You don’t have to be a philosopher, such as Socrates, to know that a star one night could turn into a storm-cloud one evening later.
Ditto for hockey players who enjoy a “simply-mahvelous” season. Yeah, what about next year?
How many “One-Shot-Wonders” have been waxed ecstatic about one semester only to find them disappear into the ether the second time around?
Just off the top, there were Andy Raycroft, Mike Komisarek and Michael Del Zotto to name a few.
The difference here is that Del Zotto’s “Sophomore Slump” was followed in 2011-12 by a remarkably resilient rebound.
Michael DZ’s effort is our catalyst for head-scratching about a quintet — sextet if you count Del Zotto — of impressive stickhandlers who hope to build on their kudos in the season ahead. The Maven has selected the following Met Area men because their futures are so debatable. Soooooooo, let’s debate:
• DAVID CLARKSON: As a younger Devil, the Toronto native was New Jersey’s version of Sluggo — neither bully nor enforcer, but with an insatiable passion for improvement. Until last season, previous coaches — whether it be Brent Sutter or Jacques Lemaire — failed to find the right buttons to extract Clarkson’s best.
Then along came Peter DeBoer, who found not only the best buttons, but a few lilting levers as well. And the results say — make that SHOUT — it all. Dauntless Dave totaled 30 goals and 46 points. That’s 13 red lights over his previous high. And despite playing injured in the postseason, he was a plus-8 over 24 playoff games with 12 points. Better still, each of his three goals was a game-winner!
DeBoer, who coached Clarkson in Junior Hockey, toned down David’s rambunctiousness just enough to make him a most effective power forward. Still, skeptics abound who wonder whether the 2011-12 season was more a mirage than the real McCoy; or in this case, the real McClarkson.
The Maven predicts that Clarkson’s best is yet to come, but this coming season for him must reproduce the last; otherwise the one-shot-wonder tag inevitably will be tagged on David The Devil.
• TRAVIS HAMONIC: With an absolute minimum of fuss and fanfare, but a surplus of emotion-commitment, the Islanders’ defenseman has emerged as a latter-day Dave Langevin, who was a balance-wheel backliner from the dynastic Al Arbour four-straight Stanley Cup Era.
With utter dedication to defending behind his blue line, Hamonic averaged 22.25 minutes per game last season, third best on the Islanders after captain Mark Streit and Travis’ standard defense partner, Andy MacDonald. Not so coincidentally, MacDonald and Hamonic have developed into a shot-blocking duet extraordinaire. In that regard, Travis has been favorably compared with overpriced Ryan Suter.
At age 22, Hamonic has yet to reach anything even close to his peak. He’s supremely motivated and totally devoted. I see him continuing his upward spiral in the manner that Marc Staal has with the Rangers.
• RYAN MCDONAGH: If there’s not a Norris Trophy in this guy’s future, I don’t know another defenseman with such potential. Then again, you never know. Perhaps the doubting side is what possessed the Canadiens to unload Ryan to the Rangers as part of the Scott Gomez deal.
Since then, the 23-year-old has re-defined “workhorse.” He played all 82 games last season, averaging almost 27 minutes per contest and appeared totally indefatigable. Better still his plus-25 over that span was better than the likes of future Hall of Famer Nick Lidstrom, along with the highly-touted, but over-hyped Kris Letang and Shea Weber.
Drafted 12th overall in 2007, McDonagh has coupled with Dan Girardi like two perfectly meshed gears. How much the latter has contributed to Ryan’s ascent is debatable. But this much is certain: If McDonagh turns out to be a flash-in-the-pan it will stun, The Maven to the very core; not to mention the critics who’ve given him raves for the past year.
• BRYCE SALVADOR: Had the NHL struck a “Comeback Of The Year” Trophy, this indomitable Devil would have been a finalist, if not the winner. Considering that Salvador had missed the ENTIRE 2010-11 season with an curious concussion injury, it would have been reasonable to expect a mediocre return to the wars in 2011-12. Quite frankly, nobody really knew precisely how much such a wound would debilitate him.
What Bryce became defied credulity. He not only played all 82 of New Jersey’s games at his fiercely competitive level, but remained the Devils best defender from start to finish. He registered 102 blocks and 106 hits, while averaging 22.24 minutes as the quintessential shutdown sizzler. His nine assists seemed to be gravy on Newark’s hot roast beef sandwich.
Then something truly weird, totally jubilant occurred. Spearheading his club’s Cinderella march to the Stanley Cup Final, Salvador became a scoring menace. With 14 points in 24 playoff games — one short-hander and one game-winner — he managed at least one point in all 16 of the Garden Staters wins.
It would be difficult for anyone — let alone defense-minded Bryce — to expect that brand of offense in either the upcoming regular season or playoffs. My forecast is that Salvador will return to his efficient ways proving that his comeback was no fluke but the offensive burst was — well — exceptional, but not repeat-able.
• MICHAEL DEL ZOTTO: The Jekyll-Hyde of the Rangers’ defensive corps, this smooth-skating, radar-accurate passing defenseman still confounds his critics. Del Zotto dazzled as a rookie, yet finished his freshman year at a minus-20. Talk about a sophomore slump; yikes!
Michael got to know Hartford a lot more than he would have liked in 2010-11. He managed a mere 47 NHL games in his second season with two goals and nine assists. Only Sean Avery held a bigger mortgage in John Tortorella’s doghouse than DZ.
But Torts’ message to his promising defenseman got through last season. Skating the straight and narrow path, he rebounded with 10 goals and 31 assists in 77 games, while adding two goals and 10 points in the playoffs.
No question, the lad’s skills are all there and that includes a solid shot from the point and the ability to quarterback the power play. But the coach still considers Michael a work in progress; as he should. Del Zotto’s defensive game still betrays holes and his physique could use a bit more muscle.
Me? I believe that Michael has learned all the mental lessons and now it’s a matter of focus and listening to the coach. If that’s accomplished, he’ll be in the upper echelon. If not, — uh-oh!
• EVGENI NABOKOV: Claimed by the Islanders in 2011, this Russian blocker hardly was rushing for Nassau. His equivocation about signing on with Jack Capuano’s club caused the Uniondale faithful to wonder why anyone would bother to persuade him to change his mind.
But this was one cerebral-reversal that benefitted everyone. During a 2011-12 season in which the Isles had the NHL’s second-worst goal-differential, Nabby played like the chap who once had three-straight 40-win seasons with San Jose. To say that he was the Islanders’ bulwark during the 42 games he played would be putting it just right.
Fronted by an undermanned, injury-riddled defense, Evgeni nevertheless compiled a 2.55 goals against average and a .914 save percentage; all commendable under difficult circumstances and in the Cam Ward-Ryan Miller class.
Trouble is — if there is any cause for concern — his age, 37, and how much wear and tear last season had on his physique and psyche.
With what appears to be an improved Islanders defense, Nabby should be a happy camper and remain one of the club’s key cogs in a playoff bid.