The 2016-17 season is all but behind us now, so it’s finally time to look back at individual performances throughout the year and mercilessly judge them.
Before every season, fans, media, and team management all have a certain set of expectations for each player. While many players meet these expectations, a handful of players either fall short of them or exceed them. For today’s list, we’ll be looking at the players who landed on either side of the spectrum, and taking a guess at which ones have what it takes to bounce back in 2017-18, and which players will likely regress.
There are a few things we look at when prognosticating here. Shooting percentage is a big factor; if a player is firing it in at a much higher or lower clip than his established career norm, it’s reasonable to expect that number to either regress or progress to the mean. Playing situation matters too; was a player given a favorable situation in terms of playing time and line-mates that we can’t reasonably expect to continue?
The 2016-17 season had its share of surprises at either end of the spectrum, and today we’ll take a closer look at those surprises and try to guess which players are the most likely to move back towards the mean. Here are the 8 players who will have bounce-back seasons in 2017-18, and 7 who will regress:
14 Bounce Back: Corey Perry
43, 33, 34, 19.
One of these things is not like the other, right? Those are the goal totals for each of the past four seasons for Ducks winger Corey Perry, whose production took a huge nosedive in 2016-17. Ignoring the lockout-shortened 2013 season, Perry’s 53 points this year represented his lowest total since 2006-07, which was his sophomore season.
However, we can reasonably expect Perry to return to his near-30 goal pace in 2017-18, just based on his shooting percentage. Perry’s career average to this point is 13.2%, but in 2016-17 he recorded a shooting percentage of just 8.8% (his previous three seasons saw totals of 15.4%, 17.1%, and 15.8%). The pucks will start going in for Perry again, and that’s welcome news for the Anaheim Ducks and their fans.
13 Crash Down: Patrick Maroon
I’ll be the first to admit that if Patrick Maroon plays as much with Connor McDavid in 2017-18 as he did in 2016-17, then it is very possible he repeats his 27-goal performance. However, the very fact that the 29-year-old’s career high in goals prior to this season was 12, I find it hard to believe he’ll notch over 25 for a second consecutive season.
Maroon’s skills do seem to mesh well with the speed and elite playmaking McDavid brings to the table, but as the Oilers stare down the offseason you just know that Peter Chiarelli is looking to add some talent on the wings. Whoever that talent ends up being, it’s very possible that they get to take a spin with Connor, meaning the possibility of a Maroon relegation is there.
12 BB: Loui Eriksson
Loui Eriksson’s first season as a Vancouver Canuck was nothing short of a disaster. The two-way forward was brought in to play with the Sedin Twins on the club’s top line, and that did not go well at all. Eriksson struggled to produce out of the gate, and never really brought things together, scoring just 11 goals and 24 points in 65 games of work.
Both of those totals represent the lowest of Eriksson’s career, aside from his rookie season way back in 2006-07, when he got 19 points in 59 games. Even if we don’t expect Eriksson to return to the previous season’s form when he notched 63 points in Boston (we don’t), there is almost no possible way Eriksson doesn’t improve this season. His 8.3% shooting percentage was way down from his career average of 13.4%, so if that bounces back at all he’ll see a substantial bump in his numbers.
11 Crash Down: Marcus Johansson
Marcus Johansson has been a decent shooter throughout his career, but simply put there is no way that he repeats his 2016-17 performance that saw him score 24 goals on just 129 shots. He actually took fewer shots this past season than he did in 2015-16, yet he ended up with seven more goals (24 in 2016-17 vs. 17 in 2015-16).
Johansson’s 58 points in 2016-17 demolished his previous career high of 47, which he accomplished in 2014-15. It’s not like we expect Johansson to fall of the map in 2017-18, but I think it’s safe to say he’ll return to the numbers we’ve come to expect from Johansson, which puts him in the 43 to 47 point range. He’s proven he can do that consistently, but don’t expect him to repeat the anomaly of 2016-17.
