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Breakout Candidates in the Pacific Division

Tony Ferrari looks at which players are poised for a breakout season from each Pacific Division team.
Vasily Podkolzin

Every year, players break out all over the NHL.

Sometimes, it’s young players making the jump to full-time NHL status and scoring at the rate expected of them. Other times, it's under-the-radar players who just find themselves in an opportune position with a new team. These aren’t rookies vying for the Calder – rather, they're players looking to prove they belong in their respective club’s plans.

Here are players from each Pacific Division team who look likely to step up their game:

Anaheim Ducks: Jamie Drysdale, D

One of the biggest breakout candidates league-wide, Drysdale's expected to pop off in the upcoming season. Even with the addition of John Klingberg who will undoubtedly take up some of the offensive opportunities, the Ducks’ sixth-overall pick in 2020 will be one of Anaheim’s offensive play drivers from the back end.

A highly skilled blueliner, Drysdale is a crisp skater who's agile on his feet and can build speed quickly. Drysdale showed off his passing ability in all three zones last year, excelling at moving the puck from his own end up ice and distributing the biscuit offensively. Drysdale will get his power-play time where he can thread the needle to create the high-danger chances we’ve seen from him over the years in junior and in a brief AHL stint.

Calgary Flames: Dillon Dube, RW

Improving his point totals every year he’s been in the league, Dube is showing his shot is NHL caliber and he can drive play in a lesser role at the NHL level.

The key to Dube’s game will be getting more ice time. On a Flames team that will need some secondary scoring while the new additions in the top-six figure it out, Dube must show his 18-goal performance last season was just the beginning.

At 24, Dube's at the age where he should go from a 30-point player to a player that challenges 50 points on a contender. He finds a way to move the play effectively, regardless of the role he gets.

Dube has played with Mikael Backlund and Blake Coleman for much of the pre-season thus far – he found success with both teammates in short samples last season. If the trio can stay together, they should derive good results and could easily be the terrorizing third line that a team like Calgary needs to make a deep run.

Edmonton Oilers: Jesse Puljujarvi, RW

Last season was Puljujarvi’s best in the NHL so far, and he looks poised to improve even more this year. His underlying numbers and transitional play are excellent, and his defensive game has been quite good. Puljujarvi drives play at both ends of the ice and garners excellent on-ice results. His finishing has lagged behind his development up to now, but the process is leading to chances, and with Puljujarvi’s skill, the puck should start to go in.

With the opportunity to play with either of Edmonton’s all-world centers, Puljujarvi is ripe with the potential to break the 50-point marker. The 24-year-old Finn has a big body, moves well, understands the nuances of off-puck play, and helps cover some of the defensive shortcomings of his high-octane offensive-leaning teammates. His career-high 36 points should be an easy bar for the Oilers winger to surpass.

Los Angeles Kings: Quinton Byfield, C

The second overall pick in the 2020 NHL draft was set to take on a bigger role with the Kings last year before a fractured ankle in a pre-season game derailed his season.

He returned around the midway point of the season, but as with major ankle injuries, the whole year is affected by it. Byfield showed glimpses of the big, playmaking center that he could be, but he was also playing a bit slower and lacked the agility that made him such an exciting player in his draft year.

This should be his first full season in the NHL with the third-line center role seemingly available for his taking. With both Anze Kopitar and Phillip Danault at center, they will take the majority of the defensive assignments, leaving Byfield to get favorable deployments in the offensive zone.

Byfield has incredible playmaking ability and a heavy shot which should make him an offensive threat as he matures into his 6-foot-5 frame. Despite the slower start to his career than many had hoped, the ceiling is still sky high for the uber-talented Byfield.

San Jose Sharks: Luke Kunin, RW

It feels like we’ve been waiting years for Kunin to break out because the 24-year-old has five NHL seasons under his belt already. Kunin has flashed some of his offensive potential, which has enticed teams to trade for him twice now. Unfortunately, that also means his inconsistency has given teams a reason to move him twice already.

Heading into his first season with San Jose, Kunin should be given solid top-nine minutes and will likely see time on the power play. His ability to score goals should be able to come to the forefront on a team that will desperately need goal scoring up front, giving him the potential to eclipse 20 goals for the first time in his career and surpass his career-high 31 points from his final season in Minnesota three years ago.

Seattle Kraken: Vince Dunn, D

The left-shot defender has been bubbling towards a breakout since his early years in St. Louis. He put up 35 points last season with the Kraken as one of their top defenders, playing more minutes on the power play than any other defender in Seattle. With the Kraken adding talent over the summer, and with Dunn expected to keep a major role with the man advantage, he should finally be able to approach the 50-point mark.

Dunn actively participates in the rush, striding up ice to help gain a numbers advantage. He makes tape-to-tape passes in all situations. He can change the angle and open shooting and passing lanes on the offensive blueline, advancing play and creating from the top of the zone. At 25, Dunn is approaching his most productive years, making him primed for a breakout.

Vancouver Canucks: Vasily Podkolzin, RW

After arriving in North America last season and putting up solid numbers in a depth and defensive role, Podkolzin will be looked at to contribute more offensively. After putting up 14 goals as a rookie, Podkolzin should be poised to challenge the 25-goal mark and possibly more if he finds himself elevated in the lineup. He plays the style of game coaches love and rely on in big moments.

Podkolzin’s penchant for always giving 100 percent effort is tough to deal with for opponents. The young Russian is an attacker who blends power and skill – he possesses a heavy release and has good hands in tight. If Podkolzin can work his way onto the power play and take advantage of improved forward depth and skill around him on the Canucks roster, the 2019 first-rounder could see a jump in his production.

Vegas Golden Knights: Nicolas Roy, C/LW

Nicolas Roy proved to be a versatile and valuable player in what turned out to be a wildly underwhelming season for the Golden Knights last year. He played up and down the lineup, both at center and on the wing. He spent almost as much time with Jack Eichel as anyone else on the Vegas roster. Roy’s three most common linemates were Reilly Smith, Jonathan Marchessault, and Evgeny Dadonov last season.

While he begins the year as the team’s fourth-line center, injuries and his proven versatility could wind up making him an asset up the lineup yet again. Roy’s ability to play with the team’s top-six forwards was evident as he produced at a second-line rate for much of last year, and he was just as comfortable when playing with Keegan Kolesar and Jake Leschyshyn on the fourth line. The 25-year-old could be primed to prove he belongs in the team’s top nine and their long-term plans. 

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