And I’m back with Part 4 of my One-Hit Wonders series. What started as a quick post to reminisce and hit my “where are they now?” curiosity itch about past NHL’ers turned into a full series as I kept finding more and more players who fit this category in some way.
This time, we look at a household name who took advantage of some rule changes, a player whose peak season accounted for over half of his career production, a winger whose drop off after his peak is one of the biggest I’ve seen, and a one-game wonder who maybe had some rookie luck?
Brian Gionta enjoyed a lengthy, consistent professional career spanning 16 seasons. Through most of his career he was a lock to put up about 30-40 points, even later on. He was a highly respected individual within organizations, in locker rooms, and around the league. Gionta was captain of the Montreal Canadiens and the Buffalo Sabres.
When the league resumed play after the 2004-05 lockout with a bunch of new rules to cut down on how defenders could impede with attacking players, offense rose significantly. Many players were able to take advantage of this.
Brian Gionta was drafted 82nd overall by the New Jersey Devils in 1998 while playing with Boston College. He remained there for four seasons, winning a national championship in 2000-01. After his college career, he immediately turned professional and split his first season with the New Jersey Devils and their AHL affiliate, the Albany River Rats.
Gionta spent the first 3 seasons of his career developing into the consistent player he became. In the Devils’ 2003 Cup win, Gionta had 25 points in 58 regular season games and 9 points in 24 playoff games. During the 2004 lockout, he briefly played again with the Albany River Rats.
Moving into Gionta’s breakout season in 2005-06, the league was entering a new era. A few rule changes intending to increase offense and end the dead puck era. This gave a lot of players the chance to explode offensively. Brian Gionta proceeded to play in all 82 games in 05-06, scoring 48 goals (a New Jersey Devils record) and 89 points.
That was the only time in Gionta’s career that he scored 30 goals and he only hit 60 points once more, getting exactly 60 in 2008-09, his last season with the Devils.
After his 89 point season, Gionta’s production trendline fell off and he typically scored 20+ goals and had 40+ points over the next 6 seasons. In the middle of this stretch, he signed with the Montreal Canadiens and was named team captain before his second season with the team. In the middle of his time in Montreal, his production started to drop off and he began averaging just shy of 20 goals and 30-40 points per season. This pace held up through the end of his career.
The 89 point season Brian Gionta had in 2005-06 took full advantage of rule changes post-lockout, and despite having a lengthy, consistent, and successful professional career, Gionta still falls as a one-hit wonder.
Scott Bjugstad has one of the more interesting statlines of any player I’ve encountered. He scored over half of his career’s 73 goals and 144 points in one season.
After being drafted 181st overall in 1981 by his hometown Minnesota North Stars, Scott Bjugstad spent a few more seasons playing with the University of Minnesota and the United Stated National team before turning professional. He made his debut in 1983-84, playing 5 NHL games (with 0 points) with the North Stars and 15 games (recording 18 points) with the Salt Lake Golden Eagles of the Central Hockey League.
Bjugstad spent most of the next season with the North Stars. He scored 15 points in 72 games. This sets the stage for the blip in Bjugstad’s career radar.
In 1985-86, Scott Bjugstad peaked. He had 43 goals and 76 points in 80 games. This season came out of nowhere on a stacked Minnesota North Stars team. A great story, the hometown kid takes off as a star. An exciting goal scorer. But alas, this season was not a sign of a breakout for Scott Bjugstad.
The next season, Scott had 4 goals and 13 points in 39 games, splitting time with Springfield of the AHL. He ‘bounced back’ a little bit the season after with 10 goals and 22 points in 33 games, but that was the last time he hit 10 goals, or even 10 points for that matter.
The remainder of his career, he bounced around between the NHL, AHL, and IHL. Over his last 5 professional seasons, he played for the Pittsburgh Penguins, Los Angeles Kings, New Haven Nighthawks (AHL), Kalamazoo Wings (IHL), and Pheonix Roadrunners (IHL). In the NHL over these seasons, Bjugstad had 18 points in 88 games.
