The Journey: Sophomore Stardom or Sophomore Slump

Kevin LeBlanc


This week, The Journey examines which 2016-17 rookies could star in their sophomore seasons, and who might slightly regress in Year Two.

For fun, if you want to look back on this article from last May, you can see it here. Some big hits, and a couple misses as well, as expected.


Matthew Tkachuk


By all accounts, Tkachuk had a terrific season. He posted 48 points in 76 games, and his 0.63 points-per-game rate was good for fifth among all rookies who played 50 games or more. But could it have been better from a point production standpoint? A closer look at the numbers says yes.


Of the 14 rookie forwards who put up 30 points or more this season in the NHL, Tkachuk had the lowest shooting percentage at 9.2%, and ranked 12th out of the 14 in total ice time at 14:39. The only two behind Tkachuk in time on ice per game were Dallas’s Devin Shore and Chicago’s Ryan Hartman. Even further, playing on a line with Michael Frolik and Mikael Backlund, Tkachuk played heavy defensive minutes, starting his 5-on-5 shifts in the offensive zone just 35% of the time.


It will be interesting to see how Tkachuk’s career develops. He is clearly an agitating player, and racked up enough penalty minutes (105) and hits (65) to increase his fantasy value even more. Could 60-65 points be in reach as early as next year? If so, we could have another Brad Marchand on our hands in the future as a fantasy asset.



Jake Guentzel


There will never be a time where Jake Guentzel’s fantasy trade value will be higher than it will be this summer. For those willing to be bold and shop the playoffs leading goal scorer, a huge return could be coming your way, especially in capped leagues where his $925,000 AAV makes him even more valuable.


Would you trade him if you owned him? It obviously depends on your team, but it’s highly unlikely that he is going to continue on his current trajectory. By no means does that mean that Guentzel isn’t going to be a great player in the future, but a closer look screams regression candidate.


In his 40 regular season games, the University of Nebraska-Omaha product scored 16 times on 81 shots, good for a 19.8% shooting percentage. In the playoffs, that number has grown even larger. His torrid postseason run has seen 12 goals on just 42 shots, for a staggering 28.6% shooting percentage. Over the long run it’s incredibly unlikely that these numbers are sustainable. Anyone who has the ability of playing minutes with Sidney Crosby has value, and Guentzel probably has more than most of the line mates in Sid’s career. However, take Guentzel’s rise to super-stardom over the last 60 games with a grain of salt. And maybe sell high.



Pavel Zacha


The 2015 NHL Draft’s top eight selections are a who’s who of successful players under 21 years old. Names like Connor McDavid, Jack Eichel, Mitch Marner and Zach Werenski all are playing significant minutes in the league, with Zacha and Dylan Strome the only two who have yet to find their footing in the NHL at this point.


Sure, Zacha played 70 NHL games last year, but compared to his all-star level peers from 2015 he is a step behind developmentally. When he was drafted, Zacha was always going to be a little more of a project, so this is by no means alarming at this point. He was drafted for his great size and elite skill set, but to this point still hasn’t put up point production numbers at any level that would make anyone do a double take.


An increase from the Czech native is likely in his sophomore campaign as he showed signs of coming out of it later in the season. 17 of his 24 points came after January 1st, where in his last 40 games of the season his points-per-game rate nearly doubled. Next season his ice time will increase, and the Devils should have more talent up and down their lineup. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Zacha up around 40 points in his second season.



Travis Konecny


Konecny was a revelation early in the season with five goals and 14 assists in the first 38 games of his rookie campaign. The second half of his season was a bit more pedestrian where he struggled with injury and deployment, dropping over a minute and a half in time-on-ice per game. Strangely enough, his shooting percentage in the second half of the season was actually higher than in the first. He finished at 8.3%, which seems a bit low for a player of his caliber, but his last year in junior he was at 12.4% on 241 shots, so maybe he’ll settle in closer to 10% in the NHL.


Overall, the 24th overall selection in 2015 put up 28 points in 70 games in his rookie campaign, a number that should grow in 2017-18 if he can stay healthy. I see Konecny and St. Louis Blues forward Robby Fabbri in similar situations going into year two. Fabbri’s point-per-game rate was around .55 last season before injuries took their toll, which could be a good barometer for Konecny in 2017-18. A mark of .55 points over the course of a full season is 45 points, which would be an increase of around 37% for the London native. Pair that with his 92 hits and his 49 penalty minutes, and he could be a decent multi-category option given the upside he brings.



Zach Werenski


Will Zach Werenski take a step forward in his sophomore season? Or will we have another Shayne Gostisbehere on our hands? The Michigan native led all rookie defensemen in nearly every statistical category in 2016-17, coming in first in goals, assists, points, plus-minus, power play points and shots. He had a year very similar to Gostisbehere’s 2015-16, who also had an unsustainable shooting percentage and power play points percentage in his young career.

There is no reason to believe that Werenski won’t be a top pairing defenseman in the league for many years to come. However, Columbus had a best-case scenario season this year, of which the eighth overall pick from 2015 played a huge role. Weresnki’s shot generation numbers (188) were the best of any rookie defenseman since P.K. Subban’s 197 in 2010-11, and his power play points (21) were third during the same period. I would expect a similar year from Werenski next season, but maybe not a huge jump in terms of production for a player who squeezed every ounce out of his rookie campaign.


Give Kevin a follow @kleblanchockey for prospect talk and happenings. 


More from The Journey

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