It may have just been me, but the Calder Trophy race this year seemed a little disappointing. No one came even close to scoring at the same rate as Ryan Nugent-Hopkins did last season, nor did anyone step up to take a leadership role like Gabriel Landeskog or take on the defensive responsibility of Adam Henrique. It seemed fitting that the award was handed out with minimal fanfare during the Stanley Cup Final.
The most intrigue that could be mustered surrounded Nail Yakupov and his exclusion from the top-three in voting, despite tying with Jonathan Huberdeau for the league lead in points from a rookie. It just didn’t grab my attention like last year’s race. What I do find interesting is looking back at last year’s rookies and seeing how they performed in their sophomore seasons. The dreaded sophomore slump did indeed seem to claim a couple of victims, while others stepped up and improved on their rookie years.
The season’s best sophomore didn’t exactly come out of nowhere, as he had a solid rookie season, but the strides he took in his second year had to be a pleasant surprise.
All three of the 2011-12 season’s top-scoring rookies, who also ended up being the three finalists for the Calder Trophy, fell out of the top three in sophomore scoring in 2012-13.
Landeskog scored 22 goals and 52 points in 82 games last season, leading all rookies in scoring, but missed some games due to injury and couldn’t repeat his production this season, putting up 17 points in 36 games. He seems like a good candidate for a bounceback year next season.
Henrique’s production suffered even more than Landeskog’s, going from 51 points in 74 games to 16 points in 42 games, a 31 points pace. Oddly enough, his goalscoring actually improved, as he scored just 5 goals fewer than his rookie season in 32 fewer games — it’s just his assists that bottomed out. His underlying possession statistics were also significantly improved and it seems likely that if it had been a full 82-game season, his point totals would have also improved.
Nugent-Hopkins, to his credit, didn’t drop far: he finished fourth in scoring among sophomores with 24 points in 40 games and led them all in assists with 20. That means, however, that he scored just 4 goals, which is a disappointment after his 18 in 62 games in his rookie year. His shooting percentage, however, was just 5.1%, which seems like a far cry from his true talent after scoring on 13.4% of his shots in 2011-12. I strongly suspect he’ll score many more goals next season.
So, if the three finalists for the Calder Trophy last season are not our leading candidates for best sophomore of 2012-13, then which players should we turn to?
Early in the season, I had Cody Hodgson as the early favourite, thanks to finding some chemistry on the Buffalo Sabres’ top line with Thomas Vanek. He finished the season leading all sophomores in goals, with 15, and scoring, with 34 points in 48 games. While some suggested that his point production was entirely dependent upon playing alongside Vanek, good players shouldn’t be punished for playing with other good players. There is a legitimate concern that Hodgson was only on the top line by default because of the Sabres’ dearth of depth down the middle, but 34 points in 48 games is certainly acceptable for a first line centre, as he finished 20th in the NHL in scoring among centres.
No, the bigger concern is that Hodgson still has significant defensive issues. As John Vogl at the Buffalo News put it, “only 24 players in the league were easier to score against.”
Beyond Hodgson, there were a number of other players with strong sophomore seasons.
Brayden Schenn had a decent season, putting up 26 points in 47 games, a nice improvement from his rookie season when he scored 18 points in 54 games. Matt Read, who finished fourth in Calder voting in 2012 on the strength of 24 goals, continued along at almost the exact same pace, finishing with 24 points in 42 games.
Carl Hagelin tied with Read and Nugent-Hopkins with 24 points and led all rookies in shots with 132 while taking on a larger role with the Rangers. Roman Josi stepped up with the departure of Ryan Suter to play significant and difficult minutes for the Predators, averaging 23:31 in ice time, behind only Shea Weber. And Cody Eakin went from 8 points in 30 games for the Capitals to 24 points in 48 games with the Stars, all while looking like a long-lost Weasley brother.
The player that stood out the most to me and earns my vote as the best sophomore of the season was defenceman Slava Voynov of the Los Angeles Kings.
Voynov was good in his rookie year with the Kings, scoring 20 points in 54 games while playing second pairing minutes. In his sophomore season, however, Voynov stepped up in a big way. Voynov was second behind only Drew Doughty in ice time on the Kings, averaging over 22 minutes per game, playing in all situations.
With 6 goals and 19 assists, Voynov finished third in scoring among sophomores with 25 points in 48 games, leading all Kings’ defencemen. Voynov managed this improvement in points even as he started fewer shifts in the offensive zone than in his rookie year and faced tougher competition. He was also solid defensively and constantly kept the puck moving in the right direction. He has the potential to be very good for a very long time with his intelligence and skating.
And though it didn’t factor into my choice, Voynov also came through in the playoffs, scoring 13 points in 18 games, including an impressive 4 gamewinning goals. Unsurprisingly, Voynov is well-loved in Los Angeles.
So that’s my pick for the top sophomore of the season? Disagree? What’s your pick?