Little, a first-round pick by the Thrashers in 2006 (No. 12 overall), signed a three-year, $7.14 million contract on Monday that carries an annual cap hit of just under $2.4 million. The 22-year-old had a breakout season in 2008-09, scoring 31 goals, good enough for second-best on the team. Instead of building on that promising campaign, his goal production plummeted this past season, as he potted just 13 in 79 games for the Thrashers.
The risk: will Little bounce back from a disappointing season and return to the 30-goal potential he flashed two years ago, or will he be closer to the 13-goal player he was this past season? It's worth asking why he saw such a drop from one season to the next. To help with that, here's a breakdown of where -- and when -- he scored from each season.
He played 79 games each season, and he managed to get a similar number of shots on goal. The numbers that stand out are the shooting percentage (major drop), the power play numbers (goals and ice-time) as well as the average distance that his goals came from.
In 2008-09, 11 of his goals were scored from within 10 feet of the opposing net. In '09-10? He had just three. There's a number of possibilities here, ranging from the Thrashers using him differently (he did play over 80 fewer minutes on the power play), to him not going to the net as much, to him simply not catching as many breaks and bounces. Or a combination of all three.
Little doesn't turn 23 until November, he's already shown 30-goal ability, and is part of a promising young core in Atlanta that includes players like Zach Bogosian, Evander Kane and Tobias Enstrom. In all honesty, it's not a bad contract for the Thrashers, but they're certainly banking on him making a big turnaround with a three-year investment at this point.
Meanwhile, in Nashville, the Predators are taking a different gamble with forward Patric Hornqvist.
Not selected until the 230th pick of the 2005 draft, Hornqvist has proven to be another tremendous find by the always underrated Nashville front office. After scoring just two goals in 28 games in 2008, Hornqvist erupted last season and led the team with 30 goals, and was one of just two players on the team to crack the 20-goal barrier (Martin Erat being the other), despite it being just his second season in North America.
On Tuesday, the Predators signed Hornqvist to a three-year, $9.25 million deal. When the deal expires in 2013 he'll still have one more year before he is eligible for unrestricted free agency. Still, it's a nice investment for a player that has had just one productive season in the NHL, which carries the obvious question of will he be able to repeat it?
Jeremy Gover of Predators Blog Section 303 helped to tackle that question earlier on Tuesday:
He deserves the raise, absolutely. Nashville fans will just feel a lot better once he proves that he can continue scoring 30-goals a year now that the team has invested that kind of money in him. One would think his production could improve based solely on the fact that Arnott's spot on the top line has been replaced with free agent signee Matthew Lombardi. Lombardi is not only a much faster skater than Arnott, he's younger, a harder worker and a better face-off guy, meaning the Nashville power play should be able to control the puck inside the attacking zone more often. And more puck control on the power play means Hornqvist will be able to do what he does best: stand in front of the net and set screens, deflect pucks and bang home rebounds. So, once again, he'll be given the opportunity to play on the top line out of training camp. This time, however, he's earned it.Dirk Hoag of On The Forecheck is also quite optimistic about Hornqvist's future, and back in April pondered whether or not he could become Nashville's first 50-goal scorer. While that might be a bit too optimistic, the fact he has a willingness to park himself in front of the net (and shoot the puck ... a lot) definitely works in his favor to follow up on his breakout season from 2009.