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Top individual surprises, disappointments in 2011-12

Tuesday, 04.03.2012 / 3:34 PM / NHL Insider

By Corey Masisak - NHL.com Staff Writer

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Top individual surprises, disappointments in 2011-12
NHL.com takes a look at some players who exceeded expectations this season, and others who fell far short of reaching them.

The 2011-12 season has been full of surprises and disappointments. While some pundits liked the St. Louis Blues as a young team that could take a step forward this season, no one expected them to contend for the Presidents' Trophy.

The Ottawa Senators were expected to rebuild and be eligible to claim the No. 1 pick in the draft lottery, but instead they will be in the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Their opponents in the 2007 Stanley Cup Final, the Anaheim Ducks, were expected to be in the mix for the Pacific Division title, but a disastrous start to the season will keep them out of the postseason.

Other teams like the San Jose Sharks and the Washington Capitals were expected to be among the League's elite, but are now spending the final days of the season trying to save a tumultuous campaign.

There have also been many surprises and disappointments among individual players. Here's a look at some who exceeded expectations this season, and some who didn't reach them:

SURPRISES

 

Andrew Shaw, Chicago -- 11 goals, 22 points in 35 games

Shaw was a fifth-round pick in the 2011 NHL Draft. To put his involvement at the NHL level into prospective, no other player taken after the second round has played in the League -- from the 2010 NHL Draft. Just making it this early is crazy enough, but he's been a key secondary scorer when needed and inspired #ShawFacts on Twitter.

Michael Ryder, Dallas -- 35 goals, 62 points in 79 games

Ryder had 36 goals in the past two seasons combined, though he did have a nice 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs. When Dallas traded James Neal to Pittsburgh, the company line was Jamie Benn would replace him. Benn has been great, but Ryder has been a huge reason why the Stars are still fighting for a playoff spot.

Valtteri Filppula, Detroit -- 23 goals, 65 points in 78 games

Filppula has always been a solid role player for the Red Wings, but injuries have given him increased opportunities this season and he has taken advantage. His previous career highs were 19 goals and 40 points.

Jordan Eberle, Edmonton -- 33 goals, 75 points in 76 games

Eberle showed everyone his talent, specifically his world-class hands, last season, but he has been more consistent in 2011-12. Of Edmonton's phenoms, he is the one who wasn't the No. 1 pick in an NHL draft, but he's also the one who has been able to stay healthy and put up impressive numbers.

Tomas Fleischmann, Florida -- 26 goals, 59 points in 79 games

Fleischmann had blood clots in both lungs last season. That he is even playing in the League is remarkable, but he's also been healthy and had his most productive season to date. Toss in a half-season with Colorado before the blood clots, and Fleischmann has become a legitimate top-line scorer since leaving Washington.

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Jonathan Quick, Los Angeles -- .931 save percentage, 1.89 GAA in 67 games

Remember all those "when will Jonathan Bernier win the No. 1 job" stories from the couple of preseasons before this one? Quick has proven his gains last season (.918 save percentage, 2.24 GAA) were not only real, but that he had another level he could get to. Quick will be in Las Vegas for the NHL awards show as a Vezina Trophy finalist, and it says here he should win it.

Max Pacioretty, Montreal -- 30 goals, 60 points in 76 games

Pacioretty's 2010-11 season ended when Zdeno Chara checked him into the stanchion at Bell Centre in one of the most high-profile hits of the past decade. He recovered from a concussion and a broken neck, and has been Montreal's best player and a reason for future hope in a season of disappointment in Quebec.

Erik Karlsson, Ottawa -- 19 goals, 77 points in 78 games

Karlsson was considered one of the top young offensive defensemen in the League after last season, but he exploded this campaign and could win the Norris Trophy because of it. He's been better in his own end as well, but 77 points -- tied for 10th among all players -- is an incredible achievement.

Wayne Simmonds, Philadelphia -- 27 goals, 48 points in 79 games

It was a good thing the Flyers gave up young guys like Mike Richards and Jeff Carter to help bring in a proven scorer like Simmonds. Wait, that's not what happened? The 24-year-old Simmonds has more goals and points than either of the stars Philadelphia shipped out during the offseason. Not only has he helped ease the losses offensively, but Simmonds' physical brand of play is a perfect fit with the Flyers.

Mike Smith, Phoenix -- .927 save percentage, 2.29 GAA in 64 games

The Coyotes spent $47 million less on Smith than the guy who was their starting goaltender the previous two seasons, Ilya Bryzgalov. While Bryzgalov has been much better of late, Smith has still had a better season regardless of the money. He had played in 64 games in the two previous seasons combined in Tampa Bay.

James Neal/Pascal Dupuis, Pittsburgh -- 63 goals, 136 points in 158 combined games

When this season started there weren't many people who pegged Neal and Dupuis to be the team's second- and third-leading scorers. Dupuis has always been solid since arriving as a throw-in from Atlanta in the Marian Hossa deal, while Neal was a disappointment after joining the club last season in a trade for Alex Goligoski. Pittsburgh has always been searching for wings to score goals and compliment the "Big Three" -- not this season.