His sudden and extremely high peak is one of the most significant and quick rises and falls of any player I have encountered in this series.
Gary Leeman built up to his one-hit wonder season over a few years of progressive growth. But afterwards, his production fell off in one of the most significant year-over-year point total drops I have encountered.
Gary Leeman played his junior hockey in Saskatchewan as a defender, which got him drafted 24th overall in 1982. Interestingly, a couple of seasons later when he made his way into the NHL, he converted to a winger. This switch seemed to fit as he was speedy and quite offensively talented.
He made his debut in the playoffs in 1983 and became an NHL regular the following season. As a rookie, he had 12 points in 52 games. Over the next 5 seasons, Leeman slowly increased his point totals each season. His sophomore season he had 31 points, followed the next year by 32, then 52, 61, and 75.
Now entering the 1989-90 season, Leeman is an NHL regular coming off of 2 consecutive 30-goal seasons. Gary Leeman explodes offensively, scoring 51 goals and 95 points in 80 games. His shooting percentage was 19.9, significantly above his career average of 12.7%. Leeman was the second player in Maple Leafs history to have a 50-goal season.
Regression hit Leeman hard in 1990-91. His shooting percentage dropped back to 12%. He only played 52 games. And he had 17 goals with 29 points. A nearly 70 point drop year-over-year.
That was about as productive as Leeman stayed the rest of his NHL career. The next 2 seasons were his last as a full-time NHL’er, in which he had 29 and 32 points respectively.
In 1993-94, he began splitting time between the NHL and AHL. In 1994-95 he only played 10 games. Then in 1995-96, he played in Europe.
His final professional season in North America, he split between the St. Louis Blues (playing 2 games and recording 1 point), the AHL’s Worcester Ice Cats, and the IHL’s Utah Grizzlies. After 2 more seasons in Europe, Leeman retired.
Gary Leeman had a solid NHL career spanning 13 seasons. At his peak, he spent a few years as a high performing forward. But his peak season and subsequent drop-off show his 95 point season was a one-hit wonder.
Fabian Brunnstrom is an interesting addition to this collection of one-hit wonders. His peak was incredibly short at just one game. But it technically counts as a one-hit wonder anyways.
Brunnstrom began his career in Sweden, playing his way up through the tiers of the Swedish leagues. He led the second-tier league in scoring in 2006-07 with 73 points in 41 games.
At this point, he had begun gaining NHL attention. Even moreso once he spent time in the Swedish Elite League, the top tier of Swedish hockey. He had 37 points in 54 games that year.
Brunnstrom then ended up in a bidding war of NHL teams hoping to sign him. Ultimately, Fabian Brunnstrom joined the Dallas Stars for the 2008-09 season.
He made his NHL debut the next season in the Stars’ third game of the year against the Nashville Predators. He became the third player in NHL history to score a hat trick in his NHL debut. He actually had a fourth goal as well, but that was disallowed. Brunnstrom’s third goal became the game-winner in a 6-4 victory.
Brunnstrom had a solid rookie season overall, with 55 games played, 17 goals, and 29 points. But the highlight was his debut. He had a few other multi-point games but none got him in the spotlight as much as scoring a hatty in his debut.
Fabian Brunnstrom trailed off after that. He had 11 points in 44 games the following season but began spending more time in the AHL. After spending 2010-11 in the AHL, he got one more shot with an NHL team by signing with the Detroit Red Wings. However, he only played 5 games with the Red Wings (recording 1 assist) and spent most of the season in the AHL again.
That was the end of his North American career as he then went back to Europe and played out the remainder of his career in Sweden and Denmark before retiring after the 2016-17 season.
That is everyone I’ll cover in Part 4 of my NHL One-Hit Wonders series. Check back in here to see when Part 5 is up, or you can find us on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter! Let us know there if you have any one-hit wonders we should write about.
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