I can never quite figure out sports’ fascination with rookies.
Year after year, hundreds of hours and millions of dollars are spent promoting, ranking and selecting first year guys before they even take a step on the ice. From entry drafts to rookie camps right through to postseason awards, it seems that everyone – from NHL front offices to Fantasy GMs – are infatuated with finding out whether or not their rookie is going to be the next big thing.
Hockey websites, like TSN.ca, are offering readers extensive rookie breakdowns with MVP-style discussions. Others, like RealGM, offer you month-by-month rankings on how the young pups are doing. And then there’s Daily Faceoff… don’t even get me started there.
OK, I get it. Sort of. Everyone loves rookies. Yet with all of the attention paid to these first year guys, I’m still a little stunned by how quickly we can forget about them just one short year later. All that work that goes into developing and hyping them in Year 1 and then… nothing.
Am I the only one left both puzzled and betrayed by the NHL’s senseless elimination of the YoungStars game, a short-lived yearly celebration of sophomores sticking it to their rookie counterparts during All-Star weekend?
Well, enough is enough. I’m here to put the Year 2 players back on the map. Time to find out which guys were able to emerge successfully from their rookie shadows and those who fell victim to that dreaded jinx in my 2010-11 sophomore rankings.
(Stats through March 29)
MATT DUCHENE – COLORADO AVALANCHE
The league’s leading scorer amongst rookies in 2009-10 has taken his game to new levels this season, improving his totals over last year in Goals (27 vs. 24) and Points (61 and counting). Granted, he hasn’t scored a PPG goal since December, but he’s responded with 11 points in his last 8 games after being moved to the wing to play alongside Paul Stastny and Milan Hejduk. And adding “LW” onto his position status for next season would only help boost Duchene’s value to fantasy owners moving forward.
JOHN TAVARES – NEW YORK ISLANDERS
Since 2000, first-overall draft picks as a rule are locks to become bonafide NHL superstars. From Crosby to Kane and Kovalchuk to Stamkos, the number-one selections have all shown a propensity to make it big in the pros (OK, except for Erik Johnson – he’s a dud). John Tavares is proving to be no different.
He’s emerged as a leader and consistent scorer for the Isles this season, leading the team in Points (61), PPG (9), GWG (4) and Shots on Goal (217). There’s even that feeling that a 40-goal campaign is just around the corner.
JAMIE BENN – DALLAS STARS
After an unassuming start to the season, the Stars’ LW has been on fire recently. Despite missing most of February with a shoulder injury, Benn has scored points in 12 of his last 13 games (9-7-16), emerging as a solid, top line, do-it-all type player. Want proof? Look no further than his 6 PPG and 4 SHG this season in Big D.
ERIK KARLSSON – OTTAWA SENATORS
Karlsson, the Sens’ first-round pick (15th) in the 2008 NHL Draft, is on pace to triple his goal production (5 vs. 13 this season) and double his point production (26 vs. 45 in 2010-11) from a year ago. At age 20, he’s now an NHL All-Star. And he’s even taken over the reigns as quarterback of the Sens’ PP, leading the team in PP Points (21) and SOG (181).
JIMMY HOWARD – DETROIT RED WINGS
Howard’s remained a stalwart between the pipes for Detroit in 2010-11. He’s successfully shrugged off rumors of a mid-season Nabokov Hockeytown signing by posting 34 Wins, despite a so-so save percentage (.908) and GAA (2.77). Still, it was good enough for Wings’ management to reward Howard with a 2-year, $4.5 million deal. But will it be good enough to help Detroit past the 2nd round in this year’s postseason?
MATT MOULSON (NYI), ANTTI NIEMI (SJS) – While neither player officially qualified as rookies in the NHL last season, as sophomores, these two players have proven that their first full seasons in the league a year ago were no fluke. It used to be that Moulson was only good for one thing… beer. That’s not the case anymore. He’s quietly gone about his business in Year 2, amassing another 30-goal season on Long Island to lead all sophomores. Meanwhile, Niemi has been lights out of late, posting a ridiculous 22-4-3 record in his last 29 starts for San Jose. The Sharks can only hope Niemi continues his winning ways with an encore performance from last year’s playoffs.
NICLAS BERGFORS – FLORIDA PANTHERS
The bottom has fallen out on Bergfors this season, looking for a new lease on life in Florida after being traded for the 2nd time in as many years. He’s seen his goal production practically cut in half over his rookie campaign (21 vs. 12 this season), having tallied only once since Feburary 7th.
TYLER MYERS – BUFFALO SABRES
Myers remains a solid presence on the Sabres’ blueline in his sophomore year, but his numbers have dropped noticeably. Despite posting 5 assists and a plus-7 rating in Buffalo’s past 6 games, Myers (10-25-35) has played under expectations and is on pace to finish with fewer points compared with last season. Perhaps of more concern for fantasy owners is his new ‘defense-first’ attitude, which has resulted in fewer PP Points and even fewer Shots on Goal for the former first-round pick in recent weeks.
SEMYON VARLAMOV – WASHINGTON CAPITALS
Time is quickly running out for Varlamov, as injuries and inconsistent play are causing the Capitals to slowly lose patience with him. He’s only managed 10 Wins in 26 starts this season, down from only a mere 15 Wins a year ago. You can bet that any further combination of injury and/or poor playoff performance will result in Varlamov finding himself as #3 on Washington’s depth chart next season.
TUUKKA RASK – BOSTON BRUINS
Just when you thought Rask had the inside track at the starting job in Beantown to start this season, the 24-year old Finn came out of the gates ice cold, winning only two games by Christmas. Enter Tim Thomas. Exit Tuukka Rask. How far has his stock fallen this year? One of my buddies actually drafted Rask second overall in our keeper fantasy draft back in September, only to turn around and drop him just a few short months later (It is worth noting that my friend did in fact finish dead last in our pool this year – partially, but not exclusively, because he drafted Rask so high).
MICHAEL DEL ZOTTO – NEW YORK RANGERS
The Rangers’ rearguard’s future looked very bright 12 short months ago, when he finished 2nd in rookie scoring amongst defensemen with 37 Points in 2009-10. Now he finds himself a forgotten man, toiling in the minors with the AHL’s Connecticut Whale, as the Rangers prepare for the postseason without him. 2 Goals and 11 Points in 47 games will do that to you.
JONAS GUSTAVSSON (TOR), TJ GALIARDI (COL) – These two “G’s” have both been plagued by injury and inconsistency all season long. For Gustavsson (6W-13L-2O), serious doubts have now emerged about his future in the NHL following his 3rd heart procedure and after witnessing his overall shoddy play. Galliardi was never able to overcome two separate substantial injuries this season, as he watched his point total drop from 39 as a rookie to a paltry 15 as a soph.
Time to get this hot new topic off the ground. Which Sophomores – good or bad – have stood out for you this season?