Brian Elliott, St. Louis -- .943 save percentage, 1.48 GAA in 36 games

Brian Elliott
Brian Elliott
Goalie - STL
RECORD: 23-9-3
GAA: 1.48 | SVP: 0.943
Elliott signed a two-way contract with the Blues after not being the answer in net for Ottawa and playing even worse in a brief trial with Colorado. Barring a terrible game or two this week, he's about to set the NHL record for save percentage in a season. If this list were ordered by biggest surprise, he'd have no competition for the top spot.

DISAPPOINTMENTS

Ryan Getzlaf, Anaheim -- 9 goals, 54 points in 77 games

Getzlaf's point total is in line with the team's other stars, but those 9 goals just aren't enough for someone with the world-class talent he possesses. He has one goal in the past 32 games. Anaheim needs more from its stars next year, but Getzlaf especially.

Ville Leino, Buffalo -- 7 goals, 24 points in 68 games

The Sabres spent a lot of money in the offseason, and giving Leino $27 million was a controversial maneuver. Leino had a terrible start to the season, and become a symbol of the team's offensive woes. Rookie Marcus Foligno has nearly matched his goal total in only 12 games.

Zac Dalpe, Carolina -- 1 goal, 3 points in 16 games

When general manager Jim Rutherford was done retooling his roster in the summer, he said he expected Dalpe to score 20 goals this season to help replace the departed Erik Cole. Well, Dalpe struggled to prove he belonged in the NHL and ended up spending most of the year back in the American Hockey League. Anthony Stewart (9 goals) and Alexei Ponikarovsky (7 goals before being traded) also didn't work out as well as hoped for the Hurricanes.

Matt Duchene, Colorado -- 13 goals, 27 points in 56 games

Duchene and fellow 2009 pick John Tavares had almost identical statistics through two seasons. Tavares made the next step to superstar status in 2011-12, and Duchene didn't. Even had he been healthy for the entire year, these per-game numbers for Duchene would have been disappointing.

Jeff Carter/James Wisniewski, Columbus -- 20 goals, 49 points in 84 combined games

James Wisniewski
James Wisniewski
Defense - CBJ
GOALS: 5 | ASST: 19 | PTS: 24
SOG: 87 | +/-: -17
They were two huge additions for the Blue Jackets in the offseason and the reasons why they expected to be playoff contenders. Carter was injured and ineffective, while Wisniewski was suspended for the team's awful start and then injured a couple of times. Other guys were part of the problem in Columbus (see below for another big one), but the symbolism -- and lack of production -- with these two guys is hard to ignore.

Steve Mason, Columbus -- .892 save percentage, 3.43 GAA in 44 games

After two mediocre seasons, this was to be Mason's last chance to prove he was a legitimate No. 1 goaltender in this League. He did have a decent run (before an injury) after he found out he could wear bigger pads (how does that happen, anyway?), but the chances of him being in net for anyone on opening night next season seem quite small.

Dustin Penner, Los Angeles -- 7 goals, 17 points in 63 games

Penner wasn't very productive after the Kings gave up a sizable return to secure him at the trade deadline last season, and he's been even worse this year. There are other culprits for why Los Angeles didn't score nearly enough (before the trade for Carter), but Penner is absolutely the biggest.

Dany Heatley, Minnesota -- 22 goals, 50 points in 79 games

Heatley had back-to-back 50-goal seasons not that long ago, and five straight with at least 39. He's got 48 in the past two seasons, and moving to a third team in four years didn't help. No excuse, whether it is the defensive system or talent around him or being comfortable in a new city, is acceptable.

Scott Gomez, Montreal -- 2 goals, 11 points in 38 games

Scott Gomez
Scott Gomez
Center - MTL
GOALS: 2 | ASST: 9 | PTS: 11
SOG: 59 | +/-: -9
Feels a bit like piling on at this point, but with a cap hit of more than $7 million there has to be more offense than this. There were injuries, but Gomez and Brian Gionta combined for 10 goals and more than $12 million against the cap.

Nino Niederreiter, N.Y. Islanders -- 1 goal, 0 assists in 52 games

There has been plenty written about the Islanders' handling of "El Nino," but plenty of other guys who don't get enough minutes and don't play on the top two lines like they should end up with more than 1 goal. Also, anyone who played forward on Long Island this season and wasn't Tavares, Matt Moulson, PA Parenteau or Frans Nielsen could be on this list.

Dwayne Roloson, Tampa Bay -- .885 save percentage, 3.71 GAA in 38 games

Roloson helped the Lightning to within one goal of the Stanley Cup Final last season. He's played in 38 games this season, but only played the whole contest 24 times (relieved someone nine times, was pulled five times). Forget Elliott, acquiring Curtis Sanford this offseason might have made Tampa Bay a playoff team.

Alex Ovechkin/Alexander Semin, Washington -- 56 goals, 115 points in 151 combined games

There are about 10 guys on the Capitals roster that could be on this list for various reasons. Ovechkin and Semin have both been mostly healthy this season, and cost Washington a touch more than $16 million against the salary cap. Ovechkin had 65 goals and 112 points by himself one year. They are both 10-15 goals and 20-plus points shy of the expectations given their salaries and past performances.


Quote of the Day

I don't know how he does it. I don't know how he gets his body parallel with the player and pulls it through his legs like that. I know he's tried it a couple times in practice and it's never worked, so how he does it in a game, it's incredible.

— Capitals defenseman Mike Green on teammate Alex Ovechkin's highlight-reel goal against the Devils on Saturday