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What slump? Five sophomores who are showing no signs of slowing down

Artemi Panarin surprised everyone with his Calder Trophy worthy rookie performance and he’s continuing to light the league up this season. He’s not the only second year player who has shrugged off a potential sophomore slump, though.

Over the past seven days, few players in the league have been as hot as Chicago Blackhawks winger Artemi Panarin. Matter of fact, according to the NHL, there wasn’t a single player who was better in the past week.

On Monday, Panarin, 25, was named the NHL’s first star of the week for his performance. 

It started with a Blackhawks win over the New York Rangers on Dec. 13, when Panarin picked up two helpers in Chicago’s 2-1 victory. It continued as Panarin slapped the Blackhawks to victory with two one-time blasts for power play goals to go along with his third assist in two games. Saturday, Panarin was at it again, this time with an empty-netter and two assists, and he capped his wondrous week Sunday with another two assists. 

All told, he picked up three goals and 10 points over the course of four games in six nights. Not bad. 

With his recent scoring outburst, Panarin has moved up the scoring ranks and into a tie for third alongside Pittsburgh Penguins star duo Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby. And thanks to the way Panarin is scoring, it’s almost impossible to consider that he’s a sophomore who has bucked the dreaded sophomore slump in such a way it’s sometimes hard to remember that it was just last season he took home the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year.

Panarin isn’t the only second-year player impressing in his sophomore year. Here are five others who’ve laughed off the idea of slowing down in Year Two:

5. Colton Parayko, St. Louis Blues

Parayko was one of the biggest surprises of the 2015-16 campaign. The Blues were expected to be a Stanley Cup contender even without any fresh, young faces stepping up and making an impact, but Parayko managed to carve out a place for himself as a legitimate top-four defender and earn himself big minutes under coach Ken Hitchcock.

Though technically speaking he’s not exactly bringing the same offensive punch as the past season — he has zero goals this season, which means he’s well off his nine-goal mark from 2015-16 — Parayko is contributing with bigger minutes and still managing to find the score sheet with his playmaking ability. If he keeps this up, he’ll surpass his 33-point total from the past season with a 35-point year, but some goals would be nice.

4. Jaccob Slavin, Carolina Hurricanes

Everyone in ‘Canes country was excited about Noah Hanifin’s rookie season, but it’s another rookie who stole the show. Slavvin came into the lineup, averaged nearly 21 minutes of ice time per game and was as steady a rearguard as Carolina had last season. It’s a thin back end, to be sure, but that didn’t mean Slavvin stood out any less.

The exact same has been the case this season, too. Slavvin is almost halfway to his games played total of his rookie campaign, and the former Colorado College standout is logging upwards of 23 minutes per game. Not just that, but his one goal and 11 points has him on pace to eclipse his two-goal, 20-point rookie season while he continues to be a glimmer of hope for the future for the Hurricanes.

3. Nikolaj Ehlers, Winnipeg Jets

In today’s game, speed kills, and Ehlers has proved that in short order this season. 

As a 19-year-old cracking the lineup of one of the youngest teams in the NHL during the 2015-16 season, Ehlers wasn’t exactly the hottest rookie in the league, but there were flashes of the talent he possessed. He did enough to power himself to a 15-goal, 38-point campaign, and there weren’t many Jets fans who would be caught complaining about what Ehlers brought to the club.

If there were any naysayers after Ehlers’ rookie year, though, they’ve been eating some crow courtesy of the speedy Dane. Even after going through a brutal scoring slump, Ehlers is on pace to come close to 20-goal territory — he has seven now — and his assists pace alone would put him into career-high scoring territory. His 26 points already put him on pace to be a 60-point guy.

2. Artemi Panarin, Chicago Blackhawks

What more is there to be said about Panarin? If it was believed that he would be a flash in the pan, a scorer who benefitted mostly from playing with Patrick Kane, then he has put those questions to bed. 

Panarin has at times looked like the single-most skilled Blackhawk, and there has to be some serious conversation about game planning against the youngster when Chicago has the man advantage. His one-timer is among the most lethal in the league, and roughly half of Panarin’s goals this season have come from him unloading on a cross-ice pass.

With his contract coming up at the end of this season, expect Panarin to get a healthy raise. Losing him would really hurt Chicago going forward.

1. Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers

The unfortunate clavicle injury that sidelined McDavid robbed the NHL and its fans of what could have been one of the most spectacular rookie campaigns in recent memory. McDavid scored 48 points in 45 games, and he would have been on pace for a nearly 90-point year. The last rookies to have a season that good were Alex Ovechkin, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, and that was all the back in 2005-06 and 2006-07, respectively.

It’s even more evident exactly what McDavid would have been able to do as a rookie given how he’s played this year, too. Because while Panarin is coming off a big week, it’s been the rare occasion this season that McDavid has looked like anything shy of one of the best players in the world. And when he’s got the puck on his stick, there’s reason to be laser-focused on what he’s doing.

Through 33 games, his 12 goals put him in a tie for 21st in the league, but he’s pacing the entire NHL — as a 19-year-old, no less — with 27 assists and 39 points. His points per game rate of 1.18 is second to only Crosby, and you can honestly say that McDavid has been the biggest catalyst behind the Oilers turnaround this season.

Crosby was the last sophomore to take home the Art Ross Trophy for leading the league in scoring, and exactly 10 years later, it appears a league-leading scoring performance could be in the cards for McDavid. Talk about shaking off a potential sophomore slump.

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