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NHL.com players poll: Barkov of Panthers most underrated

Capitals center Backstrom, Wild defenseman Spurgeon also make list

NHL.com @NHLdotcom

NHL.com asked a collection of the League's top players for their opinions on topics surrounding the game and its players during the 2019 NHL European and North American Player Media Tours during the offseason. An installment of their answers will appear each Wednesday. The fourth edition of the NHL.com players poll focuses on which player is the most underrated in 2019-20.

Aleksander Barkov won the Lady Byng Memorial Trophy last season, awarded to the player who best combines sportsmanship qualities with a high standard of play. In his seventh NHL season, the Florida Panthers center has 351 points (135 goals, 216 assists) in 421 games.

Despite his impressive resume, the 24-year-old was the top vote-getter in the latest NHL.com poll, with seven players saying he is not receiving the attention he deserves.

"I've got to go with my friend Barkov. I've played with great players in my life. Obviously my two linemates are unbelievable, [William Karlsson] and [Reilly Smith]," Vegas Golden Knights forward Jonathan Marchessault said. "But Barkov is definitely one of the most impressive players that I've played with. He doesn't get enough credit. I think he would definitely be in the top three picks for me if I would start a team, an NHL team, because you win with a guy like that."

It is the all-around game that impresses opponents. Barkov, who has six assists in eight games this season, plays a complete, 200-foot game, according to Sharks forward Tomas Hertl.

"Now, [the Panthers] have better team than before, but he still proves it," Hertl said. "A centerman, [takes] face-offs, defensive [zone], O-zone; how he plays hockey."

Video: Barkov takes No. 8 on the list of the Top 50 Players

Washington Capitals center Nicklas Backstrom and Sharks forward Logan Couture joined Barkov as the most-mentioned overlooked players by their peers.

Backstrom won the Stanley Cup with the Capitals in 2018, when he had 23 points (five goals, 18 assists) in 20 playoff games. He has 881 points (233 goals, 648 assists) in 904 NHL games and has been the primary set-up man during teammate Alexander Ovechkin's climb on the goals scored list.

But Dallas Stars defenseman John Klingberg said Backstrom is even better than any of those numbers suggest.

"He's so smart," Klingberg said. "I've played with him [for Sweden] in the World Championship once and that is when you realize how smart, how good he is, how [well] he sees the ice. I think he is getting credit for it, but not enough."

Video: TOR@WSH: Backstrom buries one-timer past Hutchinson

Vancouver Canucks center Elias Pettersson said he agrees.

"People know he's good, but they still don't know how good he is," Pettersson said.

Couture has 515 points (241 goals, 274 assists) in 671 NHL games over 10 seasons. Since entering the League in 2009-10, the 30-year-old is fourth among all players with 101 points (48 goals, 53 assists) in the playoffs (116 games), including an NHL-leading 30 (10 goals, 20 assists) in 2016, when the Sharks reached the Cup Final.

"He's not like a flashy player, he just does a lot of things right," Philadelphia Flyers center Sean Couturier said. "Watching him in the playoffs during their run, you realize he is a very good hockey player in all three zones and I really like his game."

Video: SJS@ANA: Couture goes top shelf with snap shot

Minnesota Wild defenseman Jared Spurgeon, who set NHL career highs in goals (14), assists (29) and points (43) last season, received three votes to tie Couture for third place.

"I think he's hard to play against," Arizona Coyotes center Derek Stepan said of the 29-year-old. "I don't think he gets as much recognition because they have (Ryan) Suter there; he gets talked about more, and rightfully so. [Spurgeon] gets hidden a little bit."

Sixteen of the 22 vote-getters received a single vote, but each has a passionate advocate.

Carolina Hurricanes center Sebastian Aho says teammate Jordan Staal should be in the conversation.

"Look at him play, he's a beast, he's really good," Aho said of the 31-year-old center. "It's pretty easy to play with him. You don't have to worry about defense at all.

Chicago Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane said Golden Knights forward Mark Stone belongs on the list.

"You wouldn't watch him and be like, 'This guy's overly skilled or unreal,' or one specific thing," Kane said. "He's not an unbelievable skater, he doesn't have an unreal shot, but he's just really smart. And I think he's obviously so good defensively, good at stripping pucks, taking pucks away, so I would say he's pretty underrated."

Kane's teammate, center Jonathan Toews, also stayed in the Western Conference, making a case for Vancouver Canucks captain Bo Horvat.

"I like his game, I think he competes," Toews said of the 24-year-old center. "I just think he plays a really good two-way game; [he] doesn't seem to have the big name because he doesn't put up a ton of points yet, but I think he's a good player."

 

Most underrated player (37 total votes)

Aleksander Barkov, Florida Panthers 7; Nicklas Backstrom, Washington Capitals, 4; Logan Couture, San Jose Sharks, 3; Jared Spurgeon, Minnesota Wild, 3; Roman Josi, Nashville Predators, 2; Ryan O'Reilly, St. Louis Blues, 2; Patrice Bergeron, Boston Bruins, 1; Jordan Staal, Carolina Hurricanes, 1; Michal Kempny, Washington Capitals 1; Brayden Schenn, St. Louis Blues, 1; Joe Pavelski, Dallas Stars, 1; Mark Stone, Vegas Golden Knights, 1; Bo Horvat, Vancouver Canucks 1; Jaden Schwartz, St. Louis Blues, 1; Evgeni Malkin, Pittsburgh Penguins, 1; John Klingberg, Dallas Stars, 1; Phillip Danault, Montreal Canadiens 1; Miro Heiskanen, Dallas Stars, 1; Cam Atkinson, Columbus Blue Jackets, 1; Kyle Connor, Winnipeg Jets, 1; Thomas Chabot, Ottawa Senators, 1; Mikael Backlund, Calgary Flames, 1.

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