After an impressive rookie campaign, the last thing a first-year player wants to do is take a step back. Unfortunately, sophomore slumps are a common curse in the NHL. Whether it’s due to injuries that arise, beginners luck running low, or simply opposing teams configuring successful strategies to halt the offense of a young star, there are multiple cases of rookies who have not satisfied expectations in their second season.
One example would be Colorado Avalanche center Nathan MacKinnon. In 2014, MacKinnon won the Calder Trophy with 63 points in 82 games. He led all other rookies in points, assists, and mounted a 13 game point streak which was the most by any 18-year-old according to NHL.com.
However, due to offensive struggles and a broken foot, MacKinnon was only able to notch 38 tallies in 64 contests in his sophomore season.
Another instance would be Buffalo Sabres left winger Jeff Skinner. Like MacKinnon, Skinner also won the Calder Trophy with 63 points in 82 games. Unfortunately, similar to MacKinnon, Skinner saw an almost 30 percent decrease in his point production after putting up only 44 tallies in 64 contests in his second NHL year.
With these examples in mind, it is an impressive accomplishment whenever a player is able to avoid the slump and continue to successfully produce. These are five forwards who have so far picked up right where they left off to begin their sophomore season.
5: Alex DeBrincat (Chicago Blackhawks)
DeBrincat’s solid 52 points in 82 games as a rookie gave Blackhawks fans hope that he could provide the team with much-needed offense and take the load off of Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews.
The 20-year-old’s point production has increased during his sophomore season as he currently has 16 tallies in 20 contests. The Michigan native has found chemistry playing with Kane. Which, for the rest of the NHL, is scary news to hear.
At the moment, DeBrincat is tied for second in points amongst Blackhawks players. Despite being only 5’7” in height, the 2016 second round pick is quickly making a name for himself in the NHL.
4: Kyle Connor (Winnipeg Jets)
Last year, Connor proved why he was selected in the first round of an already loaded 2015 draft class by putting up a whopping 31 goals and 57 points in 76 games as a rookie. The Michigan countryman fell just short of a Calder Trophy nomination after being edged out by Clayton Keller who finished with 65 points.
The 21-year-old has been unaffected by the sophomore slump thus far as he currently has 16 tallies in 18 contests. Connor’s consistent point production has earned him a spot on the Jets’ second-line along side Bryan Little and Patrik Laine according to Daily Faceoff.
At the moment, the left winger is ranked second in goals amongst Jets players. At the pace Connor is on, NHL experts will wonder why he had to wait until the seventeenth pick to be selected.
3: Mathew Barzal (New York Islanders)
Barzal tore up the NHL his rookie season after putting up 85 points in 82 games. Despite fan favorite Brock Boeser being named MVP of the 2018 NHL all-star game, Barzal ultimately ran away with the Calder Trophy.
The 21-year-old has continued his point per game pace as a sophomore with currently 17 tallies in 18 contests. With John Tavares now a member of the Toronto Maple Leafs, Barzal contains sole possession of the first-line center position.
At the moment, the 2015 sixteenth overall pick is ranked second in points among Islanders players. Barzal’s success was one of the driving factors that led Islanders general manager Lou Lamoriello to let go of Tavares. So far, Barzal is showing that he can handle the work load of a top line center.
2: Timo Meier (San Jose Sharks)
After finally cracking a full-time spot on the Sharks roster last season, Meier was able to produce 21 goals and 36 points in 81 games. With current leaders such as 39-year-old Joe Thornton on the verge of retirement and the uncertain future of captain Joe Pavelski, the Sharks need youth powered offensive forwards like Meier in a big way.
So far, the 22-year-old has provided just that during his sophomore year as he currently has 12 goals and 19 points in 20 games. After a slow start to his NHL career, the Swiss countryman has found himself a spot on the Sharks’ first-line alongside Pavelski and Logan Couture according to Daily Faceoff.
At the moment, Meier leads the Sharks in goals and is ranked second on the squad in points. The Sharks contain the fifth oldest roster in the league with an average age of 27.9 according to The Athletic. With that being said, Meier is going to be shouldering the brunt of the load production wise in the near future.
1: Yanni Gourde (Tampa Bay Lightning)
Gourde was a late bloomer who didn’t crack a full-time roster spot until the age of 25. However, his solid 64 points in 82 games last season swiftly overshadowed his age.
Now as a 26-year-old, Gourde has improved his already impressive play as a sophomore. After an assist during Saturday’s game against the Philadelphia Flyers, the Canadian native currently has 20 points in as many games.
More so, newly elected Lightning general manager Julien BriseBois has recognized Gourde’s consistent performance and recently awarded him with a six-year, $31 million contract according to ESPN.
Despite being a forward on one of the most stacked offensive rosters in the league, Gourde currently holds a spot on the Lightning’s second-line alongside Tyler Johnson and Brayden Point according to Daily Faceoff. In addition, the 5’9” center is ranked third in points among Lightning players.