Lightning chose not to qualify Verhaeghe, making him an unrestricted free agent. Since signing with the Florida Panthers, he has been given more of an opportunity and is making the most of it. In 43 games played he has 18 goals and 36 points and has developed some great chemistry with Aleksander Barkov. Panthers management deserves some serious praise for this pickup, as does Verhaeghe himself for the great season.
3. Vincent Trocheck
Vincent Trocheck appeared to be just scratching the surface of his true talent after a 75-point 2017-18 season with the Florida Panthers. Unfortunately, a devastating leg injury really slowed down his development and caused his numbers to drop the past few seasons. As a result of his decline, the Panthers chose to trade him to the Carolina Hurricanes prior to the 2020 trade deadline, in a move they are surely regretting now.
Though Trocheck struggled during his brief stint with the Hurricanes last season, he appears to be back to his old self this year with 17 goals and 43 points in just 47 games. Despite missing nine games this season due to injury, he still finished second on the Canes in scoring and is a major reason they are currently sitting second in league standings. Unfortunately, playing in smaller markets like Florida and Carolina has played an impact in how underrated he is, but if he is able to continue production like this consistently moving forward that may soon change.
2. Joe Pavelski
Former San Jose Sharks forward Joe Pavelski surprised the hockey world during the 2019 offseason when he chose to leave the only organization he had ever played for and signed a three-year, $21 million deal with the Dallas Stars. In his first season, many questioned whether the Stars made a bad call bringing him in as he had just 14 goals and 31 points in 67 games.
This season, the 36-year-old Pavelski erased all doubts as he had a season similar to many we have seen from him in the past with a team leading 25 goals and 51 points in 56 games. Unfortunately, he didn’t have a ton of help this year and the Stars narrowly missed the playoffs as a result, but it certainly wasn’t a reflection of his play. While Pavelski has certainly gotten a lot of recognition for great seasons in the past, this one seems to have flown under the radar.
1. Leon Draisaitl
As crazy as it sounds given that he is the reigning Hart Trophy winner, Leon Draisaitl is not getting the credit he deserves this season. The reason for this of course is that his teammate in McDavid is scoring at a rate we haven’t seen since the Gretzky/Lemieux era, but that doesn’t change the fact that the German forward is having a fantastic year in his own right.
Through 54 games this season, Draisaitl has 30 goals and 81 points, which is a pace of 45 goals and 123 points over a full 82-game schedule. Those are ridiculous numbers and are proven even more so in that the league’s third leading scorer in Brad Marchand sits 12 points behind him with 69 on the year. On top of the great scoring numbers, he also leads the entire NHL in plus/minus with a plus31 rating. What him and McDavid are doing is simply incredible, but it is somewhat unfortunate how overshadowed his year has been.
Many More Deserving
While these five certainly deserve to be talked about more with the seasons they are having, there are many others who are not being talked about enough either. Unfortunately, many players fail to get league wide recognition, but thankfully both fans of their respective teams as well as teammates know just how valuable they are. Hopefully the five on this list will get more recognition in the near future.
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