Mythbusting the "Sophmore Slump" and a Look at 21 Notable Second-Year Players
Last week we talked about the "breakout season" and ten players who are ready to have one. This week we tackle another sports cliche: the "sophomore slump."
This over-hyped storyline is a product of player success combined with media hype. A player sets the bar high by having a spectacular first season and the media pumps that bar up a little higher. So naturally people are geared to think the only direction for him to go is down. Stat-lines and point totals become benchmarks.
Teemu Selanne scored 76 goals as a rookie, but just 25 in his second year. Must have slumped, right? Wrong. He only played 51 games and still averaged just over a point per contest. How about another Calder winner, Alex Ovechkin? He had a 14-point drop in his second season and finished with...92 points. If that's a slump, sign me up.
The fact is roles enhance, responsibilities increase, situations change, and opponents adjust. Oh, and hockey doesn't get any easier.
Are slumps a complete fallacy? No, it's true drop-offs can and will happen. And yes, sometimes they occur in a player's second season. Fans of certain Blue Jackets and Sabres have witnessed this, and the Andrew Raycroft Fan Club probably has lost quite a few members since its inception.
But my point is, you can't let a couple burnt french fries ruin the Happy Meal. Oftentimes, the second year is a season of marked improvement. Here's my take on some notable names in a loaded 2011-2012 sophomore class.
Jeff Skinner - Carolina Hurricanes
He probably won't be able to keep up that lofty shooting percentage, but more ice time and power play opportunities should be on the way for last year's Calder winner. He's a natural goal scorer. Barring a position switch that would require some adjusting, the 19-year-old should avoid the jinx.
Logan Couture - San Jose Sharks
Couture does more than score for a deep Sharks team, he's a solid two-way center and great in the faceoff circle. Martin Havlat could steal some of the 22-year-old's scoring chances, but the assists will certainly be there, especially if he finds himself on a line with Havlat and Ryane Clowe.
Michael Grabner - New York Islanders
Grabs changed addresses a few times early in the year last season, but has found a home on the Isle, seeing the ice during power plays and penalty kills. He got a nice extension in the offseason, and also welcomed the birth of his son. Talk about picking up some positive steam heading into a season.
Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle - Edmonton Oilers
I'm counting Hall and Eberle as one—Edmonton's peas and carrots. The two young stars have Oilers fans all feeling all giddy inside. Both present a scary combination of speed and hands. As long as Hall stays away from finishing fights like this, these two will make Sam Gagner—whoever centers them—one happy camper.
Tyler Ennis - Buffalo Sabres
49 points in 82 games last year while averaging around 15 minutes per game. That ice time should improve, just like Buffalo's roster has this offseason. I could see Ennis on a second line with Drew Stafford, who netted 31 goals last year.
Derek Stepan - New York Rangers
Brad Richards' arrival at MSG clouds Stepan's future a little bit. Now, with the Rangers' depth chart full down the middle, we don't know what role the Minnesota native will have or how much ice time he will get. Stepan is a complete hockey player and has been compared to Patrice Bergeron. Lets see what happens in camp...
Tyler Seguin - Boston Bruins
One year in the league, one Stanley Cup. Not a bad year for Tyler Seguin. He didn't play as much as his talents warranted because of the depth up front in Boston. I expect that to change in 2011-12. The second overall pick in the 2010 draft gained championship experience last year, which will obviously help him as he works toward an expanded role. Claude Julien had no problems sitting Seguin last year. I doubt he gets away with that as much this year.
Alex Pietrangelo - St. Louis Blues
Did Tyler Myers really scare you away from every sophomore defenseman? Pietrangelo is the reason, or one of the reasons, that Erik Johnson is no longer in St. Louis. Poise and control are two good words to describe his game.
P.K. Subban - Montreal Canadiens
Andrei Markov, at full strength, should take some offensive pressure off Subban who went through some major bumps (and scratches, pun intended) on his rookie road. The aptly named P.K. plays a good two-way game, so offense won't tell the whole story.
