Is Jake Gardiner A Star Or Flash In The Pan?
To say Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke fleeced Ducks general manager Bob Murray would be an understatement, at least when you consider Gardiner’s strong showing in his first NHL season.
Through 75 games with the Blue and White Gardiner established himself as a reliable offensive defenseman, scoring seven goals (one on the power play) and 23 assists for a total of 30 points.
Gardiner’s seven goals ranked him 40th amongst NHL defensemen, while his 30 points ranked him a very respectable 42nd overall.
Gardiner also managed a minus-2 rating while boasting a very clean 18 penalty minutes.
Anytime a young player makes a splash at the NHL level in a Maple Leafs’ jersey Toronto fans are quick to anoint them as the savior of the franchise. In the case of Gardiner there are mixed feelings.
Gardiner skates well, has good offensive instincts, can carry the puck and, given time, should be able to run the power play for the Buds. Where Gardiner is lacking is in his defensive coverage which, while adequate, still needs work.
Like any young player, their rookie season is often played on a little bit of fear and a lot of adrenaline. It is a grueling learning experience which often leads to the rookie being benched for long periods of time—especially young defensemen.
In the case of Gardiner, he looked neither scared or tired as his steady play led to him seeing 75 games and 21:35 of ice time per night. In fact, Gardiner looked like a seasoned pro at times, causing many in NHL circles to suggest the Maple Leafs had a budding star on their hands.
Gardiner’s smooth skating style should allow him to see an increase in time on the ice, as should the departure of defenseman Luke Schenn (who was sent to the Philadelphia Flyers in the James van Riemsdyk deal) as more ice time will open up on the backend.
While there are some serious expectations for Gardiner for the upcoming season, funny things can happen to players in their sophomore season.
Buffalo Sabres defenseman Tyler Myers had an eye-opening rookie season, posting 11 goals and 37 assists and a plus-13 rating through 82 games, earning the Calder Memorial Trophy as the NHL’s top-rookie. Myers struggled in his sophomore season, scoring ten goals and 27 assists for a total of 37 points, while posting a even plus/minus rating.
Myers posted career lows in goals (8), assists (15), points (23) and games played (55) last season, derailing his “Hockey-God” status down to a mere “Hockey-Mortal”.
In fact, there are a ton of examples of sophomore players struggling in their second seasons, just ask Toronto Maple Leafs goaltender James Reimer…..
With an increase in ice time and power play minutes all but a lock for Gardiner the smart money suggests he will see an increase in both goals and points in 2012-13.
The Hockey News predicts Gardiner will notch 42-points for the upcoming season, an increase of 12 from last seasons totals.
Should Gardiner hit that 42-point plateau he would have a good shot of landing in the top twenty in scoring for defensemen. While it is easy to suggest Gardiner should have no issue making those gains I suspect it will be tougher than anticipated, but when you consider all the factors, 42-points seems reasonable, even with the sophomore curse over his head.
Many rookies have come into the NHL, impressed in their first season and fallen off the planet shortly thereafter. Gardiner looks poised to make real strides, putting to rest any suggestion that he, like dozens before him, will be the victim of the sophomore curse.
It’s not often the Toronto Maple Leafs have had a star within their ranks—I’ll put money on Gardiner becoming one next season with an all-star birth being a real possibility.
Until next time,