Sophomore slumps, surges: Second-year updates on Kaprizov, Robertson, more

Sophomore slumps, surges: Second-year updates on Kaprizov, Robertson, more
Bruce Kluckhohn/NHLI via Getty Images

If there’s such thing as a “sophomore slump,” then second-year stars Kirill Kaprizov and Jason Robertson sure seem immune to that affliction.

Maybe that’s because the 2020-21 NHL season pumped out quite a few high-level rookie years.

Again, there was Kirill Kaprizov, who revolutionized the Wild on his way to a Calder Trophy win. Meanwhile, Calder Trophy runner-up Jason Robertson just recorded two hat tricks in a row.

So, this seems as good a time as any to follow up on strong rookie years, and note that few seem to have suffered that dreaded sophomore slump.

Note: stats recorded before Monday’s games.

Kaprizov (Wild) and Robertson (Stars) only see their stature rise in second seasons

All due respect to some other strong second-year players, but Kirill Kaprizov and Jason Robertson warrant special attention.

Kirill Kaprizov

If you caught Kaprizov most nights in 2020-21, you’d likely agree that he was no normal rookie.

Maybe it’s fitting, then, that he’s already getting paid like a star. During the offseason, Kaprizov signed a five-year, $45M contract ($9M cap hit). As one example, Jason Robertson’s carrying a mere $795,000 cap hit with the Stars.

While a $9M cap hit qualifies as a “good problem to have,” it only dropped more pressure on Kaprizov’s shoulders. Just think of how much a $9M price tag can be a burden for a more experienced player like Jeff Skinner.

That pressure might be too much for most. But, again, Kaprizov isn’t your normal player.

He’s already scored more goals (28 vs. 27) than last season, and blew his 51 points (in 55 games) away. So far this season, Kaprizov is in the top 10 in scoring with 70 points in 53 games.

Heading into this season, people wondered if Kaprizov would really be worth $9M to the Wild. Well, nope. He’s worth even more than that.

Jason Robertson

Back in September 2020, The Athletic’s Corey Pronman ranked Jason Robertson fourth in the Stars’ pipeline behind Ty Dellandrea and Thomas Harley. That viewpoint doesn’t seem too out of step with those who watch prospects. And, while Robertson was productive in the AHL (47 points in 60 games in 2019-20), it’s fair to say that few saw this coming.

Last season, Robertson, Roope Hintz, and Joe Pavelski emerged as one of the best lines in the NHL. This year, they’ve proven that wasn’t just a fluke.

And, quite like Kaprizov, Robertson’s improving on already-impressive rookie stats.

After scoring 17 goals and 45 points as a rookie, Robertson’s already at 29 goals and 54 points in 47 games this season. Also like Kaprizov: you don’t need to use “for a second-year player” caveats for Robertson. He’s the real deal, and it will be interesting to see how similar his contract is after this season (Robertson’s a pending RFA).

Just look at the lofty company Jason Robertson keeps in Evolving Hockey’s wide-ranging GAR stat:

Sophomore slumps, surges: Second-year updates on Kaprizov, Robertson, more
via Evolving Hockey

Eventually, Robertson will stop being “underrated,” even among casual fans, because he’s already a legit top-line scorer.

Other second-year skaters of note

  • What, exactly, do the Rangers have in Alexis Lafrenière?

Really, it’s remarkable that the Rangers rank so high in the East considering that both Lafrenière (18 points) and Kaapo Kakko (14) are under 20 points so far. You’d think they would be powering a surge up the standings.

Heading into his rookie season, Lafrenière was billed as unusually NHL-ready. Now the greatest — and still reasonable — hope is that he’s merely showing glimpses of a future breakout.

Does “sophomore slump” apply when there have been freshman fumbles? Ideally, Lafrenière will enjoy a junior jolt next season, but his early results are discouraging.

  • The Senators boasted two players in the top 10 in Calder Trophy voting last season: Josh Norris and Tim Stützle. As far as second-year seasons have moved along for Norris and Stützle, your mileage may vary.

