Top 10 NHL Players Who Need to Bounce Back in the 2013-14 Season
Superstars and big name players all have big expectations to live up to. More than a few didn't do that last season.
The pressure to perform in the spotlight can sometimes crush a player and there are more than a few players who will have those stresses following them into next season. While coming off of a lockout season means everyone's numbers were skewed, their performances were easy to measure.
Take a look around the league at the teams that fell short of the postseason or bowed out of the playoffs a bit too soon and you can probably find the culprits behind those failures pretty quickly.
Here are 10 such players who have some extra weight on their shoulders headed into this season to perform in big way.
10. Jeff Skinner (Carolina Hurricanes)
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The Hurricanes forward has cooled off since his red-hot rookie debut in 2010-11. Last year saw Jeff Skinner deal with another concussion and his production slipped a bit.
With 24 points in 42 games, he was just fifth on a Hurricanes team that fell apart late in the year. They need him to be better and not leave Eric Staal and Alexander Semin alone on their own offensive island.
With a healthy Tuomo Ruutu back in the lineup and possibly playing alongside Jordan Staal, his numbers should pick up. Carolina has a serious lack of offensive depth so if Skinner can’t get back to his 30-goal pace, the ‘Canes might be hurting in their new home in the Metropolitan Division.
9. Olli Jokinen (Winnipeg Jets)
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Olli Jokinen was brought to Winnipeg to be the veteran set-up man in the middle that they’ve been lacking. Last season, he turned out to be one of the most disappointing players on the Jets roster scoring just seven goals with 14 total points. For a guy that’s supposed to be the No. 1 center, that’s miserable production.
Instead, Jokinen was demoted while Bryan Little took over as the team’s top pivot. The 34-year-old center has talked a big game this summer about how he’s ready for a bounce back season and wants to play five or six more years. He’ll need a big year this season if he wants to help the Jets to the playoffs and earn a new contract next summer.
8. Jason Spezza (Ottawa Senators)
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It wasn't poor play that cost Spezza last season but a brutal back injury instead. While he was one of many key Senators players who missed significant time last season, outside of Erik Karlsson he might be their most important player.
In just five games last season, he had five points and as their No. 1 center, he’s vital to Ottawa’s success. While Daniel Alfredsson won’t be there on his right side, he’ll get to skate with four-time 30-plus goal scorer Bobby Ryan. Getting a bounce back season from Spezza might be as close to a slam dunk as you’ll see on this list provided he stays healthy.
After the issues the team had last season keeping guys in the lineup, let’s hope the Sens have a team witch doctor on staff now.
7. Tyler Seguin (Dallas Stars )
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The former Bruins first-round pick is now in Dallas with the Stars and while his numbers have improved each season, he winds up on this list for a different reason.
Rumors of immaturity, as CSNNE.com's Joe Haggerty reported, and inability to stay away from partying during the playoffs, as Stephen Harris of the Boston Herald shared, managed to get Boston GM Peter Chiarelli to give up on him and send him away.
If, and it’s a big one considering Dallas’ reputation as a fun town (thanks Cowboys), Seguin can make the stories look foolish and fulfill his promise as one of the league’s potential superstars, he’ll make the Stars and GM Jim Nill look like super geniuses.
Seguin’s talent isn’t in question, as he had 16 goals and 32 points last season, putting him on pace to push for 30 in a full year. The Stars could stand to use that kind of output after sending Loui Eriksson to Boston to get him.
6. Ryan Kesler (Vancouver Canucks)
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Injuries submarined Kesler’s season last year holding him to just 17 games and 13 points. For the past two seasons, he’s been Vancouver’s biggest question mark. Yes, they get huge production from the Sedin twins, but Kesler is what gives them one of the top power plays and top-six forward units in the league.
Without him holding things down on the second line, things get scary for Vancouver up the middle. His value to the team in all aspects (especially defensively) is huge. Going without him or having him at half-speed has made the Canucks a vulnerable team and one that isn’t going to win a Stanley Cup without him.
