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Top Shelf: Old dogs get new tricks

Mike Comrie is averaging 1.3 points per game this season.

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Mike Comrie is averaging 1.3 points per game this season.

I’ve always suspected dating Hilary Duff would put a spring in your stride, but never to the tune of a point per game.

Mike Comrie, whose two summer coups were convincing the delightful Ms. Duff to take a chance on a hockey-playing Canuck and signing a one-year deal with the Isles worth more than $3 million, is actually averaging 1.3 points through 12 games this year.

That’s good news for Comrie, the team and Long Island fans, many of whom likely anticipated they would need the warmth of a few Long Island Iced Teas to make it through the hockey season. Given Comrie has never scored more than 60 points in a season, it also qualifies as surprising news.

The NHL is flush these days with young players making an almost immediate impact with their teams. But don’t forget guys such as the 27-year-old Comrie, who take their sweet time coming into their own.

And in case you have, here’s a list of players born no later than 1980 who have taken their game to a new level since the lockout.

Some are first-rounders discovering previously untapped talent, while others were long shots to make the NHL in the first place and probably spent plenty of time contemplating the distinct possibility of making a living outside of hockey.
     
Nik Antropov, 27, Toronto The big forward, who plays both center and wing, finally has Leaf fans borrowing a phrase from his (fictitious) Kazakhstan countryman Borat: ‘I like-a-you!” Nine goals in 16 games? ‘Very nice!’

Daymond Langkow, 31 Calgary He broke out last year, his second in Calgary, and is on a point-a-game pace this year. Hopefully the hit he took from Matt Cooke Thursday night doesn’t derail his production.

David Legwand, 27, Nashville
Back in 1998, one player was drafted ahead of Legwand - Vincent Lecavalier. And while Vinny was busy being ‘the Michael Jordan of hockey’ in Tampa (OK, not quite), Legwand occupied himself with a series of completely forgettable 40-point seasons.

He developed a strong defensive game basically out of necessity to justify his existence at the NHL level. But Legwand upped the ante last year with 27 goals and 63 points and while many of his old Preds teammates headed for the exit, Legwand is back leading the Music City Mustard Men (along with Jason Arnott) with six goals and 14 points through 15 games.

Though he’s struggling a bit this season, Legwand’s teammate Chris Mason must get a nod in this category, too.

Andy McDonald, 30, Anaheim
The slick Duck had 80 points in 194 games before the lockout. Despite a slow start without Teemu this year, he has 171 points in 181 ‘new’ NHL games. Not bad for a guy who was never drafted.

Cory Murphy, 29, Florida After a long European excursion, he’s playing his first NHL games this year and has given the Cats an unexpected 10 points through 16 games from the blueline.

Mike Ribeiro, 27, Dallas
Though he did have a 65-point campaign the season before the lockout in Montreal, it’s fair to say he never fully lived up to expectations. But hey, there’s something to be said for anonymity.

Ribeiro posted a steady 59 points last year, his first in Dallas, but has raised the bar this year by averaging better than a point per game. He’s never going to be confused with Mark Messier, but on a team starved for offense, he’s a good fit.

Mark Streit, 29, Montreal You knew he was going to replace Sheldon Souray on the power play, right?

Tim Thomas, 33, Boston If the Bruins expected a 1.71 goals-against average and .947 save percentage, they probably would have let Manny Fernandez stay in Minnesota.

Since becoming a full-time NHLer post lockout, Thomas has been known for streaky play.

Given coach Claude Julien’s defensive approach, things might even out for the guy the Quebec Nordiques once thought highly enough of to draft 217th overall in 1994.

Top Shelf appears every second Friday only on thehockeynews.com.

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