Over at the World Championship, I noticed Team USA forward Craig Smith was among the top 10 scorers with seven points in six games. This is a great boost for a player who managed just 12 in 44 with Nashville this past campaign. After a promising rookie season, Smith was hit hard by the sophomore slump and you have to think 2013-14 is pivotal for his fantasy future. It will either be “boom” or “bust,” which is to say he will either top 55 points, or fall short of 35. There probably won't be an “in between.”
Here are 10 boom-or-bust players for next season. The one caveat here is that I did not look at rookies.
Josh Bailey, New York Islanders
Bailey was dynamite down the stretch for the Islanders, posting 14 points in his last 20 games (pro-rates to 56 over a full season). But we've seen that before from him. He had 18 in his last 20 back in 2011-12. The 23-year-old was rushed into the NHL, which probably didn't help his numbers any. But next season will be his sixth and some of the highly touted youngsters will start filtering into the lineup. If Bailey wants his place in the top six he'll need to make his mark quickly.
Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Unrestricted Free Agent
Injuries, specifically concussions, have stunted Bouchard's development. At one point it was looking as though Bouchard would be a 75-point player, at the rate he was improving. Now his goal is to just be a productive player who plays 80 games. He had 15 points in his last 23 games for the Wild, including a run of nine points in six games. So we know he's got it in him.
Jussi Jokinen, Pittsburgh Penguins
It comes down to this – Jokinen plays like a star when he's the man, but can barely stay in the lineup if everyone is healthy. At no time was this more apparent than his tenure in Pittsburgh. A healthy Sidney Crosby meant three games (with low minutes) without a point for Jokinen and then two healthy scratches. An injured Crosby meant 13 points in 11 regular season and playoff games for Jokinen. The contrast is astounding. But basically – if Crosby or Evgeni Malkin miss a big chunk of time (as we've seen many times), then Jokinen will tally 55 points or more. If they're healthy, then Jokinen falls short of 35.
Shawn Matthias, Florida Panthers
He started with one point in 11 games, finished with two points in 10 games, and tallied 18 points in 27 games in between. Now 25 and entering his fifth NHL season, it's time for him to show us what kind of player he will be. If he stumbles, then that's it – there are far too many potential stars in Florida's system who are now NHL-ready.
Andy McDonald, Unrestricted Free Agent
Is there any gas left in the tank? We'll know by Christmas. McDonald will be 36 next season and he has been injured for large chunks of the past three campaigns. The last time he was healthy he had 57 points. Now out from underneath a defensive Ken Hitchcock system, and finally healthy, he could squeeze one last productive season out of his battered body.
Peter Mueller, Florida Panthers
For the first time since 2008, Mueller played a healthy season, missing only five games to be with his wife who was giving birth. Now that the talented 25-year-old has shown he can stay healthy, he needs to put the package together – big production plus a full schedule. We'll know relatively early in the season if he truly does need to sacrifice one to get the other.
On a side note, I call sacrificing production to stay healthy, or sacrificing health to stay productive the Havlat Syndrome.
Benoit Pouliot, Tampa Bay Lightning
Pouliot didn't even make the Ontario League until he was 18 years old. He didn't become a truly productive American League player until 2008, his third season there. Pouliot has always been slow with adjusting and developing, so I've always had some faith that he could be a reasonably productive 60-point player if he could develop at the NHL level until his mid-to-late 20s. He'll be 27 in the fall and his points-per-game average has improved from 0.38 to 0.43 to 0.59 the last three seasons. However, his ice time was cut down the stretch with the Lightning and he was even scratched a few times. So he'll either continue to improve…or he'll struggle just to have a job.
Craig Smith, Nashville Predators
As noted in the intro, Smith has had a fabulous tournament at the Worlds and he has the hands and the smarts to be the best offensive player on the Predators. Coach Barry Trotz has high expectations and a deep roster, so if Smith fails to produce, he'll be on the outside looking in by November.
Viktor Stalberg, Unrestricted Free Agent
With Chicago pressed up against the cap next season and Stalberg looking at a hefty raise on his $875,000 salary, he's as good as gone. He scored 22 goals in 2011-12, so that pretty much writes his ticket right there. If he's ever going to be a 55-point player, we'll need to see something in 2013-14.
Mats Zuccarello, New York Rangers
Zuccarello will be a restricted free agent in the summer, but he's proven that he belongs in the NHL on a one-way deal. He has 10 points in his last 13 regular season and playoff games. If he can stay healthy – which is the big question at this level – Zuccarello can be a productive second-liner.
Darryl Dobbs’ Fantasy Pool Look is an in-depth presentation of player trends, injuries and much more as it pertains to rotisserie pool leagues. Also, get the top 300 roto-player rankings on the first of every month in THN’s Fantasy section. Do you have a question about fantasy hockey? Send it to the Fantasy Mailbag.