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Seven out to prove they're more than one-time stars

by John Kreiser
In music, they're known as "one-hit wonders" -- artists that have a hit single but never are able to replicate that kind of success again.

The National Hockey League has had its own version of one-hit wonders -- guys who were in the right spot at the right time for a season, only to discover that doing it again wasn't as easy. Think of journeyman forward Warren Young, who had 40 goals playing with Mario Lemieux in 1984-85 and never came close to that total again (he finished his career with 72).

A number of players came out of nowhere last season to put up numbers no one expected of them. Their challenge in 2010-11 is to show they've got what it takes to repeat (or at least come close to repeating) the numbers they put up last season.

Here is a look at seven players who will try to replicate their surprising showings from 2009-10:

Michael Leighton, Flyers -- No one can take away Leighton's brilliance in the second and third rounds of last spring's Stanley Cup Playoffs. He came back from a high ankle sprain, stepped in when Brian Boucher was injured and led the Philadelphia Flyers to Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final. But after leading Philadelphia to a historic comeback victory in the semifinals against Boston and shutting out Montreal three times in the Eastern Conference Finals, Leighton was something less than rock-solid in the Final, leading many to wonder if he was just another guy who got hot at the right time.

Leighton's regular-season performance leaves more questions unanswered. He arguably was Philadelphia's best goaltender during the regular season, going 16-5-2 with a 2.48 goals-against average after coming over from Carolina on waivers when the Flyers' goalie corps was wiped out by injuries. But 2009-10 marked the first time in his seven NHL seasons that Leighton had posted a winning record. And the 16 wins were just two short of his career total before coming to Philadelphia.

The Flyers signed Leighton to a two-year deal this summer, but there are no guarantees he'll get the chance to play his way out of a slow start.

Jimmy Howard, Red Wings -- No one was more responsible for Detroit's late-season surge than Howard, who emerged to give the Wings the kind of goaltending they desperately needed to cope with a slew of injuries. Howard, a second-round pick in 2003, finally earned a full-time NHL job as Chris Osgood's backup this season, but he made the most of his opportunity as the starter when Osgood struggled early in the season. Howard, who had been 1-5-0 in nine career NHL appearances before 2009-10, won 37 games last season, with a 2.26 GAA and .924 save percentage, and he was a Calder Trophy finalist.

Howard figures to start 2010-11 as the Wings' No. 1 goaltender, but with Osgood still around and 2008 first-rounder Thomas McCollum maturing in the AHL, Howard has to prove he's not just a late bloomer who got hot at the right time.

Matt Moulson, Islanders -- The best thing that happened to Moulson was John Tavares being drafted by the Islanders with the No. 1 pick in the 2009 Entry Draft. Moulson, a consistent scorer at Cornell and in the AHL, had a couple of look-sees from the Los Angeles Kings, but entered last summer as a 25-year-old minor-league free agent. He also was a childhood friend of Tavares, who convinced the Isles that Moulson was worth a gamble.

Tavares proved to be an excellent talent scout. Not only did Moulson make the team, he led the Isles with 30 goals, including 5 game-winners. Moulson started the season on a line with Tavares, but as the season went on, he showed he could be effective playing without him.

Moulson should be entering his prime (he turns 27 in November), and the Islanders need him to at least come close to matching last season's numbers if they hope to push for a playoff berth.

Jussi Jokinen, Hurricanes -- Prior to last season, Jokinen was far better known for his prowess in the shootout (his 26 goals are the most since the shootout was adopted in 2005) than his play during actual games. In four seasons, he never had scored more than 17 goals, and the Carolina Hurricanes picked him up on waivers during the 2008-09 season after the Tampa Bay Lightning decided they had no use for him.

Jokinen had just 1 goal in 25 games after joining the 'Canes, but scored seven times in the playoffs as Carolina made it to the Eastern Conference Finals. Maybe that gave him a confidence boost, because Jokinen enjoyed a breakout season in 2009-10, putting up career highs of 30 goals and 65 points. With Rod Brind'Amour now retired, the 'Canes need Jokinen to keep producing those kinds of numbers if they have any hope of bouncing back from a disappointing season that saw them miss the playoffs.

Patric Hornqvist, Predators -- Teams don't expect much from seventh-round draft picks, so Hornqvist's 30-goal performance last season was like found money for the offensively challenged Predators. Hornqvist never had scored more than 23 goals at any level during his career and had just 2 goals in 28 games as an NHL rookie in 2008-09. But he became an offensive force last season, leading the Preds in goals and helping Nashville return to the playoffs.

Hornqvist is a restricted free agent, meaning he's all but assured of returning to Nashville. Unlike Moulson and Jokinen, he's just 23 and still a few years away from hitting his peak. The Predators are hoping Hornqvist's breakout season was just a building block for better things to come, rather than the most he's capable of.

Kurtis Foster, Oilers -- Not only did Foster put up strong offensive numbers at the age of 28, he did it after overcoming a horrific broken leg that cost him almost all of the 2008-09 season.

Foster, then with Minnesota, broke his leg crashing into the boards against San Jose on March 19, 2008. The injury cost him almost a full year, and Tampa Bay signed him last summer almost as an afterthought.

But not only did Foster earned a job, he finished with the best offensive numbers of his career, as his 42 points were 14 more than his previous single-season high, though he averaged just 17:11 per game of ice time in 71 games.
Foster's career season persuaded the Edmonton Oilers to sign him to a two-year contract. The Oilers are hoping they're getting the Foster who excelled in Tampa Bay last season, and that he'll build on his 2009-10 numbers rather than fall back.

Ian White, Flames -- White's offensive numbers said the 26-year-old defenseman was having the best season of his career, but the Toronto Maple Leafs still traded him, to Calgary on Feb. 1, in the deal that brought Dion Phaneuf to Toronto. White finished the season with career-best totals of 13 goals and 38 points -- not bad for a sixth-round pick from whom little was expected.

White has filed for arbitration, meaning he'll almost certainly be back with the Flames in the fall. The question GM Darryl Sutter will have to face sometime soon is whether White is a building block for future success or a player who's already reached his ceiling.

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