Scoring-wise, Stützle and Norris are producing at about the same level as last season. The Senators probably want even more from their young players, so there may be a slight feeling of impatience. Overall, it seems like Norris and Stützle are positive forces for Ottawa, though:

Sophomore slumps, surges: Second-year updates on Kaprizov, Robertson, more Sens
via Evolving Hockey
  • Two Devils placed in the top 10 in 2020-21 Calder Trophy voting, too: Yegor Sharangovich and Ty Smith. The Devils aren’t likely to be too concerned that Sharangovich, a former fifth-rounder, is producing at basically the same level. With Ty Smith, the Devils have to hope he’s merely experiencing a sophomore slump. Otherwise, there’s cause for concern for a team seemingly treading water.
  • Does Mason Marchment count? If so, count at least one “sophomore surge,” even if you only give him partial credit for being a point-per-game player on the powerhouse Panthers. Owen Tippett’s small sophomore slump shows that production isn’t automatic in Florida.
  • It’s hard to believe Eeli Tolvanen is still not quite 23 yet. It feels like we’ve been wondering if he’ll blossom for ages. He’s slipped after last season’s modest season of progress as a full-time rookie.
  • Both Trevor Zegras and Jamie Drysdale are eligible for the Calder Trophy this season, in case you were wondering. If you personally consider them second-year players, then you may not find big sophomore surges this season. Well, at least among skaters …

Shesterkin and other second-year goalies, not quite including Nedeljkovic

Speaking of players who still quality for the Calder Trophy, Alex Nedeljkovic (previously with the Hurricanes, now with Red Wings) is eligible to win the Calder despite being a finalist last season. Does that keep his dip in production from counting as a “sophomore slump?”


Ville Husso‘s rise is also worthy of Calder conversations, as he only played 17 games last season.

  • Igor Shesterkin came into the NHL with quite a bit of hype (by goalie standards). He showed promise before this season. Yet, in his second full season, Igor Shesterkin boasts a valid Hart Trophy case, not just a Vezina one. Count that as a sophomore surge.
  • For all that’s gone wrong for the Islanders this season, Ilya Sorokin went from solid (for any goalie) as a rookie to borderline elite.

  • Maybe the Kraken shouldn’t have traded Vitek Vanecek back to the Capitals? While Ilya Samsonov‘s numbers are underwhelming, Vanecek’s built on a solid-if-unspectacular rookie campaign, generating a .921 save percentage so far this season.
  • Kevin Lankinen enjoyed a Cinderella start to his rookie campaign with the Blackhawks, then hit a wall. With just a .885 save percentage this season, perhaps Lankinen was just riding an unsustainable hot streak. Maybe we’ll look at this as a sophomore slump, but it could also just be a more realistic view of Lankinen’s limitations. (Playing for Chicago won’t help goalies of any ages, though.)

Not too many examples of sophomore slumps in the NHL

All things considered, it seems like last season’s hot rookies have either continued their ascent, or matched those debut seasons.

Such a thought doesn’t eliminate any possibility of sophomore slumps. Generally, though, sophomores seemed to carry over momentum from promising freshmen years from 2020-21 to 2021-22.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

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    Panthers rally, top Golden Knights 3-2 in OT of Game 3 of Stanley Cup final

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    Sam Navarro/USA TODAY Sports

    SUNRISE, Fla. — Carter Verhaeghe scored 4:27 into overtime and the Florida Panthers pulled off some more postseason dramatics to beat the Vegas Golden Knights 3-2 in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final on Thursday night.

    Matthew Tkachuk tied it with 2:13 left in the third period for the Panthers, who got the franchise’s first title-series game win in seven tries. Florida had to fend off a power play to start overtime, and Verhaeghe got the winner from the slot to get the Panthers within 2-1 in the series.

    Game 4 is Saturday night.

    Sergei Bobrovsky stopped 25 shots for Florida. Adin Hill made 20 saves for Vegas, but got beat on the only shot that came his way in overtime.

    Brandon Montour also scored for Florida, which pulled Bobrovsky down 2-1 late in the third for the extra attacker and Tkachuk — who left for parts of the first and second periods after taking a big hit — made that move pay off when he tied the game.

    His goal breathed life into a very nervous building. But the Panthers were furious — and replays showed they had a case — when Gustav Forsling was sent to the box with 11.2 seconds remaining for tripping. Florida survived that scare, and a few minutes later, had life in the series again.

    The odds are still long, but the Panthers at least have a bit more statistical hope now. Of the previous 55 teams to trail 2-1 at this point of the Stanley Cup Final, 11 have actually rallied to hoist the trophy.

    It’s improbable, sure. So are the Panthers, who were the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference, were down 3-1 to Boston in Round 1, were 133 seconds away from trailing this series 3-0 — and now have tons of reasons for optimism.

    Jonathan Marchessault and Mark Stone each had power-play goals for Vegas.

    Marchessault’s goal was his 13th in his last 13 playoff games, his fourth of this series and his third with the man advantage.

