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Five second-year players battling through the dreaded sophomore slump

Being consistent from season to season is difficult no matter a player’s age, but sophomores often have it tougher than anyone else. Here are five second-year players fighting through some tough campaigns after impressive rookie years.

With his goal Sunday night, Chicago Blackhawks sophomore Artemi Panarin increased his goal pace to 32 for the season and his points pace to 78, which would mark a two-goal, one-point increase on his totals from the 2015-16 campaign.

But heading into the season, few knew what to expect in Year Two from the Russian winger. Was his production helped along by the play of Patrick Kane during what was a dream season that culminated with league MVPs nods and the Art Ross Trophy, or was Panarin really a sniper capable of repeating the feat in his second season?

Turns out the latter has been the case and Panarin bucked the sophomore slump to the point he could legitimately be in the discussion for some other year end awards if he keeps this up. Not every second-year player has been as lucky, though. Here are five sophomores struggling to live up to the expectations they created with stellar rookie performances:

5. Shayne Gostisbehere, Philadelphia Flyers

It was his play that turned heads and his incredible nickname that kept the hype train rolling, but ‘Ghost Bear’ hasn’t been able to maintain that stellar offensive play in his second campaign with the Flyers. If anything has been the hallmark of his sophomore year, it has unfortunately been the inconsistency he’s dealt with since the start of the season.

From a scoring perspective, Gostisbehere, 23, is still putting up enough points — four goals and 19 points, to be exact — to stay out of the top three on this list, but his ice time has been all over the place. There have been a handful of nights where he plays less than 17 minutes and some where he’s back to top-pairing minutes for the Flyers. Taking the next step forward and finding his game on a nightly basis could require gaining the trust of coach Dave Hakstol.

4. Joonas Donskoi, San Jose Sharks

Donskoi, a fourth-round pick of the Sharks in 2010, was a relative unknown heading into the 2015-16 season, but he quickly became a fixture of San Jose’s lineup and with good reason. He managed to chip in 11 goals and 36 points during the regular season and had another six goals and 12 points in 24 post-season games. It led to high hopes for the 24-year-old this season.

Unfortunately, he’s slowed significantly when it comes to finding the score sheet this season. Through 39 games, he has just six goals and 14 points, and he’s on pace to fail to come even close to matching his point total from the past campaign.

The disappointing thing about Donskoi taking a step back in terms of production is that an aging team like the Sharks needs a few young faces to come in and act as support players as the team ages. It’s what’ll help keep their window of opportunity open. Maybe Donskoi finds his stride again come playoff time, though.

3. Connor Hellebuyck, Winnipeg Jets

The Jets have been looking for a true starting netminder almost since the moment they arrived in Winnipeg, and while Hellebuyck, 23, still projects to be a starting netminder, he may need at least another year or two to actually reach his full potential.

Hellebuyck had a lighter workload during the 2015-16 campaign because the Jets chose to divide their goaltending duties between he, Michael Hutchinson and Ondrej Pavelec, but given the reins as the 1A in a tandem with Hutchinson this season, Hellebuyck’s inexperience behind a young Winnipeg team has led to struggles.

After posting a .918 save percentage and 2.34 goals-against average, Hellebuyck’s totals have dipped to .910 and 2.75 this season, his even strength save percentage has slipped by nearly .020. The one bright spot, though, is that he’s been much improved when the Jets are down a man. If the goaltender is a team’s most important penalty killer, Hellebuyck is at least showing he can chip in there.

2. Dylan Larkin, Detroit Red Wings

Outside of the goaltending the Red Wings have gotten from Jimmy Howard, everything in Detroit has been a struggle this season. As such, it’s not that surprising to find Larkin, 20, near the top of the list. It is, however, incredibly disappointing because in his rookie year he had all the makings of the type of player who could turn around and score 60-plus points in his sophomore year.

Larkin is the perfect poster child for the sophomore slump, though, because it’s not as if he’s not playing well despite the fact that he’s on pace to only produce about two-thirds of what he managed in his rookie campaign. He’s been as effective as anyone with the puck on his stick and he’s still getting second line minutes as he continues to develop. 

His 11 goals are tops among all Red Wings, but what has kept his point totals down is the almost laughable amount of bad luck he’s had when it comes to producing assists. He has just four all season, and Larkin is one of only three players to have more than 10 goals with less than five assists.

1. Anthony Duclair, Arizona Coyotes

One could count the amount of positives in the Coyotes’ 2016-17 campaign using just a few fingers, and Duclair’s continued production as a second-year player most certainly wouldn’t be among the highlights of the season. Following a shining rookie season in the desert in which he potted 20 goals and 44 points, Duclair, 21, has been mentioned more often as trade bait than he has as a potential part of the bigger picture in Arizona.

It doesn’t make it any less disappointing for Duclair or the Coyotes, but it’s not as if this couldn’t have been seen coming. Duclair’s shooting percentage stuck out like a sore thumb during the 2015-16 season as he shot at a 19 percent clip on just 105 shots. This season, his shooting percentage his dipped back down to 5.9 percent, and now he’s seen as more of a high-potential third-line player than the possible second-line wing he was playing like during his rookie year.

That Duclair has only managed three goals and nine points in 37 games — and on pace for less points than he had goals in 2015-16 — likely isn’t entirely indicative of his play either. He’s shown the ability to pull off high-skill plays, has a good release and can really get moving with the puck on his stick. Finding a way to put it all together on a game-to-game basis could get Duclair back in the 20-goal conversation.

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