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Seven players looking to avoid one-hit label

Saturday, 07.21.2012 / 9:00 AM / NHL Insider

By John Kreiser - NHL.com Columnist

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Seven players looking to avoid one-hit label
Music has its "one-hit wonders." The NHL has them too -- and players who came out of nowhere last season want to show they can do it again.

In the world of music, they're known as "one-hit wonders" -- artists who have a big-time record, but can never replicate that kind of success.

The NHL has its own version of one-hit wonders -- players who were in the right spot at the right time for a season, but found out that repeating their success wasn't as easy. Their poster boy is 1980s forward Warren Young, who scored 40 goals for the Pittsburgh Penguins playing with Mario Lemieux in 1984-85 and never came close to that total again (Young finished his career with 72).

Every season, a handful of players come out of nowhere to put up numbers no one expected. The challenge for those who did it last season is to show in 2012-13 that they've got what it takes to repeat (or at least come close to) what they put up in 2011-12.

Here’s a look at seven players who will try to replicate their surprising showings:

Mike Smith
Mike Smith
Goalie - PHX
RECORD: 38-18-10
GAA: 2.21 | SVP: 0.930
Mike Smith, Phoenix Coyotes -- Phoenix fans had to be wondering what their team would do when starting goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov left for a long-term deal with the Philadelphia Flyers last summer. General manager Don Maloney wasted little time signing Smith, then a 29-year-old journeyman who had never won more than 14 games in a season or been a full-time NHL starter.

All Smith did in his first season in the desert was win 38 games with a 2.21 goals-against average and a .920 save percentage while leading the Coyotes to the first division title in franchise history. For an encore, he led Phoenix to the Western Conference Finals for the first time, posting a 1.99 GAA and a save percentage of .944.

The Coyotes lost top scorer Ray Whitney to free agency and could see some other key pieces depart before the season starts. That will put more pressure on Smith to show that his performance in 2011-12 wasn't a flash in the pan. With one year remaining on his contract, he'll have plenty of incentive to excel again.

Brian Elliott, St. Louis Blues -- If Smith's play in Phoenix was a surprise, Elliott's performance in St. Louis was a shocker. After a dreadful 2010-11 season divided between the Ottawa Senators and Colorado Avalanche, the 291st player taken in the 2003 NHL Draft found himself on the market and wound up having to accept a two-way deal with the Blues. He barely beat out Ben Bishop for the backup job behind starter Jaroslav Halak.

But Halak started slowly then got hurt, giving Elliott a chance to play -- and he made the most of it. Elliott finished with a 23-10-4 record, a League-best 1.56 goals-against average, and nine shutouts, helping the Blues win the Jennings Trophy and earning himself a berth in the All-Star Game.

However, Elliott was the losing goaltender in all four games when the favored Blues were swept by the Los Angeles Kings in the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs -- leaving plenty of doubt whether he caught lightning in a bottle or took a major step forward. With Halak signed to a long-term deal, Elliott is likely to split time again.

David Clarkson, New Jersey Devils -- No one ever questioned Clarkson's grit, toughness or work ethic -- not many undrafted players are able to work their way into regular NHL jobs with upper-level teams the way Clarkson has done with the Devils. And few have become 30-goal scorers after establishing themselves as third-liners who get about 12 goals a season.

That's what Clarkson did last season, when he became perhaps the most surprising 30-goal scorer in the NHL. After scoring 12 times and managing 18 points in 2010-11, Clarkson erupted for career-highs in goals (30) and points (46), helping the Devils return to the playoffs after a one-year absence. He then chipped in three goals and 12 points in 24 playoff games as New Jersey got within two wins of the Stanley Cup.

No doubt the arrival of his junior coach, Peter DeBoer, was a help. But the pressure will be on the 28-year-old forward to show that his sudden scoring burst was not a fluke.

Wayne Simmonds
Wayne Simmonds
Right Wing - PHI
GOALS: 28 | ASST: 21 | PTS: 49
SOG: 197 | +/-: -1
Wayne Simmonds, Philadelphia Flyers -- A change of scenery was just what the soon-to-be 24-year-old needed to become an offensive force. Simmonds came to Philadelphia as part of the return the Flyers received in the trade that sent Mike Richards to Los Angeles -- and the forward made himself right at home on Broad Street. His 28 goals were twice as many as he'd scored in L.A. -- in fact, they were more than he scored since he was a 16-year-old playing in the Greater Toronto Hockey League before entering juniors. His 49 points also were a career-high.

As he enters his fifth NHL season -- second with the Flyers -- the question facing Simmonds is how high his ceiling will be. Was 2011-12 a career year or a stepping stone to bigger things?

Matt Read, Philadelphia Flyers -- The Flyers signed Read in the spring of 2011 after he finished his four-year career at Bemidji State. He put up 13 points in 11 AHL games, but wasn't expected to make the parent club when he arrived at training camp last September.

But not only did Read make the Flyers, he became a valuable contributor at forward, scoring 24 goals and adding 23 assists while averaging more than 17 minutes of ice time. Coach Peter Laviolette used Read in all situations.

The question for Read is whether he'll be able to build on a season in which he was a 25-year-old rookie -- for example, he's more than a year older than Sidney Crosby, who's been in the NHL for seven seasons -- or is he as good as he's going to be?

Jason Garrison, Vancouver Canucks -- Playing for the Florida Panthers, with some help from defense partner Brian Campbell, Garrison became one of the NHL's most feared gunners from the point last season. His 16 goals were more than twice as many as he managed in his first two NHL seasons, and his 33 points eclipsed the 26 he had since turning pro in 2009 after three seasons at Minnesota-Duluth.

Garrison's big season helped the Panthers to the first division title in franchise history -- and earned him a six-year contract from the Canucks, not far from his birthplace in White Rock, B.C.

Garrison, 27, is going from a middle-of-the-pack team to one of the NHL's best, and more is going to be expected of him after signing the big contract. The Canucks are banking on the expectation he'll be able to thrive while playing near home and without Campbell, whose passing skills were a big part of Garrison's offensive breakout.

Michael Del Zotto
MICHAEL DEL ZOTTO
DEFENSE - NYR
GOALS: 10 | ASST: 31 | PTS: 41
SOG: 113 | +/-: 20
Michael Del Zotto, New York Rangers -- One of the reasons the Rangers went from barely qualifying for the playoffs in 2010-11 to Eastern Conference regular-season champions a year later was the play of Del Zotto, their first pick (No. 20) in the 2008 NHL Draft.

After a promising rookie season and a disappointing sophomore campaign that earned him a trip to the minor leagues, Del Zotto had a breakout season in 2011-12. Not only did he lead the Rangers defense with 10 goals and 41 points, he went from minus-5 in '10-11 to plus-20 -- all while averaging 22:26 of ice time, nearly three minutes more per game than he'd ever played.

On a team that has trouble scoring, Del Zotto's offensive production is vital -- but he's still not as consistent in his own zone as coach John Tortorella demands. There's room for improvement, which Del Zotto showed during the postseason. The Rangers need the 22-year-old to take the next step in his development.

Quote of the Day

There's no discouragement in that room. There's no issues there at all to be honest with you. It's more about, 'Hey, it's opportunities for players.' And if we become that bad of a team because of one player, it's not a real good sign for our hockey club. So this is part of sports. It's part of hockey.

— Bruins coach Claude Julien on the loss of Zdeno Chara to injury
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