NHL.com's seven players attempting to prove last season wasn't a fluke

Thumbnail image for leighton.jpgI often find it unfair when people call certain bands “one-hit wonders” for a simple reason: perhaps they didn’t want to make another big single? Now, most of you (especially more cynical types) will roll your eyes at such a stance; after all, doesn’t every artist want to make buckets of money and bathe in groupies? (Doesn’t everyone?) That’s probably true for the most part, but maybe there are exceptions; merely study the post-“Epic” career of Faith No More and you’ll wonder how hard they were trying to churn out toe-tappers.

Hockey players cannot make claims to “artistic integrity,” though. Aside from changing to a two-way game or playing the point on a powerplay unit, expectations are pretty much the same. If you’re a goalie, you better keep stopping pucks; if you’re a forward your role is thwart the opposing netminder.

It’s no secret that I’m a sucker for these stories, but this one slipped through the cracks until today: NHL.com put together a list of seven players who will try to prove that their breakthrough 2009-10 seasons weren’t flukes. I’ll add a few comments here and there for their choices, plus excerpts from the article’s author, John Kreiser.

Michael Leighton, Flyers – No one can take away Leighton’s brilliance in the second and third rounds of last spring’s Stanley Cup Playoffs. He came back from a high ankle sprain, stepped in when Brian Boucher was injured and led the Philadelphia Flyers to Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final. But after leading Philadelphia to a historic comeback victory in the semifinals against Boston and shutting out Montreal three times in the Eastern Conference Finals, Leighton was something less than rock-solid in the Final, leading many to wonder if he was just another guy who got hot at the right time.

When it comes to judging Leighton, it’s all about what kind of expectations you have for the once-obscure goalie. If you think he should be an elite goalie, then yes, chances are he’ll make you furrow your brow more often than not. Yet considering the fact that he’ll play behind a deep defense and a sizable pool of forwards, Leighton may succeed by just being average. Which – let’s face it – is the most realistic outcome, especially if you subscribe to the old saying “You get what you pay for.”

Thumbnail image for Howard3.jpgJimmy Howard, Red Wings – Howard figures to start 2010-11 as the Wings’ No. 1 goaltender, but with Osgood still around and 2008 first-rounder Thomas McCollum maturing in the AHL, Howard has to prove he’s not just a late bloomer who got hot at the right time.

Howard honestly deserved more recognition for what he did last year. In my opinion, he saved Detroit’s season. I get the feeling the Red Wings will be a bit more explosive next season with Jiri Hudler back in the mix and the Chicago Blackhawks cooling down a bit, but will the natural erosion of aging bring Nicklas Lidstrom and Brian Rafalski down a level? If they drop quite a bit, Howard might be in trouble.

Read more about the last five after the jump, including 30-goal scorers Matt Moulson, Jussi Jokinen and Patric Hornqvist.

mattmoulsonscores.jpgMatt Moulson, Islanders – Not only did Moulson make the team, he led the Isles with 30 goals, including 5 game-winners. Moulson started the season on a line with Tavares, but as the season went on, he showed he could be effective playing without him.

The easiest way to tell a player had a “blessed” year is to study his shooting percentage. Moulson scored 30 goals on 208 shots last year, which accounts for a 14.4 percent rate. My guess is that is a little high, but not astronomical. If he can put up 200+ shots again next year, I’d guess he could at least produce a 20-goal season again (on 10 percent shooting, which is pretty average). Can the Islanders really complain about 20 goals from Moulson? I don’t think so.

Jussi Jokinen, Hurricanes

Once just a shootout specialist, Jokinen exploded for the Hurricanes in the playoffs and followed it up with an under-the-radar 30 goal season for Carolina. Why was it so under-the-radar? Because the Canes were terrible, that’s why. He has a decent chance to succeed because, like most of the other players on this list, his team doesn’t have many other options.

hornqvistscoresonkipper.jpgPatric Hornqvist, Predators – Teams don’t expect much from seventh-round draft picks, so Hornqvist’s 30-goal performance last season was like found money for the offensively challenged Predators. Hornqvist never had scored more than 23 goals at any level during his career and had just 2 goals in 28 games as an NHL rookie in 2008-09. But he became an offensive force last season, leading the Preds in goals and helping Nashville return to the playoffs.

Using the shooting percentage test, Hornqvist has a better chance of repeating his 2009-10 than Moulson. Hornqvist took a substantial 275 shots to hit 30 goals, so one might think that all he needs to do is keep firing the puck at the net. Considering the limited offensive options in Nashville, maintaining his 15:41 minutes per ice average seems reasonable so he probably will get every chance to succeed. The thing is, you always have to fear the contract year … even with restricted free agents. Still, as unproven as Hornqvist was coming into the NHL, he has a decent (though not outstanding) chance of being a threat going forward. At age 23, don’t be shocked if he struggles a bit in the near future, though.

Kurtis Foster, Oilers – Not only did Foster put up strong offensive numbers at the age of 28, he did it after overcoming a horrific broken leg that cost him almost all of the 2008-09 season.

