There aren’t many developments in each NHL season that derail a team’s chances of winning a Stanley Cup or undergoing a successful rebuild more than important players failing to meet expectations.
It doesn’t matter if it’s a veteran failing to live up to a huge contract or a second-year player unable to build on his stellar rookie season.
Here are four players in need of a bounce-back season in 2014-15.
Loui Eriksson, Forward, Boston Bruins
Eriksson arrived in Boston as the best player the Bruins acquired in the blockbuster trade that sent former No. 2 overall pick Tyler Seguin to the Dallas Stars.
Eriksson averaged 29.5 goals over his last four seasons in Dallas, but two concussions prevented him from reaching that mark with the Bruins last season. The 29-year-old winger was strong defensively, contributed to special teams and helped the team’s puck possession — he owned an impressive 58.6 corsi-for percentage — but his scoring totals were disappointing. He posted just 37 points (10 goals, 27 assists) in 61 games and scored four goals over his last 30 regular-season games.
The Swedish forward likely will play alongside David Krejci and Milan Lucic on the B’s first line in 2014-15, which should give him plenty of scoring opportunities. A bounce-back season from Eriksson will be the best way for Boston to replace some of the offense lost when veteran winger Jarome Iginla signed with the Colorado Avalanche in July.
Jonathan Huberdeau, Forward, Florida Panthers
The No. 3 overall pick in the 2011 draft struggled in 2013-14 when he posted 28 points (nine goals, 19 assists) in 69 games — just three fewer points than he tallied in the lockout-shortened 48-game season in 2013 (the same year he won the Calder Trophy). It’s too early to call Huberdeau’s rookie season a fluke, and to be fair, he wasn’t able to skate much last summer because he was recovering from May hip surgery.
Huberdeau’s sophomore slump included a drop in goal scoring (five goals) and fewer shots than he took the previous season. He also looked less engaged, not as composed with the puck and wasn’t very aggressive in the attacking zone (only 108 shots). As a result, Florida ranked 29th in goals scored and had the least successful power play in the league.
The Panthers want to compete for a playoff spot in 2014-15, and that’s one reason why they signed Dave Bolland this summer and acquired veteran goalie Roberto Luongo at last year’s trade deadline. Huberdeau needs a bounce-back season or Florida will finish at or near the bottom of an Atlantic Division that has improved over the offseason, specifically the Buffalo Sabres and Tampa Bay Lightning.
Eric Staal, Forward, Carolina Hurricanes
The entire Hurricanes roster needs a bounce-back season, but Staal is one player who stands out because he’s the most talented and highest-paid forward on the team.
Staal tallied just 61 points (20 goals, 41 assists) in 79 games in 2013-14 despite making a $9.25 million salary (fifth-highest in the league), per CapGeek. His 21 goals were just three more than he scored during the lockout-shortened 2013 campaign, when he posted a 1.10 points per game rate. As the Canes’ No. 1 center, Staal is the focal point of the offense at even strength and the power play, but he scored only one goal on the man advantage last season.
The Carolina captain posted eight consecutive seasons of 70-plus points from 2003-04 through 2011-12, and healthy Jeff Skinner and another year of Alexander Semin on his wing should boost Staal’s offensive production to those levels again.
Staal has two years left on his contract and is 29 years old. If he wants to play for a legitimate playoff contender, he’ll need to play at a high level to boost his trade value because an $8.25 million salary cap hit is burdensome for a 60-point player.
Evander Kane, Forward, Winnipeg Jets
Kane has the potential to be a top-tier power forward who scores 30 goals and tallies between 60 and 70 points per season. He posted just 41 points (20 goals, 21 assists) in 63 games in 2013-14, including only one power-play tally and a lackluster 7.6 shooting percentage. It was a disappointing season for Kane, who also dealt with injuries that forced him to miss a career-high 19 games.
Despite his impressive talent, Kane’s future in Winnipeg remains unclear because he’s constantly involved in trade rumors and speculation. If the 23-year-old winger wants a change of scenery, he needs to prove to opposing general managers that he’s worth paying a high price tag to acquire. At the moment, Kane has failed to develop at the rate of a No. 4 overall pick.