ST. LOUIS — Max Pacioretty wasn’t sure how to interpret the accolade he received Thursday.
In a midseason poll conducted by the Professional Hockey Writers Association, the Golden Knights’ left wing finished third in the voting for Comeback Player of the Year, which goes to the player “who has returned to a previous high level of performance that was interrupted by subpar play, long-term injury or major illness.”
Pacioretty didn’t know whether he should be flattered by the honor or take it as a backhanded compliment.
“What comes to the top of my mind is I definitely had two rough years in a row, but I don’t want to look at this as a comeback,” Pacioretty said Thursday during the NHL All-Star Game media day. “I think last year I did at times play some great hockey, and there were some unfortunate situations with injuries and whatnot. But I am happy with my year and the way things are going. I have a lot of work still to go, but I don’t want to really label that as a comeback.”
Toronto forward William Nylander, who struggled last season after a prolonged contract dispute, topped the voting, and Ottawa’s Anthony Duclair finished second.
Pacioretty’s inclusion ultimately speaks to the standard he’s set for himself during his 12-year NHL career.
He reached the 30-goal mark five times in six seasons with Montreal, a streak that was interrupted by the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season when he had 15 goals in 44 games (that’s a 28-goal pace over an 82-game season).
However, Pacioretty slumped to 17 goals and 20 assists in 64 games during his final season with the Canadiens and missed the final month of the season with a knee injury that kept him off the ice for most of that summer, too.
After he was traded to the Knights in September 2018, Pacioretty posted 22 goals and 40 points in 66 games.
Solid numbers to be sure, but below his career average.
“I always am hard on myself, and I always want to be better,” Pacioretty said. “So, each and every year, whether I had a good year or a bad year, I want to try to improve on the last.”
Through 52 games this season, Pacioretty, 31, leads the Knights with 21 goals and 47 points. He is on pace for a career high in points and earned his first trip to the All-Star Game when he was named the replacement for Anaheim’s Jakob Silfverberg.
“As soon as I got to the hotel, he was the first person I saw,” Canadiens defenseman Shea Weber said. “Obviously a guy who puts up numbers every year and never been here. I’m sure it’s a special time for him and his family.”
Pacioretty is not scheduled to participate in any of the individual events at Friday’s NHL All-Star Skills event at Enterprise Center and instead will be one of the players taking breakaways during the goaltenders’ Save Streak competition.
That has allowed Pacioretty to enjoy the festivities with his family, including oldest sons Enzo, 6, and Max, 4.
“I’m kind of star-struck still, seeing a lot of the players that I’m here with,” Pacioretty said. “But (it’s) also really cool to experience it with my kids. They’re excited, and they’re star-struck, and it’s kind of rubbed off on me.
“They asked me, ‘Where’s (Connor) McDavid? Where’s (Jack) Eichel?’ I said, ‘There’s one rule: You can do whatever you want and get whatever you want signed, but as soon as we get on the plane on the way home, I still better be their favorite player.’ ”
NHL All-Star Skills
When: 5 p.m. Friday
Where: Enterprise Center, St. Louis
TV: NBCSN (Cox 38/1038, DirecTV 220, CenturyLink 640/1640, DISH 159)
Events: Fastest Skater, Save Streak, Accuracy Shooting, Hardest Shot, Shooting Stars and the Elite Women’s 3-on-3
Golden Knights ties: Max Pacioretty is not scheduled to participate in any of the individual competitions.