Ramblings: Laine’s Bounce-back, Labanc, Nylander, Jokiharju, & An Early Look at 2020 (July 10)
Every so often, the world gets up on their high horse and deems a star athlete garbage. “Psssh that elite talent who has spent his entire life meticulously training to be superior is a fraud. I’ve been eating chippies all these years and could do better than that!”
Right about now, the guy taking the brunt of these falsehoods is Patrik Laine. You remember Laine, right? The barely 21-year-old kid who has scored 110 goals in 237 career games. Yup, that’s him.
Laine scored 36 times as an 18-year-old freshman and followed that up with 44 goals in 2017-18. He did so while putting 2.87 shots on goal per game and converting on 18 percent of those shots. And while many people subscribe to the ‘Sophomore Slump’ theory, it was the third season that was not kind to the Finnish phenom. His shot volume remained consistent (2.99) but his efficiency dipped to a more mortal 12.2 percent.
Goal scorers are naturally a bit streaky, but the 2018-19 version of Laine was exceptionally so. He scored eight goals on an 11.6 conversion rate through the first 18 games, before sniping 16 goals in 23 games while clicking at 21.3 percent in the second quarter. He was on a 48-goal pace. However, the back 41 games were ugly. Six goals, a 5.9 conversion rate, and he witnessed his shot volume dip to less two shots per game in the final 20 contests. All the while he was still seeing over three minutes a night on the top power play, and consistent top-six, even-strength deployment.
Clearly, this was a player struggling to find his confidence.
Fortunately, there are countless examples of pure finishers losing their confidence and going on prolonged slumps. There are also several examples of goal scorers witnessing a tangible decrease in production early in their careers, only to explode to new highs shortly thereafter. Teemu Selanne burst onto the scene as a 22-year-old for Winnipeg setting a rookie record-76 goals. He followed that up with three consecutive seasons at a 40-goal pace. After that, he produced three consecutive seasons at or above a 50-goal pace.
Pavel Bure tallied 34 goals in 65 games as a 20-year-old rookie (43-goal pace). He then produced back-to-back 60-goal campaigns before sliding below the 40-goal pace for three injury-shortened seasons. He still managed 51, 58, and 59-goal seasons thereafter.
Dany Heatley took off as a 22-year-old sophomore scoring 41 goals in 77 games for Atlanta before witnessing his shooting percentage dip in year three and finishing at a 34-goal pace. He followed that up with seasons of 53 and 55-goal seasons, and a 47-goal pace the year after.
Laine is an exceptionally gifted goal scorer. Those are a rare breed. We've been fortunate enough to have had Alex Ovechkin put on a 14-year clinic – but even he had slump-like seasons. For the rest of the mortals out there, slumps will certainly happen. And they can last a little longer when you're talking about 20-year-olds searching for confidence. Finding an owner who is willing to accept below-market value in a deal for Laine is exactly what an astute GM would do. Those are the bets you feel good about making.
Go on and do it, then.
So this happened…
What is this… a league for ants? His contract needs to be at least 3 times as big. https://t.co/3ST2XwK5tB
— Joel Henderson (@dathockeydoe) July 8, 2019
Kevin Labanc scored 17 goals and 56 points last season – his third fullish campaign. He's witnessed an increase in production in each of those seasons, all while receiving 14 minutes a night with second power-play deployment. He's 23 years old and trending upwards. Additionally, with Joe Pavelski, Gustav Nyquist, and Joonas Donskoi removed from the Sharks' top nine, he's a lock to play in the top six and should see a rotation up on the top unit.
This is a strategic move by both Labanc and the Sharks. San Jose gains cap flexibility for a season where they'll continue to hold the window open. Labanc is betting on himself and his predicted deployment to hit a home run as an RFA next summer. Give me an over/under bet on Labanc playing above a 60 point pace next season and I'll put a sizable chunk down on the over.
On paper, this doesn't look great from the Blackhawks' side. They ship out a recently-turned 20-year-old, right-shot defenseman who looked more than competent as a teenager in the NHL last season. They received a 21-year-old perimeter winger who has had difficulty producing in three AHL campaigns.
The key to that last statement is the three AHL campaigns. Nylander stepped right off of the draft floor and in the American league as an 18-year-old. Historically, teenagers have struggled mightily to produce tangible totals in that league. Nylander was no different. As a 20-year-old last season, he took nice strides, producing 12 goals and 31 points in 49 contests. That put him 25th overall for U21 skaters. Not bad, but not exactly screaming locked in, top-six future.
