A lot can go into a player's year to year production. For some players, this production can be a sign of great things to come or a warning of possible regression. This is especially important for general managers to hopefully spot, more so if contract negotiations are in play. Regarding variability in production, the most influential things would have to be age, opportunity, injuries, and sustainability.
Obviously, a player progressing in their early to mid 20s should hold more value than a player doing so in their late 20s/early 30s. More time can be spent improving on one good season if the player is young, and there's less possibility of regressing due to age induced declines (i.e. loss of speed). Injuries are also something that should be analyzed based off age, since the body is more capable of healing before or during a player's prime years compared to the later years of a career (where multiple injuries can also pile on).
The way a team's roster shapes itself can also work wonders for a player entering the league, but can be detrimental for a players in their 30s. A team usually holds onto their prospects because of how cheap their contracts usually are. So if a team loses players to free agency, or has to trade away players due to the salary cap, a younger player will more often than not get an opportunity. On the other hand, if an older player gets pushed down the depth chart due to the addition of a more skilled player at the same position, chances are their value and overall production takes a hit.
15 Breakout: Anthony Mantha
Detroit's 1st round pick from 2013 finally got a chance this past season. In the 60 games he played, he had 17 goals and 36 points, with only 3 of those points coming on the power play. The 6'5" 22 year old has a wicked shot and should be on Detroit's roster for a full season next season. He played mostly with Henrik Zetterberg as his center, and Zetterberg hasn't shown any signs of slowing down even at 36 years old since he had 68 points in 82 games. The Red Wings are coming off a last place finish in the east and part of why they struggled was because it was a transition year for a lot of their young players. This year should be a step in the right direction.
14 Decline: Patrick Marleau
After 19 seasons with the Sharks, Marleau decided to try something new by signing with the Leafs. A 3 year contract worth $6.25M is a scary thing to offer the 37 year old. He may have had 27 goals last season, but a lot of his numbers have slowly been dwindling down over the past few years. His total points, total shot attempts, and average time on ice (the only logical one to see decrease because of his age) have all consistently dropped every season over the past three seasons.
His 27 goals also come off his best shooting percentage since 2009-10. He'll also probably be playing next to Auston Matthews who is Toronto's main trigger man, so less opportunities overall are a possibility.
13 Breakout: Andre Burakovsky
Burakovsky had a good year with 35 points in only 64 games, playing predominantly on the third line with Lars Eller and Brett Connolly. With the trading of Marcus Johansson and losing Justin Williams to free agency, spots have opened up on the top 6 that Burakovsky can take full advantage of.
Still only 22, the opportunity of playing with either Nicklas Backstrom or Evgeny Kuznetsov at center, and on the first power play unit with Alex Ovechkin and T.J. Oshie as well, could sky rocket Burakovsky's production next year. The Capitals lost some key pieces this offseason such as Marcus Johansson and Justin Williams, so they'll be banking on Burakovsky to pick up the slack left behind by the departed Caps.
12 Decline: Paul Stastny
The 32 year old Stastny may be on his last chance to perform going into the final year of his contract. He's missed time with an injury in every season since his rookie season which has obviously hindered his overall production. But with the addition of Brayden Schenn this offseason, the continuing development of prospect centers like Ivan Barbashev, and Alex Steen playing really well as Vladimir Tarasenko's center for parts of last season, the Blues won't have many reasons to keep Stastny around.
He has shown he's capable of still hitting the 50 point mark, but it likely won't happen due to the good possibility of injury. It's a young man's game today and even at 32, it seems Stastny's best days are behind him.
11 Breakout: Jack Eichel
Eichel has already had two seasons of 56 and 57 points, but he's capable of much more. After he returned from injury for Buffalo, he had 24 goals and 33 assists for 57 points in 61 games. He was everywhere on the ice and was doing everything for the Sabres. What was really impressive is just the volume of shots he was putting on net, with over 4 per game.
Reports surfaced in the summer that Eichel wasn't a fan of his coach Dan Bylsma and the Sabres have since replaced him with Phil Housley, who was an assistant with Nashville. A coaching change could also provide Eichel with the shot in the arm he needs.
If he's fully healthy next season, a breakout (by his standards) of 75-80 points is more than possible.
10 Decline: Duncan Keith
What more could you ask from a defenseman who put up 53 points in 80 games, let alone at 33 years old? Unfortunately for the Hawks and for Keith though, that isn't likely to happen again. His main partner on defense and someone he combined for 17 points with, Niklas Hjalmarsson, was traded to Arizona this offseason. Chicago's 5 on 5 and power play has gotten weaker as well with the trading away of Artemi Panarin for Brandon Saad.
Their core is going to be really tested this upcoming season, but Keith looks like the earliest regression candidate for the Hawks. There were already signs of a decline int he playoffs this past spring, as the Predators looked to be skating circles around the Hawks in their four-game sweep and the Hawks' blueline looked slower than in past years.
9 Breakout: Andrei Vasilevskiy
Vasilevskiy will go into his first full season as the number one goalie after they traded away Ben Bishop this past season. He is more than capable of logging big minutes even if he's still only 22, since he started 47 games. What's interesting is how well he played once Bishop was traded at the end of February: 2.49 GAA and .922 sv% in March, 2.00 GAA and .936 sv% in April.
