Can Cam Fowler avoid the sophomore slump?

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Having a great rookie season is a great accomplishment for any player in the NHL. After constant years of hard work, making the NHL and succeeding is a dream come true for any person who’s ever laced up a pair of hockey skates. Players will put in countless hours while they’re relentlessly chasing their dream—the closer they get to the brass ring, the harder they’ll work to make it.

With that in mind, it shouldn’t come as a surprise when players take a step back in their second season in the league. Its goes by many different names: sophomore slump, sophomore jinx, Jim Carey, whatever. Many time’s it’s just a bit of complacency in an ultra-competitive game where thousands of players are fighting for a precious few spots on NHL rosters.

He was one of only five players to make the jump straight from the draft to the NHL last season and was the only defenseman to make the transition. He certainly didn’t disappoint. It may have flown under the national radar, but his 40 points as an 18-year-old rookie put him in the company of guys named Housley, Stevens, Bourque, Murphy, Berard, Myers, and Niedermayer. Not bad company for a guy who dropped like a rock at the 2010 Entry Draft.

The next step for Fowler to develop into a complete, two-way defenseman. “[I’m just] trying to develop into that top-tier defenseman,” the Fowler shared. “I want to be a guy that a team can build around. It seems like every premier team in the league has those one or two d-men that just stick out and play a lot of minutes and log a lot of ice-time out there. That’s something I want to do—I want to be able to play in all situations and just complete my game overall.”

That doesn’t sound like the kind of player who is content with his 40-point rookie season. Becoming a two-way defenseman will be imperative for the Ducks as they deal with injury problems on the blueline and look for players who can add a strong defensive game. He’s already getting more time on the penalty kill this season as Toni Lydman continues to recover from an injury that kept him out of the first two games in Europe.

Still, Fowler is a defenseman who has the potential to be an elite blueliner with his puck skills, on ice vision, and smooth skating ability. He hasn’t lost track of his bread-and-butter. His ability to jump into the play as a defenseman is something that that separates him from most other d-men.

“The coaching staff preached to me last year that that’s what they wanted me to do.” Fowler said. “Whether it was joining up in the play late to make it a 3-on-2 or whatever it may be, I think that’s an element of my game—that when I’m skating is when I’m at my best. The coaching staff, there are no reins on me or anything. Its go. They trust me when to make those reads, when to jump and when not to jump.”

Ducks head coach Randy Carlyle said the main difference between the beginning of last year and this year is confidence. Although even with the added confidence, the coaching staff didn’t think he had the best training camp—but it was different story once training camp ended and the games started in Europe.

“It’s all about his ability to get around the rink and read situations.” Carlyle said. “If the two games [in Europe] were any indication, we have Cam Fowler back.”

The coaching staff aren’t the only ones who see a difference in Fowler this year. Fellow 2010 draft pick Devante Smith-Pelly, who is fighting to stick with the team this year, says the difference has been night and day.

“It’s crazy what a year did to Cam,” Smith-Pelly said. “He’s a lot more mature, you can tell. He’s bigger, he’s stronger, he’s faster. He was obviously a great player coming into this team and no seeing him for a year and then coming back and seeing him every day, you can tell he’s gotten a lot better and a lot more mature.”

It’ll be critical for Fowler to use his maturity and have it translate to his play on the ice. If the team can depend on him for 25 minutes per game, it’ll ease the workload for bottom-pairing guys, and allow guys like Toni Lydman and Lubomir Visnovsky a breather every so often. Still, Carlyle is quick to make the distinction between an increased workload and increased pressure this season.

“I don’t want to put the pressure,” Carlyle said. “I don’t mind the workload, but it’s the pressure of having to accomplish more than he did last year. We would accept a young 19-year-old defenseman to accomplish what he did last year. If he was to come in and have 10 goals and 40 points, would we accept that as a good year? I would say yes. Our expectations are not for him to go to 20 goals and 60 points right off the bat. That’s not the pressure we’re putting on him. If he does it, that would be great. But we’re not going to put that kind of pressure on him or any of our younger players. We think that’s incorrect. We think its tough enough to play defense in the league as a 19-year-old. He did it as an 18-year-old. Sometimes those ‘sophomore jinxes’ do come into play, we don’t want to look at that as a possibility. [We want him to] just go out and play, give us your best, your best that you gave us last year was good enough.”

There won’t be any whispers of a sophomore slump if Fowler can pick up where he left off last season. Judging by his attitude at the beginning of the season and his willingness to improve upon his overall game, last season looks like it’s only a hint of the vast potential Fowler can bring to the Ducks.

