3 NHL players having late career breakout seasons

DETROIT, MICHIGAN - DECEMBER 10: Dylan Larkin #71 of the Detroit Red Wings celebrates his second period with Gustav Nyquist #14 while playing the Los Angeles Kings at Little Caesars Arena on December 10, 2018 in Detroit, Michigan. Detroit won the game 3-1. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
DETROIT, MICHIGAN - DECEMBER 10: Dylan Larkin #71 of the Detroit Red Wings celebrates his second period with Gustav Nyquist #14 while playing the Los Angeles Kings at Little Caesars Arena on December 10, 2018 in Detroit, Michigan. Detroit won the game 3-1. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images) /
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The 2018-19 NHL season has seen more than its fair share of NHL players in the process of late-career breakouts. Here’s a look at three of them.

It’s not easy being a 30+ run-of-the-mill hockey player. Sure, you still might be making millions of dollars a year, but everyone is constantly speaking about your inevitable decline.

This must be particularly painful for those who were never really intended to be stars. You have to be great to play in the NHL, but over their careers, most of these guys have maintained average numbers at best.

Yet, late in their career, something sparks. Defying Father Time, they fight back against the forces of age and make late-career final stands. For writers, these are some of the most exciting underdog stories in the world.

This is probably because of their battle against multiple factors. Not only are they aging, but not much was expected of them in the first place. Let’s take a look at some of these stories.

Carter Hutton

Carter Hutton‘s breakout technically started last season, but this is his first time being a top-tier starting goalie. Before last season, he really wasn’t seen as anything special.

After he was signed by the Flyers in 2010, (never getting a chance in the NHL mind you) he spent most of his time bouncing from team to team, trying to make the cut. During his time with the Blackhawks organization, he played only a single NHL game.

He got his chance as a starter due to Pekka Rinne getting a hip infection with the Nashville Predators, and he was perfectly serviceable. With a .910 save percentage and only 1 game of NHL experience prior, he did a lot better than anyone expected. Yet, he still wasn’t considered one of the best goalies in the league.

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This perception wouldn’t change until last season. Backing up Jake Allen with the St. Louis Blues for most of the year, he secured a .931 save percentage through 32 games. And then the Buffalo Sabres got their hands on him.

If the Sabres are still hoping to emerge from the dark, dark shadows of the olden days, then Carter Hutton is just what they need. His save percentage has decreased to a .917, but this can be expected in transition to a starting role. Even at 32 years old, Hutton has been just what the Sabres wanted – a good goalie to jumpstart a quickly improving corps.

Gustav Nyquist

Although any sort of excitement regarding the Detroit Red Wings is hard to come by this season, Gustav Nyquist is an exception. With Dylan Larkin set to take over the team in the long-term, Nyquist is the only remnant of the golden age who is exceeding expectations.

While his career high is 54 points, his best season was probably 2013-14, where he recorded 48 points in 57 games – a 69 point pace. Despite these outliers, he has mostly only ever been a 40-50 point player. This is fine, but it’s not gonna get you any name recognition.

A good portion of his points usually came from goalscoring. This time around, scoring fewer goals has resulted in a career-high pace. With eight goals and 21 assists for 29 points in 32 games, he trails Larkin by a single point for the team lead.

At 29 years old, it’s impressive how he has stepped up on a struggling Red Wings team. Although Detroit fans might not have much to cheer about right now, Gustav Nyquist is someone to be happy for.

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Curtis McElhinney

What an interesting career turn Curtis McElhinney has seen over these past few seasons. He picked up an injury recently and it’s not known when he’ll return, but his story is a really interesting one.

The life of a backup goalie is difficult. They are often some of the most expendable roster pieces season-to-season. McElhinney had a great season for the Toronto Maple Leafs but got rewarded by being placed on waivers. He was claimed by the Carolina Hurricanes at the beginning of the season.

Although McElhinney was probably the best backup option the Leafs had, Garret Sparks is a lot younger so the move made sense. Nevertheless, the Canes were more than happy to claim him.

While the battle for the starting position looked to be between Petr Mrazek and Scott Darling, their poor play resulted in McElhinney rising to the top. In 11 games played, Mac has at long last, given the team some solid goaltending, with a .920 save percentage. At 35 years of age, he is probably the most inspiring case of a late-career breakout this season.

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These stories are always some of the most interesting the league has to offer.