Two things need to happen for Foster to go from a risk (as Pierre McGuire seemed to indicate during free agent day coverage) to a flat-out steal. First, he’ll need to be healthy enough to get on the ice with regularity. Second, Sheldon Souray would ideally be gone. Sure, having two booming shots from the point would make “Duck!” the official phrase of the Edmonton Oilers’ powerplay, but Souray might make Foster a bit redundant.

Ian White, Flames –

Ian White might end up being one of the few bright spots in a Cal Clutterbuck of a mess in Calgary. Seriously, what are you doing, Darryl Sutter? I think Flames fans are tired of your Glen Sather impression. I mean, it’s dead-on, but still.

So those are NHL.com’s seven choices. I’m not sure if I’ll provide that many, but expect a post with my own anti-Faith No More’s a little later tonight.

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    Have the Blackhawks finally found their first-line LW?

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    A three-point night for Nick Schmaltz, which included a nifty pass to Jonathan Toews for the game-winner, must have Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman wondering how to approach the trade deadline.

    The way the 20-year-old rookie has been playing, does Bowman really need to add a first-line left winger before next Wednesday?

    It’s a valid question. Only a month ago, Bowman was reportedly sniffing around the likes of Tomas Tatar and Gustav Nyquist.

    But Schmaltz has since caught fire, with two goals and five assists in his last six games. The rookie from Wisconsin had one goal and two assists in Tuesday’s 5-3 victory over Minnesota.

    “He’s been really good,” head coach Joel Quenneville said, per the Chicago Sun-Times. “[Tuesday] was the most we’ve ever seen him with the puck. I don’t know how many times he evaded coverage, and all of a sudden he loses the guy on him and a play develops. That play against the grain to [Toews] was spectacular.”

    Toews, of course, has been through a whole host of linemates this season, and only in the last month has the captain really started to produce offensively. Richard Panik and Marian Hossa are two veteran options to skate on his right side, but the left side has been a running audition.

    Schmaltz, a first-round draft pick in 2014, only got called back up to the NHL in mid-January.

    One month later, Toews is liking the chemistry that’s developed between himself, Schmaltz and Panik.

    “We’ve been given the chance to spend a few games together, get some consistency, get some feel and some confidence,” said Toews. “The biggest thing for the three of us is if we go through a game without scoring, we’re given a chance to go out in the next game and try and redeem ourselves and contribute offensively.

    “It’s a lot of fun, because I think we’re feeling it. [Schmaltz and Panik] are playing so well at both ends of the rink. They’re playing with a ton of confidence with the puck.”

    The ‘Hawks have two games left before the March 1 deadline. They host Arizona tomorrow and St. Louis Sunday.

    Ducks set to debut Kerdiles, another talented prospect

    PITTSBURGH, PA - JUNE 23:  Nicolas Kerdiles, drafted 36th overall by the Anaheim Ducks, poses for a portrait during Day Two of the 2012 NHL Entry Draft at Consol Energy Center on June 23, 2012 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
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    Another day, another Anaheim rookie ready to make the leap.

    Nic Kerdiles, the 36th overall pick in 2012, looks primed to make his NHL debut tonight when the Ducks host the Bruins. Kerdiles was recalled yesterday and, at this morning’s skate, worked on a line with Corey Perry and leading goalscorer Rickard Rakell, a good indicator he’ll be in the lineup.

    Exciting times for both him and the club.

    A former University of Wisconsin standout, Kerdiles’ debut was delayed due to a lengthy concussion battle that cost him most of this season. He’s only recently returned to action with AHL San Diego, but didn’t miss a beat — he has four goals and nine points through 10 games, this following a ’15-16 campaign in which he scored 27 points in 45 games (a year also marred by injuries, including broken ribs and a bruised kidney.)

    This opportunity comes with Antoine Vermette serving a 10-game suspension for abuse of an official, and veteran journeyman Corey Tropp having been returned to the minors.

    At 23, Kerdiles is actually one of the older prospects to join the big club this season:

    — Jacob Larsson, the 19-year-old Swedish defender taken 27th overall in ’15, cracked the roster out of camp and played four games before getting returned to Frolunda.

    — 21-year-old Ondrej Kase, a seventh-round pick in ’14, has become a lineup fixture, with 12 points in 43 games.

    — Nick Sorensen, 22, is a Danish winger taken 45th overall in 13. He made his debut in October and appeared in five games.

    — Defenseman Brandon Montour, an AHL All-Star at the center of trade rumors, got called up in January and has 12 contests under his belt.

    With all this young talent — especially on defense — it’s not surprising Anaheim’s been in the middle of major trade rumblings leading up to the March 1 deadline. GM Bob Murray’s on record saying he won’t trade blueline prospects for rentals but, with all the talent at his disposal, one wonders if he’ll make a move to avoid losing a prized asset at this June’s expansion draft.

