Top 10 rebound candidates

Kessel and Malkin among players primed to bounce back from slow starts

Updated: February 20, 2013, 12:21 PM ET
By Neil Greenberg | ESPN Insider
Phil Kessel #81 of the Toronto Maple LeafsGraig Abel/NHLI via Getty ImagesDespite a lack of offensive output so far this season, Phil Kessel should rebound for the Maple Leafs.

Every player in the National Hockey League goes through tough times. A wide shot here. A clang of the pipe there. Maybe a soft goal (or three) between the legs. It happens to the best of them. For example, Toronto's Phil Kessel, who has topped the 30-goal mark each season since 2008-09, went 10 games before registering his first goal of this strike-shortened season. It wasn't for a lack of chances (he had taken 42 shots up to that point before scoring with the man advantage in a 3-2 win over Winnipeg) or opportunity (he's tied for the lead among Maple Leafs forwards in average ice time with more than 20 minutes per game). It is just plain old bad luck.

Going into the season, Kessel had scored on one out of every 10 shots during even strength, and missed the net completely once out of every four attempts. This season, he is missing the net one out of every three shots, and has scored once when the teams are at even strength (1-for-33). Overall, his shooting percentage this season is 4.5 percent -- less than half of his career average (10.6 percent). But because Kessel continues to be among the league leaders in shots, we can expect a power surge going forward, somewhere in the neighborhood of 13 goals (eight at even-strength, plus five more on the power play) in the next 32 games.

Here are nine other players who have suffered some performance drops, but whose slow starts likely will turn around.

Evgeni Malkin, forward, Pittsburgh Penguins

Malkin ranks in the top 10 among scorers with 17 points, but he is still in a slump. He has scored only one goal on 33 shots during even strength, just a season after he scored 38 goals on 216 shots (17.6 percent) without the benefit of the man advantage. He might not contend for the Maurice Richard Trophy for the league's leading goal scorer, but the anticipated boost in goal production likely makes him a great dark horse for the Art Ross Trophy as the top points scorer.

Neil Greenberg is ESPN Insider's NHL analytics expert. His columns have appeared on the Washington Post website, and he is a regular guest on Sirius XM NHL Radio.