The National Hockey League really needs to upgrade its hardware game. Sure, there is no better trophy in sports than the Stanley Cup. And the NHL does a pretty good job at honoring its best forwards, defensemen, and goalies each year. But what about honoring the best scorer who can also fight, the player who came out of nowhere and wowed everyone, or the guy who clawed his way back into the league after a year-long hiatus?
Since 2018, Puck Junk has given out awards to such players. They may not have scored 50 goals or posted 15 shutouts, but they were still interesting, exciting — or even infamous — during the past season.
That said, here are your 2023 Puck Junk Award winners!
The Chris Kontos Trophy
For the player you never heard of that came out of nowhere and surprised everyone — like the way Chris Kontos did when he scored four goals for the Tampa Bay Lightning in the team’s first-ever game back in 1992.
And the winner is…Adin Hill of the Vegas Golden Knights!
Why? Who heard of Adin Hill before 2023 — besides his parents, or the dozens of Arizona Coyotes fans that witnessed one of his few games played during the first four years of his career? True, Hill did play 25 games for the San Jose Sharks in 2021-22, but when he was acquired by the Knights prior to the start of the 2022-23 season, it looked like he’d be the team’s third-string goalie.
That all changed quickly in the playoffs, as Hill was thrust into the spotlight and absolutely shined! He posted an 11-4 record, recorded two shutouts, and had a fantastic 2.17 goals-allowed average — and was a big reason why the Knights won the Stanley Cup. In the span of five weeks, he went from “Adin Who” to “Adin Hell Yeah!”.
Past Winners: Joe Snively, Washington Capitals (2022) Alex Nedeljkovic, Carolina Hurricanes (2021)
Dominik Kubalik, Chicago Blackhawks (2020)
Jordan Binnington, St. Louis Blues (2019)
William Karlsson, Vegas Golden Knights (2018)
The Boomerang of the Year Award
For the player that went away, and then came back. Had this award existed a decade ago, past recipients would have included Peter Forsberg and Claude Lemieux.
And the winner is…Eric Staal of the Florida Panthers!
Why? The word “quit” does not exist in Eric Staal’s vocabulary. Stall was not offered an NHL contract for the 2021-22 season, so what did he do? He played in the AHL for four games, then went on to captain the Canadian Olympic Men’s Ice Hockey Team at the 2022 Winter Olympics, scoring four points in five games.
That was good enough to earn Staal a tryout, then a one-year contract with the Florida Panthers for the 2022-23 season. He did pretty well too for an “old guy,” posting 14 goals and 15 assists in 72 games as a 38-year-old.
Although this may have been Staal’s final season, he should be commended for making an NHL comeback in his late 30s.
Brian Boyle, Pittsburgh Penguins (2022)
Joe Thornton, Toronto Maple Leafs (2021)
Justin Williams, Carolina Hurricanes (2020)
Ilya Kovalchuk, Los Angeles Kings (2019)
Mike Fisher, Nashville Predators (2018)
The Len Broderick Trophy
For the goalie least likely to play in an NHL game, but actually got to play in an NHL game. The award is named after Len Broderick, who was a “standby” goalie that suited up for the Montreal Canadiens for one game in 1957 to fill in for Jacques Plante.
And the winner is…actually, make that, and the winners ARE…Matt Berlin of the Edmonton Oilers AND Jett Alexander of the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Why? We had two notable EBUGs (Emergency Backup Goalies) this year, so the Broderick Trophy goes to both of them. Matt Berlin and Jett Alexander each got to play in NHL games during the 2022-23 season, forever being immortalized as NHL players — though with very short careers.
Berlin filled in as an EBUG for the Oilers on January 28, 2023 against the Chicago Blackhawks because Stuart Skinner had an illness. Jack Campbell played most of the game, but Berlin played the last two minutes — and stopped the only shot against him. He can truthfully say that he stopped every shot in the NHL that he faced.
Alexander was an EBUG for the Maple Leafs on April 8, 2023 against the Montreal Canadiens because Matt Murray had a head injury. Ilya Samsonov played 59 minutes, with Alexander appearing in the final minute of play.