    This could be why Anaheim’s debuted all these youngsters. The organization needs to see what they can do at the NHL level, and evaluate who will be in their long-term plans.

    Five team stats you may find interesting

    Washington Capitals' Matt Niskanen (2) and T.J. Oshie (77) celebrate with Alex Ovechkin (8) after Ovechkin scored against the Dallas Stars during the third period an NHL hockey game, Saturday, Jan. 21, 2017, in Dallas. Stars' Jamie Benn (14) skates back to the bench. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
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    +50 — That’s the Washington Capitals’ goal differential in 2017. No, not for the entire season. Just for the 23 games they’ve played since Jan. 1. Over that stretch, they’ve scored 98 goals and allowed just 48, for an average score of 4.3 to 2.1. In rather stark contrast, the Colorado Avalanche are minus-30 in 2017, with just 40 goals scored against 70 surrendered.

    18 — Regulation wins for the Los Angeles Kings. That’s all they’ve managed in 59 games. Yet the Kings are only two points back of Calgary for the second wild-card spot, with one game in hand. How have they done it? With a league-high 10 overtime victories, against just one OT defeat, that’s how.

    53.6 — The faceoff win percentage of the Avalanche, the second-highest percentage in the league. Meanwhile, the three worst faceoff teams are the Penguins (47.8), Rangers (47.6), and Oilers (47.1), all three of which are on pace to make the playoffs. The lesson? Faceoff stats are overrated.

    25-0-0 — The Penguins’ record when leading after two periods, making them the only team with a perfect record in that situation. Even more impressive? The Pens finished a perfect 39-0-0 last year, meaning they’ve yet to lose a regular-season game in that situation under head coach Mike Sullivan. (They went 12-2-0 in the playoffs.)

    3.47 — Goals per game by the Penguins, putting them on pace to become the highest-scoring team since the 2009-10 Capitals (3.82). That Capitals team, by the way, was the highest-scoring team of the salary-cap era.

    stats

    Canucks’ Miller, agent to discuss trade possibilities

    MONTREAL, QC - NOVEMBER 02:  Ryan Miller #30 of the Vancouver Canucks looks on from his crease during the NHL game against the Montreal Canadiens at the Bell Centre on November 2, 2016 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.  The Montreal Canadiens defeated the Vancouver Canucks 3-0.  (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)
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    Vancouver’s in the midst of its bye week, and won’t play again until Saturday, but still figures to be very active next over the few days.

    GM Jim Benning said he’d talk with players possessing no-trade clauses during the break, and one of those, veteran netminder Ryan Miller, will have additional discussions as well.

    Per News 1130, the pending UFA will talk with agent Mike Liut about trade deadline possibilities. Liut added his client has yet to decide anything regarding his future.

    More on this, from Pierre LeBrun on TSN’s Insider Trading:

    Ryan Miller has a no-trade with only five teams on it, and of those five teams to go to, three are in the state of California. He spends his offseason, as most people know, in the L.A. area.

    The L.A. Kings are, to me, the only real team that potentially makes sense. If they get news on Jonathan Quick in the next week that they’re not sure about him, then perhaps they have to go out and trade for a goalie — and Ryan Miller, that could be of interest.

    On the flip side? The Canucks are not against Ryan Miller coming back next year at a lower salary, and being a mentor of sorts.

    Miller’s in the last of a three-year, $18 million deal with a $6M cap hit. Pricey, but one that could be mitigated by salary retention.

    As for potential suitors?

    Today, the Kings waived current backup goalie Jeff Zatkoff, a move many have linked to Quick’s pending return. So that would (theoretically) rule out the Miller-to-L.A. idea.

    In a recent radio hit, Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman floated the idea of Anaheim acquiring Miller. John Gibson has been terrific and is the unquestioned No. 1, but the situation behind him is dicey. Jonathan Bernier, himself a pending UFA, has just a .901 save percentage on the year with a 2.93 GAA, and isn’t playing much. Bernier’s made just two starts this month and in his last one, he was hooked after allowing three goals on just six shots.

    Then there’s San Jose.

    The club has history of upgrading the backup goalie position at the deadline, most notably last year when James Reimer was acquired to replace the ineffective Alex Stalock. There have been rumblings GM Doug Wilson might try it again this season, but head coach Peter DeBoer recently gave current No. 2 Aaron Dell a vote of confidence.

    “There’s probably only one or two teams in the league with the luxury that if their starter goes down they feel very confident,” DeBoer said, per the Mercury News. “At the same time, our group has a real confidence in Deller, I think he’s earned that.”

    In the end, an extension in Vancouver might be the most likely outcome. Miller’s been solid, posting a .917 save percentage for a sub-.500 team with one of the league’s worst goal differentials (minus-30). Jacob Markstrom hasn’t proven he’s a legitimate full-time starter, and the goalie market could be flooded this summer with the likes of Ben Bishop, Marc-Andre Fleury, Steve Mason, Michal Neuvirth, Brian Elliott and Chad Johnson all potentially available.

    Related: What does the future hold for Ryan Miller?