Throughout their professional careers, many NHL players experience the highs and lows of the dynamics of the game; it's simply a natural aspect of every sport. Although the superstars of the game remain relatively consistent, on some occasions, it's possible that superstars can falter and regress.
In today's ever-evolving sport of hockey, youth is constantly injected in NHL rosters and speed is tremendously prioritized. With the dynamics of the game shifting rapidly, many NHL players are bound to peak and plunge at different rates - a rate that is increasingly becoming more unpredictable. Some players hit their peak at age 27, and others at the advanced age of 35.
This NHL season has been the salvation of some players' careers, and the fallen grace of others. In today's article, we will take a comprehensive look at players who have revitalized their careers this season and players who have taken a drastic step back.
16 Revitalized: Jeff Skinner
The youthful Toronto native was drafted 7th overall by the Carolina Hurricanes in 2010 and was poised to lead the team in offensive production alongside captain Eric Staal. In his rookie season, he amassed an astounding 31 goals and 63 points, earning him the 2011 Calder Trophy. From then on, Skinner has struggled to produce at an elite level and reach his full potential. In the following seasons, his offensive production dropped as well as the Hurricanes' overall on-ice performance.
The 24-year-old has failed to replicate his rookie season dominance and revive his scoring touch until this season. Although he scored a personal-best 33 goals in the 2013-14 season, he has yet to eclipse his personal-best of 63 points, set in his rookie season. As of now, a rejuvenated Skinner is on pace for 62 points, which would be one shy of his personal best.
14 Step Back: Ryan Nugent-Hopkins
The former 1st overall pick in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft has been steadily regressing ever since his successful rookie season. At season's beginning, he was named an assistant captain of the Oilers, along with Jordan Eberle, who has outproduced him. Although he continues to put up decent numbers, his point totals have been easily eclipsed by recent top draft picks Connor McDavid and Auston Matthews. For the most part, Nugent-Hopkins has produced consistently, but has not yet reached his potential. Consequently, he has been the subject of numerous trade rumors.
At the age of 23, the B.C. native still has many years ahead of him in his NHL career, but if he wants to be successful in the big league, he's gonna have to elevate his level of offensive play and become a main contributor for the Oilers, rather than relying on McDavid and Draisaitl for the majority of their scoring.
13 Revitalized: Michael Grabner
The speedy 29-year-old winger recently joined the New York Rangers this past off-season after signing a rather cheap two-year deal worth $3.3 million. Prior to his season, he has only hit the 20-goal plateau two times, both of which happened more than 5 seasons ago. But since reaching an agreement with the Rangers, he has managed to find his previous scoring touch and potted 22 goals with many games to spare. The Austrian native is also on pace for 50 points, a total that would be his second-best only to a 52-point season back in the 2010-11 season.
Judging by his annual salary ($1.65 million), the Rangers definitely found a hidden gem in Grabner and provided him with the chance of a lifetime to revitalize his NHL career while securing him at a cheap price.
12 Step Back: Gabriel Landeskog
The talented two-way left winger is in his sixth season in the NHL and has already solidified himself as a strong leader. His captaincy in Colorado is no mistake, but judging how their season is currently going, he desperately needs to elevate his level of play. Landeskog has been evidently struggling to produce and is on pace for only 37 points; not much of an offensive contributor per se.
Obviously, Landeskog's skill transcends beyond his offensive output. But with the entire Avalanche roster struggling to find their previous winning ways, most of the blame is directed towards the captain - Gabriel Landeskog. At only 24 years of age, the former 2nd overall pick needs to find new ways to lead his mediocre team to success if he wants to become a legitimate NHL superstar.
11 Revitalized: Jonathan Drouin
At 21 years old, Jonathan Drouin is establishing himself as an offensively gifted forward with pristine hockey instincts. Drafted by Tampa Bay in 2013, the 3rd overall pick has been lighting the lamps since re-joining the team late last season. Although it has taken some time for Drouin to transition to the NHL, he has finally solidified himself in Tampa's top six forward group and is producing like an elite forward.
Drouin's emergence into stardom has been highly anticipated by many Lightning fans - and it has definitely been worth the wait. With captain Steven Stamkos out with injury, it has provided Drouin the unique opportunity to showcase his talent and lead the deep Lightning team. Although they have been recently struggling, Tampa's future is undoubtedly in good hands.
10 Step Back: Loui Eriksson
After the Canucks signed him to a lucrative six-year $36 million contract, Canucks fans have been taken aback by the mediocrity of Loui Eriksson's level of play. The recent acquisition certainly does not look like as if he scored 63 points the season before this one. Many Canucks fans were hoping to enjoy his chemistry with the Sedins, but alas, he has not been able to revive his previous scoring touch that once produced 36 goals.
The versatile 31-year-old winger has seemed to have lost his stride this season and will need to find it if the Canucks want to make a legitimate push for the 2017 playoffs. Eriksson has been relied heavily on the power play, as well as in clutch situations. The one-time All Star has been evidently struggling to adjust to Vancouver's system, and although he cashed in this off-season, Eriksson has yet to prove his worth in Vancouver.
9 Revitalized: Alexander Radulov
Prior to his season, the last time Radulov played in the NHL was in the 2011-12 season with the Nashville Predators, where he almost scored a point per game. Fast forward five seasons later, and you'll find that Radulov is back in the NHL as dominant as ever. Since signing a one-year deal with the Canadiens, Radulov has found his home on Montreal's top line and has not missed a single beat.
Along with the spectacular play of goaltender Carey Price, the 30-year-old scoring winger has been a major factor as to why Montreal has regained their winning ways. They are currently first atop the Atlantic Division, and part of the credit is due to the acquisition of the extraordinarily skilled Russian forward Alex Radulov.
