Under the Radar (Eastern Conference Edition)
By Robert Mowatt
With just under a thousand players featuring in the NHL last season, it’s pretty much impossible to keep track of all the truly great talent on display. What might be household names to fans of one franchise, can be relative unknowns to the rest of us.
Below are five Eastern Conference players that may be making a bigger splash than you think come October.
At 5’ 9” and weighing in at just under 170 pounds, some would say Tyler Ennis has no business being a 1st line winger in the NHL. The management team in Buffalo obviously disagree though, having signed Ennis to a five-year $23-million contract last offseason.
And who could blame them? Managing to hit 20 goals two seasons in a row, despite being part of possibly the most anaemic offense in the league, is indeed an impressive feat. Add in Ennis’ explosive speed and unbelievably quick hands and it’s hard not to think the best is yet to come for this 26 year old.
With Ryan O’Reilly, Jack Eichel and Evander Kane bolstering the Buffalo ranks, hopefully Ennis will get more opportunities to do crazy things like this:
Nick Bjugstad hasn’t been in the league long but he’s already making waves. The Panthers 1st round pick in 2010 scored 24 goals last season in just his second year in the league.
Bjugstad is the epitome of a power forward. Standing tall at 6′ 6″, he’s not shy to use his strength in the corners or at the front of the net. It’s not easy to knock Bjugstad off the puck and he frequently draws more than one defender when he heads towards the net.
A blisteringly quick release only adds to the headaches goalies face when Bjugstad squares up to them. Plus, he can stick handle with the best of them:
Along with Johnny Boychuk, former Blackhawk Nick Leddy forms the backbone of the Islanders’ defence. Arguably one of the best possession players in the conference, Leddy may not be a prolific scorer but his ability to move and pass the puck up the rink is invaluable to the Isles.
Although he might not feature in many highlight reels, Leddy is one of the key generators of offense in the Islanders line up. His corsi trended well above 50% for most of last season while his +/- ended on a solid +18. He’s quick on his skates which allows him to join the rush but also get back to the d-zone when the play heads the other way.
Signed until 2022, it looks like Leddy is only just reaching his stride. Here he is joining the rush and capitalising on a beautiful pass from Colin McDonald:
Andy Greene is the very definition of a shut down defenseman. His positional play is outstanding, he blocks shots (over 170 last season) and keeps opposing forwards on their toes with his tough play along the boards. Averaging over 23 minutes a game, Greene is among the league leaders in ice time consistently getting in over 28 shifts a game.
Offensively Greene will never set the world on fire – he scored 22 points in 82 games last season – but that’s not why he’s on the ice. Playing for a less than stellar New Jersey team has meant Greene hasn’t received the plaudits he might have if he was in a more successful team.
Here he is laying down a hard hit on Winnipeg’s Mark Scheifele:
Mike Hoffman blew onto the scene last year scoring 27 goals and 48 points in his first full NHL season. A bona fide sniper, Hoffman is quick, both on his skates and with his stick. His wrist shot is nothing short of explosive and he is already a fan favourite at the Canadian Tire Centre.
The Senators will be hoping Hoffman continues to improve next season although motivation shouldn’t be in short supply with free agency beckoning at the end of the season.
Here is Hoffman slicing through the Philadelphia defence and slipping it past Steve Mason:
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