Potential Sophomore Slumps

August 23, 2011, by

Last year, the Rangers had several rookies playing key roles in the organization.  Derek Stepan was fifth on the team in goals (21) and fourth in points (45), while Ryan McDonagh and Mike Sauer were counted on as a second pairing, eating up big minutes against tough opponents.  These three, especially Sauer and McDonagh, are going to be expected to improve  –or at least be on par with last year.  Sophomore slumps could really hurt the Rangers.

Don’t think a sophomore slump is possible?  Look at Michael Del Zotto.  He was impressive offensively in his rookie year (defensively he needed help), but his numbers fell off a cliff in his second season.  Regression for Stepan, Sauer, and McDonagh is a definite possibility, and something that could potentially cripple the Rangers this year.

Stepan’s offense falling off a cliff is unlikely, but it is also equally unlikely to affect the Rangers drastically with the addition of Brad Richards.  In fact, you can argue that a sophomore slump from Stepan is almost impossible because Richards and Marian Gaborik will be the focal points for opposing teams.  This allows Stepan to float under the radar a bit as a third line center.

As for Sauer and McDonagh, their ability to shut down offenses and eat big minutes is no longer a secret, and you can be sure that coaching staffs are reviewing video to see if there’s a weakness.  The fear is that as teams adjust, that Sauer and McDonagh might try to do too much, like the way Del Zotto tried to do too much last year.

The saving grave for this pairing is that they are generally defensive defensemen, although McDonagh certainly has the ability to add offense to his game.  If they just focus on making the small adjustments, and not worry about adding an element to their games that they don’t have, then they should be fine.  I don’t expect a Del Zotto-esque collapse, but it is possible that they regress a little bit.


  1. Zen says:

    I think that Stepan and McD will continue to get better. They just don’t have many weaknesses that would result in a regression IMO. I guess Sauer is a possibility, but he plays such a simple game, that is tough to imagine that changing drastically from last year.

    MDZ was definitely a disappointment last year, but it is tough to use him as a comparable. The 3 mentioned all of have strong defensive games and warrant a spot on the NHL roster just from that. MDZ was a defensive liability in his rookie season, but it was just overlooked due to his offensive production.

  2. RangerSmurf says:

    Stepan will get better, but don’t be surprised if his numbers drop. His ice time will be reduced, and his shooting percentage may have been a bit too high for his skill level.

    I’m expecting a 15-20-35 type year from him, followed by some panic, but not mass panic.

    Don’t see Sauer or McD regressing, young guys don’t really regress defensively, and their offensive levels aren’t high enough to expect regression there either.

  3. Matt J says:

    If Stepan plays the third line center position he should be fine and continue to grow. If given any more responsibility than that he could sophomore slump but I doubt it.

    Difference between Sauer, Mcdonag, and MDZ. Sauer and McD played in the playoffs and held their own for the most part. Del Zotto never played in the playoffs. No sophomore slump for Sauer and McD.

  4. pavel says:

    Del Zotto had the slump because he was awful defenseively to begin with. This led to Torts benching him at the end of games because he couldn’t trust him. Then it led to Del Zotto losing all confidence. McDonagh and Stepan both had Torts’ trust and won’t be asked to play bigger roles this year. And I think it’ll all work out for Del Zotto. But he’s not gonna be on the team unless he can learn to defend. Hopefully Torts can mold him into the next Dan Boyle.

  5. Jess says:

    First Michael Del Zotto was rushed to the NHL even though everyone but the Rangers and their fans knew that his defensive skills were not ready.

    It is not fair to use his problems at 20 as reasons why 3 vastly different players could possibly have a slump (not to mention older too).

    Here is what I really do not understand which is this trend for Ranger fan bloggers (you guys are not the first, doubt you will be the last) to be looking for reasons why this team could fail.

    If anything I for one think that Stepan is going to have a better year even if his goal scoring numbers may not show it. Stepan is more playmaker than scorer and he has shown improvement in each year since he played at Wisconsin and being drafted.

    Why should that change? Adding Richards takes a ton of pressure off Stepan since Richards is now the number 1 center.

    As for Sauer/McDonagh the duo clicked almost instantly only now they have experience playing with each other so by all rights they should be more comfortable playing as a pair this year.

    For the first time in well over a decade there is legit reason to have positive hope for the franchise so why are people so worried about a possible slump instead of looking forward?

    Not trying to trash anyone but I just do not understand why people keep bringing up possible negatives.

    • John says:

      Because possible negatives are just that.. possible. There is no single person who can rationally say with 100% confidence that ANY player won’t have a bad season. Especially considering the dreaded “sophomore slump” does happen for whatever reason it may be. Maybe, it’s a coincidence, maybe there is something behind it. But the fact of the matter is players can have off years.

      It is correct and reasonable to identify that if Ryan McDonagh and Michael Sauer don’t at the very least play at the same level as last year, the Rangers have serious problems.

      You think Stepan is going to have another good year? Great. I do too, but there is a chance he won’t.

      • John says:

        Continuation. It’s responsible to identify all possibilities. Good and bad.

        • The Suit says:

          Thank you John. People get way too emotional over hypotheticals.

          I don’t know what other blogs are saying, as I don’t read them, but our job here is to cover every angle and leave no stone unturned.

          No one here is waiting for the Rangers to fail.

    • Dave says:

      Just a hypothetical scenario. It’s worth discussing because sophomore slumps are a legitimate concern, and these three are entering their sophomore year.

  6. JW says:

    Typical pretentious comment from Jess. You guys are doing a good job this summer, don’t sweat this kid.

    • Dave says:

      Thanks for the kind words, but there’s no need for name calling. Everyone is entitled to an opinion. Jess disagrees with us, it’s perfectly fine.