10 BB: Bobby Ryan
I was hesitant to include Bobby Ryan as a bounce back candidate for this list, if only because he’s proven to be wildly inconsistent since joining the Senators. His 2016-17 season was especially disappointing, though, as he managed just 13 goals and 25 points; the lowest total of his career (as long as you exclude his first season when he played just 23 games).
Ryan’s play greatly improved in the postseason, though, as he got 15 points in the Senators 19 games. Now, if he can manage to produce at a clip like that during the 2017-18 season, he would probably represent the biggest bounce back of this entire list. I have my doubts he will hit that mark, but I have little doubt that the American winger will score more than 25 points in 2017-18.
David Pastrnak exploded in a huge way in 2016-17, notching 70 points in 75 games. This was the Czech wingers first full NHL season, as he played in just 46 and 51 games in each of his previous two seasons. He hadn’t scored more than 27 points in either of those two years. I don’t expect him to drop back to those totals at all—that would be ridiculous—but I also don’t expect to see him hit 70 again, either.
Assuming Pastrnak still gets prime minutes in Boston next season, 60 is a reasonable total, but 70 is reserved for elite players, and I’m not ready to commit that title to Pastrnak yet. He is trending to be an impact player for Boston for many years to come, but now that the word is out across the league, teams will start to key in on Pastrnak more now, and that alone should reduce his offense for 2017-18.
9 BB: Oliver Ekman-Larsson
Prior to the 2016-17 season, Oliver Ekman-Larsson was a player some pundits had tagged as a Norris Trophy candidate. The season didn’t go too well for him, though, and he saw a regression in almost all measurable statistics in 2016-17. The good news: there is plenty of reason to believe that the 25-year-old Swede will bounce back to fine form in 2017-18.
One, Ekman-Larsson suffered some injuries in 2016-17, and while he still managed to skate in 79 games, he wasn’t 100% healthy for the bulk of them. Second, it was announced at the end of the season that Ekman-Larsson’s mother had lost her battle with breast cancer. This was something that was weighing on the young defenseman all season long (as it would any 25-year-old playing hockey so far away from his sick mother). 2017-18 represents a fresh start for Ekman-Larsson, and he’ll more than likely deliver.
8 Crashing Down: Mikael Granlund
Mikael Granlund had a season in 2016-17 that many pundits had been waiting for. While he’d hovered around the 40 point mark in each of his previous three seasons with the Wild, he exploded offensively in 2016-17, notching 69 points and leading a surprisingly potent Minnesota offense in scoring. It was a great season for Granlund, but a closer look tells us it may have been an anomaly.
His 43 assists this season represents a number he can actually be replicated—he had back to back seasons of 31 assists prior, so 43 is a reasonable jump for a legitimate breakout season. It’s his 26 goals that I don’t see him repeating in 2017-18. He had a 14.7% shooting percentage last season, which is up from his career average of 9.9%. His previous career high was 13 goals, so we can expect it to be anywhere from 15-20 in 2017-18
7 BB: Jordan Eberle
Jordan Eberle has taken a lot of heat in Edmonton thanks to a disappointing 2016-17. He was in a great position to have a career year, as he was penciled into the top spot on the right side, set to cash in on all those sweet Connor McDavid feeds. Alas, that’s not how the 2016-17 script was written for Ebs, and he was eventually taken off the top line and never really found his stride.
He did manage 20 goals and 51 points (thanks to a hat trick in the 82nd game of the season, which was ultimately meaningless), but that’s still a disappointing year for a guy who’s established himself as a perennial 60+ point winger. With Eberle now getting the chance to play with John Tavares, he’ll surely bounce back, considering that his shooting percentage was down to 9.6% this season from his career average of 13.4%.
6 Crashing Down: Rickard Rakell
I’m not here to take anything away from Rickard Rakell, who took advantage of a favorable situation in Anaheim this season. The Swedish forward recorded 33 goals and 51 points in 2016-17, two numbers that represent career highs. It’s the former number that I take issue with, as a close look at the trends leads one to conclude a repeat 30-goal season is unlikely.
