Jeff Skinner had as good of a rookie season as anyone could ask for. At the age of 19, he already has a 30 goal season under his belt, received top-six minutes and took home the Calder Trophy. Some NHL scouts called him the “best pure goal-scorer in the 2010 draft” and he definitely showed a lot of people why last year. Of course, now that he’s has an outstanding rookie season under his belt, Canes fans and hockey pundits from all over are going to have even bigger expectations for him next year and with good reason. He’s only 19 years old and anything less than at least a 25-goal season would be a disappointment for him and he’ll be tagged with the dreaded “sophomore slump” label.
Stop right here.
First of all, the sophomore slump is probably the biggest myth that is thrown around in sports because a lot of people don’t consider how one player may have been more fortunate than others in his rookie season and that a regression to the mean would occur soon. The “sophomore slump,” in my mind, is one of the biggest logical fallacies thrown around in sports for this very reason and it gets thrown around in the NHL a lot when one player’s counting numbers are not superior to their rookie season. There’s many times I’ve heard where “x player wont ever top his rookie season” or “that guy really fell off after his rookie year” when the truth is that they’ve been a solid (or even great) player throughout their entire careers but they just had a lot of luck in their rookie season and put up ridiculous numbers then and have sort of gotten unlucky for the rest of their careers. There’s a good chance that this may happen with Skinner just like it did to Tyler Myers for the first half of last season (although the second year is considerably tougher for defenseman as it’s harder for coaches to shelter them as much as forwards).
Most of the time, coaches shelter their rookie players to not throw them directly into the wolves in their first year and slowly ease them into tougher assignments, which is what Maurice did with Skinner. I’ve stated this a few times, but he had the highest amount of draws starting in the offensive zone among the team’s forwards and his line with Jussi Jokinen and Tuomo Ruutu saw middling competition compared to the rest of the team. These aren’t negative comments, though. This is what a coach is supposed to do with a line which has a lot of offensive potential. What does concern me is that not only did Skinner have the easiest zone starts, he had the highest shooting percentage on the team by far with 14.4% and his on-ice shooting percentage was 10.98%, both of which are well above the league average.
Some have been using Patrick Kane’s rookie season as a comparison to Skinner’s as they were both 18-19 during their first years but Kane wasn’t quite as fortunate as Skinner (11% shooting) and most of his points were from assists. The next year, Kane’s shooting percentage decreased a lot and over half of Kane’s goals came on the powerplay. It’s very possible that Skinner’s sophomore season may go a similar route.
A shooting percentage of 14.4% in one year is going to come down sooner or later unless Skinner can establish himself as an elite goal-scorer, which would make me all kinds of happy but I don’t know how likely that is. However, Skinner shot the puck quite a bit last season too (215 attempts) and he will likely get more ice-time this season along with more time on the powerplay (where he logged a lot of minutes last year). so you can bet he’s still going to get a lot of chances and if he shoots the puck at around the same rate as he did last year (>200 shots) and his shooting percentage starts to decline towards the league average (not completely sure what that is but I’m assuming it’s around 9%), then he would still have at least a 20+ goal season, maybe even more.
There’s a lot to be excited about with Skinner, especially since he played so well last year at a young age but it’s important to remember what may have helped him have such a great rookie season and not to buy into the fallacy of a sophomore slump if things don’t go his way 15-20 games into next year. He’s a fantastic player who will likely be productive if he doesn’t get as lucky as he did last year and if the dice continue to roll in his favor, then I will have zero problems with it.