Victor Rask is first up in what will hopefully be a May full of individual player report cards that both assess their 2016-17 season and also look forward to 2017-18.
After being a bit late today, my hope is to try to post one ‘report card’ per day in time for lunchtime reading, so please grab a sandwich and stop by, and if I miss a day please remember that it is the off-season. 🙂 I did a late-night writing binge into the wee hours of the morning to get ahead of the schedule, so I should be able to hold schedule for at least 10-12 days. My tentative plan is to work through the forwards first in random order based on what I feel like writing and then follow up with the defensemen and goalies.
Victor Rask’s starting point for the 2016-17 season
Victor Rask had a strong 2015-16 campaign that saw him take a significant step up from 33 points in 2014-15 to 48 points in 2015-16. Along the way, he solidified himself in the slot next to Jeff Skinner and just generally took a step forward in his sophomore season. For his effort, he was rewarded with a 6-year $4 million per season contract that figured to lock him into a top 9 slot with the Hurricanes for the foreseeable future.
Victor Rask’s 2016-17 season with the Carolina Hurricanes
With multiple new forwards joining the team, the lines had the potential to be jumbled, but he found himself in a familiar role centering Jeff Skinner’s line in training camp with newcomer Lee Stempniak on his right side.
The newly-minted trio was good in preseason and started hot in the regular season. Rask scored in all 8 games in October and finished the month with an impressive 4 goals and 6 assists for the month.
In trying to get multiple lines clicking, November saw Coach Bill Peters shuffle lines a bit to try new combinations but Rask still spent most of his time hitched to Jeff Skinner. Rask slowed from his torrid scoring pace but still put up better than hoped for scoring totals of 17 points in the first quarter of the season and then 14 points in second quarter putting him on pace for a 60-point season.
But the winter saw Rask’s game and especially his offensive production trail off. He managed on 6 points in the third quarter of the season before rebounding with a slightly better 8 points in the final quarter of the season. The 28-point full-season pace in the second half of the season was sub-par and looks slightly worse even when one considers that he spent a good portion of that time with Jeff Skinner who was on fire at the end of the season.
More significant than the top line statistics was how Rask faded into the background and played long stretches of hockey seemingly in invisible mode and without making a noticeable impact. He was not horrible, but he was not noticeably good often enough either. When the dust settled on the 2016-17 season, Rask finished with 16 goals and 29 points which was 5 goals and points short of his 2015-16 season.
Not to be underestimated is a subtle but significant positive in terms of his place in the lineup and therefore match ups year over year. In 2015-16, Jeff Skinner and Victor Rask were able to lie in weeds a bit as a third line and saw somewhat easier match ups because of it. With Eric Staal and Kris Versteeg gone, the Skinner/Rask duo were suddenly elevated to be the Hurricanes top scoring line and faced tougher defensive match ups because of it.
I would not classify Rask’s 2016-17 as a disaster, but he did not take another step forward in his third season as many hoped he would, but playing in a higher slot does at least partially offset any disappointment. Another positive is Rask’s ability to stay healthy and in the lineup. He has missed only four games through three full seasons in the NHL.
Grading Victor Rask
Graded as: A top 9 two-way forward, ideally more of a top 6.
Grade: B. He came up slightly short of his 2015-16 season which is disappointing for a third-year player still with upside and room to grow, but he did adequately, even if not spectacularly, fill the role he was in.
Looking forward to 2017-18
Very likely, Victor Rask will continue is his comfortable role as wing man for the Jeff Skinner flying show. Rask’s cerebral two-way play and ability to play comfortably in a support role without the puck on his stick much in the center position fits well with Skinner’s style of play. Though I think it is likely that Rask will stay paired with Skinner what could change is where they slot. If Francis adds a high-end scoring forward and pairs him with Sebastian Aho, it is not impossible that the Skinner/Rask starts to see a few more lesser match ups again depending on which line is hottest. Ideally in 2017-18, Rask continues to play his quiet role as part of Skinner’s scoring leadership. In 2017-18, hopefully Rask also boosts his own scoring total modestly and can find a higher gear compared to the second half of the 2016-17 season in terms of being a more noticeable difference maker on a regular basis.
What say you Caniacs?
Is a B about right, or would you rate Rask slightly lower based on his lackluster second half of the season? Or would you rate him slightly higher based on stepping into a higher slot in 2016-17 and holding his own?
What are reasonable expectations for the 2017-18 season for Victor Rask?
Do you like him in his familiar role next to Jeff Skinner or would you consider trying him somewhere else in the lineup?