First off, his previous career high was 20, and while I’m not suggesting he can’t get into the 20s again, his 2016-17 shooting percentage of 18.6% will be mighty hard to repeat. For instance, if he cashed on 13% of his shots this season (his career average), he would have scored 23 times—which is about where I see him ending up in 2017-18.
5 BB: Brendan Gallagher
2015-16 was a great year for Brendan Gallagher. The undersized pesky forward was held to only 53 games thanks to an injury, but he still had what I’d consider a breakout year, scoring 19 goals and 43 points. He was primed to build on that, penciled in to play a key role for the Canadiens in 2016-17.
Well, as the story goes, Gallagher actually ended up taking a bit of a step back in 2016-17, another season in which injuries got the better of him. In 64 games he only notched 29 points, which is a fairly substantial regression from a points per game perspective. The fact that he cashed on only 5.3% of the shots he took could factor in, but Gallagher will also benefit from a full healthy season, should luck get on his side for 2017-18.
4 Crashing Down: Paul Byron
Whereas teammate Brendan Gallagher is primed for a bounce back, Montreal Canadiens forward Paul Byron is at the other end of the spectrum, set to regress is 2017-18. Byron had a career year in 2016-17, demolishing his previous bests with 22 goals and 43 points. His previous personal bests in those categories were 11 and 21, respectively, so the improvement was substantial.
Unfortunately for the Habs, there is plenty of reason to believe that Byron is primed for a startling regression. One reason is his age; it’s pretty rare for a hockey player (especially a forward) to turn an offensive corner at the age of 28 like Byron did. Furthermore, Byron cashed on a whopping 22.9% of his shots this season; granted, his career average is very high, but 22.9% is otherworldly.
3 BB: Anze Kopitar
Anze! Anze! What the heck happened in 2016-17? Kopitar posting around 70 points or so was pretty much constant as gravity before this season, but in 2016-17 he inexplicably dropped all the way down to 52. Also, I know we don’t like to put much stock into the plus/minus stat nowadays, but going from plus-34 in 2015-16 to minus-10 in 2016-17 feels significant.
Kings fans sure hope he’s able to bounce back to his regular form in 2017-18, as there are a solid seven years left on that fat $10M AAV contract they signed him to a few years back. The good news is the underlying numbers point to a bounce back for history’s greatest Slovenian hockey player. His shooting percentage took a nasty dip down to 8% (his career average is %12.1%), but his possession metrics were, as usual, still elite.
2 Crashing Down: T.J. Oshie
Considering it’s a contract year for the American winger, T.J. Oshie really couldn’t have picked a better time to record his first career 30-goal season. Teams will undoubtedly be lining up to ink Oshie this offseason, as he’s one of the more prized UFAs out there. These teams should be careful mind you, because Oshie’s 23.1% shooting percentage is far from sustainable.
Over his career he’s averaged 13.4%, which indicates that he is a good shooter, but I think we can all agree it would be asinine to expect a repeat of the 23.1% in 2016-17. It helps to have Nicklas Backstrom feeding you all season, too. Oshie is a good player, but one team will almost certainly be overpaying for what he brings to the table. Here’s hoping that it’s not your favorite team who is prepped to open their check book.
1 BB: Matt Duchene
I don’t know if anybody has figured out what in the devil happened in Denver this season, but this whole team is primed for a bounce back in 2017-18. It’s pretty much impossible for them to finish worse than they did in 2016-17, and Matt Duchene was probably the biggest disappointment for the club this season, which really is saying something.
Duchene (who could very well land somewhere else this offseason) played in all but five games for the Avalanche this year, and he put up a paltry 41 points. That’s devastatingly low for a guy as talented as he is, and he’s only had one season in which he scored fewer points (28 points in 58 games, 2011-12). Simply put, everything that could have gone wrong for Duchene and the Avalanche in 2016-17 did go wrong. Surely they’ll have better luck in 2017-18… right?
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