Tavares, Del Zotto and Sophomore Slumps

The Sophomore Slump.

As the summer ends, the cliché is almost impossible for second-year players to ignore. It’s everywhere. In season previews, puck prognosticators will warn against it. In locker rooms, the media will ask players about it. Those freshman phenoms coming off successful first seasons may as well have the phrase stitched on the back of their sweaters.

The Rangers and Isles have two such key contributors: Michael Del Zotto and John Tavares. We spent time talking about the Isles’ budding star a few weeks back. And NHL.com offers a closer look at the Rangers’ young D-man today. But I want to talk about the slump itself. Here’s the thing: More often than not, it’s a myth.

Last season we had Tom Awad of Puck Prospectus examine the sophomore slump for Insider’s NHL preview and he found that it’s actually more like a sophomore surge. In the article, Awad sites the famous example of Teemu Selanne’s slippage to 25 goals in Year 2, after debuting with 76. Here’s what he found about Calder Trophy winners since then:

“… only Barret Jackman, Alex Ovechkin, Scott Gomez and Bryan Berard experienced any drop-off among skaters. Jackman's drop was attributed to injury (he played just 15 games in Year 2), and Berard's production dipped all of two points. Ovechkin? He still put up 46 goals and 92 points.”

Not bad. Now about that surge …

“Most players improve in their second year, and it is in fact the year in which players exhibit the largest year-over-year improvement. Since 1968, first-year players have scored at a rate of 0.39 points-per-game, while second-year players have averaged 0.45 points-per-game, an improvement of about 15 percent.”

Sophomore slumps do happen (Steve Mason, call for you on Line 1. Steve Mason …) otherwise the saying wouldn’t exist. According to the averages however, we should certainly expect improvement from both of the area’s top rookies last season.