I know I'm terrible at creating titles, but lay off me, would ya?rnrnWith all the success young kids of the Oilers have had in recent years, it's become hard for some of us to remember that the dreaded sophomore curse is still a very real occurrence. We were lucky enough to skirt such seasons with Hall and Eberle. Despite some fairly ugly numbers, we also seemed to avoid utter disaster in Nugent-Hopkins' sophomore year. However, we're not in the clear quite clear yet as we have another pair of sophomores that many of us have all but locked into playing major roles on our team. In many ways, the team's ability to succeed and ultimately push for a playoff spot hinges on these two being able to not only replicate the success of their rookie years, but also to develop further and learn from the mistakes they made last season. The two players I'm talking about are none other than Nail Yakupov and Justin Schultz.rnrnWhen investigating such a regression, one needs to look at a number of factors from the prior season. I'll be splitting the two up and explaining my thought process on each individual player below starting with Nail Yakupov:rnrnrnNail Yakupov (RW) 5'11 185lbs:rnrnLast season's numbers: 48GP, 17G, 14A, (+/-) -4, SOG- 81, TOI/G-14:33rnrnLooking at these numbers, two things stand out to me 1.) his shooting percentage was at an astronomical 21% and 2.) he wasn't exactly getting what I'd call second-line minutes (consistently at least). Shooting percentages typically follow one general rule when pertaining top-6 players in particular, and that rule is that the average top-6 forward scores on about 12% of his shots (a few exceptions a granted to the shooting elite i.e. Stamkos, Toews, St Louis, Vanek, Spezza, and, to a lesser degree, Eberle). Even the Great 8, Alexander Ovechkin, falls into the parameters of this "rule". He just makes up for it by peppering the opposing goalie game-in and game-out.rnrnTaking this into consideration, you have to assume his numbers will plummet, right? Well, that's not necessarily true. You see, a number of factors play into me believing he'll be able to hold fairly steady in his goal totals. For starters, he essentially has free reign on top-6 minutes with skilled players this coming season as opposed to playing half the season with Eric "Bermuda" Belanger and Shawn "Stone-Hands" Horcoff.rnrnSecondly, he should be more acclimated to the North American pro game than he was after jumping into the NHL direct from the KHL and the OHL the season prior. He's likely to be shooting the puck with a lot more confidence and aplomb.rnrnFinally, he'll likely be being pushed by his coach a lot more than last season. While Kreuger was lauded as a great motivator, he lacked a certain intensity young kids often need to have badgering them early in their careers. Whether Nail likes it or not, Dallas Eakins is just that type of coach.rnrnTaking these things in consideration, I'd say a fair comparable of what to expect of Yak's sophomore season would be that of Taylor Hall's sophomore season (0.87 PPG). Maybe not quite that high, but between 60-70 points is reasonable. Hall may have gotten better and juicier minutes in 2011-12 than I predict Yak will in 2013-14, but Yak possesses a much stronger skill-set than what Hall did at the same age (specifically his shot) and he has a better supporting cast so I feel the difference will be made up for.rnrnPrediction: 76GP 35-29-64 +7 SOG- 280 PIM- 49rnrnrnNow things get a little dicier as I explore Justin Schultz numbers:rnrnrnJustin Schultz (D) 6'2 188lbsrnrnLast season's numbers: 48GP, 8G, 19A, (+/-) -17, SOG- 85, TOI/G- 21:26rnrnHere we see an incredible rookie season for a rookie defender. Ignoring the plus/minus (which was understandable considering the circumstance), you see an offensive dynamo the likes of which Edmonton hasn't seen on it's backend since the days of Paul Coffey. The few things that stand out for me here are (again, besides the awful plus/minus) are 1.) he was 25th in SOG for Dmen and 2.) he was playing what would be considered second pairing minutes. Both those numbers are quite impressive for a rookie to accomplish and we should be pleased by such results. Nothing there statistically really screams regression the way Nazem Kadri and Cody Franson do (come at me Leaf's fans [
] ), but my concern comes more from history.rnrnSmaller offensive Dmen pop-up around the league quite often and have widely varying levels of success. Some continue the break through from their rookie season to grow into the prime elite of defenders in this league (we'll call this group the Karlsson's) while others "crash & burn" from the added pressure and responsibilities (let's call these the McBain's). While it's fair to hope that Schultz can grow to be the former, one shouldn't bank on on it the way so many are. The same way you shouldn't count on a sophomore forward to carry a line (see Jeff Skinner, Sam Gagner, etc), you shouldn't place the burden of expectation on such a young defenders shoulders. History shows countless examples of offensively skilled defenders coming into the league guns blazing only to fall short of expectations the next season. Guys like Jamie McBain, Tyler Myers, Michael Del Zotto, Dmitry Kulikov, Cam Fowler, Matt Carle, and MA Bergeron are among those such players. I'd feel a lot safer if we had an adequate replacement for him were the worst case scenario play out (offensive-type capable of playing fill-in top-4).rnrnNow, don't get me wrong when I say these things. The sky is NOT falling. The fields are NOT being consumed by lava. All I'm preaching is a little tempering of your expectations with regards to Schultz the junior. I was reading a THN article the other day which predicted Schultz would score 55 points this coming season. 55 points! Don't you think that's setting the bar a liiittle bit too high for the kid? Maybe he'll prove me wrong, but for now I'd rather not bank a pivotal season on his success on the backend. In terms of reasonable expectations, I'd say numbers akin to those of Jamie McBain's 2nd season (27 points) would be a fair lower marker for him to hit. With the offensive talent on the Oilers, though, I'll set my prediction at between 30 to 35 points.rnrnPrediction: 73GP 8-26-34 -5 SOG- 130 PIM- 18rnrnrnWell, there you have it! There are my feelings on those particular players. Do you agree or disagree? What are your predictions? Feel free to comment down below! Stay tuned as I'll be doing an Oilers season preview featuring my predictions for all the players slated to at least see time with the Oilers this coming season!rnHope you all enjoyed the read! Go Oilers!