10 underrated players who thrived on the NHL’s worst teams in 2022-23

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We’re in the second half of the 2022-23 NHL season — and if your team is near the bottom of the standings, it’s been a miserable few months.

The good thing is that Connor Bedard is the ultimate consolation prize for missing the playoffs. We’ve detailed the race to the bottom daily, so if you want to know how your team stacks up against the worst of the worst, this is a good place to start.

So, let’s spread some positivity today. Here’s a look at one under-the-radar player making noise on each of the last 10 lottery contender teams. We’re not talking about stars – we’re talking about the ones having a bigger than expected impact for teams that don’t have much to cheer about right now:

Luke Schenn, D (Vancouver Canucks)

Not too long ago, many wondered if Schenn was going to call it a career. He’s 33, has never lived up to expectations after being a fifth overall pick by Toronto in 2008 and has struggled to stay healthy and in the full-time roster. He bounced from team to team, including with the Canucks during an 18-game stint in 2018-19. Now in his second full season with the team, Schenn has not only become an everyday player, but also a valuable player that many teams would be interested in before the trade deadline. Schenn is a veteran leader, hard hitter and can even contribute a run or two. Given the obvious and very public issues with the Canucks this season, Schenn has established himself as a fan favorite and someone worth following every night.

Sam Montembeault, G (Montreal Canadiens)

When Montembeault was hooked by the Canadiens on waivers ahead of the 2021-22 season, it was easy to overlook. The Canadiens needed depth in case Carey Price didn’t return and, heck, if Cayden Primeau had shown up, Montembeault would have been back on waivers and potentially back in the AHL. Instead, he had a solid first season, offering some glimmers of hope in his biggest workload of his NHL career. But right now he’s shining, riding the wave of a 4-2-0 record over the last six games and facing more than 30 shots every night. Montembeault has a solid .923 save percentage and 3.46 above-average goals saved in 20 5-on-5 games and has actually saved a few games for Montreal a little more than he should have. He definitely doesn’t subscribe to the tank: he wants to win and prove that he is a long-term option.

Scott Laughton, C (Philadelphia Flyers)

Laughton and the Flyers have been hip-hugging for the past decade, and the center was a solid forward of the last six who could contribute about 20-30 points a year without issue. But this year, the 28-year-old is on pace for 50 points, far surpassing his previous record of 32 from 2018-19. Philadelphia has been plagued by injuries and poor play throughout the season, but Laughton having a breakout season this year is definitely a positive development. He’s a popular player in Philadelphia, and while 50 points a year as a benchmark seems unlikely, at least Laughton is having fun on a team with little to celebrate right now.

Dylan Guenther, RW (Arizona Coyotes)

Sorry, Canucks fans. The Coyotes made a last-minute move ahead of the 2021 NHL Draft, moving Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Conor Garland to Vancouver in a deal that gave the Coyotes a first-round pick. It became Guenther, who didn’t make the squad after a solid training camp, but it was clear he wasn’t far behind. He’s been with the big club this season, averaging 0.5 points per game while playing in Arizona’s midfield. He also scored the golden goal at the 2023 World Junior Championship, a tournament which allowed him to gain more experience with a winning formation. The Coyotes have solid prospects in the pipeline and should land another one in the draft this year. But the fact that Guenther is already making noise in a year without pressure is welcome.

Taylor Raddysh, LW (Chicago Blackhawks)

Raddysh took a few years to find his place, but everything will be planned now. Canada’s former World Junior Championship star has 21 points in 45 games this year, becoming a valuable middle-six forward who is on pace for around 20 goals this year – one of three Blackhawks to follow that mark . On most teams he would have good offensive depth, but Chicago’s lack of offensive talent meant Raddysh had to play a lot more than expected. At least it performs, right?

Kirill Marchenko, RW (Columbus Blue Jackets)

Four years after selecting him in the second round, the Blue Jackets finally managed to bring in Marchenko, a 22-year-old scoring winger. He started the year in the AHL and had good numbers with Cleveland, but he’s been with the big club for a few months now. Marchenko has 10 goals and no assists in 24 games while becoming a fantastic secondary scoring option for a side that needs all the help they can get. The Blue Jackets have the best chance of landing the No. 1 pick right now, and someone like Bedard would do wonders for the team’s fortunes.

Jake Walman, D (Detroit Red Wings)

After years of mediocrity, Walman managed to land a first couple role with the Red Wings this year, and he looks good. Walman hit a career-high 18:44 this season, well past his 13:00 in three years at St. Louis and 17:28 in 19 games with the Red Wings last year. He even added some deep league fantasy value. Many thought the Red Wings would take solid steps toward the playoffs this year, but it’s clear they’re in the hunt for the draft going forward. At least they’re getting a good game from Walman, who’s a tough customer to deal with.

Alexander Barabanov, LW (San Jose Sharks)

It’s always cool when an « older » player bursts in, and the 28-year-old winger is on pace for the best season of his three-year NHL career. After struggling to break through with Toronto and San Jose in 2020-21, the once-coveted KHL star enjoyed a fine 39-point season with the Sharks last season. Right now, on a Sharks team that looks downright awful most nights, Barabonov is on 50-point pace while being a crucial part of San Jose’s offense. He had a six-game point streak to start 2023 and his underlying numbers are strong as well. Barabanov is beginning to realize the potential many hoped for when he made the trip to North America a few years ago.

Nick Holden, D (Ottawa Senators)

The 35-year-old defender doesn’t have much to show on the attacking side, but there’s a reason he’s been in the league for a decade. The tall, physical defender has a 51.79 shooting percentage, a 53.35 Corsi percentage and a 52.23 5-on-5 expected goal percentage – all pretty solid for a back four defender. There is no shortage of teams that should be interested in his services at the deadline.

Lukas Dostal, G (Anaheim Ducks)

His sample size is much smaller, especially compared to the rest of the crop here. Dostal has seven games under his belt with the Ducks and is 2-3-1 with a .909 save percentage. But if you dig a little deeper, you’ll see he made at least 35 saves in five of his six starts and made over 45 saves twice, earning points in both games. Dostal has been electric in the AHL with San Diego and has the potential to replace John Gibson as a starter in years to come. He’s only 22, so there’s no rush, but Dostal should be a big part of the team’s rebuilding efforts. The Ducks have something big here, and while he only had a short stretch in December to prove it, the organization definitely already knows it.

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