Tampa is a team that's overflowing with great talent who are under 26 years old, and their goalie is no different. Vasilevskiy could be very impressive next season, even with the usual woes a young goalie faces. If he does indeed break out, the Lightning could be considered favorites to dethrone Pittsburgh in the east.
8 Decline: T.J. Oshie
Oshie's otherworldly year got him an 8 year, $46M contract and puts Washington's top line of Alexander Ovechkin, Niklas Backstrom and Oshie as arguably one of the best in the league. But Oshie's production can be a bit worrisome going forward. It's never a good sign when a player posts a career best in a scoring category well into their career. For Oshie, his 33 goals in only 68 games was way better than his previous best of 26 goals in 80 games. What makes this type of production even more improbable to continue is the fact that those 33 goals came from shooting at 23.1%. He was scoring a goal almost every 4 shots, and this is coming from a player whose career high in shots is 188 in 80 games.
7 Breakout: Robby Fabbri
Fabbri had a pretty good rookie year with 37 points in 72 games. He looked to follow that up his sophomore year, but had his season cut short to only 51 games due to an ACL injury in February that cost him the remainder of the season. Up until then, he had 29 points in 51 games. The Blues' top 6 is stacked right now after the acquisition of Brayden Schenn, so a 50+ point season may be in the works for the highly praised 21 year old. The Blues have Fabbri for one more year on his entry level contract before he becomes an RFA next summer. The timing is perfect for Fabbri to take the next step in his career and earn himself a nice raise next summer.
6 Decline: Milan Lucic
Lucic started the year as Connor McDavid's left winger but was quickly pushed down the lineup due to the chemistry McDavid developed with Patrick Maroon. Lucic still ended up with 50 points, but half of them came off the power play. The lumbering power forward is finally starting to slow down.
He's been relegated down the lineup where he won't produce as much 5 on 5 as if he were with McDavid. Even his PIMs and hits were down this year, showing the edge he's had in his game for so many years may be going away. His contract is going to be very taxing on the Oilers as the McDavid and (eventual) Draisaitl extensions kick in, as Lucic is set to make $6 million per year for six more years.
5 Breakout: Jacob Trouba
Even after missing a number of games at the beginning of the 2016-17 season due to contract negotiations, as well as a few games due to injury, Trouba still finished the season with 33 points in 60 games. A lot of signs point to the 23-year-old growing into an even bigger role in a full 82 game season. Even though he only played 60 games, he posted career bests in assists, points, total shots, as well as seeing his average time on ice increase by almost 2 minutes. The tough but talented Trouba is stuck in a log jam as a right handed shot, with Dustin Byfuglien and Tyler Myers on the team, but how good he is will have him seeing the brunt of opportunities.
4 Decline: Josh Bailey
Looks like Bailey won't get another chance at replicating his career high in points. Just as he finally has a season that proves his worth to the Islanders, he gets pushed down the depth chart in the offseason. With 56 points in 82 games, a large part due to playing with John Tavares, Bailey looked to fill out that top line nicely with Anders Lee also having a breakout year on the left wing. Unfortunately for him, the Isles traded for Jordan Eberle in late June. Eberle is almost all but set to play at Tavares' right wing, so Bailey will be playing with less offensively talented centers. The Islanders don't have a lot of depth behind their projected top line, so it looks like Bailey will simply be out of luck.
3 Breakout: Sven Andrighetto
Andrighetto was traded to Colorado for Andreas Martinsen and was an instant catalyst for Colorado's superstar Nathan MacKinnon. On a team that had been stumbling all season and suffering from a lack of offense even from their top performers, Andrighetto may have been the new face the Avs needed. With Montreal, Andrighetto had 8 points in 27 games but with the Avalanche he exploded for 15 points in 19 games.
A 50+ point season from Andrighetto playing alongside MacKinnon again next season wouldn't be a surprise considering how much speed and chemistry these two already have. It's quite remarkable that Andrighetto picked it up so quickly after barely sniffing the Habs' starting lineup all season. Could this be a move the Habs will regret next year?
2 Decline: Artem Anisimov
Up until his injury, Anisimov had already passed his career high in points with 45 and tied his career high in goals with 22, all in just 64 games. Two huge factors came into play though: centering a line with Artemi Panarin and Patrick Kane, and shooting at 21% for those 64 games. He was great for the Hawks, even scoring a ridiculous 7 game winning goals. But it doesn't look good for Anisimov's numbers going forward. Obviously, the shooting percentage is almost sure to regress to his career average. Most importantly though is the fact that the Hawks traded away Panarin this offeason. They got Brandon Saad in return, but it looks like he'll ride shotgun with Jonathan Toews. Kane has also shown in the past he can produce all on his own, leaving Anisimov to dwindle back to his usual production.
1 Breakout: Jake Guentzel
Guentzel came out of the gate flying since he was skating alongside Sidney Crosby. In 40 games, he had 16 goals and 33 points. He may have been shooting at an unsustainable 19.8%, but even if he had scored on just half of those shots he would have still had a decent 25 points in 40 games. His insane pace didn't stop in the playoffs either, as the Pens went on to win a consecutive cup this year.
He had 18 goals and 21 points in 25 games (25% shooting percentage). A lot of cooling off should happen next year for Guentzel, but 50 points doesn't seem out of reach for someone who can keep up with Crosby. Perhaps the playoffs was a sign of things to come.
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