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Top Shelf: Honoring American greats and sending off a Swedish soldier

P-J Axelsson was a seventh round pick by the Bruins in 1995 and tallied 287 points in 797 career NHL games.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

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P-J Axelsson was a seventh round pick by the Bruins in 1995 and tallied 287 points in 797 career NHL games. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

A pair of mid-week musings to keep the ice fires stoked through the flickering dog days:

• Three terrific NHL players have gained entry into the USA Hockey Hall of Fame. Speedy Tony Amonte was one of the best and most consistent goal-scorers in the league during the last half of the ’90s, three times topping the 40-goal barrier during an era largely defined by a lack of goals. He also scored the game-winner in Team USA’s stunning upset of Canada at the 1996 World Cup of Hockey.

As any Habs fan can tell you, John LeClair became the game’s pre-eminent power forward the second then-Montreal GM Serge Savard shipped him to Philadelphia in 1995. Three straight 50-goal seasons and five total first or second all-star team selections tell you just how dominant this member of the diabolical ‘Legion of Doom’ line was.

Good as those players were, the third man voted into the U.S. Hall on Tuesday has the best chance to one day be enshrined in the Hockey Hall of Fame. That would be Tom Barrasso, who blasted onto the NHL scene right out of high school by winning both the Vezina and Calder Trophies in 1984.

He added a first-team all-star selection that year and two more second-team showings in ’85 and ’93.

In addition to the major awards won by Barrasso, he was also a money goalie on Pittsburgh teams that won back-to-back Stanley Cups in the early ’90s.

Barrasso retired in 2003, meaning he’s been eligible for Hall induction since 2006. While he’s by no means a sure thing, his reputation for clutch goaltending on championship teams, coupled with two items of major individual hardware, could yet propel him into the hallowed ranks of the game’s all-time greats.

• His surname always made me think of a legendary, shrieking ’80s front man and his given name of getting ready for bed. Either way, it wouldn’t be right to let P-J Axelsson take the night train back to Sweden without recognizing his NHL accomplishments.

A career Bruin and the longest-tenured player in Boston, Axelsson signed a four-year deal to play in his hometown of Frolunda in the Swedish Elite League.

While his most productive season was a modest 17 goals and 36 points (in just 66 games, mind you) during the 2002-03 campaign, as Boston GM Peter Chiarelli pointed out, digits in no way defined the 11-year Bruin.

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“He’s never been an elite player, but he’s a player that pays careful attention to the details of the game and he’s garnered a lot of respect as a result,” Chiarelli said on Boston’s website. “He’s a tremendous defensive player, very smart, and he played hurt a lot.”

Reports indicate Axelsson wanted to stay in Boston - and why not? He was a loyal soldier through some lean years before the B’s finally started trending up.

But with the future of RFA sniper Phil Kessel as yet unresolved and the decision to bring in offensive-leaning defenseman Derek Morris this week, the Bruins obviously didn’t have the financial flexibility to keep the role player in the fold.

North American fans may have seen the plucky 34-year-old for the last time in an NHL uniform, but that doesn’t mean he won’t make another contribution on this continent again. Axelsson greased Sweden’s wheels with three goals and six points in eight games during the 2006 Olympics, an event won by the Tre Kronor.

Expect to see him back in Vancouver, clad in blue and yellow when Sweden attempts to defend its title next February.

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Ryan Dixon is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey's Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog will appear regularly in the off-season and his column, Top Shelf, appears Wednesday.

For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.

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