5 players poised for bounce-back seasons in 2021
The following five players disappointed in 2019-20, but we're projecting them to bounce back in a big way this season.
Johnny Gaudreau & Sean Monahan, Flames
The Johnny and Mony Show followed up their 2018-19 career years with two of their worst seasons in 2019-20. There's no sugarcoating it: The Flames' dynamic duo was awful.
There was some poor puck luck involved, though. Calgary's on-ice shooting percentage at five-on-five with Gaudreau and Monahan dropped from 11% in 2018-19 to 7.5% in 2019-20. In the three campaigns before their career-best seasons, their five-on-five on-ice shooting percentage was 9.6%. Expect it to return closer to that mark.
However, there's a reasonable explanation for why their shooting percentage dropped: They didn't generate enough chances. Last season, the duo produced 9.8 high-danger scoring chances per 60 minutes, compared to 13 in 2018-19. That mark stood at 11.8 in the combined three seasons prior.
Gaudreau and Monahan aren't as good as they were in 2018-19, but they're certainly not as bad as they were in 2019-20.
Calgary's projected lineup changes provide reason for optimism. Elias Lindholm is moving to center, so his line and Mikael Backlund's trio will likely draw the tough assignments, allowing Gaudreau and Monahan to be put in more offensive situations and face easier matchups.
Taylor Hall, Sabres
Hall didn't have a horrendous 2019-20, but his points per game fell from 1.22 in his Hart Trophy-winning campaign to 1.12 in 2018-19 and then to 0.80 last season. However, look for the 29-year-old to return to his MVP form.
The speedy winger has never been an efficient shooter - he's more about volume - but his 6.9% conversion rate last season was the worst of his career and nearly 4% lower than his career average entering the campaign. Expect that mark to get back to at least 10%.
A projected pairing with Jack Eichel is the biggest reason to believe in Hall. Eichel took a major step last season and should also benefit from having Hall on his line.
Even if Sabres head coach Ralph Krueger decides it's best to split them up, Hall would still be paired with a proven finisher at center in Eric Staal - something he didn't have with the New Jersey Devils or Arizona Coyotes last season.
When you consider Jeff Skinner, Sam Reinhart, and Victor Olofsson in addition to Eichel and Staal, this is the best top-six talent Hall has ever been surrounded by - yes, even better than the 2015-16 Edmonton Oilers with a rookie Connor McDavid and a sophomore Leon Draisaitl.
As he looks to cash in next offseason after signing a one-year deal in Buffalo, don't be surprised if Hall goes off and puts himself back in the MVP conversation.
Morgan Rielly, Maple Leafs
Rielly posted career highs in goals (20) and assists (52) while finishing fifth in Norris Trophy voting in 2018-19, but he predictably came down to earth a year ago with just 27 points in 47 games. His 9% shooting percentage in his career season was unsustainable.
While Rielly may never play at a 20-goal pace again, he could easily return to being one of the league's top assist producers from the back end.
The 26-year-old should also produce at a higher rate at five-on-five this season. He has never had a consistent, reliable defense partner during his seven years in Toronto, but that will change this season as he skates alongside the newly acquired TJ Brodie.
Rielly also missed 23 games last season with a broken foot, and even when he was active, he admitted he was playing through an undisclosed injury. Now fully healthy, he should finish as one of the highest-scoring D-men in the league.
Sergei Bobrovsky, Panthers
Bobrovsky was the worst cop on the force last season, but look for him to get back on the case.
The two-time Vezina Trophy winner endured the worst season of his career in his debut campaign with the Florida Panthers after signing a seven-year, $70-million contract in free agency. He posted a .900 save percentage, a 3.23 goals-against average, and minus-14.9 goals saved above average in 50 games.
Bobrovsky got off to a horrible start, recording an .884 save percentage in his first 21 games. He wasn't lights-out down the stretch, but he settled in with a .909 save percentage in his final 29 games. A slow start also plagued Bobrovsky in his final year with the Blue Jackets, which is a cause for concern in a 56-game season.
However, it's foolish to think Bobrovksy completely forgot how to play goal once he arrived in Florida. The Panthers weren't great in front of him, either - they surrendered the seventh-most five-on-five high-danger scoring chances and expected goals against per 60 minutes.
With the departures of Mike Hoffman and Evgenii Dadonov in free agency, the Panthers will have to play a more defensive-minded game. New general manager Bill Zito, who previously worked in Columbus' front office, added Radko Gudas and Markus Nutivaara on the back end and the gritty Patric Hornqvist up front.
Don't expect Bobrovsky to return to his Vezina form, but a save percentage between .910 and .920 seems reasonable.
(Analytics source: Natural Stat Trick)
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