12 NHL Players Set for Major Comebacks in 2012-13

Steve Silverman@@profootballboyFeatured ColumnistSeptember 3, 2012

12 NHL Players Set for Major Comebacks in 2012-13

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    What you saw last year isn't necessarily what you will get this year.

    When players have great individual seasons, fans usually expect them to pick up from where they left off the next year. It doesn't always work out that way.

    On the other hand, players who have played poorly, have been injured or simply spent a lot of time on the bench don't have to repeat past failures. Players can return to past glory or reach new heights they have never seen before.

    Here's a look at 12 players who should be set for major comebacks in the 2012-13 season.

Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins

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    Since absorbing concussive hits in back-to-back games against the Washington Capitals and the Tampa Bay Lightning in January, 2011, Crosby has played 22 regular season games.

    He had one aborted comeback last season before returning in earnest later in the year. He appeared fully recovered during the regular season and during the Penguins' playoff loss to the Philadelphia Flyers in the first round of the playoffs.

    Quite simply, Crosby was the best player in the NHL before his injury, and he should return to that status this season. He may need 20 games or so to find his stride, but there's no reason to think that Crosby won't score at least 100 points this year, and he probably could approach his career high of 120 points.

    Crosby has all the measurables. He is a dazzling skater, a brilliant stickhandler and passer and a solid shooter with great accuracy.

    However, his intangibles are just as impressive. He is a team leader, he plays his best hockey at the biggest moments and he will fight for the puck and scrap in the corner.

    Look for a huge comeback season from Sid the Kid.

Tuukka Rask, Boston Bruins

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    Tuukka Rask has been one of the best teammates in the league the last two seasons.

    He has manned the role of the Boston Bruins' No. 2 goalie with grace and a smile as Tim Thomas led the Bruins to the Stanley Cup in 2011 and held on to the starting job last year.

    But Thomas has decided to take a year off—he has not officially retired—and Rask takes over as the Bruins starter.

    In his last significant action, Rask was one of the best goalies in the league in 2009-10 with a 1.97 goals against average and a .930 save percentage, but that season ended badly as the Bruins lost a 3-0 lead to the Philadelphia Flyers and dropped the final four games of the series.

    Rask has been looked as the Bruins' goalie of the future for year. The future has arrived, and Rask should have what it takes to help the Bruins remain in contention for the Stanley Cup.

Tomas Plekanec, Montreal Canadiens

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    The Montreal Canadiens were racked in controversy last season and finished the season at the bottom of the Eastern Conference.

    The Canadiens fired two coaches in Jacques Martin and Randy Cunneyworth, and Michel Therien takes over behind the bench. Unlike Cunneyworth, Therien can speak French, thereby alleviating one controversy.

    But if the Canadiens are going to return to playoff contention this season, they need bounce-back seasons from many of their players. One of them is Tomas Plekanec, a talented performer who can skate, win faceoffs, play defense, shoot and pass.

    Plekanec was quite ordinary last year. He finished with 17 goals, 52 points and was minus-15. He is a much better all-around player than that, and he should score 25 to 30 goals and return to being a plus player.

Taylor Hall, Edmonton Oilers

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    Taylor Hall has been a solid player during his first two seasons with the Edmonton Oilers.

    He scored 22 goals as a rookie and 27 goals in 2011-12. That's not bad production for Hall, but much more is expected.

    He was the No. 1 draft pick in the NHL in 2010, and he has flashed his speed, power and explosive shot. Both of his first two seasons have been cut short by injuries.

    Look for Hall to become a true superstar with 40 goals or more this season. The young Oilers are maturing, and Hall should become one of their leaders this season.

Jeff Skinner, Carolina Hurricanes

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    Jeff Skinner was the seventh pick in the first round of the 2010 draft for the Carolina Hurricanes. He didn't have the hype of Taylor Hall or Tyler Seguin, but he came into the NHL with both guns blazing and scored 32 goals while winning the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year.

    The 2011-12 season was much more difficult for Skinner as he fought through a series of injuries and was rarely at his best on a consistent basis. Nevertheless, Skinner still had 24 goals for the Canes.

    He should be healthy as he begins his third full season at the age of 20. He is a quick and instinctive player with the ability to get open and fire his accurate shot.

    Look for Skinner to become one of the team's leaders this season. He should be a 30-plus goal scorer this season.

