Predicting How 2013-14 NHL Rookie Standouts Will Fare During Sophomore Seasons
The 2013-14 season was a fine one for rookies in the NHL.
First-year players of all types announced themselves as important contributors around the league. Fresh-faced draft picks straight out the minors, college players and unheralded minor leaguers all successfully made the jump.
While some rookies tidily continue their development in their second NHL seasons, hockey players' career paths don't often follow a straight line.
Here's a look at how some of last season's most intriguing rookies will perform as they try to avoid the sophomore slump.
Torey Krug: Boston Bruins
What He's Done: Torey Krug led all rookie defensemen with 40 points in 2013-14. A power-play specialist, he led all rookies with 19 extra-man points for the Boston Bruins.
Krug finished fourth in Calder Trophy voting.
Environment for 2014-15: Krug is a 22-year-old restricted free agent who remains unsigned for the upcoming season. Though the Boston Bruins have more defensemen than they need and are looking to shed some salary through trade, Fluto Shinzawa of The Boston Globe called Krug, the power-play specialist, a "lock to stay."
Prediction: Boston might not make the cap-compliance trade they need until just before the beginning of the season, which could leave Krug on the sidelines through training camp. A late start and a difficult contract situation are not ideal conditions for this promising sophomore to continue his development.
Expect a stutter for Krug if he isn't signed before training camp begins.
Nathan MacKinnon: Colorado Avalanche
What He's Done: As one of the youngest members of his draft class, 18-year-old Nathan MacKinnon led all rookies in scoring in 2013-14 with 24 goals and 63 points. He was the runaway winner of the 2014 Calder Trophy according to Hockey Reference, garnering 130 of 137 possible first-place votes.
MacKinnon also broke one of Wayne Gretzky's records when he recorded points in 13 consecutive games from January through March—the longest streak ever by an 18-year-old according to NHL.com.
Environment for 2014-15: MacKinnon was a key part of a Colorado Avalanche group that climbed from 29th in the NHL standings in 2012-13 to third in 2013-14. Rick Sadowski of NHL.com expects that he'll shift from right wing into the second-line center spot that was vacated by free agent Paul Stastny.
Prediction: MacKinnon's two-way game is strong enough that he'll succeed in his new role. Despite his youth, he was one of Colorado's best forwards in his rookie season. He'll take another step forward.
Valeri Nichushkin: Dallas Stars
What He's Done: Big right-winger Valeri Nichushkin stepped right into the Dallas Stars' lineup after being drafted 10th overall in 2013. He posted 14 goals and 34 points while averaging just under 15 minutes of ice time per game.
Environment for 2014-15: Very positive. Nichushkin should be given every opportunity to succeed on an improving Stars team in 2014-15. According to Dan Rosen of NHL.com, "it could be on a line with Spezza and Ales Hemsky, or with Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn, the duo Nichushkin played with last season. It likely will be some combination of those players."
Prediction: After spending a year acclimatizing to the North American game and building his now 19-year-old body to maturity, Nichushkin is poised to take a big step forward in his second NHL season.
Seth Jones: Nashville Predators
What He's Done: Though Seth Jones' name was bandied about as a potential No. 1 pick before the 2013 draft, he fell to the fourth spot before being selected by the Nashville Predators. Jones made the team as a 19-year-old defenseman but had an up-and-down season, marked most notably by his minus-23 rating.
Jones finished 11th in Calder Trophy voting.
Environment for 2014-15: With the Predators aiming to increase their focus on offense under new coach Peter Laviolette, Jones could find himself in a vulnerable situation. He'll no longer be operating within the security of Barry Trotz's patented defensive system.
Prediction: Jones is not in a position to thrive in new-look Nashville. Unless he dazzles in training camp, Laviolette may decide that it makes sense to send him to the AHL, where he can play big minutes and further hone his game.
Chris Kreider: New York Rangers
What He's Done: After a less-than-dazzling 23-game tenure under deposed coach John Tortorella in 2012-13, Chris Kreider showed he could be a regular-season contributor as well as a playoff performer under Alain Vigneault last season.
Kreider posted 17 goals and 37 points before being sidelined with a hand injury in March. He crashed back onto the playoff scene with 13 points in 15 games and helped the New York Rangers reach the Stanley Cup Final.
Environment for 2014-15: After plenty of changes to the Rangers' lineup in the offseason, NHL.com's Corey Masisak has pencilled Kreider into the right-wing spot on the top line, with Derek Stepan and Rick Nash. Masisak has also earmarked the high-profile Kreider as the Rangers' "sleeper" pick for fantasy hockey fans.
Prediction: If he stays healthy, Kreider will deliver. During the playoffs, he displayed the merciless style of an elite power forward—big and aggressive, with soft hands that'll make opponents pay for tiptoeing around him.
Kreider's an exciting player to watch. He should take another step forward in 2014-15.
OndreJ Palat: Tampa Bay Lightning
What He's Done: A seventh-round pick of the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2011, left wing Ondrej Palat led all rookies in plus-minus with a plus-32. He was also second in scoring and placed second in Calder Trophy voting.
Environment for 2014-15: Thanks to great goaltending from Ben Bishop and strong performances from unknowns like Palat after Steven Stamkos suffered a broken leg in November, the Tampa Bay Lightning rebounded from two years out of the playoffs with a second-place finish in the Atlantic Division.
Stamkos is healthy again, but ex-captain Martin St. Louis has been replaced through trade by Ryan Callahan, and there have been plenty of other changes to the Lightning lineup. As Corey Masisak of NHL.com points out in his Fantasy Preview, Palat might not get the same first-line and power-play ice time that he enjoyed in 2013-14.
Prediction: Palat was at his best last season during top-line minutes with St. Louis and Tyler Johnson. If Jonathan Drouin makes the team this year as expected, that'll directly impact the quality of Palat's ice time. Expect a drop-off in performance.
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