It’s always fun when something unexpected happens in the world of sports, whether it be a team that surpasses expectations or a player coming out of nowhere to charm everyone. These are the top three Cinderella stories from the NHL this season.
Andrew Hammond (Ottawa Senators)
Hammond was never a goalie protege that we knew was going to come in to the league and blow us away. The “Hamburglar” was an undrafted player that had spent four years at Bowling Green State University before signing with the Senators as a free agent in 2013.
His numbers in the AHL were decent last season (2.81 GAA and .910 SV%) but this year he had struggled and had poor 3.51 GAA and .898 SV%. So when the goalie injuries started to happen for the Senators, with both Robin Lehner and Craig Anderson missing time, no one could have predicted that 27-year-old Hammond would come in and just dominate.
He has an impressive 14 wins in 15 starts, a 1.67 GAA and a phenomenal .946 SV%. Hammond’s play has catapulted the Sens into a playoff spot as they currently are in the last wild card spot in the Eastern Conference. The team has played well in front of him and he has been spectacular in many games and gives them the chance to beat anyone on any given night.
Fans have started to throw hamburgers onto the ice in celebration of their new favorite goalie. The fans are hoping that Hammond can secure them a spot in the playoffs, and give them a chance to make a deep run.
New York Islanders
Last season, the Islanders ended up finishing last in the Metropolitan Division with 79 points, a whole 14 points out of a wild card spot. This year the Isles have transformed into what looks like a really solid playoff team, and they already have 93 points with eight games remaining.
This improvement can be attributed to the smart signings that were made during the offseason. General Manager Garth Snow brought in Nick Leddy from the Chicago Blackhawks and Johnny Boychuk from the Boston Bruins to beef up the blue line. These two have been invaluable to shoring up the defense, and the Isles have a solid defensive lineup now thanks to these two.
They also brought in a new number one in net with the signing of Jaroslav Halak after trading for his rights when he was with the Washington Capitals. Halak has given some stability to a position were the Islanders have been struggling for many years. His 35 wins with a 2.38 GAA and .914 SV% is a huge improvement.
The last time an Islanders goaltender had over 30 wins was in 2006/2007 when Rick DiPietro had 32 wins in 62 games. Halak got to 35 wins in 52 games. Add in the great development of players like Brock Nelson, Ryan Strome and Calvin De Haan and you can see why Islanders fans are happy for what the future might bring to Long Island.
Johnny Gaudreau (Calgary Flames)
Gaudreau has taken the league by storm, and is one of the top picks to get the Calder Trophy for best rookie after the season is over. “Johnny Hockey” was a very talented player and scored 72 points (36 goals and 36 assists) for the Dubuque Fighting Saints in the USHL in the 2010/2011 season and was selected and the USHL Rookie of the Year.
Despite his impressive play, he wasn’t selected until the fourth round in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, when the Calgary Flames ended up picking him worth the 104th overall pick. This looks like the steal of the decade as “Johnny Hockey” has been tearing it up during his first season in the NHL.
He spent three years at Boston College before coming to the NHL, and won the Hobey Baker Award in 2014 as the best NCAA player after scoring 80 points (36 goals and 44 assists) in 40 games. He leads all NHL rookies in scoring with 57 points (20 goals and 37 assists), one point ahead of Nashville’s Filip Forsberg and six ahead of Mark Stone in Ottawa.
Gaudreau has been playing on a line with Sean Monahan and JiriHudler, and these three are all enjoying great years. These trio plays with such speed and elegance that they can break down even the toughest defenses in the league. Hudler is having a career year in goals (27), assists (38) and overall points (65). Monahan is having a fantastic sophomore campaign and is developing into a legitimate first-line center. He has 29 goals and 26 assists so far this season and Calgary could end up with two 30-plus goal scorers for the first time since 2008-09.
Devan Dubnyk (Minnesota Wild):
Dubnyk bounced back after having a couple of rough years in Edmonton. He started out the season as a backup to Mike Smith in Arizona, but was given the chance to start after some questionable performances by Smith. He came in and played so well that Minnesota decided to trade for him. He has 24 wins in 32 games with the Wild and an impressive 1.71 GAA and .938 SV%. Dubnyk has shown that he has the tools to be a starter at the NHL level, and given a decent team in front of him he can shine and give the team a chance to win.