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NHL Power Rankings: Evaluating stand-out and stuck-in-the-mud sophomores

You were never worried about Moritz Seider, right?

The reining Calder Trophy winner sure looked as though he was experiencing some kind of sophomore hex through the first three months of the season, as a guy who put up 50 points in his rookie campaign was producing at a 28-point clip.

Well, the big German has come around and then some in 2023. On Jan. 3, Seider ranked 70th in scoring among blue-liners. Since then, only five defenceman have put up more points than the 18 Seider has registered in 18 outings. His underlying numbers have improved during that stretch, too, as Seider gets back to being the player Detroit fans dreamed of building a defence around for the next 15 years.

Year 2 can be a tricky one for NHLers. On one hand, you have the experience of previous season to draw on; on the other, development can remain an uneven process for multiple seasons to begin an NHL career and a lot of guys who think they’ve got it figured out as rookies suddenly hit a second-year wall.

With that in mind, we thought it was worth devoting this week’s power rankings to see where both the stand-out and stuck-in-the-mud sophomores are.

1. Boston Bruins (40-8-5) Jeremy Swayman had a .944 save percentage in seven appearances in January. He’s got the exact same .914 save percentage this year that he had as a rookie last year.

2. Carolina Hurricanes (35-10-8) Seth Jarvis was one of those sophomores you thought could pop, but it just hasn’t happened yet as he’s failed to match the production we saw from him as a rookie.

3. New Jersey Devils (35-13-5) Like Jarvis, you wondered if Dawson Mercer was a guy who might leap forward in Year 2. As it stands, he’ll likely produce right around the same 42 points he had last season. 2017 third-rounder Fabian Zetterlund has shown some offensive acumen this year and is currently up on the second line.

4. New York Rangers (32-14-8) The Rangers’ top four get a lot of love — and rightfully so — but don’t forget about big, right-shot defender Braden Schneider helping to hold down that final pair.

5. Toronto Maple Leafs (33-14-8) Yes, Michael Bunting actually led all rookies in points last year (63) and, yes, he was six years older than fellow Calder finalists Seider and Trevor Zegras. Regardless, the 27-year-old Bunting is basically right on pace to equal his 23 goals from last season. The second-year story in Toronto just might be Timothy Liljegren establishing himself as a dependable member of the blue line crew.

6. Tampa Bay Lightning (35-16-3) We’ll have to fudge it here a bit because the Bolts don’t have any actual sophomores, but Ross Colton is in just his second full season after playing 30 games in 2020-21. The 26-year-old continues to be a valuable member of Tampa’s bottom six, though he’ll be hard-pressed to match the 22 goals he put up last year.

6. Dallas Stars (30-14-11) Ty Dellandrea was a rookie two years ago, spent most of last year in the AHL and is now back in Dallas giving the Stars pretty decent third-line minutes. Technically Nils Lundqivst is a rookie because he played just 25 games with the New York Rangers last year, one short of the 26-game cut-off where you lose your rookie status. He’s been healthy-scratched a couple times, but does seem to be making gains in his first year with Dallas.

8. Winnipeg Jets (34-19-1) The Jets’ bottom six is full of big bodies and sophomores Morgan Baron and Saku Maenalanen — both six-foot-four — are certainly no exception. Maenalanen played 34 games for Carolina in 2018-19, then spent three full years in Europe before returning to the NHL with Winnipeg this year.

9. Los Angeles Kings (30-18-7) A trio of Kings sophomores have shown promise this year. Defenceman Sean Durzi has already equalled the 27 points he put up last year; Arthur Kaliyev just returned from a lower-body ailment that kept him out six weeks and is playing at a 45-point clip this year and Quinton Byfield, the second-overall pick in 2020, is starting to find his NHL sea legs with seven points in his past 11 contests.

10. Edmonton Oilers (30-19-6) Fourth-line centre Ryan McLeod is an important penalty-killer for the Oilers. As for 2019 eighth-overall pick Philip Broberg, we’re still waiting to see if things will click.

11. Vegas Golden Knights (32-18-4) Paul Cotter is skating on the top line right now, has scored in his past two games and has 10 tallies in 36 outings this season.

12. Colorado Avalanche (29-19-5) Bowen Byram returned to the Avs lineup last week after missing basically three months with a lower-body issue. We all want to see this kid — who dealt with serious concussion issues previously — stay healthy and dazzle us with the talent that got him drafted fourth overall in 2019.

13. Seattle Kraken (30-18-6) Will Borgen, who turned 26 in December, seems to have established himself as a full-time NHLer this year. The right-shot D-man has been averaging almost 16 minutes a night and has suited up in every Seattle contest.

