An NHL head coach was talking this week about the struggles of a second-year player when he was asked whether or not he believed in the concept of the sophomore slump.
“I don’t believe in it,” he said, but then his next sentence suggested otherwise.
“There’s a history to it,” he said. “It’s a mystery.”
Last year, Neil Greenberg ran the numbers on every Calder Trophy finalist since 1991 and came to a conclusion that the sophomore slump doesn’t exist for forwards, who often build on strong rookies seasons. It does, however, exist for defensemen.
“I had a tough first half and after that I picked it up,” said Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Kris Letang when I asked him about sophomore slumps and how he handled his second season. “You always think it’s going to get easier, but it’s not. It’s always harder.”
Last season, we saw Calder Trophy winner Jonathan Huberdeau go from averaging 0.65 points per game in his rookie season to 0.41 as a sophomore. He scored more goals (14) in the lockout-shortened season than he did in his sophomore season (nine). This season, he has just two points in seven games.
Jonas Brodin saw his goal total jump from two in his rookie season to eight last season. His possession numbers took a slight dip, but it wasn’t a season that would constitute a sophomore slump. Brendan Gallagher's game continued to develop along a respectable path, as did Brandon Saad's. Nail Yakupov was awful.
So it was a mixed batch for the sophomores last season.
Which takes us to this year’s class, most notably Nathan MacKinnon.