The 2015-2016 NHL season was filled with highs and lows for its crop of rookies. The Edmonton Oilers used the number one draft pick to select what is considered a generational player, in Connor McDavid. We also saw the Buffalo Sabres took the consensus number two pick in Jack Eichel. The season also saw a Russian come out of virtually nowhere, overcome the demands of the regular season and capture the Calder trophy that being Artemi Panarin. There were also a number of stand out players that competed on the Canadian National Junior team that saw success, in Anthony Duclair, Sam Reinhart and second generation player Max Domi.
What is great is that for many of these men they stepped in and made a difference, facing the challenge of competing at the age of 18 or 19 among men. They did so without any fear or concern that the game was beyond them, or that they needed time to mature and develop even more in either Junior or on their specific teams' minor league affiliate. For a number of these men, their second season will provide them with the same success that their first season did. However, not everyone will be as fortunate. The dreaded sophomore slump can be a real concern for a number of these young men. The fear of taking a step back in their careers is sometimes something that players aren't ever able to bounce back from.
17 Sophmores That Will Suffer A Slump
16 Colton Parayko
If there was ever someone that you fear could regress, but hope doesn't, it is Blues blueliner Parayko. Parayko's regular season totals were impressive, as he sported an impressive plus 28, and tallied 33 points in the regular season. At 23 years of age, the St. Albert. Alberta native demonstrates the poise needed to make him a success. The concern is that with defensemen, the risk of regression in their second season is very real. Often the risks they take and plays they make demonstrate the learning curve that they are on. This is what may be a concern with Parayko, as the sophomore year is a period of adjustment for second year players. The added expectations and situational playing time could lead to a drop off in his overall performance, as the Blues look to have a repeat performance moving into the playoffs.
15 Sam Reinhart
It's a peculiar case when it comes to Reinhart. The former Team Canada junior player had ample opportunities to achieve like teammate Jack Eichel in his first season, but didn't. It could simply be a matter of having to adjust to a different league and different situational play, but the fear is that this second year player will step back offensively. Registering a minus eight on the season shows that Reinhart was fairly responsible in his own end for a weaker Sabres team. Will the offensive numbers rise for the promising young forward? It isn't likely for his second year. This period is one of adjustment, as more focus will be put on what he can achieve on the defensive side of the puck.
14 Nikolaj Ehlers
If you hadn't heard of this skilled young Danish player, it's really unfortunate. A member of the Winnipeg Jets, Ehlers scored 15 goals and earned an impressive 37 points in 72 games played. He accumulated nearly half of his points on the power play, showing that his coaches had faith in him to be used in this particular situation. The concern is whether or not his body can hold out and maintain his success. He is listed at 6'0and 172 lbs, which could be cause for concern if he isn't quick enough to compensate. If he does take a step back, it may not even be because of his performance or ability to overcome adversity, but rather the performance of the Jets. Even with the drafting of Patrick Laine, there could be real growing pains for this team because they lack the leadership needed to help them improve.
13 Joonas Donskoi
If there is anyone that should be poised to achieve bigger things, it's this young Finnish stand out from the San Jose Sharks. The belief was that during his second post-season with the Sharks, Donskoi was able to rise to the challenge and scored a dozen points in twenty-four games. It should be a building block for him and for the Sharks. However, the rigors of the regular season make one wonder if Donskoi will be able to maintain the endurance and strength needed to build on his 36-point performance in 78 games played. He may take a step back during his second season of play.
12 Jordan Martinook
Martinook will be hard pressed to follow in the footsteps of his teammates Max Domi and Anthony Duclair. While all three are going into their second season with the Coyotes, Martinook played nearly the entire season and scored only nine goals. Some may think that the 23-year-old will be primed to make a difference, just like recent Calder winner Artemi Panarin did at the age of 24. The problem is that Martinook needs to be more than a fringe player. There will be other, even younger, player competing for playing time and looking to take his spot if the opportunity arises. If anything, he is in the unenviable place of having to not only build on his totals from the previous season, but be able to compete alongside his fellow Coyote sophomores Domi and Duclair. It is quite easy to be skeptical of Martinook's outlook.
11 Jared McCann
Much like all-Canadian teams last year, a mulligan is certainly in order. McCann doesn't just have to adjust to playing in his second season in the NHL, but he has to adjust to a completely new team, in a different country. Last season, McCann earned 18 points in 69 games played. He is essentially playing for his third team in as many years, if we consider his time with the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds. What will the future hold for him? It is hard to think he will not regress this coming season because of all the changes he's had to endure professionally, including having to adjust to a different style of play and new teammates. Vancouver could have provided McCann with a great learning experience, and hopefully he found something he can build on as he transitions to the Panthers.
10 Sergey Kalinin
We could chalk it up Kalinin's accomplishments to have been on a relatively bad New Jersey Devils, but going into his second season he will only achieve a modicum of success. This Russian borne centre tallied 15 points in 78 games played, and while he does have size on his side, the question is did he use it effectively over the course of his rookie season? We also need to look at his age of 25 years old; while his countryman Panarin was able to provide immediate dividends to his team, the jury is out on Kalinin. One would hope that he would get a greater opportunity and be granted more playing time to show what he can do. The problem is after a season where greater offensive production wasn't gained, it is hard to envisage that he may be able to do that moving forward.
