NHL Predictions: How Will Last Year's Top Rookies Fare in 2011-12?
The sophomore slump is one of the most predictable phenomenons in the NHL. Players explode onto the scene as a rookie by surpassing even the most wild expectations, only to take a bit of a step back the following year.
There are several possible explanations for this.
Perhaps their respective coaches note the outstanding play and decide to heap on the responsibilities during the second season.
Maybe defenders become more privy to the skaters as offensive threats and take their presence on the ice much more seriously.
Scouting reports circulate around the league by this time, and weaknesses are noted and exploited.
Whatever the reason, the league is littered with examples.
Consider Steve Mason in Columbus, who is still making a living because of the talent and promise he showed two seasons ago. Tyler Myers experienced a bit of a slide during his second year as a pro—the list goes on.
So what can we expect from the top 10 scoring rookies from the 2010-2011 season this year? Will this crop of sophomores face recession, or break the mold as a whole?
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I wasn't the only one surprised when Cam Fowler was available to the Anaheim Ducks in the 2010 NHL Draft. The squad probably hadn't even considered him as a possible target for their 12th overall pick.
Yet the puckmoving blueliner slid down the draft board like puckmoving blueliners weren't a hot commodity at the NHL level. Anaheim was happy to make him a Duck, and Fowler wasted little time making an impact, as he put up 40 points in his first season as a pro.
Detracting from his stat-line was an atrocious minus-25 rating. Only six of Fowler's points came with the man advantage, so a majority of that nasty rating was posted during five-on-five situations.
However, this is how young defenders tend to come into the league—offensively proficient with severe defensive defects, or the other way around.
Anaheim didn't bring in a top-four defenseman who would move in on Fowler's average of more than 22 minutes of ice time this season. So it's fair to assume that his point total will hover around 40 again. Lubomir Visnovsky will still quarterback the first power play unit, so a jump in power play time and points isn't likely.
This is still a top notch youngster, though, and he should continue his development at both ends of the ice this year. Look for him for shoot the puck a bit more in his second full season, leading to a few more goals.
2011-2012 Projected Totals: 15 goals, 33 assists, 48 points (and hopefully a plus/minus closer to the plus side of things.)
I wasn't on the Brad Marchand bandwagon heading into this season. His explosive postseason following a 41-point regular season just screamed "sophomore slump" to me. I avoided him in fantasy drafts, and even had a few friendly arguments with my hockey buddies about how I thought he was overrated.
Marchand has picked up right where he left off during Boston's Stanley Cup run. I've watched several Bruins games so far this season, and it seems like something happens nearly every time he touches the puck.
I'll publicly admit now what I didn't believe a few weeks ago: Marchand is a special player.
After a better-than-expected rookie year, he's on pace for a 66-point season. Given his surroundings in Boston, he'll have every opportunity to fulfill that projection.
As long as fatigue from the Cup run doesn't become a factor, Marchand is in line for a steady improvement on his totals from a year ago.
2011-2012 Projected Totals: 30 goals, 30 assists, 60 points.
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Fans of the Edmonton Oilers should be looking forward to watching Taylor Hall play for the next dozen years of their hockey-viewing lives.
He is offensively dynamite and only picks up his level of play once the postseason rolls around. That is the player the Oilers expected to be getting when they selected Hall with the first overall selection in the 2010 draft.
He didn't disappoint in his rookie season. Hall notched 20 goals and added 22 assists.
The only scenario that could cause his production to slip would be the Oilers overextending him. Adding too many responsibilities to his plate could cause the hockey equivalent of a panic attack. But Hall has shown on every level so far to be more than capable of playing hustle-filled two-way hockey.
There is no reason to expect that to change suddenly in 2011-2012, especially with 2011 number one selection Ryan Nugent-Hopkins to feed him the puck.
2011-2012 Projected Totals: 29 goals, 25 assists, 54 points.
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Kevin Shattenkirk was in the middle of a breakout rookie season with the Colorado Avalanche when the team saw fit to send him to the St. Louis Blues as part of a multi-player blockbuster trade.
The Avs may have had a "sell high" mentality when they moved the defenseman in anticipation of his production dipping. If that was the case, they are still waiting. Through four games with St. Louis this season, he has registered three points.
While Shattenkirk won't maintain his 60-point Mike Green-like pace, he should have no problem approaching the 40-point plateau like he did last season. The Blues are losing bodies at a rapid rate (again) this year, and Shattenkirk is a player they will depend on more as a two-way blue line presence.
Even if that is the case, Shattenkirk has already showed off his offensive chops and leads a young defensive core in St. Louis along with Alex Pietrangelo.
