One of the most underrated players in the National Hockey League around the turn of the century was Washington Capitals center Andrei Nikolishin.
A quick glance at his numbers hint at nothing special. He never scored more than 14 goals in one season and outside of a 51 point campaign with Hartford back in 1996, he would challenge the 30 point mark regularly in Washington. He would play in 10 seasons in the NHL, seeing 628 games. He scored 93 goals and 187 assists for 280 points. In 43 career playoff games, he had just one goal and 17 helpers.
Yet Nikolishin's game was much stronger than his output ever suggested.
He was a very strong skater, blessed with a powerful stride. He literally could turn on a dime, shaking many defenders, and had great balance.
He was nifty puckhandler with a pass-first mentality, almost to a fault. Unfortunately he never really had the chance to play with a triggerman on the wing who could convert his slippery passes.
Nikolishin was used more in a checking role, a role he eagerly accepted but soon became trapped in. He read plays well, backchecked with determination and killed penalties and blocked shots with authority. He almost seemed content to let his defensive game carry him. It would have been nice to see him a more offensive role, because I think he would have done well at it.
Though he was not very big (he was listed a 5'11" and 180lbs) he adapted well to the more physical North American game. He was very popular with his teammates as he had exemplary work habits.
The Caps let Nikolishin go in 2002. After failed stops in Chicago and Colorado, Nikolishin went home to Russia during the NHL lockout season of 2004-05. He never returned to the NHL, but continued to play hockey in Russia for many years.