You only get one chance to make a first impression. Everyone has heard that statement. It holds true in everyday circumstances, and it holds true for athletes, in this case young NHL players.
A handful of NHL rookies entered the NHL for the 2011-12 season and excelled, setting the bar very high for their second NHL campaign. These are the players that cannot afford a sophomore slump; these are players that through their talent have left the fans and their teams expecting more from them in both the near and distant future.
What follows are the players that will be under the spotlight when they take the ice for their second NHL season.
It’s no surprise to see Gabriel Landeskog, the 2012 NHL Calder Trophy winner, on this list. Any player that finishes their first season by being declared NHL Rookie of the Year is going to enter their sophomore season under the microscope.
Landeskog tied for the NHL lead in rookie scoring with 52 points, while ranking second in goals (22) and plus / minus (+20), while playing all 82 games for the Colorado Avalanche.
The Avalanche obviously believe in Landeskog as they made him, at just 19 years of age, captain of the club for the 2013 season. The honor makes Landeskog the youngest captain in the history of the NHL, besting previous record holder Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins by 11 days.
The honor also puts a bigger spotlight on the young Swede. 2013 will not be a make-or-break season for Landeskog, but he will be expected to improve his numbers and grow into the role of the captaincy. If he can do so at such a young age, he could rival the tenure of long-time Avalanche captain Joe Sakic.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins tied for the lead in rookie scoring during the 2012 season, racking up 52 points. Impressively, he hit that number in 20 fewer games than the player he was tied with, Calder Trophy winner Gabriel Landeskog.
Injuries slowed Nugent-Hopkins in 2012, perhaps lending credence to the theory that the 6’ 1”, 175-pound center was too small to play in the NHL as a teenager.
With those whispers circulating and the pressure of being the first overall pick from the 2011 entry draft hanging over his head, you can believe that pressure will be on Nugent-Hopkins to stay healthy and improve on his rookie season.
Say you just completed your first NHL season as a 20-year-old defenseman, racking up 22 points in 66 regular season games. You would probably be proud of the fact that you accomplished at 20 what many take much longer to do: break into the NHL as a steady defenseman.
What you probably wouldn’t expect is to have the general manager of your team declare the following about you, “We've had defensemen come into the League like [Bobby] Orr, [Denis] Potvin and [Phil] Housley, who were great offensive players, but I've never seen a player play so well defensively and offensively at his age. I can't describe it well enough to tell [fans] what they're in store for having this great young player.”
That’s what happened to the Hurricanes' Justin Faulk.
Any pressure that the young defenseman would have felt was upped a few notches when that statement was made by Jim Rutherford. There will be no flying under the radar for Faulk in his second NHL season, especially with his boss looking for him to deliver like a future Hall of Famer.
When the Flyers traded Mike Richards to the Los Angeles Kings, the thought was that the prized player coming back their way was Brayden Schenn. In fact, in many preseason polls, Schenn was picked as the odds-on favorite to take home the Calder Trophy as the NHL rookie of the year.
Schenn, limited to 54 NHL games (injury and time in the AHL), put up 18 points while Wayne Simmonds ended up being the star of the Richards to the Kings trade.
The Flyers are going to really look to Schenn this season after losing Jaromir Jagr to unrestricted free agency. Schenn will be looked upon to double to triple his scoring totals from his rookie campaign. If he can avoid the injury bug, he has the potential to reach those numbers.
The Flyers expected more from Schenn last season; he will be under the microscope in 2013.
There are a handful of teams that play under a media microscope, the Toronto Maple Leafs are one of those teams, so when a rookie defenseman comes out of the gate posting seven goals and 23 assists in 75 games, he’s going to get some attention.
Welcome to the spotlight, Jake Gardiner.
Gardiner has been praised for his skating ability, which allows him to be aggressive. That skating ability and aggression has its pluses and minuses as it allows him to recover quickly if he makes a misstep, but as opposition gets a book on him, they may exploit his defensive liabilities.
The 22-year-old Gardiner has the potential to be a strong blueliner for the Leafs. The question in year two of his NHL career is will that potential be realized now that he is a known quantity with a year of hockey under his belt? We shall see.