Meanwhile, the Sabres have added Colin Miller and Jokiharju for peanuts this offseason. And we were told top-four RHD was the most expensive asset to procure!
Jokiharju is now behind Rasmus Ristolainen (at least for now), Miller and Brandon Montour for offensive minutes on the right side. And sprinkle in Rasmus Dahlin living on the top power play until 2040 and the potential for prime deployment isn't overly high. That's bad news bears for his fantasy value.
Meanwhile, with the cost of acquisition considered, and the likelihood of pairing the team's most successful reclamation project, Dylan Strome, with Nylander on a second line in the near future bodes well for former OHL star. Or perhaps they envision Nylander and the most recent third overall selection, Kirby Dach becoming close friends. Either way, Nylander has a ways to go, but a fairly clear path to some fun minutes. He won't likely have much juice left on the fantasy market but could be a sneaky post-hype sleeper type sometime in the near-ish future.
The Blackhawks are taking big swings on skill these last few weeks. Can't knock them for that, but there are some real risks that can come with it.
Chicago decided they’d rather have Kirby Dach and Alex Nylander instead of Bowen Byram and Henri Jokiharju.
— /Cam Robinson/ (@Hockey_Robinson) July 9, 2019
I realize that the 2019 NHL Draft has barely been put into the rearview mirror and many of you are actively gearing up to decide where to select these barely 18-year-olds in upcoming keeper and rookie drafts. But allow me to introduce you to a few of the VERY exciting prospects that will be joining the fold in 2020.
The 2020 crop of talent has been getting traction as potentially one of the better drafts we’ve seen in the last 20 years. 2003 and 2015 currently hold down the top two spots this millennium, but 2020 is ready to join the fray.
I had someone on Twitter ask where Jack Hughes and Kaapo Kakko would land if their draft-eligible campaign would’ve been a part of next year’s class. My answer was, they’d both be in contention for the first overall slot – just with five or six other guys.
2020 is substantially better.
Arguably 5 or 6 players in the realm of Hughes and Kakko.
More high-end D prospects, and an even better goalie prospect than Knight.
It’s an excellent class. https://t.co/gts6hK7TZ6
— /Cam Robinson/ (@Hockey_Robinson) July 9, 2019
The cream is thick and juicy at the top. That’s the trademark of a class capable of producing a bevy of fantasy gems. But what really separates the 2020 group is that things are not too watered down in the next tier either. We’ll allow the next 10 months to play out to really determine who belongs where, but just to wet your whistle, here are a handful of players you should already be salivating over for next summer
Alexis Lafreniere, LW – QMJHL
The reigning CHL Player of the Year is one of the rare wingers who can impact the game in all-situations and dictate the play from the wall. A dominant force in the QMJHL from the moment he stepped in as a 16-year-old. Has all the tools to be an immediate first-liner with superstar upside.
Quinton Byfield, C – OHL
Arguably the greatest combination of size and skill we've seen since Eric Lindros. He is also one of the youngest players in this crop yet stands 6-4 215lbs. The massive centre was explosive in his rookie OHL season in 2018-19 – getting better as the season wore on. The complete, dominant package.
Lucas Raymond, RW – SHL
An all-around offensive player with blazing speed and a non-stop motor. Competes with the best of them and needs barely a sliver of space to bury his wrist shot. Quick hands and great vision. The ceiling is sky-high.
Alexander Holtz, LW – SHL
One of the most lethal goal-scoring prospects we’ve seen in recent memory. Holtz also boasts spectacular puck skills and sees the ice extremely well. If he adds improved acceleration, we could be looking at a very real 50-goal prospect.
Anton Lundell, C – Liiga
A big, powerful, complete centre with an unshakable demeanour. Is already a polished product. May not have the same level of play-making as a Sasha Barkov but he’s not far behind.
Noel Gunler, RW – SHL
A pure offensive contributor with quick hands, terrific playmaking ability, and another Swede with a rocket of a release. His future deployment will likely mimic a Phil Kessel – nothing wrong with that in fantasy.
Yaroslav Askarov, G – MHL
Y’all thought Spencer Knight being selected 13th overall was something? Just wait until you see where Askarov goes. This kid is the tits. Size, athleticism, composure, and already technically sound. Outduelled Knight at the U18s last spring despite being a year younger. The most hyped goaltending prospect since… well, awhile anyways.
Follow me on Twitter @Hockey_Robinson
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