    As if all that wasn’t enough, there was a little history in there as well. Vegas joined the 1980 New York Islanders as the only team with at least two power-play goals in three consecutive games in the Cup final. And Marchessault became the third player in the last 35 years to score in each of the first three games of a title series — joining Steve Yzerman in 1997 with Detroit and Jake Guentzel with Pittsburgh in 2017.

    But it wasn’t enough to give Vegas a 3-0 lead in the series.


    Before Thursday, Florida’s last home game in the title series was June 10, 1996, when Uwe Krupp scored in the third overtime for a 1-0 win as Colorado finished off a four-game sweep of the Panthers for the Cup. … Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa was in the crowd, as was NBA great Charles Barkley, and former Dolphins star Dan Marino was the celebrity drummer to welcome the Panthers onto the ice.

    Blackhawks, Athanasiou agree to 2-year, $8.5 million contract

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    Sergei Belski/USA TODAY Sports
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    CHICAGO — The rebuilding Chicago Blackhawks locked in one of their top scorers, agreeing to a two-year, $8.5 million contract with forward Andreas Athanasiou on Thursday.

    The 28-year-old Athanasiou tied for the team lead with 20 goals and ranked third with 40 points in his first season with Chicago. He matched career highs with four game-winning goals and three power-play goals.

    The 6-foot-2, 190-pound Athanasiou has 125 goals and 111 assists in 459 games with the Detroit Red Wings (2015-20), Edmonton Oilers (2020), Los Angeles Kings (2020-22) and Blackhawks.

    Chicago went 26-49-7 and finished last in the Central Division. The Blackhawks dealt Patrick Kane to the New York Rangers prior to the trade deadline and announced in April they would not re-sign Jonathan Toews, parting with two players who led them to Stanley Cups in 2010, 2013 and 2015.

    Florida Panthers in familiar territory, backs to the wall once again down 0-2 in Stanley Cup Final

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    Stephen R. Sylvanie/USA TODAY Sport

    SUNRISE, Fla. — The Panthers need a miracle. Again.

    Such is the story of Florida’s season, and it makes all the sense in the world that the plot has reappeared in the Stanley Cup Final. The Panthers needed a furious late-season push just to get into the playoffs as the lowest seed, then needed to win three consecutive elimination games to oust a record-setting Boston team in Round 1.

    And now, another huge challenge awaits. Down 2-0 in the title series to the Vegas Golden Knights, the Panthers return to home ice on Thursday night looking to spark one more epic turnaround and get right back in the hunt for hockey’s biggest prize.

    “Desperation and winning a game,” Florida veteran Marc Staal said. “We’ve approached every game in the playoffs the same way. We just try to take it – like everyone says – one at a time. But our backs are against the wall, obviously. We’re down by two. But we’re coming home. Love our team, love our resiliency. We’re going to go out and give our best effort and play our best game tomorrow and go from there.”

    To say the odds are stacked high against the Panthers is a bit of an understatement.

    – They’ve beaten Vegas in four of 12 all-time meetings between the franchises. And now they’ve got to beat them in four of the next five games to win the Cup.

    – They’ve been outscored 10-2 in the last four periods against Vegas.

    Matthew Tkachuk has two more misconduct penalties (three) than he has points (one, a goal) in the series.

    – Former Panthers Jonathan Marchessault and Reilly Smith have as many goals so far in the series (four) as all the current Panthers do in the series, combined.

    – Vegas hasn’t dropped four out of five games since going 1-2-2 to start a six-game road swing that began in late January.

    – Teams that start a Stanley Cup Final with two home wins have won the Cup 38 times in 41 past instances.

    But by now, Florida’s penchant for pulling off the improbable is well-known. Almost expected, really.

    “Of course, we’ve had three really tough series,” Panthers captain Aleksander Barkov said. “Boston is a good example. We were down, we found a way, we started playing a little better, we found a way to come back and get out of there. Same thing here – we’ve just got to work a little harder, work a little smarter and find a way to win games.”

    They’ve done it before.

    There was the 6-0-1 stretch late in the season to hold off Pittsburgh for the final Eastern Conference playoff spot. The winning three elimination games against a Boston team that had the best regular season in NHL history in Round 1; Game 5 there was on the road in overtime, Game 6 required a rally late in the third period to erase a 5-4 deficit and Game 7 was another road OT victory. There was a four-overtime win at Carolina in the East final, setting the table for a sweep where the Panthers got four one-goal wins and allowed only six goals.

    They’ve given up 12 goals in two games against Vegas. And it’s not all on Sergei Bobrovsky, either. Panthers coach Paul Maurice found it funny that it was considered a surprise to some that Bobrovsky – who carried Florida to the final round – will remain the starter for Game 3.

