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Kane, Toews Among Sophomores Facing Higher Expectations

Friday, 09.05.2008 / 9:54 AM / Features
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Kane, Toews Among Sophomores Facing Higher Expectations
After getting through the grind that is a rookie season, players must then avoid the proverbial sophomore slump. Dan Rosen takes a look at 10 of the best second-year players entering the 2008-09 season.

Last season Brandon Dubinsky thrived while playing  with Jaromir Jagr. Now with Jagr gone will Dubinsky be able to avoid the dreaded sophomore slump?
Dubinsky 2007-08 season highlights
Patrick Kane won the Calder Trophy as the NHL's best rookie in 2007-08. Jonathan Toews and Nicklas Backstrom, the other nominees, didn't trail far behind.

The three are now entering what amounts to their sophomore season in the NHL, and all hope to avoid the proverbial slump associated with it. If they can do it remains to be seen, but here is a list of 10 of the top sophomores in the NHL this season.

Nicklas Backstrom, Washington Capitals -- Some critics believe Backstrom's 55 assists, the most of any rookie last season, were a direct result of him playing with Alexander Ovechkin. While that may be true, why can't at least a percentage of Ovechkin's League-high 65 goals be a result of him playing with Backstrom?

Ovechkin constantly praised Backstrom's deft playmaking last season, and the Swedish sophomore should be that way again this season, whether he's centering a line with Ovechkin or Alexander Semin.

Andrew Cogliano, Edmonton Oilers -- Right behind teammate and linemate Sam Gagner last season among the rookie leaders was Cogliano, who had 45 points on 18 goals and 27 assists. He also had five game-winners, including three in overtime, and two short-handed goals.

Cogliano is more of a versatile threat than Gagner right now because of his defensive game. Both are centers – although Gagner played the wing most of the time last season – but Cogliano could be suited for a third-line, penalty-killing role as well.

Brandon Dubinsky, New York Rangers -- Dubinsky and Jaromir Jagr thrived when coach Tom Renney put them together last season. Now that Jagr is playing in Russia, Dubinsky will have to avoid the dreaded sophomore slump without his former linemate.

Dubinsky, who had 40 points last season, plays a fearless, two-way game. On the depth chart, he's the third center behind Scott Gomez and Chris Drury, but Dubinsky could play top-two line minutes if Drury moves to the wing.

Sam Gagner, Edmonton Oilers -- As the youngest player in the NHL last season, Gagner surprised everyone, especially Edmonton President of Hockey Operations Kevin Lowe, by sticking past the nine-game tryout for junior-aged players and making an impact.

Gagner was fifth among rookies with 49 points and third with 36 assists. With a season under his belt and the obvious chemistry he developed with Robert Nilsson and Cogliano, look for better production numbers from the now 19-year-old.

Erik Johnson, St. Louis Blues -- The theory is defensemen take longer to adapt to the NHL game than forwards. It holds true with Johnson, the No. 1 draft pick in 2006, but only because the Blues feel his upside is so great that he may not hit his full potential for another two or three years.

Right now, Johnson is arguably the best sophomore defenseman in the NHL. He began developing into an offensive threat last season with 33 points on five goals and 28 assists while playing 18:11 per night. His goal total needs to go up this season for the Blues to have success, and his time on ice could rise as well.

Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks -- Forget the word budding because Kane is already a star in Chicago, only now he has to live up to the reputation.

Kane won the Calder Trophy by leading all rookies with 72 points on 21 goals and 51 assists. The Blackhawks are banking on those numbers going up this year, with Kane getting upward of 30 goals and 60 assists.

It's not farfetched to think he will do it either because the Hawks figure to be a major playoff contender this season.

Milan Lucic, Boston Bruins -- The Bruins' bruising forward has great potential to be a star power-forward in this League for years to come. Lucic had 27 points and 181 hits last season while wracking up 89 penalty minutes.
 
All those numbers should go up in Year Two, not to mention his ice time. Lucic played only 12 minutes per game last season. He could add three or four minutes a night this season.

Peter Mueller, Phoenix Coyotes -- Mueller was one of four rookies last season with the Coyotes, including Daniel Carcillo, Daniel Winnick and Martin Hanzal, who all produced throughout the season. He clearly has the most upside of the four and showed with 22 goals and 32 assists.

Mueller should benefit with center Olli Jokinen joining the Coyotes up front and the expected arrival of Kyle Turris on a full-time basis. It's possible that Mueller will be the right wing on a line with Jokinen and Shane Doan, a pair of savvy vets.

Carey Price, Montreal Canadiens -- He enters the season as the Habs' No. 1 goalie at 21, but Price has already faced the pressure the NHL can unleash on a young star. He got lifted into the No. 1 role at the trade deadline last season when Cristobal Huet was dealt to Washington. Price took the Canadiens into the playoffs as the top seed in the Eastern Conference and managed to win a round before the Philadelphia Flyers got the best of him.

He won't nearly be as green this season, and with the Habs' vaunted offense and power play, we could see 35-40 wins from him this season.

Jonathan Toews, Chicago Blackhawks -- He's hardly the other guy in Chicago because Toews is now the captain of the team at 20-years-old. While Kane may be the silky smooth star, Toews is the grittier of the two and still as productive offensively.

Limited to 64 games last season due to an injury, Toews had 54 points on 24 goals and 30 assists. His 24 goals led all rookies. Look for his numbers to rise as he assumes a greater leadership role on the team.

10 for Honorable Mention -- David Clarkson, New Jersey Devils; Nigel Dawes, New York Rangers; Alexander Edler, Vancouver Canucks; Tobias Enstrom, Atlanta Thrashers; Tom Gilbert, Edmonton Oilers; Martin Hanzal, Phoenix Coyotes; Sergei Kostitsyn, Montreal Canadiens; Matt Niskanen, Dallas Stars; David Perron, St. Louis Blues; Marc Staal, New York Rangers

Contact Dan Rosen at drosen@nhl.com.


Author: Dan Rosen | NHL.com Staff Writer