Hobby Musings: Laroche takes stock of the hockey card market
With the new NHL season about to get underway, collectors will be eagerly watching to see how the current stars and new rookies perform. With two seasons of excellent rookie classes, the 2018-19 class will have a lot to live up to. To get more of an idea on the current state of the hockey card market, I had the chance to catch up with Stephen Laroche. The following interview was conducted via email.
KS: Stephen, I’ll start off with this. As we sit here today, what do you think is the state of the hockey trading card market?
SL: After coming off two seasons where there were generational talents in Connor McDavid and Auston Matthews debuting, I think most collectors and dealers knew that 2017-18 was not going to be the same kind of season and many would have planned accordingly. However, there were some great rookies debuting in last season’s products like Brock Boeser, Charlie McAvoy, Clayton Keller, Nico Hischier, Nolan Patrick, and Pierre-Luc Dubois who deserve plenty of attention as they head into their sophomore campaigns. The arrival of Matt Barzal on the scene as a hobby star was not expected by most and got people breaking 2016-17 wax to try to get his rookie issues.
In a nutshell, the hobby is still strong in Canada and parts of the United States – even after a year that some considered down. Then again, two sensational years in a row is nothing to sniff at, and we’ve all come to expect that not every season is going to be as strong as the previous one. There’s still a lot of great releases that came out in 2017-18 and we still have The Cup on the way. Considering the response to Upper Deck’s promotion via Tim Hortons restaurants north of the border, too, it can hopefully draw more folks back into the hobby as well.
KS: Hockey, like many of the other sports, has had the benefit of some great rookie classes the last few years. How will this year’s hockey rookie class stack up?
SL: There are some excellent carryover rookie cards for 2018-19 already that can be pulled from products like O-Pee-Chee, MVP, and the soon-to-hit Artifacts. I’m excited to see how players like Ryan Donato, Adam Gaudette, Casey Mittelstadt, Eeli Tolvanen, and Lias Andersson pan out. There are also some solid talents set to debut soon like first overall pick Rasmus Dahlin, Elias Pettersson, Andrei Svechnikov, Brady Tkachuk, and Jesperi Kotkaniemi that could generate more than a little buzz once the puck drops, too. Time will ultimately dictate how a rookie card class is regarded, but I think we are off to a solid start.
KS: Overall, which rookie do you think will make the biggest impact on the hobby world?
SL: Of the players I mentioned, I will take a wild stab at it and say it could be either Pettersson or Kotkaniemi. Since they play for Vancouver and Montreal respectively, those are solid markets and teams where both should get plenty of playing time.
KS: Who’s a sneaky, under-the-radar rookie that can make a good hobby impact.
SL: Michael Rasmussen of the Detroit Red Wings could be the dark horse this year. He’s absolutely huge and parks in front of the net, so he could get plenty of chances to score on a team that is trying to return to playoff contention.
KS: Hockey is always a bit of a trick in terms of the youth and different leagues the players are in. As such, you don’t always know when they’ll be in the NHL. With that in mind and an eye towards the future, who are some guys collectors should be looking out for a little ways down the road?
SL: Just going from the roster from the 2018 NHLPA Rookie Showcase, I think that some good long-term potential is there for guys like Filip Zadina (Detroit), Ilya Samsonov (Washington), Miro Heiskanen (Dallas), Juuso Valimaki (Calgary), Carter Hart (Philadelphia), and Jordan Kyrou (St. Louis). There are a ton of great prospects out there, though! It’s important to pay attention and not be afraid to take the occasional risk when grabbing a few cards. Looking forward, you also want to grab up cards of Alexis Lafreniere from Upper Deck’s CHL and Hockey Canada products – he’s projected to potentially go first overall in 2020.
KS: Overall, who would you say is the most collectible player in hockey cards right now?
SL: For me, it would be Connor McDavid. He’s gunning for a third straight scoring title and if Edmonton can get back on track, his cards will continue to see growth. From there, there’s always going to be supporters for Alex Ovechkin, Sidney Crosby, Auston Matthews, and Carey Price.
KS: Which veteran player do you think is due for a bounce back season in the hobby?
SL: I think it is likely to be John Tavares. Coming to a major hobby market like Toronto will generate a greater following among collectors and even though his Leafs cards are on the horizon, those that missed out on getting his rookie cards and certified autos have missed out on any bargains by this point. Mitch Marner will also likely get a bit of a boost as well.
KS: Panini recently made big news in the NBA card market by getting Charles Barkley in for autographs after a long absence. Who’s a hockey player you think could make similar waves if he were to suddenly start signing again?
SL: Hockey seems to have most of its living legends signing on a regular or semi-regular basis for trading card products. However, there seems to be a genuine lack of certified autograph cards for Braden Holtby. I don’t think he had one in a 2017-18 product at all to this point and can count the ones from 2015-16 or 2016-17 on one hand.
As nice as it would be to see Paul Kariya or Scott Stevens signing for a card company, I can’t see it happening.
KS: Which products are you most looking forward to seeing come out this season?
SL: For me, it’s all about Upper Deck’s flagship release. It’s got the Young Guns along with all the great features we’ve come to expect. I’ll be very interested to take a look any new concepts that pop up as well.
KS: What’s something you think is missing in the hockey card market that you’d like to see be done?
SL: I’d love to see another entry-level product that hits later in the season in time for the playoffs that has been updated with trades and rookies.
KS: Vintage cards have become incredibly popular, and very highly priced, over the past few years. For hockey cards, what are the hottest cards right now in the vintage market?
SL: Key post-war rookie cards are where it is at – especially in high grade. The must-haves like Orr, Gretzky, Hull, Beliveau, Richard, Horton, Plante, Sawchuk, and Howe are always going to be in high demand in any condition. Just owning one is a badge of honor for a hockey card collector. However, there are many more from the post-war era which deserve some recognition such as Ted Lindsay, Doug Harvey, George Armstrong, Johnny Bower, Henri Richard, Frank Mahovlich, Stan Mikita, Rod Gilbert, Dave Keon, Jean Ratelle, Phil Esposito, Bernie Parent, Tony Esposito, Bobby Clarke, Gilbert Perreault, Brad Park, Darryl Sittler, Ken Dryden, and Guy Lafleur.
KS: At the end of the day, what do you think will end up being the biggest story of the hockey card season?
SL: I think that is a story that is yet to be told. I’m hoping for a strong year with a few surprises that get people excited about the hobby and picking up cards for the pure love of collecting them.
You can find more Hobby Musings from Kelsey Schroyer on Twitter. Follow him @KelSchroy75.
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