8 Step Back: Andrew Ladd
The two-time Stanley Cup champion in 2006 and 2010 recently signed a lucrative seven-year deal worth $38.5 million with the New York Islanders this past off-season. So far into the season, Islanders GM Garth Snow must be regretting this signing. Before arriving in Long Island, the 31-year-old winger played for the Hurricanes, Blackhawks and Jets. In Winnipeg, he was named captain and produced noteworthy point totals.
In his first season with the Islanders, Ladd is on pace for a 31-point season, which is decent, but certainly doesn't justify his $5.5 million AAV. Although he is a tremendous leader in New York, the former 4th overall pick in 2004 must elevate his level of play because the Islanders desperately need him to score goals for them if they want to climb back into the playoff race.
7 Revitalized: Sam Gagner
The former 6th overall pick in 2007 has had recent struggles with staying in the big league. Initially drafted by the Edmonton Oilers, where he spent the majority of his career and established himself as a top-6 forward, he has played for four different NHL teams in the past four year, including a quick stint in the AHL. Amidst his struggles, Gagner has continually persevered and used his versatility to his advantage.
Since joining Columbus as an unrestricted free agent, Gagner has reignited his previous scoring touch and significantly contributed to the talented Blue Jackets team. The 27-year-old forward is en route to his seventh 40-plus point season, and on pace to eclipse his personal-best of 49 points set in his rookie season. With Gagner playing with such poise and confidence, it looks like Columbus got the best bang for their buck.
6 Step Back: Henrik Lundqvist
King Henrik is king no more. It seems like the star-studded goaltender has finally regressed; once thought to be invincible is now vulnerable. This season, the aging 34-year-old goaltender has had trouble staying in the Rangers' crease. Backup goaltender Antti Raanta has been sharing duties with King Henrik and it hasn't been pretty. Lundqvist has experienced many 4-plus goal games this season, which further prove his declination from preeminence.
The three-time All Star has put up exceptional numbers his entire career, so it's no surprise that King Henrik is beginning to regress at the age of 34. Although they are not substantial decreases, his 2.70 GAA and .911 save percentage are the lowest totals of his illustrious NHL career.
5 Revitalized: Justin Schultz
The British Columbia native commenced his career in the city of Edmonton, where he gained valuable NHL experience but ultimately could not translate his personal success to the team level. After his offensive numbers steadily decreased amidst the mediocrity of the Oilers, he was subsequently traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the middle of the 2015-16 season. In Pittsburgh, he rounded out their defense corp and was a part of the 2016 Stanley Cup winning team.
This season, the 26-year-old defenseman is finally living up to his potential and significantly contributing to the defending Stanley Cup champions. With a Stanley Cup victory under his belt, Schultz seems to have found his self-confidence. The well-rounded defenseman is on pace for an extraordinary 60-point season, and has been paramount to the Penguins' success this season.
4 Step Back: Jaromir Jagr
The immensely talented Czech Republic native will always be among the greatest hockey players to ever play the game. But there must be a time when even the all-time greats begin to fade away. Jagr, otherwise known as the "Ageless Wonder", has played for numerous teams and has won a profusion of accolades. Although it is quite the miracle that Jagr is still producing at his age, there's no denying the fact that his overall level of play is decreasing in quality.
At the age of 44, soon to be 45, Jagr is still a key part of the Panthers organization. The former 5th overall pick back in 1990 is proving that he still has the determination and audacity to play at such an old age, but perhaps not at the elite level anymore. Nevertheless, it is a true pleasure that we can witness a living legend continuing to play the sport he loves.
3 Revitalized: Peter Budaj
At 34 years of age, Peter Budaj is reasserting himself as a legitimate NHL goaltender. After both LA goalies Jonathan Quick and Jeff Zatkoff were injured, Budaj was imminently re-called from the farm team to play in the Kings' net. Considering he only played 1 game in the 2015-16 season, there were obvious doubts about him. But alas, Budaj has quickly become the savior for the L.A. Kings as he has led the team back into a playoff spot.
The Slovakian goaltender has an astounding 2.11 GAA, a personal-best in the NHL, as well as a league-leading seven shutouts. After having spent the majority of last season in the AHL with the Ontario Reign, Peter Budaj got the golden opportunity this season with the Kings and absolutely seized it.
2 Step Back: Joe Thornton
Alas, another aging star veteran player. Just like Jagr, the 6-foot-4 centerman has had an immensely illustrious career. With Team Canada, he has won two World Cups and an Olympic gold medal, as well as a silver medal at the World Championships. But after coming off a point-per-game season last season, many people knew he probably wouldn't be able to replicate his success this season at his age.
The 37-year-old Sharks forward is aging quickly, as Joe Pavelski and Logan Couture have successfully taken the reins in San Jose. Thornton was stripped of his captaincy in 2014, and with his role decreasing in importance with the Sharks, don't expect Thornton to continue to be a major threat in the NHL.
1 Revitalized: Eric Staal
The former captain of the Carolina Hurricanes signed a three-year deal with the Minnesota Wild this past off-season. After a lackluster year in the 2015-16 season, Staal has certainly seemed to have found his home in Minnesota. The resurgence of Eric Staal has been the subject of many headlines, and is a crucial key to the Wild's success this season.
The 2006 Stanley Cup Champion seems to have revived his previous scoring touch that has provided him with substantial success in past years. At the halfway point of the season, Staal has already far eclipsed his point total last season and is on pace for a commanding 60-plus point season. With Staal's assertive resurgence, the Wild are bound to be patting themselves on the back as they have him locked up for at least another two years.
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