Brayden Schenn, Philadelphia Flyers

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    Brayden Schenn is a boom-or-bust type with the Philadelphia Flyers this year, and we are betting that Paul Holmgren and Peter Laviolette know what they are doing and he will have a big year.

    Schenn will likely play on the same line with Sean Couturier now that Jaromir Jagr has moved to Dallas as a free agent. He should take a regular shift in 2012-13 after averaging 14:07 of ice time while scoring 12 goals last year.

    Schenn will also be inspired by the presence of his brother, defenseman Luke Schenn, who was acquired from the Toronto Maple Leafs. Look for Bradyden Schenn to be a 25-goal scorer this year.

Devin Setoguchi, Minnesota Wild

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    It wasn't a great debut for Devin Setoguchi in Minnesota with the Wild last season. After scoring 20 goals or more in his previous three seasons with the San Jose Sharks, Setoguchi lit the lamp 19 times last year.

    Setoguchi, 25, should be coming into his prime this season. He will find a much more competitive team this season as the Wild dominated the offseason with their signings of Zach Parise and Ryan Suter. This should result in increases scoring opportunities for Setoguchi.

    Look for him to score 30 or more goals, as he did in 2008-09 when he had 31 goals for the Sharks.

Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals

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    Has there ever been a player who has taken a bigger hit to his reputation after back-to-back 30-plus goal seasons?

    Probably not. But when your name is Alex Ovechkin, you are expected to score at least 50 goals every season.

    As the Washington Capitals struggled to find an identity during the last two seasons, Ovechkin's production dropped significantly. He has scored 70 goals the last two years combined after averaging 53.8 goals per season in his first five years.

    New Capitals coach Adam Oates was one of the best and most creative offensive players during his Hall of Fame playing career. He is likely to lean on offense as he takes the reins of his first NHL team. Ovechkin may make mistakes on defense and could ultimately cause problems, but look for at least 45 goals this year.

Michael Grabner, New York Islanders

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    Michael Grabner is one of the most explosive skaters in the NHL.

    He scored 34 goals for the Islanders in 2010-11, connecting on 14.9 percent of his shots and finishing the season at plus-13.

    However, what should have been a jumping off point for a big season in 2011-12 season was not. Grabner was held to 20 goals and his shooting percentage dipped to 11.5 percent. He was also a defensive liability for his team, finishing the season at minus-18.

    Grabner should have a bounce-back season if he can get off to a better start. He buried himself early and wasn't able to recover until it was too late.

Nathan Horton, Boston Bruins

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    After scoring 26 goals and playing the role of playoff hero for the Boston Bruins in 2010-11, Nathan Horton saw his season cut short by his second concussion in two seasons and played in just 46 games in 2011-12.

    Horton had scored 17 goals before his season was cut short after taking a  hit in a Jan. 22 game against the Philadelphia Flyers and could not return to the lineup.

    However, he has been cleared in the offseason and should be back at full strength this season.

    In addition to his solid regular season production in 2010-11, Horton scored in overtime of the seventh game in the opening round playoff series against the Montreal Canadiens and then scored the game-winning goal in the seventh game against the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Eastern Conference Finals.

Cam Ward, Carolina Hurricanes

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    Expectations for Cam Ward have been high ever since he led the Carolina Hurricanes to the 2005-06 Stanley Cup and came away with the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoffs' most valuable player.

    While Ward has been solid for the most part, he has never been back to those lofty levels. However, the Hurricanes made a couple of big moves in the offseason in acquiring Jordan Staal from the Pittsburgh Penguins and signing former Washington Capitals winger Alex Semin.

    Ward did not have a stellar season in 2011-12, giving up an average of 2.74 goals per game and stopping .915 of the shots he faced. Look for a bounce-back season in which Ward puts himself in contention for a postseason award and the Hurricanes become playoff contenders.

Jeff Carter, Los Angeles Kings

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    It's hard to think of Jeff Carter as a potential comeback player after he was one of the Kings' most valuable players during the team's march to the Stanley Cup last June.

    However, as good as Carter was during the postseason when he scored eight goals, he was ordinary in the regular season with the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Kings. He scored 21 goals for the two teams (15 with the Blue Jackets) and was a disappointment.

    Prior to last season, Carter had scored 30 goals or more in three straight seasons. Look for at least 30 goals this season as he maintains his momentum from last year's playoffs.