14. Pittsburgh Penguins (27-17-9) It’s obviously a work in progress, but Pierre-Oliver Joseph has shown flashes of the talent that prompted the Penguins to take him 23rd overall in 2017.

15. Detroit Red Wings (25-20-8) Lucas Raymond, Detroit’s other promising rookie from last season, was on about a 25-goal pace until landing himself on the injured list last week. He should be back before too long.

16. Calgary Flames (25-18-11) From Nov. 8 to Dec. 23, Adam Ruzicka had 20 points in 24 games. He hasn’t had one in 14 games since and has been made a healthy scratch by coach Darryl Sutter, as was the case very early in the year.

17. Nashville Predators (25-20-6) Tanner Jeannot was a wonderful 41-point surprise last year for the Predators and earned himself some rookie-of-the-year votes. While the offence has dried up a bit this year, the 25-year-old is still making his presence felt; only four guys in the league have more hits than Jeannot’s 192.

18. Minnesota Wild (28-21-5) Matt Boldy was actually the points-per-game leader (0.83) last year among rookies who played at least 40 games. He hasn’t quite matched that clip this year, but there’s no doubt Minnesota has a keeper on its hands as evidenced by the fact he inked a seven-year extension in January.

19. Florida Panthers (27-24-6) Anton Lundell was low-key one of the better rookies in the league last year. He couldn’t find that level through the first half or so of the season, but like his squad the Finn has picked it up of late, producing nine points in his past 13 games and seeing a little more ice under coach Paul Maurice. As for goalie Spencer Knight, he looked great out of the gate but has struggled since about mid-November while also being sidelined with a injury. He just returned this week from a month-long absence, so let’s see what the kid can do down the stretch.

20. Washington Capitals (28-22-6) Martin Fehervary was slowed by an injury in December, the but the Slovakian D-man very much still looks like a guy who will be a fixture on the Caps blue line for years to come.

21. Ottawa Senators (26-24-3) It may be as a fourth-liner getting 10 minutes a night, but Parker Kelly is establishing himself as a full-time NHLer.

22. Buffalo Sabres (27-22-4) How much do the Sabres like what defence-first big man Mattias Samuelsson brings? Well, they inked him to a seven-year contract extension in in October before he’d scored a single NHL goal. He’s sitting on exactly one now, but that doesn’t matter as he figures to balance out a top-four pair for the next 10 years beside either Rasmus Dahlin or Owen Power.

23. New York Islanders (27-23-7) Yes, the “other” Sebastian Aho played parts of three seasons prior to this one, but he was still technically a rookie last year. Aho has been scratched a couple times this year, but he’s already established a career high with 52 games played.

24. Montreal Canadiens (23-27-4) Cole Caufield was on a 45-goal pace until shoulder surgery ended his season in January.

25. St. Louis Blues (25-25-3) If the Blues unload more players before the deadline, Alexey Toropchenko could get a decent run of games to prove himself through the final couple months of the season.

26. Philadelphia Flyers (22-23-10) He started the year in the John Tortorella’s American Hockey League-based dog house, but the coach has gone out of his way to praise Cam York since he’s come back up and the 22-year-old blue-liner has basically been a 20-minutes-a-night guy in 2023.

27. Arizona Coyotes (19-28-8) Few second-year players are as important to their team as goalie Karel Vejmelka is to the Yotes. J.J. Moser, a second-round pick in 2021, is averaging 20:20 per night for Arizona.

27. San Jose Sharks (17-27-11) Here’s one for you; last season, the Sharks had 16 players with rookie status play at least one game for the club. No joke, 15 of those guys have not taken a single shift for San Jose this year. The one who has — Jeffrey Viel — has played one game.

29. Vancouver Canucks (21-30-4) It’s been a trying year for Vasily Podkolzin, but he’s back up from the AHL and new coach Rick Tocchet has some good things to say about the youngster.

30. Anaheim Ducks (17-32-6) Trevor Zegras was runner-up for the Calder last year, has 21 points in his past 20 outings and has the talent and personality to be one of the defining characters in the league for a long time to come. Defenceman Jaime Drysdale, unfortunately, hasn’t played a shift this season thanks to shoulder surgery. Another blue-liner, Simon Benoit, has been seeing nearly 19 minutes per night.

31. Chicago Blackhawks (16-31-5) Picked up at last year’s trade deadline as part of the package Tampa surrendered for Brandon Hagel, Taylor Raddysh could nudge up to 40 points in his first full year with Chicago.

32. Columbus Blue Jackets (16-34-4) Nobody’s been hit harder by the jinx than Cole Sillinger, who’s stuck on two goals in a miserable sophomore year. Remember, though, the kid doesn’t even turn 20 until May.


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