- Mark Stepneski, ESPNDallas.com
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The Dallas Chapter of the Professional Hockey Writers Association has selected Kari Lehtonen as the Stars’ nominee for the 2011-12 Bill Masterton Trophy. The award is given each year to the NHL player who best displays the characteristics of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey.
Lehtonen, 28, has overcome injuries and his own immaturity to become one of the top goaltenders in the NHL this season. He has posted a 31-17-4 record (ranking 10th in the NHL in wins), a 2.23 goals against average (ranking ninth) and a .925 save percentage (ranking seventh).
"I definitely think he’s worthy of that,’’ said Stars GM Joe Nieuwendyk, who traded for Lehtonen in 2010. "I think we got him at the right time, and I think he’s shown a ton of maturity since he’s been here. He’s one of the hardest working players on our team, and that’s quite a tribute to him, knowing where he came from.’’
Lehtonen was the second overall pick in 2002 entry draft, but lost his way in Atlanta, battling back and hip injuries and ballooning up to 230 pounds. He currently is playing at under 210 pounds, and said he feels as good as he has in his career.
"When I came here, I started at the bottom, and I’ve been working hard and trying to get healthy and start feeling better,’’ he said. "I think getting a couple of years older doesn’t hurt, either. You get smarter. It’s been a long road, but right now everything feels good. It’s an exciting time.’’
The NHL will accept nominees from all 30 teams, and members of the Professional Hockey Writers Association will vote for a winner after the season. The award is given in honor of former Minnesota North Stars forward Bill Masterton, who died after sustaining injuries in a game in 1968. Masterton’s characteristics of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey are the basis for the award.