The rest of the league should be afraid.

Just 13 days after claiming him, Ducks waive Etem

Anaheim Ducks v Chicago Blackhawks
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Emerson Etem‘s second go-round in Anaheim has hit a snag.

On Wednesday, the Ducks put Etem on waivers — per TSN — a move that comes less than two weeks after Anaheim plucked him off the wire from Vancouver.

Etem, 24, has only appeared in two games for the Ducks since re-joining the team. He played just over six minutes in a loss to the Devils, and 5:38 in a win over the Flyers.

Taken 29th overall by Anaheim at the 2010 draft, Etem began his pro career with the Ducks organization, and score 31 points in 112 games before getting dealt to the Rangers in 2015.

He failed to make an impact with the Blueshirts, and was dealt to Vancouver after just 19 games under Alain Vigneault. Though he showed flashes in his first season with the Canucks — scoring seven goals and 12 points in 39 games — he looked flat in training camp and preseason this year, and was waived prior to the start of the regular season.

Given he’s pretty fast, a former first-round pick and blessed with some offensive pedigree, there’s a chance Etem could be claimed again. If not, the plan is (presumably) to send him to AHL San Diego.

Capitals hit the road, hoping to ‘really lock down an identity’

DENVER, CO - APRIL 01:  Head coach Barry Trotz of the Washington Capitals talks to Evgeny Kuznetsov #92 of the Washington Capitals as they prepare to face the Colorado Avalanche at Pepsi Center on April 1, 2016 in Denver, Colorado. The Capitals defeated the Avalanche 4-2.
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ARLINGTON, Va. (AP) The simple thing the Washington Capitals want to get out of their four-game Western Canadian road trip doesn’t tell the whole story.

Player after player said the Capitals are looking for a perfect eight points out of games at the Edmonton Oilers, Vancouver Canucks, Calgary Flames and Winnipeg Jets. More specifically the defending Presidents’ Trophy winners want to develop more consistency all over the ice.

Washington’s 3-1-1 record through five games is nothing to shake a stick at, but they’ve had second-period lulls, defensive breakdowns and poor special teams play.

“At times we’re playing really great hockey and the way we want, and then the other times I think mentally we just kind of take a step back or try to do a little too much or think the game’s going to come easier,” right winger T.J. Oshie said Tuesday. “As long as we keep our foot on the gas, play a little bit more consistent game, a faster game, I think we’re going to be doing pretty good.”

Coach Barry Trotz shook up his top lines after a 4-2 loss to the New York Rangers on Saturday, putting Andre Burakovsky on right wing with captain Alex Ovechkin and all-star center Evgeny Kuznetsov and moving Oshie down to play with Marcus Johansson and Nicklas Backstrom. He kept the power-play units the same despite a 2 for 16 success rate that ranks the Capitals 22nd in the NHL going into Tuesday.

Trotz believes the power play and the penalty kill, which at 71.4 percent is 26th in the league, will get it together. But he’d like to see a more even game in all situations.

“It can be faceoffs, it can be wall plays, it can be just our structure though the neutral zone,” Trotz said. “We want to know what you’re going to get every day so that we can really lock down an identity so everybody knows exactly what they’re up against every night and how we play and there’s not a lot of deviation from it. With that, you get a lot of order and with that order you’re going to get some production.

“When you don’t have everybody on the same page, you’re not going to be that good.”

Trotz wants the Capitals to be a 60-minute team, and those middle 20 minutes have been a source of some frustration. Washington has been outscored 6-2 in the second period, a puzzling problem to say the least.

“For some reason we haven’t played as well as we have in the first and third periods,” Johansson said. “If we knew (why), it would make it a lot easier. We just have to play a full 60 minutes hard.”

The four-game trip starts with a major test Wednesday against 19-year-old superstar Connor McDavid and the Oilers. This will be the first time the Capitals face McDavid, who missed much of last season with a broken collarbone but is on top of his game, tied for the league lead in scoring with nine points.

Capitals players know how good McDavid can be but are wary of his high-skilled unpredictability that defenseman Matt Niskanen joked “hasn’t been coached out” of him yet.

“It’s always tough to know what he’s going to do because he’s so fast,” said Burakovsky, who played with McDavid on the Ontario Hockey League’s Erie Otters. “He likes to just skate around you with the puck.”

The Oilers are so far one of the best teams in hockey because of McDavid and linemates Milan Lucic and Jordan Eberle. Washington had been one of the best defensive teams before the loss to the Rangers, so stopping McDavid and company will be a tall task.

