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Fear the Five: “Young” players that are older than you might think

Temper those expectations.

San Jose Sharks v New York Rangers Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

Yesterday, winger Barclay Goodrow re-signed with the San Jose Sharks for two years. It’s easy to think of Goodrow as a “young” player, considering he’s only played in 17 NHL games over the past two seasons, and 77 since signing with San Jose in 2014.

Yet Goodrow is already 24 years old. Of course, in the real world, that means he’s in his seventh year of adulthood. But in professional hockey, that means he’s nearing the end of his prime. We know that scoring, scoring chance, and shot generation rates peak in a player’s mid-20s. There’s hope that Goodrow can seize an NHL roster spot this fall, but his game likely is what it is at this point, and any expectations of improved scoring would be unrealistic.

With that in mind, here are five other skaters (goalies are another matter entirely) who played in at least one NHL game last season that aren’t as young as might think, and should carry tempered expectations in their continued development.

Ryan Carpenter (26)

Carpenter was a pleasant surprise in his bottom six cameo last season. He only played in 11 games, but scored four points (two goals and two assists) and posted a stellar 54.9% corsi-for percentage and 55.7% fenwick-for percentage, according to Hockey Reference. He added another 39 points in 55 regular season games with the Barracuda, and led the team in postseason scoring with 17 points in 17 playoff games.

But if he doesn’t make the team out of camp, the 26-year-old is set to be the oldest returning Barracuda skater outside of captain John McCarthy. If he does make it, it wouldn’t be fair to expect him to score at a higher rate than he did last season. He could be a solid fourth line option this season, but likely won’t be much more than that moving forward.

Joonas Donskoi (25)

It’s hard to believe that the soon-to-be-three-year veteran is already 25 years old, but it’s true. He’s played professionally in Finland since he was 17, and has played at least 50 games as a pro in six of the last seven seasons. Donskoi struggled to score in an injury-riddled 2016-17 season, but remained a solid possession player (2.8% CF% rel, 1.7% FF% rel).

It’s reasonable to expect a bounce-back season from last year, but probably not far beyond the 0.47 points per game he scored in his rookie season. An improved personal and on-ice shooting percentage will go a long way to surpassing that mark, but his 100.0 PDO in his rookie campaign is literally the mean. He’ll still be a valuable top nine contributor if he returns to his rookie form, and on a team-friendly deal to boot. Exceeding that would be a pleasant surprise.

Tim Heed (26)

Heed was stellar with the Barracuda in his first professional season in North America. His 56 points in 55 games were fourth among defensemen, and no blueliner that played at least 25 games topped his 1.02 points per game. That only translated to a single appearance in an NHL game last year, but was enough to put him in the mix for the sixth or seventh spot in the Sharks’ defense.

The 26-year-old Swede was an offensive force on the blueline in Sweden, too, but it’s within reason to question whether his offensive game will translate to the NHL, and how much offense he can contribute. His record in previous stops speaks for itself, but given his age, he’s not likely to continue to produce at that level. He’s only signed to a one-year deal, so it’s possible that the Sharks feel the same way. We’ve seen late bloomers before, but it’s probable that this will be Heed’s make-or-break season.

Melker Karlsson (27)

Of all the players on this list, Karlsson’s the one whose age surprised me most. He’s been with the team for three seasons now, but it’s still difficult to believe that the three-year, $6,000,000 contract he signed this offseason is his last before he’s eligible for unrestricted free agency. Karlsson’s already something of an exception to the rule, as a player who’s scored at a higher rate in the NHL. Playing alongside Joe Thornton at times has helped, of course, but the Swedish winger has beaten the odds so far.

Whether he can continue to do so remains to be seen. His scoring rates have likely already peaked, and while he spent less time with Thornton than either of the previous two seasons, he shot far less (73 SOG in 67 GP in 2016-17 vs 96 in 65 in 2015-16) and was buoyed by a career-high 15.1% shooting percentage. The Sharks have shot at a nearly identical percentage with Karlsson on the ice at even strength each of the last three seasons (8.9%, 8.3%, 8.5%, respectively), indicating that Karlsson’s personal shooting performance was the outlier. With that and his age in mind, don’t be surprised if he takes a slight step back this season.

Marcus Sorensen (25)

Unlike his fellow Swede Heed, Sorensen established a regular role with the Sharks by the end of the season. He only played in 19 regular season games, but suited up in all six of San Jose’s first round playoff games against the Edmonton Oilers. He scored two points in that series, but only four more in the regular season.

It’s unlikely that he’ll continue to convert on only 3.7% of his shots, and that the Sharks will only score 5.3% of their shots with Sorensen on the ice. But, it’s also unlikely he’ll exceed a translated scoring rate of 0.37 points per game (0.47 x Sorensen’s 0.79 AHL points per game last season) over the two years of his contract. That rate, of course, would be still a welcome addition to a team that struggled to score last season, even if it represents Sorensen’s ceiling.

Now, this list doesn’t mean these players can’t or won’t be solid players for either the Sharks or the Barracuda this season. It does, however, mean they shouldn’t necessarily be relied upon to take significant steps forward in their development. Doing so would be a welcome surprise, of course.

Considering what we know about NHL players aging, though? It should not be an expectation.