    “He was outstanding in Game 1,” Maurice said. “And he was as good as our team was in Game 2.”

    The message was simple: Everyone has to be better. The Panthers have a history of rising to those moments.

    “We never lose doubt in this room,” Florida forward Ryan Lomberg said. “Obviously, they’re a good team. They got here for a reason. We knew it wasn’t going to be easy. It’s kind of the theme of our whole year is we make it tough. Whether we wanted it this way or not, it’s this way, so we’ve got to play the hand we’re dealt now.”

    NOTES: Maurice said he expects D Radko Gudas, who left Game 2 injured, to play in Game 3. Forward Eetu Luostarinen will remain out. Maurice declined to offer specifics on Luostarinen’s injury, but quipped “he’s a good human.” … Thursday will be Florida’s first Stanley Cup Final game on home ice in FLA Live Arena. The Panthers’ 1996 final appearance was at a long-demolished arena in Miami.

    Flyers trade Pride-night boycott defenseman Provorov in 3-team deal

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    Dennis Schneidler/USA TODAY Sports

    PHILADELPHIA — The Philadelphia Flyers have traded Ivan Provorov, sending away the defenseman who boycotted the team’s Pride night as part of a three-team trade that included the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Los Angeles Kings.

    The seventh overall pick of the 2015 draft, the 26-year-old Provorov lands in Columbus and is set to enter the fifth season of a $40.5 million, six-year contract. He was the centerpiece Tuesday of the first major move under new Flyers’ leadership.

    There were plenty of moving parts in the three-team deal.

    — Philadelphia traded Provorov and forward Hayden Hodgson to Los Angeles in exchange for goalie Cal Petersen, defenseman Sean Walker, defenseman Helge Grans and the Kings’ 2024 second-round pick. The Kings lost in the first round of the playoffs.

    — Columbus acquired defenseman Kevin Connauton from Philadelphia in exchange for a 2023 first-round pick (22nd overall) and a conditional second-round pick in either the 2024 or 2025 NHL Draft. Columbus acquired Provorov from Los Angeles in exchange for Connauton.

    The Flyers already hold the No. 7 pick in this season’s draft and now also have the 23rd pick as they start accumulating key assets for long-range success in what is expected to be a deep draft.

    Flyers general manager Danny Briere had said no player was untouchable after the Flyers missed the playoffs for the third straight season and went to work with the Stanley Cup Final still underway. The Flyers named broadcaster Keith Jones team president last month and he is still working the Final for TNT. But it’s clear the overdue rebuild is underway for a franchise that hasn’t won a Stanley Cup in 48 years.

    “We felt that the picks and the direction that we wanted to go in, it was really enticing, very exciting,” Briere said. “We have a chance to really start building the team the way we wanted. The right way.”

    Briere said the Flyers are “open for business” this summer and that included potentially listening to offers for No. 1 goalie Carter Hart. Coach John Tortorella, Briere and Jones have all tempered offseason expectations for any fan looking for a quick fix. The trio all insist the Flyers have a cohesive plan for the future.

    Provorov had 65 goals and 217 points in 532 career games with the Flyers. The Russian was widely criticized in January when he cited his Russian Orthodox religion as the reason he did not participate in pregame warmups when the Flyers wore Pride-themed jerseys and used sticks wrapped in rainbow Pride tape.

    “I respect everybody’s choices,” Provorov said after the game. “My choice is to stay true to myself and my religion.”

    Now, he’s traded during Pride month.

    Briere said the backlash over Pride night had nothing to do with trading Provorov.

    The Blue Jackets, who missed the playoffs this season, were ready to take a flier on a defenseman seemingly with many productive years ahead.

    “Improving our blue line has been a priority for us and acquiring Ivan gives us an established left-shot defenseman who is still a young player with his best seasons in front of him,” Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen said. “He immediately improves our group on defense as he is durable, has great skill, skates well, is an excellent passer with an accurate shot and can effectively play at both ends of the ice.”

    Provorov said at the end of the season he wasn’t necessarily happy the Flyers planned to rebuild but understood the decision. Briere declined to say if Provorov wanted out of Philadelphia.

    “I wouldn’t say it’s the most positive news you can hear, but there’s a bright future here, and there’s a lot of great players that can keep growing,” Provorov said in April. “Obviously, it depends on how quick everybody gets better and how quickly the team game gets better. I think that’s what determines the length of the rebuild.”

    Turns out, the potential success out of the haul the Flyers got for Provorov just may determine the length of the rebuild.