Do you believe in superstitions?
Living up to a strong rookie season isn’t easy. If you set a high precedent – say, 65-80 points as a rookie – it’s hard to keep up that pace in the early stages of your career while you still work out playing pro. Take Nathan MacKinnon, for example: he had 63 points in 2013-14 before falling to 38 the next season. He didn’t surpass his rookie total until his 97-point effort in 2017-18, his fifth year in the league.
What defines a sophomore slump is tricky. Does a drop in production count? That varies from situation to situation. Mathew Barzal, for example, had a 23-point decrease from 2017-18 to 2018-19 – but he still led a playoff team in points. Could he have put up more? Absolutely, given that he had 24 points in the final 41 games of the regular season. Or what about Juuse Saros, Nashville’s backup goaltender who saw his stats slide on a contending team? It’s a challenging topic to deal with in the formative stages of a player’s career.
For simplicity sake, let’s take a look at a few players who didn’t fully meet expectations in 2018-19 but are ready for a big rebound in the coming season:
Yanni Gourde, C, 27 (Tampa Bay)
For as good as Tampa Bay was last season, Gourde saw a big drop in his offensive production, falling from 64 points in his first full season to 48 in 2018-19. Given how the two centers he spent the most 5-on-5 time with, Steven Stamkos and Brayden Point, had 98 and 92 points respectively, it would have been nice to see an uptick in his offensive production. But even then, he had 22 goals and fell two points short of 50 (and he had one more point than Tyler Johnson). Look for him to spend another season on the team’s second line with Point and Johnson and break the 50-point barrier again.
Danton Heinen, C, 24 (Boston)
Heinen was going to have a tough time to match his production from the first half of 2017-18 when he had 33 points in 43 games. In 2018-19, he had just 34 points in 77 contests (he had just 10 points in 40 games leading into 2019) and saw his ice time dip from 15 minutes a night to just under 14. Recently re-signed by Boston as an RFA, many projected Heinen to score 20 goals and 50 points, but he didn’t appear to be the confident youngster that stole the spotlight as a rookie. As Boston sits in a cap crunch, look For Heinen to have opportunities in the middle six with David Krejci or Charlie Coyle as his center.
Victor Mete, D, 22 (Montreal)
Two seasons into his career and Mete is still seeking his first goal. Sure, he’s not a big offensive guy, but you have to think that he’s eager to finally get one past a goalie. Mete was sent down to the AHL due to poor performance early in the season but spent most of his 5-on-5 time with Shea Weber during his 71-game sophomore campaign in Montreal. As Mete’s season went on, he started to show significant improvements in his play, but there’s still a lot of work to be done, especially with the Canadiens really struggling at the left defense position. Now is Mete’s time to show he can be a key player going forward in Montreal.
Neal Pionk, D, 23 (Winnipeg)
Pionk couldn’t have asked for a better start to his NHL career. With the Rangers struggling in 2017-18, he joined the big club down the stretch and finished with 14 points in 28 games – an incredible start for the young defender. But with just 26 points in 73 games patrolling the Rangers’ blueline in 2018-19 (he sat out on a couple of occasions as a healthy scratch on a bad defensive team), Pionk is ready for a fresh start in Winnipeg after being part of the Jacob Trouba deal last month. He’s still unsigned and likely won’t get a big contract after his challenging season, but playing in Winnipeg – a team missing half of it’s top four from a season ago – will provide him with an opportunity to get things going again and challenge for the second right defense slot.
Tristan Jarry, G, 24 (Pittsburgh)
Despite some solid showings in his rookie season, Jarry lost the backup job to Casey DeSmith last year. And with the signing of veteran puck-stopper Dustin Tokarski this summer to strengthen the net in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, Jarry’s future in Pittsburgh is uncertain. After a couple of seasons of mediocre results in the NHL capped off with an AHL all-star game appearance, this is starting to sound a bit similar to a certain St. Louis Blues goaltender that stole the show in 2018-19. The Penguins have Emil Larmi and Alex D’Orio in the system, too, and while Jarry has the edge, he still has to show what he’s capable of. If Jarry is going to play in the NHL on a regular basis, however, it’s likely going to be elsewhere.
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