9 Shayne Gostisbehere
If there is anyone that appears poised for a step back, it is Philadelphia Flyers defensemen Shayne Gostisbehere. While his numbers in his rookie season were remarkable, a drop off is expected for most defensemen in their second season. Gostisbehere tallied 46 points in only 64 games played, and he is also coming off of a Calder trophy nomination which was equally as impressive. One would think with the age and maturity that comes with being 23 years of age the past season was a building block. However, at just under six feet and 180 lbs, the smaller defensemen will be under a lot of pressure both physically, from other teams, and mentally, from the Flyers organization, to be even better this season.
8 Sophmores That Won't Suffer A Slump
7 Robby Fabbri
Fabbri's regular season saw a 15 goal, 32-point performance over the course of playing 72 games. While those numbers don't necessarily lead fans to believe that success is just around the corner for him, his notoriety came about during the Stanley Cup playoffs where he rose to the occasion. Fabbri's speed, grit and determination aren't necessarily evident on the scoresheet, but his four goals and 15 points in 20 games played during the 2015-2016 playoffs certainly are. He accumulated almost half his regular season point total during the tightly contested playoffs. At a time of year when a number of players are questioned for their heart and determination, the 20-year-old St Louis Blues forward has huge building blocks to build upon for his second season. He was part of a team that came within a game of the finals.
6 Dylan Larkin
With the departure of Pavel Datsyuk, Dylan Larkin will have ample opportunities to build on last year's totals. He has youth on his side, but will still have the leadership of the likes of Henrik Zetterberg guiding him. At a scoring rate of more than half a point a game, Larkin is poised to build on this provided he gets more playing time. Larkin's points weren't simply accumulated at even strength, but on specialty teams as well. Over the course of last season, Larkin scored 4 power play goals and earned five power play points. While it may not seem like much for a rookie to do this, given his rather limited role and age of 19, it is something to be admired. While the departure of Datsyuk will be difficult for the Red Wings to overcome, they may be in good hands with this youngster.
5 Anthony Duclair
Much like team mate Max Domi, Duclair is a key cog in the Coyotes future and the team's success. The former Canadian world junior team member will undoubtedly face his share of challenges, and since he stands at just under six feet and weighs less than 200 lbs there may be a reason to be skeptical. What has been a breath of fresh air has been Duclair's contribution to the teams' power play. While Domi may have earned more points on the season, Duclair earned more points on the power play. Specialty teams are always such an important part of a teams' success, and last year it appeared as though that was Duclair's niche to fill. It appears as though it is a place where he can and should continue to excel; almost half of his point total was earned with the man advantage.
4 Max Domi
This second generation forward has a skillset that enabled him to accomplish more than his father ever achieved in a single season. He finished third in rookie scoring after competing in a complete season without missing a single game. With just under 20 goals, and 52 points on the season, Max appears set to improve in 2016-2017. He isn't simply a one dimensional player, and so will be in a number of situations where he will be in a position to succeed. While some may question the teams re-signing of Shane Doan, his return will do wonders as his leadership that will only help Domi in the upcoming season. He had less than 100 penalty minutes, and as long as he can continue to show a never-back-down attitude on the ice, it would be hard to think he won't improve.
3 Artemi Panarin
The winner of the 2015-2016 Calder Trophy winner is also poised to maintain the scoring pace he had last year. At 24 years of age, Panarin's vision and chemistry with linemate Patrick Kane shows that he is willing to do whatever is needed to make the Chicago Blackhawks victorious. Although the Hawks were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs, Panarin still made himself known on both ends of the ice, scoring 30 goals and 77 points. He will undoubtedly be counted on more as those around him are aging, Panarin has both time and support on his side, and will undoubtedly continue to hold a place on the team as a top six forward, getting five on five and power play time. With added work in the defensive end, he could also earn additional short-handed time as well.
2 Jack Eichel
This second year player is coming off of a twenty four goal and 56-point performance in his rookie season. It was a remarkable accomplishment considering the limited talent that Eichel was surrounded with. A year later, the American born player is poised to build on those totals. One of the most remarkable facets of Eichel's game, compared to others on this list, is that plays will run through him. As one of the team's centremen, the added pressure to create plays isn't something that should affect him because he will now have a solid winger in Kyle Okposo, who the Sabres added as a free agent. The addition Okoposo will provide Eichel another option. As a key part in the Sabres future, it is important to have Eichel surrounded with the right talent to be productive.
1 Connor McDavid
He could easily be considered the best rookie from the class of 2015-2016 not to capture any awards. Fans should make no mistake: McDavid is the real deal. He had 48 points in only 45 games played, impeded only by an injury that kept him out almost half of the season. McDavid was productive, despite the Oilers' less than stellar season, but help appears to be on the way as the Oilers were committed to protecting their superstar. They reunited former Bruins talent with former Bruins management, as General Manager Peter Chiarelli signed Milan Lucic. As Lucic's center, McDavid is sure to provide his new winger with ample opportunities to be productive and lead the Oilers to a better season than the previous one.
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