“They’ve got a combination of skills on that line,” Niskanen said. “It’ll be a good challenge for us. It’s for sure going to be a different Oilers team than it’s been in the last couple years.”


‘It’s going to be a grind’ for the Canucks, who can’t play like they used to

Ottawa Senators center Derick Brassard (19) celebrates teammate Ryan Dzingel's goal as Vancouver Canucks defenseman Luca Sbisa (5) looks on during the third period of an NHL hockey game, Tuesday, Oct. 25, 2016 in Vancouver, British Columbia.  (Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press via AP)
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Watching the Vancouver Canucks Tuesday night, it seemed like a hundred years ago that they led the NHL in scoring.

The Canucks were shut out, 3-0, by the Ottawa Senators at Rogers Arena. The home side failed to generate much of anything offensively, finishing with just 22 shots against one of the worst defensive teams in the league.

Afterwards, Vancouver’s captain — the Art Ross Trophy winner in 2009-10 — shared the stark reality about how his team has to play now.

“You’re not going to see anyone, I believe, have a career year offensively,” said Henrik Sedin. “It’s going to be tight, it’s going to be a grind. When we get the chances, we’re going to need to score.”

The plan is to keep games close, by whatever means possible. The Canucks won their first four, two of them in overtime and one in the shootout. But they’ve since dropped three straight, and they now rank dead last in league scoring.

Granted, the Canucks were playing their seventh game in 11 days. They didn’t start their regular season until Oct. 15, and they haven’t had two consecutive days off since.

“We weren’t quick enough in our decisions,” said Sedin, “and that might be part of the fatigue, too, where your brain isn’t working as fast it should.”

But that excuse won’t fly after their next game. The Canucks will have two days to rest and practice before Connor McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers pay a visit Friday.

“That’s a team we have to play tight against,” said Sedin.

Just like every other team, apparently.

Canucks goals per game

2009-10: 3.27 (2nd)
2010-11: 3.15 (1st)
2011-12: 2.94 (5th)
2012-13: 2.54 (19th)
2013-14: 2.33 (28th)
2014-15: 2.88 (8th)
2015-16: 2.27 (29th)
2016-17: 2.00 (30th) 

Losers of five straight, Coyotes off to worst start in franchise history

SCOTTSDALE, AZ - JULY 08:  (L-R) Head coach Dave Tippett and Assistant General Manager/Analytics John Chayka of the Arizona Coyotes watch the prospect development camp at the Ice Den on July 8, 2015 in Scottsdale, Arizona.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

There was a fair bit of excitement in Arizona at the start of the year, when the Coyotes announced four prized prospects — Jakob Chychrun, Dylan Strome, Lawson Crouse and Christian Dvorak — had made the opening night roster.

Well, that sure feels like a long time ago.

The Coyotes lost their fifth straight game on Tuesday night — a 5-3 defeat in New Jersey — and are now off to the worst start in franchise history, having earned just two points through their first six games.

“We’ve dug ourselves a hole,” head coach Dave Tippett said, per the Arizona Republic. “We recognize that, but the only way you can get out of it is to work through it. The whole group has to work through it.”

It’s tough to pinpoint one specific thing that’s caused the poor start.

The schedule has done no favors — after opening with a win at home over the Flyers, Arizona’s been on a really tough trip through Ottawa, Montreal, Brooklyn, MSG, New Jersey and, on Thursday, Philadelphia.

Goaltending has been a major issue, as Louis Domingue and Justin Peters have failed to provide consistent play since No. 1 Mike Smith went down with injury. Domingue is a ghastly 0-4-0 with a .851 save percentage and 5.03 GAA and, last night, Peters got the start but failed to make much of an impact, allowing four goals on 34 shots.

There’s more, too.

Two of the club’s brightest stars, Max Domi and Anthony Duclair, have struggled mightily to start the campaign. Domi is goalless through six games with just three points, and Duclair’s been even worse — no goals, no assists, no points and just seven shots on goal.

He’s seen his ice time fall as a result, and finished with just 13:40 last night at Prudential.

As mentioned above, Arizona also has several youngsters learning on the job — and playing prominent roles. Chychrun, one of the youngest blueliners in the league at 18, is averaging over 16 minutes per night, and the club’s best forward thus far might be Jordan Martinook, the sophomore winger with five points through six games.

If there is a silver lining here, it’s that the Coyotes go home soon.

They’ll wrap their six-game road swing in Philly, then head back to Arizona for a three-game home set against the Avs, Sharks and Predators.