We’ve all seen it, heard of it and read of it before…the infamous sophomore slump. A rookie comes into the NHL and plays at or above expectations only to see his performance take a step backwards the very next year. It happens in every sport, pros and collegiate.
What’s the cause of Sophomore Slump Syndrome?
Some may say it’s the simple law of averages at work as stats move up and down from season to season. So it’s only natural some will experience one of those downturns in year number two. Some argue it’s due to the league catching on to the tendencies of a young player, causing him to adjust his game. Maybe it’s a matter of motivation.
Others may cite that it’s a matter of differing roles on the team… diminished minutes on the power play, changes in line formations. Others still see it simply as a cerebral issue…a young athlete who has achieved his dream of playing at the highest level of his sport is now coping with the reality that he must continue to progress if he is to remain there.
Put all those factors in play with a 19 or 20-year kid, add in the pressure from fans & media to perform and – Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo – a youngster could experience something of a slump, regardless of rhyme or reason.
One Thrasher who will be looking to recover from what some might refer to as a “sophomore slump” is Zach Bogosian, the third overall pick in 2008 who began his NHL career the following October. Zach missed two months of that rookie campaign due to a broken leg but came back strong to finish with 9 goals and 10 assists. Even more impressive was his +11 rating, which was the second best on Atlanta’s blueline behind Toby Enstrom’s +14.
Last season, however, Zach missed but one game but saw his point production increased only by 4. More notable was that his +/- rating dropped by 29 to –18. And while the +/- rating doesn’t always paint the full picture of a player’s performance, in this case it really did. At times, Zach simply struggled on the defensive side of the ice.
In fairness to Bogosian, it must be noted that a hand injury was the reason he missed that one game last season and it probably played a big part in his reduced numbers given the fact he was trying to pay through it for some time before being sat out.
Nonetheless, if the Thrashers are not able to adequately address the loss of Pavel Kubina on the blueline, Zach’s third career season will need to be his best so far to help fill the void.
Now some may count Bryan Little in with Bogosian as a player looking to rebound from a case of SSS. Yes, I know…Little played in 48 games scoring 6 goals and 10 assists three years back. But his first full season came in 2008-09 when he dazzled us with 31 goals and 20 assists during the 72 games he played in. Unfortunately though, in his second full season at the NHL level Bryan’s numbers took a bit of a dive to just 13 goals and 21 assists…his power play stats dropping from 20 points to just 6. This even though he took only seven shots on goal fewer than the 172 the year before.
Reason for the decline…well, he spent the bulk of the 2008-09 season playing opposite Slava Kozlov with Todd White in between before being elevated later in the year to Ilya Kovalchuk’s line. That line was arguably the most consistent of the season and the trio accounted for 79 goals and 121 assists… 36 goals and 61 assists came via the power play.
In contrast, those same three players accounted for but 28 goals and 58 assists last season.
Last fall and it took until November 3rd for Bryan to score his first goal…11 games into the season. But even after the “Little-White-Russian” line was dismantled he still continued to struggle, though the effort was certainly always there. Bryan tickled the twine but three times in the final 24 games of last season. The last of those goals was the only one scored in the season-ending 1-0 win over the Penguins. However that broke a 10-game goalless drought, equal to the scoreless streak he began the season with.
Looking forward, both of these players should be looked upon to have better 2010-11 campaigns if the Thrashers are to make any possible push towards a playoff position next spring. It would also help matter is two rising sophomores can find a way to immune themselves from SSS…Evander Kane and Nic Bergfors.
In 66 games Kane put up the first 14 goals and 26 points of his career. He was also a +2 on a team that only had five players finish better than that mark. Plus his contributions on the penalty kill were impressive.
Between the Devils and Thrashers, Bergie had 21 goals and 23 assists in 80 games played. 9 goals and 6 assists came while on the power play. Right after the trade that sent him here and Kovalchuk to New Jersey, Bergie more than made himself welcome in Thrasherville by scoring 6 goals in the first 8 games with Atlanta.
While it’s hard to imagine either of these fine young forwards having a down turn in their production next season, remember how difficult it was last year to think the same of Bogosian and Little.
And finally…there is Ondrej Pavelec who will be entering his second entire season with the Thrashers this fall splitting time between the NHL and AHL the two seasons prior. But I personally don’t place the Czech netminder in the same category as a Kane or a Bergfors, those looking to build upon rookie success. In his first full season in Atlanta Pavs went 14-18-7 with a.907 SV% and 3.29 GAA.
Hopefully we won’t see Opie “slumping” from those numbers as he backs up Chris Mason this season.