TORONTO, CANADA - SEPTEMBER 19: Carl Gunnarsson #36 of the Toronto Maple Leafs contains Mike Hoffman #68 of the Ottawa Senators during preseason NHL action at the Air Canada Centre September 19, 2011 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Abelimages/Getty Images)
With the Senators plagued by injuries to their forward corps, Mike Hoffman has been given the opportunity to step into his first NHL game tonight. He'll suit up in #68 against the Carolina Hurricanes. Hoffman's route to the NHL has been a bit of an unorthodox one, but that makes it all the more impressive that he's playing in an NHL game at just 22 years old.
Hoffman's major junior career started in the OHL where he played six games for the Kitchener Rangers during the 2006-07 season. However, he was cut at the start of the 2007-08 season, so he jumped over to the QMJHL to play for the Gatineau Olympiques, only to get cut again. He played for the Drummondville Voltigeurs of the QMJHL for the rest of the season, and was not selected in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft.
In the 2008-09 season, he led his team to a QMJHL championship with 52 goals and 94 points in just 62 regular season games. He added 21 goals in 19 playoff games. He was traded to the Saint John Sea Dogs to start the 2009-10, scored 46 goals in 56 games, and won himself the QMJHL MVP trophy.
That's where things took a bit of a turn for the Hoff. Hoffman struggled through his first AHL campaign, posting a team-worst -22 and even being sent down to the ECHL to play for the Elmira Jackets for a few games. He steadily improved through the season, but was a healthy scratch to start the AHL playoffs. However, Hoffman got a chance to play in the second round and found himself a pivotal part of the Binghamton Senators' championship run. In talking about Hoffman, B-Sens coach Kurt Kleinendorst had this to say:
"Every young player will have those defining moments in their careers and coming out of the Quebec league, being the leading scorer, having the year he had ... I don’t know if he ever had to make the commitment to work as hard as he has here. That took him awhile to figure out. I think he’s finally figured it out and I’m going to tell you, if we were to vote now, I would say he’s probably been, from the beginning of the playoffs to this point, our most improved player, without a doubt."
That's one hell of a turnaround -- a healthy scratch last spring and now getting an opportunity to play in the NHL on December 23rd. It's a better Christmas present than I'll be getting this year, that's for sure.
For more on Mike Hoffman, you can read Peter's interview with him here.