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A look at the most unlikely seasons in NHL history

Sunday, 09.01.2013 / 9:00 AM / History

By John Kreiser - NHL.com Columnist

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A look at the most unlikely seasons in NHL history
NHL.com takes a look at some of the most unlikely one-season performances in League history.

Hockey players have a certain level of performance -- after a while, their numbers usually fall within an expected range. Every now and then, though, a player will have a season that's so unlike the rest of his career that it sticks out, largely because he's unable to come anywhere close to that level of production again.

Here's a look at some of the most unlikely single-season performances in NHL history:

Harry Howell, New York Rangers (1966-67)

Howell was a solid but unspectacular defenseman who had spent 14 seasons with the New York Rangers and appeared to be on the back nine of his career entering 1966-67. He never had made a postseason All-Star team and had been on just four teams that made the Stanley Cup Playoffs during his 14 seasons in New York.

In 1966-67, Harry Howell beat out a Boston rookie named Bobby Orr to win the Norris Trophy. (Photo: Getty Images)

The Rangers had finished last in 1965-66, but had been amassing young talent under general manager Emile Francis, and things came together the following season. New York was in first place at Christmas, and despite a late-season slump, the Rangers made the playoffs for the first time in five years.

One big reason for the improvement was the performance of Howell, who previously never had more than seven goals in a season. But in 1966-67 he scored 12 times and finished with a career-high 40 points. He was a First-Team All-Star and won the Norris Trophy as the NHL's top defenseman, beating out a Boston rookie named Bobby Orr.

Though Howell played six more seasons in the NHL and was voted into the Hockey Hall of Fame, he never came close to repeating his 1966-67 numbers.

Jacques Richard, Quebec Nordiques (1980-81)

Richard was the second player taken in the 1972 NHL Draft, and the first pick in the history of the expansion Atlanta Flames. However, he never lived up to the promise he had shown with the Quebec Remparts of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League -- in his first seven NHL seasons, Richard never totaled more than 27 goals or 43 points, and the Buffalo Sabres released him after he had 25 points in 61 games in 1978-79.

However, the arrival of the NHL in Quebec the following season gave Richard a second chance, and he took off in 1980-81 when he was placed on a line with Peter and Anton Stastny. Richard scored 52 goals and finished with 103 points -- 60 more than he had ever had in a single season.

But all good things must come to an end; for Richard, that meant being taken off the line with the Stastnys during the following season. He was out of the NHL after the 1982-83 season; his one big season represented more than 30 percent of his career total of 160 goals.

Warren Young, Pittsburgh Penguins (1984-85)

Young lit up the NHL for 40 goals with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1984-85, earning a berth on the All-Rookie Team as a 29-year-old. Why didn't he win the Calder Trophy? Probably because his linemate, an 18-year-old named Mario Lemieux, ran away with rookie of the year honors -- partly as the result of his success in setting up Young. Without a lot of options, the Penguins installed Young on Lemieux's line and turned him into a star -- for a season.

Instead of staying with Lemieux and the Penguins, Young opted to sign a free-agent deal with the Detroit Red Wings in the summer of 1985. He dropped to 22 goals and was dealt back to the Penguins the following summer. By then, though, he had lost his place on Lemieux's line, scored eight goals in 50 games and was out of the NHL by the end of 1987. The 40 goals Young scored as a rookie represent more than half of his career total of 72.

Rob Brown, Pittsburgh Penguins (1988-89)

Few players in hockey history have had a more bizarre career than Brown, whose one big season with the Penguins represents more than a quarter of his NHL scoring totals.

Brown was an offensive terror in juniors, putting up 173 and 212 points in his last two seasons with Kamloops in the Western Hockey League. He also had a decent rookie season with the Penguins, scoring 24 goals and finishing with 44 points. But in 1988-89, the Penguins put Brown on a line with Lemieux; he responded with 49 goals, 115 points, 24 power-play goals and a plus-27 rating as the Penguins ended a lengthy playoff drought.

Alas for Brown, his magic touch disappeared quickly. He fell to 33 goals and 80 points the following season and was dealt to the Hartford Whalers during the 1990-91 season. The Whalers sent him to the Chicago Blackhawks in 1991-92, and Chicago demoted him to the minors a year later.

Brown found his scoring touch with Kalamazoo of the International Hockey League (then a top minor league) in 1993-94, scoring 42 times and piling up 155 points -- starting a string of four seasons that saw him break the 100-point mark in the minors but earn only a couple of brief NHL callups. The Penguins brought him back in 1997 and he had three middling seasons in Pittsburgh before finishing his career with three point-a-game seasons for the Chicago Wolves of the IHL and American Hockey League.

Jim Carey, Washington Capitals (1995-96)

Scorers aren't the only ones who have out-of-character seasons. It happens to goaltenders as well.

Jim Carey earned the Vezina Trophy as the NHL's top goaltender before turning 22. (Photo: Getty Images)

The Washington Capitals took Carey, a high school goaltender from the Boston area, in the second round (No. 32) in the 1992 NHL Draft. He played two seasons at the University of Wisconsin before turning pro and starred in the American Hockey League in 1994-95 before being called up by the Capitals. In 28 NHL games, he went 18-6-3 record with a 2.13 goals-against average and four shutouts.

But that was just a warm-up act. Though his save percentage dropped from .913 to .906 the following season, Carey went 35-24-9 with a 2.26 GAA and nine shutouts in 1995-96, earning the Vezina Trophy as the NHL's top goaltender -- all before turning 22.

No one knows quite what happened, but when the Capitals reassembled at camp for the 1996-97 season, Carey's magic was gone. He was traded to the Boston Bruins in March 1997 and was out of the NHL before his 25th birthday, having won 27 games and posted three shutouts following his career season.

Jonathan Cheechoo, San Jose Sharks (2005-06)

Cheechoo, a second-round pick (No. 29) by the San Jose Sharks in 1998, didn't get his first taste of the NHL until 2002-03. He hardly was a sensation, totaling 16 points in 66 games while playing mostly in a bottom-six role. After a summer of conditioning and power skating, he improved to 28 goals and 47 points in 2003-04, helping the Sharks return to the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Cheechoo played in Sweden during the 2004-05 work stoppage, and had seven goals and 15 points in 23 games for San Jose in 2005-06 when the Sharks acquired center Joe Thornton at the end of November. With Thornton as his new center, Cheechoo pumped home 49 goals in San Jose's final 59 games, giving him a League-leading 56 for the season and earning him the Rocket Richard Trophy. His 93 points nearly were double his previous career best.

Big things were expected of Cheechoo in 2006-07 -- after all, he would have a full season with Thornton, whose playmaking skills had earned him the NHL scoring title and the Hart Trophy as League MVP. Instead, Cheechoo fell to 37 goals and 69 points, then dropped off to 23 and 12 goals in the next two seasons before the Sharks sent him to the Ottawa Senators. Ottawa bought him out in the summer of 2010, and Cheechoo spent three seasons in the American Hockey League before signing with Medvescak Zagreb of the KHL this summer.

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