Jamie McBain - Carolina Hurricanes
Another one of those Minnesota natives, McBain was quietly good in his first full NHL season, averaging 19:06 of ice time per game. A good two-way defenseman who can play with a man down, he'll see top-four minutes on the Canes' blueline with Joni Pitkanen, Tomas Kaberle, and Tim Gleason.
Nick Leddy - Chicago Blackhawks
(Take a second to laugh at the Minnesota Wild for trading Leddy at five cents on the dollar.)
He had some early bumps in his rookie season, but steadily progressed. The Blackhawks blueline has a Brian-Campbell-contract-sized hole in it right now. Last year's experience will prove valuable this year for the former Golden Gopher. All I can say is, learn this kid's name.
Cam Fowler - Anaheim Ducks
After falling into Anaheim's lap at the 2010 Draft, Fowler was very productive in his rookie season, particularly on the offensive end. He played a ton of minutes, averaging over 22 minutes per game. But that minus-25 rating is a red flag. His rookie numbers are comparable to Michael Del Zotto's. Uh-oh...
Corey Crawford - Chicago Blackhawks
I read somewhere that Crawford will slump because he's "too stoic?" You're going to have to give me more than that. Here's what I know: without him, Chicago wouldn't have made the playoffs last year. That's a fact. He plays big, and sits in one of the most talented locker rooms in the league.
James Reimer - Toronto Maple Leafs
"Optimus Reims," as one reader tabbed him, won 20 of his first 35 NHL starts. He has the confidence of his coach and teammates. More than anything else, he has the maturity and the right mindset to stay grounded and motivated in the media circus that is Toronto. Don't forget about Jonas Gustavsson if he's healthy, though.
Michal Neuvirth: Washington Capitals
A Czech will be between the pipes for Washington. The only problem for Neuvirth is it probably won't be him. Caps' GM George McPhee stole Tomas Vokoun on a one-year deal, putting the 23-year-old Neuvirth in the backup spot for now. That being said, Vokoun is a heckuva mentor for his fellow countryman.
Lars Eller - Montreal Canadiens
Eller didn't exactly light it up as a rookie, but Tomas Plekanec and Scott Gomez were taking most of the reps down the middle. He was a high price for the Blues to pay for Jaroslav Halak. The Canadiens could reap the benefits in the coming years.
Bobby Butler - Ottawa Senators
An intriguing name for you fantasy hockey geeks. 21 points in 36 NHL games last year. Should he win a job on a line with Jason Spezza and Daniel Alfredsson, I'd buy some stock. Keep in mind, it is Ottawa.
Marcus Johansson - Washington Capitals
The Swede is becoming popular on the message boards, but he's another depth chart casualty as of right now. Backstrom is set on the top line and the Caps just invested a ton of dough in Brooks Laich. He won't turn 21 until October; his time will come.
Kevin Shattenkirk - St. Louis Blues
"Shatty" was offensively sound for the Blues after coming over from Colorado with Chris Stewart. Questions have been raised about his play in his own end, and last time I checked, a defenseman is supposed to be somewhat responsible in that general area. If Shattenkirk can make improvements there, he should quiet any talk of a slump.
Mattias Tedenby - New Jersey Devils
The 21-year-old was steady in his first campaign in New Jersey, notching 22 points in 58 games. He helped the Devils turn it around after a disastrous start to the season. The Swede was the Devils' 1st-round pick in 2008. He's small, but explosive and talented. Let's see how he adjusts under new head coach Peter DeBoer.
Kyle Clifford - Los Angeles Kings
AKA the reason Wayne Simmonds was expendable. He makes the most of his minutes, and isn't afraid to drop the gloves or throw his body around. Last year he had 141 penalty minutes and registered 138 hits. So if anybody is thinking about taking some liberties with a member of the Kings' top six, you'll get to know Clifford soon after...