2011-2012 Projected Totals: 15 goals, 32 assists, 47 points
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The Edmonton Oilers are loaded to the brim with young, dynamic talent. After years of lottery picks and spending too much time in the doldrums of the NHL, they may finally be ready to take a step forward.
Jordan Eberle is just as important to his team improving in the standings as Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. He possesses a goal scorers touch and has spent his fair share of time seasoning since his selection is the first round in 2008.
It is that extra time developing that makes me think he is more poised for a breakout year despite 2011-2012 being his second as a full-time NHL player. Like Hall and Nugent-Hopkins, Eberle will have plenty of chances to put up numbers in Edmonton, as he isn't buried by veterans in the depth chart.
2011-2012 Projected Totals: 31 goals, 30 assists, 61 points.
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For center Derek Stepan, the New York Ranger's acquisition of Brad Richards could have meant a reduced role heading into his sophomore season.
But with the team struggling early, he has again found himself on the top line with Marian Gaborik—only he is play wing this time around instead of center.
Stepan has yet to find the scoreboard in 2011, but sticking as a top-six guy in New York means he shouldn't see too much of a backslide in numbers. He's the kind of player that coach John Tortorella loves, and that bodes well, as the coach is known for juggling lines at the first sign of lackadaisical hockey.
I don't see Brandon Dubinsky staying on the second line very long, however. His demotion is likely a wake up call after notching one assist in the first four games for the Rangers.
2011-2012 Projected Totals: 17 goals, 26 assists, 43 points.
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The Buffalo Sabres have a bit of a logjam at left wing after bringing in Ville Leino during the offseason. They moved him to center on the third line, but where does that leave rookie sensation left winger Tyler Ennis?
On the left side of Leino on the third line, ironically.
Buffalo now has a wide variety of options for their top two lines.
Derek Roy has returned from a long-term injury. Luke Adam has seemingly found obscene amounts of chemistry on the top line with Thomas Vanek and Jason Pominville. Add Leino to the mix, and Jochen Hecht once he returns from a concussion, and you have a hard top two-six to crack.
All this spells trouble for Ennis, who is trying to duplicate a 49-point rookie season. The kid has talent, but I think the situation in Buffalo equals a bit of a recession in numbers for him in 2011-2012.
2011-2012 Projected Totals: 15 goals, 20 assists, 35 points.
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Michael Grabner has been a hockey godsend to the New York Islanders since the team claimed him off waivers from the Vancouver Canucks. Through 76 games on Long Island last season, he put up 34 goals and 18 assists.
And they say good help is hard to find these days.
The speedy winger was electric for the young Islanders last season, and they hope he can continue to be in 2011-2012. The team around him is improving with every game played, and with John Tavares putting up four points a game, you can bet opposing defenses won't be focusing on the second line.
He is still a top-six player for the Islanders and is skating on a line with the underrated Frans Nielsen and the now-healthy Kyle Okposo. That said, I just am not ready to buy into Grabner being a 30-goal scorer yet.
If he does it again this season, then maybe we'll talk. Okposo is more likely to be the trigger man for this line, which will cost Grabs some goals.
2011-2012 Projected Stats: 24 goals, 26 assists, 50 points.
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The emergence of Logan Couture as a legitimate scoring threat made the San Jose Sharks feel comfortable enough with their offense to deal Devin Setoguchi for more help along the blue line.
So far, Heater has been effective for the Minnesota Wild, while the Sharks struggle to find a consistent level of output on a nightly basis. San Jose is far too talented for that trend to continue, so it doesn't detract from the odds of Couture repeating his 56-point rookie season.
That being said, the suddenly-jacked expectations for the 22-year-old Couture to remain an effective top-six forward on a team with high expectations has all the ingredients needed for a sophomore slump.
His backslide won't be a huge one, but with defenses now privy to his game, it will be harder for Couture to find open ice and space.
2011-2012 Projected Totals: 27 goals, 21 assists, 48 points.
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Jeff Skinner wasn't supposed to stick with the Carolina Hurricanes heading into last season. A Calder Trophy later, he enters his sophomore season on a team not many people are giving a lot of love to.
That is the principal difference between Skinner and Logan Couture in my mind. Where the San Jose Sharks are expected to win their division and take a run at the Stanley Cup, Carolina won't even be in the playoff picture towards the end of the season in the minds of some pundits.
Nonsense I say.
But that lack of expectation is why I believe Skinner will be able to (more or less) replicate his 63-point campaign. If this had been a preseason article, I might have written differently. The first few games of the regular season has shown that Skinner knows how to fight through the attention of the opposition's top defenders, and that would have been my biggest concern.
By the time the 2011-2012 season is over, fans in Carolina might be wanting Skinner to run for President before he even has to shave. Which I believe there is an unwritten man-law against somewhere.
2011-2012 Projected Totals: 35 goals, 30 assists, 65 points.