Getting Kesler back at 100 percent this season and playing like a menace is of the utmost importance.
5. Scott Hartnell (Philadelphia Flyers)
Back in 2008-09, Hartnell arrived on the scene to become a power forward of note scoring 30 goals with 60 points. It may have seemed fluke-ish to some, but when he tallied 37 times two seasons ago he showed how vital he is to Philly’s offense.
The departure of Jaromir Jagr to Dallas and injuries hampered his season last year, leading Hartnell to have the worst season of his career, netting just 12 points in 32 games. Now Philly goes without Danny Briere and hopes Hartnell can find some more magic with Claude Giroux while looking for someone else to step up on their wing to spark the offense.
One thing’s for sure, the Flyers aren’t very good when Hartnell is off his game.
4. Jaroslav Halak (St. Louis Blues)
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When the Blues acquired Jaroslav Halak from Montreal three years ago, they counted on him being their No. 1 goalie through thick and thin. Instead, while the Blues have made the playoffs the last two seasons, it’s been Brian Elliott playing instead.
Injuries and getting outplayed have conspired against Halak and have even led to rumors of him possibly being traded this summer. That’s not happening though and he’s headed into training camp as their No. 1 guy once again.
He should be buoyed by, again, having a Stanley Cup contending team in front of him and, oh yeah, he’s in the final year of his contract. A huge, healthy season with a deep playoff run could really help out negotiations.
3. Marc-Andre Fleury (Pittsburgh Penguins)
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It might not be the regular season where Marc-Andre Fleury needs a bounce back season. He’s been good to very good throughout his career during the 82-game season. In the playoffs, however, things have been all sorts of nightmarish for the first overall pick in 2003.
The Penguins have seen things fall short of their Stanley Cup goal the last four seasons and in all four years, Fleury has seen his save percentage wind up below .900 in the postseason. Yuck.
Now he heads into a season where his backup, Tomas Vokoun, took his starting job away during the 2013 postseason. Dan Bylsma says Fleury is still his No. 1, but now he’s got all the pressure in the world to show he’s worth it. If he doesn’t, he could wind up being a compliance buyout victim next summer.
2. Brad Richards (New York Rangers)
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New York Rangers star Brad Richards has a lot to play for this season. Yes, the Rangers bowed out of the playoffs earlier than they wanted to last year, but he didn’t have a lot of say in that. Getting scratched for playoff games will make that possible.
After a summer filled with rumors about being a compliance buyout, courtesy of the New York Post's Larry Brooks, Richards has new life and a second chance to prove he’s worth the massive deal that the Rangers signed him to two summers ago. Making things better, he’ll have a new coach to deal with in Alain Vigneault.
Was John Tortorella’s defensive focused system at fault for Richards’ struggles? Will Vigneault find the way to unlock his skills? Richards finding his old game again would also give the Rangers the balanced attack on all lines they’re looking for.
It would do Richards well to find a way to keep feeding Rick Nash saucer passes and scoring goals by the bunch while taking his job back from Derek Stepan.
1. Pekka Rinne (Nashville Predators)
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Seems odd to have Pekka Rinne as the top guy on this list, right? Check out what he did last season compared to his previous two seasons in Nashville. Seeing his save percentage drop off 20 points in one year while the Predators missed the playoffs has to make some fans a bit nervous.
Yes, the Preds were a bad team last year and scoring goals was not one of their strong points, but it never was and Rinne was the guy who helped bail them out at all costs.
Last season, he looked decidedly average compared to his previous two years. For a team like Nashville that demands defensive toughness and great goaltending to compete, he can’t have an off year like that.
Rinne needed surgery in the offseason to fix issues with his hip. If that’s all he needed done to get him back to normal, the Preds will be thankful. For now, he’s got all the pressure in the world to get Nashville back to the playoffs.