Brian Elliott had a 3.34 GAA and .893 SP last season, but has improved those numbers to 1.68 and .937 this season. (Getty Images)
The NHL’s Bill Masterton Trophy is awarded annually to the NHLer “who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey,” but the league does not have a comeback-player-of-the-year award. If they did, who would have the inside track this season? That’s the focus on this week’s THN.com Top 10.
The Wings’ power forward went long stretches of time last season without scoring. However, this year, he’s got 18 goals in 46 games and is second only to Ian White on the Wings in plus-minus (plus-24).
The 39-year-old future first-ballot Hockey Hall-of-Famer spent three years in the Kontinental League, but hasn’t missed a beat since returning to the NHL. He’s currently on pace for a 68-point season – a total that would match his jersey number.
As he bounced around the league the past couple seasons, Versteeg was in danger of having the dreaded “journeyman” label attached to him before his 25th birthday. But now that he’s leading the Panthers in goals (17) and points (39), it’s safe to say he’ll be remaining with his current franchise for a long time.
Harding missed all of last season with a knee injury, but he has stormed back to play a vital role in Minnesota’s early-season success, posting a 2.44 goals-against average and .925 save percentage and creating much interest for him on the trade market.
The blood clot woes he battled last season put serious doubt into Fleischmann’s future, but he’s returned with no issues this year and is tied for second on the Panthers in points (34) while leading the team in plus/minus (plus-12).
Smith’s game fell apart in Tampa Bay last year (.899 save percentage), but he has found new life in the Arizona desert, posting a 17-11-6 record, 2.32 goals-against average and .927 save percentage.
Following a banner rookie season, Del Zotto’s game collapsed and he was banished to the American League for a spell. This season, he’s the Rangers’ leading point-producing defenseman (23 points) and their top plus-minus man (plus-22). And he’s still just 21 years old.
Souray’s contract was buried in the AHL last season, but this year the 35-year-old has shown the hockey world his tank is far from empty, averaging more than 20 minutes a night and registering a plus-9.
A throw-in component/salary dump in the Francois Beauchemin/Jake Gardiner trade who had serious health woes to overcome, Lupul has become the best player in that deal. He’s on pace for 50 assists and 86 points; his previous career highs were 28 assists and 53 points.
Elliott was chased out of Ottawa last year and didn’t stick with the Avalanche after a 12-game stint, leading many to imagine his NHL opportunities would be limited. But after Jaroslav Halak stumbled out of the gate with the Blues, Elliott rode to the rescue, posting a sterling .937 save percentage and 1.68 GAA.
The THN.com Top 10 appears Wednesdays only on TheHockeyNews.com.
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