Last season, the Philadelphia Flyers leaned heavily on rookies to provide a boost to an injury-depleted roster. There were a few players that came seemingly out of nowhere, but there were a few players that had to live up to high expectations.
While Matt Read came out of nowhere and Sean Couturier and Brayden Schenn came in as touted prospects, all three have to deal with the dreaded sophomore slump whenever the NHL lockout ends.
Let's first take a look at statistics from last season.
Read had 24 goals and 23 assists with a plus-minus rating of plus-13 in 79 games. Couturier had 13 goals and 14 assists with a plus-minus rating of plus-18 in 77 games. Schenn had 12 goals and six assists with a plus-minus rating of minus-seven in 54 games.
Read showed his capability as a scorer throughout the season, playing on different lines but still finding ways to contribute. Couturier played mostly on the third or fourth line and was a big penalty-killer. Schenn bounced around a bit himself and had to deal with injuries which limited his playing time.
At age 26 and coming out of Bemidji State University, Read is clearly the anomaly in the group. But he possesses blazing speed, good vision and a scoring touch that nobody anticipated at the start of the season.
Read also showed that he wasn't merely the beneficiary of playing on a great line, because he shifted amongst different combinations for much of the season. Who knows what kind of numbers he would have put up playing on a line with Claude Giroux all season.
But Read was helped last year by the element of surprise, which he will no longer be able to take advantage of. Last season, teams prepared for Giroux, Scott Hartnell, Danny Briere, Jaromir Jagr, Wayne Simmonds and Jake Voracek. Read flew under the radar and made opponents pay.
So while I don't expect Read to regress much, I'd be surprised if we saw big improvement in his production. I'd say he probably came pretty close to his ceiling last year, and I think 45-50 points should be the expectation.
Next comes Couturier, the eighth overall pick in 2011 by the Flyers. He impressed during the preseason and ended up playing in all but three regular season games for Philadelphia. Even though he's still a teenager, Couturier plays like a seasoned veteran.
During the playoffs, Couturier showed his all-around prowess as he shut down Pittsburgh's Evgeni Malkin while contributing on the offensive end as well. He already looks like the kind of franchise player that Philadelphia will build around, along with Giroux.
I fully expect Couturier to continue developing and have a great sophomore season. He already has an NHL body and does everything well, so even if he struggles putting up points at times he'll still find a way to make an impact.
Schenn is the last and most intriguing of the three. He was rated as the top prospect in hockey coming into last season but got bit by the injury bug and struggled to find his groove until late in the season.
Schenn has a skill set similar to former Flyers captain Mike Richards. He combines a bulldog mentality with plus skating and stick handling ability, and Schenn might actually be a little more talented offensively than Richards.
At still only 21 years old, there's plenty of room for Schenn to continue developing. He really emerged during the playoffs last year, contributing nine points and energizing the team with aggressive forechecking and a few monster hits.
If Schenn can build on last year, it'll be a big step forward towards becoming the elite player everyone thinks he can be. But former Flyer James van Riemsdyk was in a similar position as Schenn when he had a big 2010 playoffs, only to follow with a subpar 2011-12 season.
All three of these players have exceptional talent, and made the most of their respective situations last season. They will each be counted on to develop and take on bigger roles in their sophomore campaign, so we should learn a lot about them in the coming year.