Last week we had a look at third year players who were heading into free agency. This week we’ll have a look at who might be candidates for a big year based on the same criteria.
Phil Kessel followed up his 29 point rookie year with an up and down 37 point season. Even though he was a healthy scratch for three straight playoff games, Kessel responded well, scoring three goals in Boston’s final three playoff games. In spite of being benched for those three games, Kessel ended up with four points and was the Bruins leading goal scorer in the playoffs with three.
It was nice to see Kessel tied with Patrick Kane as the top scorer for Team USA at this year’s World Championship tournament. They seemed to have a little chemistry together, recording ten points each. They had more points than either Zach Parise or Jason Pominville. The goal Kessel scored against the Finns in the qualifying round was a laser beam to the top corner and everyone saw the highlight reel move Kane made spinning and delivering a sweet backhand pass that Kessel buried.
As next season opens, Kessel will just be turning 21 years old. He has shown steady progress going from 29 to 37 points. With his talent, anything less than 50 points next season should be considered a disappointment.
Another highly touted prospect from the 2006 Entry Draft, Jordan Staal had an unbelieveable rookie season, scoring 29 goals and 42 points. That had poolies drooling in expectation of a monster year as a winger for either Crosby or Malkin this season. Instead he was used as a third line centre and was a fantasy disappointment with only 12 goals and 28 points in his sophomore season. Even though Staal’s ice time went up almost three and a half minutes per game after the Crosby injury, his production remained relatively flat. Part of that can be explained by the lack of significant power play ice time.
Contrary to what some people would have you believe, Jordan Staal was not taken second overall because he is Eric’s little brother. That’s utter nonsense. For an 18-year-old rookie to come in to the NHL and score 29 goals is amazing. What’s hard to believe is who was setting Staal up, or more importantly, who wasn’t. Of those 29 tallies, Malkin assisted on 11 and Crosby only three. That tells us that Staal doesn’t need to play with a superstar in order to put the puck in the net.
What can we expect next season? Tough call, but in this year’s playoffs, Staal’s showing us that those 29 goals weren’t by accident. The big centre has six goals in 14 playoff games, four of which came in the five game series against the Flyers. A bounce back season of 25 goals and 20 assists wouldn’t be unreasonable.
Travis Zajac’s NHL career has gone more like Staal’s than Kessel’s. Zajac surprised with a 42 point rookie season, but followed that up with a 34 point effort this year. He was especially brutal after the All-Star break, scoring at only a 20 point pace. He played in all 82 regular season games as well as all five playoff games. There was no mention of any nagging injuries, so I’d chalk up the season as a learning experience.
By virtue of his being a Devil, Zajac can probably be had relatively cheap at next year’s draft. Take him for around 20 goals and 25 assists and hope for more.
David Booth’s overall numbers last year (73-22-18-40, 228 shots) are a little misleading. Neck and knee injuries during the first half of the season hampered Booth’s play. From January onwards, he scored at a 55 point pace and averaged 3.8 shots per game (a whopping 310 over 82 games). If he can pick up where he left off, 25-30 goals and 55 points aren’t out of reach.
Drew Stafford has scored at around a 50 point pace for the past two years, while recording 27 and 38 points. This is the year he will finally eclipse the 50 point barrier. Book it.