Every year there are hundreds of talented players throughout the National Hockey League. As hockey is constantly changing, the players must continue to adapt and develop their game regardless of how old they are. Here are three players who’ve under-performed in recent years, but are turning it around in 2017.
Peter Budaj’s name is one that has been outside the National Hockey League spotlight for a number of years now. Since spending time with the Montreal Canadiens in 2013-14, Budaj has predominantly spent his time bouncing around the AHL. Last season Budaj was the starter of the Los Angeles Kings’ AHL affiliate, the Ontario Reign, and dominated by gathering a record of 42-14-4 with a save percentage of .932% and GAA of 1.75. He would have likely started in the AHL again this season, but a long term injury to Jonathan Quick forced the Kings to call up Budaj on October 13th. Despite not playing in the NHL for almost three years, it’s as if Budaj hasn’t skipped a beat. In 27 games played this season he has amassed a record of 14-8-2 with a save percentage of .915% and GAA of 2.13. His excellent play has kept the Kings in the playoff hunt currently holding the second wildcard in the Western Conference with an overall team record of 16-13-2. With Quick still not due back for a couple of months, if Budaj can keep the Kings afloat than he may very well continue to find himself playing in the NHL next season.
Talk about a player who needed revitalization in his career. Gagner was drafted 6th overall in 2007 and never quite lived up to his pre-draft hype. He has spent the majority of his career with the Edmonton Oilers before spending time with the Arizona Coyotes and Philadelphia Flyers. However, in August of this past offseason the Columbus Blue Jackets signed Gagner to a one year contract worth $650,000 and so far he has been worth every penny and more. In 28 games played Gagner has totaled 22 points consisting of 13 goals and 9 assists. He is currently fifth in scoring and leads the team with his 13 goals. Seeing as he has never scored more than 18 goals (2011-12) it is likely he will eclipse that mark this season. At 27 years old he could be a vital asset to the Blue Jackets moving forward and if he can continue this level of offensive production he may be looking at a hefty raise come this offseason.
Eric Staal was the face of the Carolina Hurricanes’ franchise for a long time spending his entire career there up until last season when he was traded to the New York Rangers at the trade deadline. Staal’s numbers had declined as the years went on in Carolina and the team decided to part ways after wanting to go in a different direction. There were big expectations when he was acquired by New York, but sadly he never lived up to the hype. In 20 games for the Rangers, Staal only tallied 6 points consisting of 3 goals and 3 assists and was unable to gain any points in their 5 game first round loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins. During the offseason Staal was signed to a 3 year contract by the Minnesota Wild and has looked great since moving to the State of Hockey. In his first 30 games for Minnesota, Staal has been at almost a point per game pace with 24 points consisting of 10 goals and 14 assists. He leads the team in points and is tied for most goals with Charlie Coyle. His contributions to the team have helped the Wild climb the league standings, currently sitting second in the Central Division with a 18-8-4 record and +40 goal differential. If he continues at this pace Staal may hit the 20 goal mark for the first time since 2015 and will be vital to the Wild as the team heads into the second half of the season and playoffs.