Injuries are never any fun, often robbing fans of watching their favorite players dominate on a nightly basis.
The 2021-22 season was no different, with a number of productive NHLers being forced to sit out for large chunks of the years while their clubs struggled to compete without them.
Well, with a new season comes a fresh slate.
Let's take a look at the five players who missed time last year and are now poised for a bounce-back.
Jack Eichel - Vegas Golden Knights
2021-22 Stat Line: 34 GP, 14 goals, 11 assists, 25 points
You can find my more elaborate argument for Jack Eichel's resurgence this season here, but the Cole's Notes version is this: Eichel just had his first healthy offseason in roughly two years, is about to be the focal point of his team's offense once again, and will now be surrounded by the best supporting cast of teammates he's ever had.
That seems like a recipe for success, no?
After a half-decade of complete disfunction in Buffalo, Eichel will once again head into a season with a new coach. Only, this time, the new guy is Bruce Cassidy, a respected bench boss with a track record of success and whose reputation is that of consistently getting the most out of his teams, year after year. Not to mention, he's likely to stick around for at least the next few years.
That's enough to give anyone a sense of ease -- especially someone like Eichel, who has been forced to learn a new system and acclimate to the new idiosyncrasies of a new coach for practically his entire NHL tenure.
Is Vegas as strong as they've been in the past? No. But all reports seem to paint Eichel as healthy and hungry. That's exactly what you want out of your highest paid player. And with an actual foundation under him, Eichel is ready to bounce back.
Mark Stone - Vegas Golden Knights
2021-22 Stat Line: 37 GP, 9 goals, 21 assists, 30 points
You can basically put the entire Golden Knights' top-six in here, really. Pretty much all of them missed significant time due to injury last season and are now set to tackle the coming year with a re-invigorated roster, a new coach, and the absence of a black cloud named Peter DeBoer that once hung over them.
Stone was never reported to have been mixed up in any of the off-ice tensions that arose between Vegas' players and their coach -- tensions which ultimately led to alienation of both "franchise" goaltenders and played a part in a number of key players being sent out of town. But as the captain, you better believe Stone had to deal with these squabbles regardless, and on top of his own injury issues which limited him to just 37 games last season.
Like Eichel, this fresh slate will do Stone wonders.
As one of the few elite defensive forwards in the NHL, Stone will now be playing under the guy that coached Patrice Bergeron to a few Selke Trophies over the past half-decade while also maintaining the success of an aging roster. Bergeron is a one-of-a-kind type of player, so comparisons are risky to do. But Stone comes pretty close, and, if healthy, should have a key role in Cassidy's system that will allow him to thrive -- perhaps like never before.
Drake Batherson - Ottawa Senators
2021-22 Stat Line: 46 GP, 17 goals, 27 assists, 46 points
Lost in the Senators' offseason glow-up is the added bonus of one of their best young players returning after missing roughly half of the previous campaign.
Batherson's season-ending injury was one of the more gutting losses any team suffered in 2021-22. The 24-year-old was having a phenomenal year before he went down, heading into game 46 of the season with 17 goals and 27 assists for 44 points. Of course, Batherson would never finish that fateful 46th game, sustaining a serious injury that kept him on the shelf indefinitely. But after a summer of rest and recuperation, Batherson will now be walking into a completely re-vamped top-six -- one that could see him playing alongside either of Alex DeBrincat or Claude Giroux.
Talk about a productive situation!
Batherson was emerging as a legitimate star for the Senators prior to his injury last season. Now, he's ready to continue that progression with a massively upgraded supporting cast round him.
If he's healed up and ready to rock, 2022-23 could be a monster year for Batherson.
Jakub Vrana - Detroit Red Wings
2021-22 Stat Line: 26 GP, 13 goals, 6 assists, 19 points
Speaking of upgraded top-sixes...
The Red Wings are officially done rebuilding, definitively taking the next step in their journey back to relevancy by signing Andrew Copp, David Perron, Dominik Kubalik, Ville Husso, and Ben Chiarot.
The former three names might be more promising than the latter one, but the point stands that Vrana, like Batherson, will be hitting the ground running this season surrounded by some far better talent to work with.
Even if Vrana doesn't actually play alongside either Copp or Perron, the veteran duo's presence on the roster allows new coach Derek Lalonde to re-work the matchup game in order to maximize his top offensive weapons. Vrana certainly fits that bill, having racked up 13 goals and 19 points in 26 games for Detroit last season before injuries robbed him of the rest.
Vrana began 56.2 percent of his shifts in the offensive zone in 2021-22. While that number is pretty high on its own, having Copp and Perron on the roster gives the Red Wings the depth to bump it up into the 60s, thereby putting Vrana in a better spot to utilize his offensive gifts against perhaps weaker competition.
And then there's Husso, who seems ready to stabilize the goaltending and keep his team in games that they simply weren't last season, creating more offensive opportunities for the top of the lineup.
It's unlikely that the Red Wings did enough to contend with the best of their division. But they'll at least be competitive -- and that could be just the spark that ignites Vrana's bounce-back.
Anthony Mantha - Washington Capitals
2021-22 Stat Line: 37 GP, 9 goals, 14 assists, 25 points
The man who was traded for Vrana also occupies a spot on this list.
Mantha was a productive and consistent 25-goal winger with top-six pedigree when he arrived in Washington back in 2021, continuing to be that guy for his new club from the onset by rolling along at his usual same 0.60 points-per-game clip. The only difference is that injuries proceeded to rob him of sample size, with Manthan being limited to just 37 games last season despite his commendable offensive production.
After an offseason of healing, Mantha should be ready to reclaim his spot in the Capitals' core.
He'll be in a decent position to do it, too. Nicklas Backstrom is expected to miss most of the season, ripping the Capitals of their true top-line centre. But the club added Dylan Strome and Connor Brown as depth support over the summer -- both players could play alongside Mantha in the top-six and are capable of driving play.
Backstrom's injury also opens up a spot for Mantha on the power play, perhaps allowing him to reap the rewards that come with sharing a man advantage with Alex Ovechkin.
Of all of these bounce-back candidates, Mantha is the least exciting. But if the chips fall correctly, the once-coveted winger could be in for a monster year.