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Fantasy Hockey: Breakout Players to Watch

The fantasy hockey season is closing in, and these players could end up paying huge dividends this year.
Dylan Cozens

If we could figure out the breakout players every year we’d also win our fantasy leagues every year.

Simple as that.

Except not that easy. There’s no Magic 8 Ball to tell us, “it is decidedly so,” unless you’re asking about Connor McDavid or Cale Makar. And by definition a breakout player has not shown that level of scoring in the NHL.

Many players come into the league with great expectations right from their first faceoff. After a couple of hundred faceoffs those expectations are already being lowered in many, if not most, cases.

That’s followed by frustration. Why aren’t they scoring?

And then comes the big question a couple years later. Are they a bust?

And then, maybe, comes the breakout. Yup, knew it all along.

We’ll look at some of the top breakout players from last year listed in alphabetical order. These are players who weren’t instant successes as rookies, or veterans with a career year. We’ll see what they have in common, if anything, and see if we can use that to predict this year’s top breakout candidates.

Rasmus Andersson
Age: 25
Drafted: 2015 2nd Round, 53rd
Amateur Team: Barrie (OHL)
Minor Pro: 110 games
NHL Games: 216 (4 partial seasons)
Breakout: From 21 points in 56 games to 50 in 82

Ivan Barbashev
Age: 26
Drafted: 2014, 2nd round, 33rd
Amateur Team: Moncton (QMJHL)
Minor Pro: 131
NHL Games: 270 (5 partial seasons)
Breakout: From 12 points in 38 games to 60 in 81

Jesper Bratt
Age: 23
Drafted: 2016 6th round, 162
Amateur Team: AIK Jr. Sweden
Minor Pro: 0 games
NHL Games: 231 (4 partial seasons)
Breakout: From 30 points in 46 games to 73 in 76

Noah Dobson
Age: 22
Drafted: 2018, 1st round, 12th
Amateur Team: Rouyn-Noranda (QMJHL)
Minor Pro: 0
NHL Games: 80 (2 partial seasons)
Breakout: From 14 points in 46 games to 51 in 80

Jack Hughes
Age: 21
Drafted: 2019, 1st round, 1st
Amateur Team: NTDP
Minor Pro: 0
NHL Games: 117 (2 partial seasons)
Breakout: From 31 points in 56 games to 56 in 49

Jordan Kyrou
Age: 24
Drafted: 2016, 2nd round, 35th
Amateur Team: Rouyn-Noranda (QMJHL)
Minor Pro: 0
NHL Games: 80 (3 partial seasons)
Breakout: From 14 points in 46 games to 51 in 80

Troy Terry
Age: 24
Drafted: 2015 5th round, 148th
Amateur Team: University of Denver (3 years)
Minor Pro: 55 AHL games
NHL Games: 129 (4 partial seasons)
Breakout: From 7-13-20 in 48 games to 37-30-67 in 75 games

Robert Thomas
Age: 23
Drafted: 2017 1st Round, 20th
Amateur Team: London (OHL)
Minor Pro: 0 games
NHL Games: 169 (3 partial seasons)
Breakout: From 12 points in 33 games to 77 in 72

Tage Thompson
Age: 24
Drafted: 2016 1st round, 26th
Amateur Team: University of Connecticut
Minor Pro: 70 AHL games
NHL Games: 145 (4 partial seasons)
Breakout: From 8-6-14 in 38 games to 38-30-68 in 78 games

What can we learn?

* Most of the players, but not all, were drafted in the first or second round.

* Most were around 22-years-old

* Amateur teams were from everywhere, with three from the Quebec League and three players with experience with the USA U18 team, although Troy Terry and Tage Thompson also played college hockey

* There were reduced schedules due to Covid, but most of these players were in their third or fourth partial season.

There’s nothing conclusive there, but it gives us some ideas, and doesn’t stop us from looking at this year’s breakout candidates with that information in mind.

There are of course other considerations to take into account, not the least of which is the eye test. You can’t measure everything with statistics or analytics. You can’t measure things such as confidence, heart, and determination. For example, if a player has the confidence to go coast-to-coast, even if he doesn’t score or even get a shot on net, it tells you a lot about that player.

In addition, there are also changes in situations that will allow a player the opportunity to break out. That could be in the form of moving up a team’s depth chart, or getting moved to another team.

Let’s consider some potential breakout players for this year, in alphabetical order, and some of the reasons that make them a good choice.

Adam Boqvist, Columbus – Eighth overall pick in 2018 has 128 NHL games of experience over three years, and passes the eye test for confidence. He’ll carry the puck end to end, releases a very good wrist shot from anywhere, and take opportunities to join the rush.

Dylan Cozens, Buffalo – A high draft pick (7th), 110 NHL games, and likely an integral part of Buffalo’s offence.

Kirby Dach, Montreal – A third overall pick with 152 NHL games of experience was traded to Montreal where he will use his experience in a top six role.

Morgan Frost, Philadelphia – He checks all the boxes. If he’s going to score now is the time to do it.

Barrett Hayton, Arizona – The fifth overall pick in 2018 is in a difficult situation. He’s got 94 NHL games experience and some minor pro games, but unless you’re on the top line in Arizona there’s not a great supporting cast.

Kaapo Kakko, NY Rangers – The second overall pick in the 2019 draft hasn’t exhibited very much yet. He’s played in 157 NHL games, and well, he’s the second overall pick in the 2019 draft.

Peyton Krebs, Buffalo – A high draft pick (17th), 61 NHL games, 25 minor-pro games, who will be given every chance to succeed after being obtained in the Jack Eichel deal.

Alexis Lafreniere, NY Rangers – We might have expected instant success with the first overall pick in 2020, but it doesn’t always work that way. He now has 135 NHL games under his belt, plus 20 playoff games, and has evolved into a first-liner who will get first or second power play duty. He’s the top breakout candidate.

Connor McMichael, Washington – Someone has to replace the production of Nicklas Backstrom, out for all or most of the season. The 25th overall selection in the 2019 draft has 33 games of minor pro experience and 69 of the NHL variety.

Martin Necas, Carolina - A high draft pick (12th) who looked like he’d be a breakout candidate for last year based on the talent he displayed the previous season. He didn’t come through, which makes him a question mark.

Ty Smith, Pittsburgh – He passes the eye test, he’s a first-round pick (17th), is going to a new situation from New Jersey. Mostly, he looks confident offensively.

Oliver Wahlstrom, NY Islanders – Sometimes graduates of the USA Under 18 NTDP take time. It’s nice to load up on your scoring stats against Division III teams such as Augsburg State and the Milwaukee School of Engineering, but it’s not exactly preparation for the NHL.

Filip Zadina, Detroit – He has 160 games of NHL experience, 80 in the AHL and some in the Czech League. It’s time for the 6th overall selection in the 2018 draft to make his mark. Or not make his mark.

Coming soon: Quinton Byfield

Last chance?: Brett Howden, Jesse Puljujarvi and Nolan Patrick. 

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