Edmonton Oilers center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins had great expectations for the 2012-13 season. But a nagging shoulder limited his effectiveness and he struggled mightily for a disappointing team.
Now he recovering from shoulder surgery and preparing for the start of training camp. Nugent-Hopkins will initially be limited to non-contact drills. It remains to be seen if he will miss some early-season games.
“I think everybody is going to be a little bit cautious,” Nugent-Hopkins recently told Edmonton reporters. “It's important to make sure that it's going to be good for the rest of my career and make sure that it's 100 percent when I start back up.”
Nugent-Hopkins scored 18 goals and earned 34 assists in 62 games two years ago. But last season he delivered just four goals and 20 assists despite playing with highly skilled linemates.
“My shot feels great. It feels probably a little bit better than last season even,” he said. “I'm definitely happy with that. It was something I wanted to improve, even if I didn't have the surgery.”
Nugent-Hopkins is one of several key NHL players staging comebacks from major injuries. Here are some others.
Ryan Kesler, C, Vancouver Canucks: He is a John Tortorella-type player. He could post big numbers banging around the rink for his new coach – if he stays healthy.
“He’s going to expect more from everybody, and we're going to need more," Kesler told the Vancouver Province. "The way things ended last year, I don't think anybody looks at themselves as a top dog anymore. We've got to find our way and battle every night."
Kesler is feeling good after finally recovering from hip, wrist and shoulder repairs, plus a broken foot. "I’m excited now. First training camp in three years,” he said, according to NHL.com. “I’m excited for the new coach, excited to see the guys, excited for the outdoor game, excited for the Olympics. There’s a lot to look forward to this year. I’m healthy and I’m ready for it."
He scored 148 points in two seasons before injuries took their toll. Last season he scored four goals and added nine assists in the 17 games he played.
Pekka Rinne, GT, Nashville Predators: He is recovering from hip surgery and hoping to regain his standing as one of the league’s elite goaltenders. His save percentage last season (.910) was the worst of his five full seasons in the league.
"The decision to go ahead and do the surgery was a tough one," Rinne told The Tennessean on July 13. "I knew that it was going to be a long road to recovery. I'm confident that I'll be ready for the season no problem."
Rinne has won 153 games since 2008, the sixth-most in the league. Given Nashville’s lack of firepower, the team will need him to be his old self.
Cam Ward, GT, Carolina Hurricanes: Before suffering a knee injury last season, he has been one of the league’s most durable goaltenders. He played 68 or more games in four of his previous five seasons. The Hurricanes became lost without him, losing 20 of their last 27 games last season
“Last season obviously is one I'd like to forget. I feel confident I've done everything I can this summer to get my body in the best shape I possibly can to have a healthy season,” Ward told the Raleigh News & Observer. “I want to make a big impact on this hockey team and let my play do the talking.”
Marian Hossa, W, Chicago Blackhawks: He struggled with a back injury during the playoffs, but opted not to undergo surgery to address a disc pressing against a nerve. Team doctors believed rest and rehabilitation could clear up the problem.
Hossa fought through his discomfort to scored 16 points in 22 playoff games. He scored 17 goals and earned 14 assists in 40 regular season games.
Marc Staal, D, New York Rangers: His post-concussion syndrome appears to be behind him. So is his broken foot. He has recovered from his scary eye injury, although his vision in the damaged eye may never fully return. From 2009-11, he scored 56 points with a plus-19 rating.
Martin Havlat, W, San Jose Sharks: Back in the day he was an impact offensive player. He enjoyed a 77-point season in Chicago in 2008-09. He scored 62 points in 78 games for the Wild in 2010-11.
But Havlat has scored just 45 points in 79 games during two injury-marred seasons in San Jose. He underwent off-season groin muscle surgery -- a “pelvic floor reconstruction” -- and dodged a potential compliance buyout in the process.
Dany Heatley, W, Minnesota Wild: He is coming back from shoulder surgery after scoring a career-worst 0.58 points per game last season. The injury impacted his production last season and also spared him from a potential compliance buyout this summer. He has indicated that he expects to be ready for full participation in training camp.
David Booth, W, Canucks: He delivered 22-, 23- and 31-goal seasons in Florida. He overcame a serious concussion only to suffer a season-ending ankle injury last season after scoring just three points in 12 games.
“I had ankle surgery this past year and it takes a long time to start feeling normal out there," he told the Park Record during his off-season workouts. “But it's actually feeling really good now. In mid-August, I was really starting to question whether I'd be able to start on time.”
Kris Versteeg, W, Florida Panthers: He has enjoyed 20-, 22- and 23-goal seasons in the NHL, but he scored just four points with a minus-8 rating in 10 games last season before suffering a major knee injury. He is recovering from surgery.
“Going at it a day at a time. I think the progression’s been pretty good,” Versteeg told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. “The rehab’s been there. It’s a long process but I my goal is to be ready for the start of the season. I don’t want to hop into a regular-season game without knowing what training camp is like but I think I’ll be in there for most of it.”