The NHL’s Best Under-the-Radar “Feel-Good” Stories of 2020-21by Dom Lunardo May 1, 2021 0 comments
The 2020-21 National Hockey League campaign has brought with it many pleasant surprises. From countless “under-the-radar” individual performances and Cinderella stories, this season has had its fair share of memorable moments to last a lifetime. Which players have elevated their games to whole new heights, and which have flown under the radar? Without further ado, here are my top-three under-the-radar feel-good stories thus far in 2020-21.
3) Mike Reilly, Defenseman, Boston Bruins
First up is Mike Reilly who has split this season with both the Ottawa Senators and Boston Bruins. Born and raised in Chicago, Illinois, Reilly has flown under the radar his entire career. A steady, quiet, bottom-pairing defenseman, he has been nothing short of spectacular this season. From a statistical standpoint, he’s already surpassed his career-high in assists with 24 in just 50 games. In addition, he’s eclipsed the 20-minute mark in ice-time averaging 21:17 in his first 10 games with the Bruins.
As a player, Reilly brings a ton of intangibles to any hockey club. At 6’1, 200 pounds, he possesses good size and sees the ice extremely well. He also carries a real competitive edge and contagious work ethic, night in and night out. I really admire Reilly because he’s feisty, mobile, loves to win, and has proven he can handle an increased workload at the NHL level. This was a real savvy trade deadline acquisition by Bruins GM Don Sweeney.
2) Justin Holl, Defenseman, Toronto Maple Leafs
Next up is the Toronto Maple Leafs blue-liner. It wasn’t too long ago when Holl was stapled to the press box as a healthy scratch by former Leafs’ head coach Mike Babcock. For whatever reason, Holl just couldn’t find his way into Toronto’s lineup. But the past is the past, as they say, and that all changed with the arrival of Sheldon Keefe.
Since Keefe has taken over behind the bench, Holl has been nothing short of spectacular for the blue and white. As a player, the Tonka Bay, Minnesota native possesses a real passion for the game. He’s big, strong, and a swift skater for a man of his stature (6’4, 210). Since being (re)-inserted in the Leafs’ lineup, “Hollsy” has been a mainstay in Toronto’s top-4.
The 2020-21 campaign has seen an offensive surge for Holl. Thus far this year, he has tallied two goals and 16 assists for 18 points in 50 games. He’s also managed a plus-10 rating to go along with 21:12 worth of ice time on Toronto’s blue-line. Holl is as steady as they come in his own end and has firmly established himself as one of the best feel-good stories in hockey.
1) Carter Verhaeghe, Center, Florida Panthers
Coming in at number one as the single-best feel-good story in hockey is Florida Panthers’ standout, Carter Verhaeghe.
After a rather short-lived showing last summer inside the NHL bubble in Toronto, Ontario, the Panthers entered the 2020-21 campaign with renewed expectations. Well hockey fans, the numbers speak for themselves, as the Cats have been absolutely extraordinary. And, you guessed, Verhaeghe has played a tremendous role for them every step of the way. Playing in his very first season in Sunrise, he has defied expectations and then some with the soon-to-be playoff-bound Panthers.
After scoring just 13 points in 52 games last season down the road in Tampa, Verhaeghe has had a renaissance campaign as a Cat. In 42 games thus far this year, the Toronto, Ontario native has tallied 17 goals and 18 assists for 35 points. In addition, he’s also logged 17:46 with ice-time along with an outstanding plus-23 rating. Each of the aforementioned statistics are career-highs (across the board).
And how about those Panthers? Well, they’re fighting tooth and nail for the top spot in the NHL’s Central division with a phenomenal 33-14-5 record. Without question, Verhaeghe has been one of Florida’s most surprising and confident performers all season long. He’s also my choice for hockey’s best feel-good story this season. As we move to within two-and-a-half weeks of the NHL playoffs, look for Verheague to continue his rampant pace. To say he’s got a “hot stick” would be a massive understatement wouldn’t you say?
With the NHL playoffs just under two weeks away, look for all three of the aforementioned players to play significant roles for their respective clubs. Buckle up, hockey fans!
Follow Dom Lunardo on Twitter @TapetoTape88
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