Both Berlin and Alexander play college hockey in Canada, and coincidentally, both were EBUGs for the Avalanche during the 2021-22 season, though neither actually played in the NHL games they backed up. That changed this season, though, as both can claim they played in the world’s greatest hockey league, albeit briefly.
Tom Hodges, Anaheim Ducks (2022)
Michael Houser, Buffalo Sabres (2021)
David Ayres, Carolina Hurricanes (2020)
Hunter Miska, Arizona Coyotes (2019)
Scott Foster, Chicago Blackhawks (2018)
The Bob Probert Punchbowl
For being a tough mofo that can fight and contribute offensively.
And the winner is…Brady Tkachuk of the Ottawa Senators.
Why? To win the Bob Probert Punchbowl, a player has to be able to score and fight. Brady Tkachuk does both quite well. He was second on the Senators in scoring with 83 points — 35 goals and 48 assists — in 82 games.
The Sens’ captain also had eight fighting majors during the 2022-23 season. That tied him for 10th in fights this season, though all the other players with as many or more fighting majors are either enforcers (such as Nicolas Deslauriers) or fourth-line plugs (like Corey Perry and Pat Maroon).
Tkachuk tussled with some tough customers this year, including Jacob Trouba and Evander Kane. He is a point-per-game player who drops the mitts every 10 games or so. Tkachuk is one of the league’s most-willing combatants and contributes offensively, making him the clear choice as this year’s winner of the Bob Probert Punchbowl.
Tanner Jeannot, Nashville Predators (2022)
Brady Tkachuk, Ottawa Senators (2021)
Ryan Reaves, Las Vegas Golden Knights (2020)
Michael Ferland, Carolina Hurricanes (2019)
Tom Wilson, Washington Capitals (2018)
The Kessel Kup
For being the Stanley Cup MVP who was not given Stanley Cup MVP award because his more-popular teammate was voted as Stanley Cup MVP. Named in honor of Penguins’ forward Phil Kessel, who should have won the Conn Smythe Trophy in 2016 as the playoff MVP, only to lose to Sidney Crosby.
And the winner is…for the fourth year in a row, there will be no winner of the Kessel Kup.
Why? The Kessel Kup is only awarded if a player who should have won MVP honors did not win because his more-popular teammate won instead. Jonathan Marchessault won the Conn Smythe in 2023 — as he should have — and there was really no other player that should have won it instead. Like the Emery Edge Award or the Roger Crozier Saving Grace Award, perhaps the Kessel Kup needs to be retired. But what award should take its place?
Not Awarded in 2022
Not Awarded in 2021
Not Awarded in 2020
Jordan Binnington, St. Louis Blues (2019)
Evgeny Kuznetsov, Washington Capitals (2018)
The Claude Lemieux Award
For being the guy that everyone wants to punch in the face.
And the winner is…Jordan Binnington of the St. Louis Blues!
Why? Jordan Binnington went from a promising young NHL goaltender to WWE heel over the past five years. While his alleged water bottle tossing at Nazem Kadri in the 2022 playoffs was amusing, Binnington’s antics have since worn thin.
Nazem Kadri, Colorado Avalanche (2023)
Nikita Kucherov, Tampa Bay Lightning (2021)
Matthew Tkachuk, Calgary Flames (2020)
Brad Marchand, Boston Bruins (2019)
Brad Marchand, Boston Bruins (2018)
The McLlwain Medal of Merit
Named in honor of NHL journeyman Dave McLlwain, who suited up for four different NHL teams in one season, this award honors the guy who changed teams the most in 2022-23.
And the winner is…Dryden Hunt of the New York Rangers…then of the Colorado Avalanche…then of the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Why? Dryden Hunt changed NHL teams three times last season. He started 2022-23 with the Rangers, but was claimed off waivers by the Avalanche in October. The Avs traded Hunt to the Maple Leafs in December. The Leafs eventually demoted him to the AHL’s Toronto Marlies. Then in March, the Leafs traded Hunt to the Calgary Flames, though he only played with their AHL squad, the Calgary Wranglers. Counting his time in the AHL, Hunt played for five different teams during the 2022-23 season. At least he could stay in the same apartment when he played for both Toronto teams.