Recently, I took a look at why Nathan MacKinnon is primed to bounce back from a sophomore slump in 2014-15. After winning the Calder Trophy as the League’s top rookie, he took a step back and placed some doubt in hockey critics and fans alike.
In the spirit of sophomore slumps, I was curious as to how it could potentially affect last season’s Calder Trophy winner, Aaron Ekblad.
The two went out and had very similar rookie campaigns, so who’s to say Ekblad won’t struggle like MacKinnon did in year two?
Both Calder winners were 1st overall picks in the previous draft, making the jump directly into the NHL, as seems to be the norm in this era. Both helped their team make a significant leap in the standings. MacKinnon’s Avalanche improved by 46 points (2012-13 pro-rated) while Ekblad bumped the Panthers totals up by 25 points.
So, will Aaron Ekblad be the next victim of the dreaded sophomore slump?
Ekblad’s Calder Winning Rookie Season
Coming into the NHL as an 18-year-old is never an easy feat to accomplish. To have success is even more difficult. Ekblad did just that in 2014-15 with the Florida Panthers, finishing with 12 goals and 39 points in 81 games. Those marks were good enough for seventh and fourth, respectively, on the team. He was also second on the team in time on the ice, averaging 21:48 a game. He was exceptional on the power play, ranking third in power play goals with six, and first in points with 13.
Not only was he solid as a rock in the offensive zone, but he remained calm, cool and collected in the defensive zone as well throughout the entire year. Evidence of his strong play was shown in his Corsi For %, which ranked second on the team to Brain Campbell, at 53.9%. His CF% relative to his teammates was also third on the team, controlling the play 4.4% more of the time in comparison.
Aside from all the numbers supporting Ekblad’s case last season, there is also some evidence that cannot be put into a stats page. Like the calm presence he installed on the team’s blue line, always slowing down the play when needed; something expected from a 10-year veteran. And that’s exactly what Ekblad looked like all year long. You would never guess he was only an 18-year-old man-child.
He led their power play each night, quarterbacking it to success through excellent decision-making, such as when to fire a bomb from the point to create a scoring opportunity, or even find the back of the net himself. Simply put, Ekblad is an extremely smart hockey player. He understands when to focus on offence, and when to focus of defence. He has phenomenal skating abilities and can efficiently back-check to keep opponents to the outside, or strip them of the puck.
Will Ekblad Fall Victim to the Sophomore Slump in ’15-16?
There’s no special method or stat to predict the probability that a player will fall victim to the dreaded sophomore slump. It doesn’t even trace back to their play at the end of the previous year. In MacKinnon’s case, he ended his rookie year with 10 points in seven playoff games, a tremendous feat for an 18-year-old. Yet, he still became the next victim. So, there’s really no telling if Ekblad will take a step back this year or not. You can only look at past Calder winners and 18-year-olds alike to try to find a common path.
Before MacKinnon, Jonathan Huberdeau was the 2013 Calder Trophy winner, scoring 14 goals and 31 points in 48 games. The next year, he would only score nine goals and 28 points in 69 games. A decrease of 16% in goals per game and 24% in points per games, is pretty significant. In 2011-12, Gabriel Landeskog captured the trophy after scoring 22 goals and 50 points. The next year he would put up 17 points in 36 games, a slight decrease of 14%.
The last defenceman to win the Calder Trophy was Tyler Myers. He scored 11 goals and 48 points in ’09-10 before dropping to 37 points the next year, not a huge decrease. In fact, his CF% rose from 49% to 53.7%. Relative to teammates, it went up from -3% to 5.2%, a great improvement. So, there definitely is a possibility for a sophomore year to be a positive one.
Yes, Ekblad is Likely to Take a Small Step Back
Chances are, Ekblad will indeed take a small step back in 2015-16. Of course, there is no reason to expect this to happen, given his performance last season, but many others before him in the same situation have come up a little short in their sophomore year. It could be as simple as his offensive totals dropping as he looks to focus on improving the defensive aspect of his game. With that, his possession numbers could become even better, earning him tons of respect in the analytics world. So, whether Ekblad will be the next victim of a sophomore slump is anyone’s guess. The only thing you can do is try to predict it from the past of this everlasting myth.
Do you think Aaron Ekblad will fall to a sophomore slump? Let us know in the comments below!