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Analysis

New York Islanders Mathew Barzal Will Avoid Sophomore Slump

NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 23: Mathew Barzal #13 of the New York Islanders celebrates his goal at 2:20 of the first period against the Winnipeg Jets at the Barclays Center on December 23, 2017 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 23: Mathew Barzal #13 of the New York Islanders celebrates his goal at 2:20 of the first period against the Winnipeg Jets at the Barclays Center on December 23, 2017 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images) /
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New York Islanders Mathew Barzal is entering his second year in the NHL. Can he repeat his Calder trophy form from 2017-18, or will he suffer a sophomore slump?

Mathew Barzal had one of those outstanding introductory seasons in 2017-18 for the New York Islanders. The young center put up 22 goals and an incredible 63 assists for 85 points in his first year in the NHL.

He was head and shoulders above his fellow rookies in the NHL. But now that he’s going into year two, will Barzal face the dreaded sophomore slump?

Looking at what Barzal did in his first NHL season and the few players that have had a comparable introductory year, the answer is simply no. Barzal is gonna be just fine.

One of the Best

In terms of comparables, there are few NHL players who have done what Mathew Barzal did in his rookie year. Since the 1997-1998 season, so 20 years of NHL hockey, only two players have scored more in their rookie year than Barzal. Alex Ovechkin (106 points) and Sidney Crosby (102 points).

Over the last 20 years, Barzal is tied for third in rookie scoring at 85 points with none other than Evgeni Malkin. Again, very few compare to Barzal. And those who he can compare himself too are some elite players.

Often when rookies have that standout season their role in the team increases the following season. Their ice time goes up, they likely face tougher opponents and their once great shooting percentage might dry up. That’s typically how a sophomore slump happens.

Here’s how Barzal compares to three players that are comparable to Barzal along with their production, shooting percentage, time of ice, and their 5on5 CF% quality of competition* for their rookie year.

*Malkin and Stastny’s rookie year was 2006-07 a year before CF% QOC is available.
**S% and TOI from NHL.com while 5on5 CF% QOC is from Corsica.Hockey

This season, Barzal’s time on ice will go up now that John Tavares has departed. The issue becomes, what happens now that Barzal is on the ice longer? Because it usually means he’ll get tougher assignments against tougher opposition. Usually.

There was a hair a difference between Barzal and Tavares’ 5on5 CF% QOC with the former captain getting 50.22 last season. In 2017-18, Barzal was already seeing difficult opposition and excelling.

Again, consider that Barzal faced tough opposition last year with much less ice time than his comparables, and still matched then (in the case of Malkin) or outscored them.

Having more ice time and “tougher” opponents won’t slow down Barzal in 2018-19. Nor did the three comparables in their second NHL season.

I understand that Paul Stastny and Artemi Panarin scored less, but I wouldn’t consider a seven and three-point drop respectively a sophomore slump. What Dylan Larkin did between year one and two, where he dropped 13 points, that’s a sophomore slump.

You can see that all three increased their ice time. Panarin who we have CF% QOC data for faced better competition in year two. And both Malkin and Stastny’s shooting percentages rose while Panarin’s fell slightly.

All in all, the three comparable players too Barzal in his rookie year did not regress. And the one player that was the closest, Malkin, actually got significantly better in his sophomore year with a 21 point increase.

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There are few players that can compare to Mathew Barzal. Looking at those who had comparable rookie seasons, it clear to see that Barzal can and will avoid the dreaded sophomore slump.

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