Josh Harding is already on his way back

After a 50-save, stand-on-his-head performance on Sunday night, Josh Harding is already making the case to be back in the NHL. It may not be this week and it may not be next, but the 30-year-old netminder will be back.

It would seem that Josh Harding is out to prove a point. At least, that’s what a 50-save performance might lead us to believe.

Harding, who was waived on Nov. 17 and subsequently demoted to the Iowa Wild, made his first start of the season – NHL or otherwise – on Sunday night. Not only did he stop 50 shots in a losing effort, he set the Iowa Wild single-game record in the process. Pelted with 54 pucks over the course of the night, it stands to reason that the American League Wild, winners of only five games this season, would have been blown out of the water had it not been for Harding.

But to see Harding have such a stellar night is really no surprise. Last season, before being sidelined by injury, he was the NHL’s top netminder and on pace for a Vezina nod at the very least. He’s fought through everything that’s come his way, taken his suspension and, now, demotion from the Wild in stride, and he’s simply doing the things the team is asking of him, waiting for his shot.

That said, you’ve got to think there may have been a bit of an I’ll-show-you attitude going into Harding’s Sunday night start. Passed over by 29 NHL teams, there’s little doubt he’s playing with a bit of a chip on his shoulder. With the talent and raw ability to be an NHL starter, he’s stuck back in the AHL because, once again, Minnesota can’t find a spot for him on the big club.

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The question now becomes when will Harding get his shot back at the starting – or at the very least a backup – gig? According to GM Chuck Fletcher in a conversation with Sportsnet’s Hockey Central late last week, the Wild expect that they’ll need Harding somewhere down the road if the Wild’s past history with goaltending injuries are any indication. However, in Fletcher’s scenario, that only leaves one route of re-entry to the NHL for Harding.

It is still too soon to discount the possibility of someone trading for Harding. If he can prove this AHL performance is repeatable, show that he’s the same player he was before being sidelined for nearly 75 percent of last season, and get himself out of Minnesota, there’s a chance his career still has much time to flourish. For now, he’ll be stuck behind the tandem of Niklas Backstrom and Darcy Kuemper.

So, is Josh Harding on his way back? Absolutely. When will that be? Barring an injury, only time will tell.