Victor Rask was given a new six-year, $24 million contract.
He was given the responsibility of being one of the Carolina Hurricanes’ alternate captains.
The Swedish center then had one of the best starts on the team this season — eight goals and seven assists in the first 17 games.
It all looked so promising. He was on his way.
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And then …
“After that I wasn’t playing very well,” Rask said this week in an end-of-season interview. “I don’t know why but I have to do a better job of that.”
Rask scored just eight goals in the last 65 games of the season. In one 14-game stretch from mid-January to mid-February, he went without a point, and finished the season with 45 points and a minus-10 rating.
A year ago, in his second NHL season, Rask had 21 goals — including five game-winners — and 48 points. That earned him the new contract and a degree of financial security, and showed the belief the organization had in the potential of the former second-round draft pick.
But nearly all of Rask’s numbers dipped this season. He won 49.8 percent of his draws after 51.2 percent in 2015-16. His shooting percentage dropped from 13.1 percent to 8.6 percent in 2016-17. There were times when he didn’t seem assertive enough, engaged enough in the game.
In an interview late his pointless streak, Rask conceded, “I put huge pressure on myself. I just need to find my game.” He said a big part of his “game” was holding on to the puck longer, making more plays.
Rask seemingly was jolted out of the point slump in the Feb. 24 game against Ottawa. Knocked down on a late hit by the Sens’ Mark Borowiecki in the first period, he responded with a more focused, determined game, had an assist in a 3-0 victory and scored in his next game.
Canes coach Bill Peters said his exit interview with Rask this week was a “great meeting.”
“He was disappointed in his year, individually,” Peters said Wednesday. “It wasn’t as bad a year as he thought. Guys were generally unhappy, certain guys more so than others. We had a very good conversation and I was glad to see where he was at. He expects more out of himself and that’s a real positive.”
Rask, who turned 24 in March, underwent shoulder surgery after last season and spent much of the summer in rehab. This summer, he said, he would be able to return to his normal offseason conditioning routine.
That will come after a stint with the Swedish national team in the 2017 IIHF World Championship. Rask will join Canes teammates Elias Lindholm and Joakim Nordstrom on the Swedish team.
Two years ago, Rask played well in the Worlds, showing off some flashy scoring moves that went viral on social media.
What Rask and others wanted was to be in the Stanley Cup playoffs. And not making them?
“Yeah, it sucks.” Rask said. “That’s obviously where we wanted to be. That’s our goal. Hopefully we can do it next year.”
Rask said he enjoyed being counted on as one of the captains this season — of wearing an “A” for the first time.
“It was a great compliment,” he said. “This is the team that drafted me and where I want to be. I was really proud to wear an ‘A’ and hopefully I can continue doing that.”
And get back to his game.