With the 2017-18 season rapidly approaching, it is now time to look ahead at what could happen. Every year, there appears to be players who begin to find their strides, while others who start to decrease in their skills. In some circumstances, it is easy to predict these players on both ends of the spectrum, while difficult in others. When focusing on the latter, that is what makes the NHL truly a beautiful league to follow.
So, with this article, we will be evaluating players that will make a strong impact this year and others who will begin to see their play start to drop. In some examples, it is almost inevitable on each side, but there will be some that may be truly surprising, but very possible.
With that, here is a list of eight NHL players who will break out this season and seven who will break down.
15 Break Out: Scott Darling
The 2017-18 season will be one to remember for Scott Darling because it will be his first season as a number one goalie. With that being said, Darling will now have the opportunity to show off his solid goaltending 50 to 60 times per year rather than 30. This will make the NHL take great notice of him, especially if he manages to put up a successful year.
There is no reason to believe that Darling will not succeed this year. Over the past few seasons in Chicago, he has only improved and has officially earned a starting job. The Hurricanes are also a team on the rise, so Darling very well could use that momentum to better his overall play. Expect to see him improve on his already marvelous .924 save percentage.
14 Break Down: Devan Dubynk
Devan Dubynk put up a fantastic regular season for the Minnesota Wild this past season, but that sadly is subject to change coming into the 2017-18 season. Dubynk has been on a downward slope since the final months of the regular season and it appears that he is coming back down to earth as an average goalie.
Do not expect Dubynk to be an elite goaltender again anytime soon. Based off how he played in the playoffs, it is clear that he will not be able to repeat the success he had earlier that season. Dubynk is far from being a bad goaltender, but it is apparent that he is not a superstar like many thought he had become.
13 Break Out: Charlie McAvoy
Charlie McAvoy is a star prospect for the Boston Bruins and is absolutely ready to be a make a difference at the pro level this season. McAvoy looked like a poised veteran in his debut during the Stanley Cup Finals this past season and even played big minutes on the team’s top pairing. There is absolutely a good chance that Bruins fans will be able to see this again this year.
McAvoy is the type of player the Bruins need to try to compete once again. He looks like he will be the future number one defenseman for the club because of his great talent and puck moving ability. The 2017-18 season will be the year that McAvoy shows the league how good he really is, which will make him classified as an elite talent.
12 Break Down: Zdeno Chara
Zdeno Chara is still the heart of the Boston Bruins, but this will be the year that he completely slows down. Chara has shown signs that his play is diminishing over the past few seasons, but at age 40, it is unlikely that he will be able to be considered elite. Luckily for the Bruins, they do have McAvoy waiting on the wings who will be able to carry more of the load.
Even though Chara may not be the best defenseman next season, he can still be a valuable asset of for the team. Size never goes away, so he can still provide a lot of physicality and strong defensive work for the team. Expect to see his role start to drop a bit as the season progresses because his play may no longer be able to keep up.
11 Break Out: Sam Reinhart
Sam Reinhart has developed fairly slowly over the past few seasons, but he has been a good player for the Buffalo Sabres. Yet, based off how he ended the season last year, it is clear that Reinhart is hitting his stride and could put up great offensive numbers this year. It is time for Reinhart to reach the potential that hockey fans know he has.
The Sabres have been stuck in a rebuild for years now so this should also spark Reinhart to hit new levels with his skill. It is clear that he will have a lot of opportunities in Buffalo to become an elite player, as they are desperate for it. Due to Reinhart getting older, expect Buffalo to give him more of a role this season, which will result in great numbers.
10 Break Down: Patrick Eaves
Patrick Eaves had a hell of a season this past year with Dallas and Anaheim and needs to be praised for that. For the first time in his career, he hit 30 goals, which is still a huge shock because he never came close to that before. Yet, with that, it is clear that Eaves will most likely not be able to match these stats and will come back to Earth.
Eaves very well could be a productive player next season, but it is very unlikely that he will be able to repeat what he did in 2016-17. Anaheim fans expecting that also is unrealistic because this is something that has only happened once in his long career. Eaves is not an elite player so him obtaining elite stats two years in a row will just not happen.
9 Break Out: Josh Ho-Sang
Yes, we all remember how Josh Ho-Sang made a name for himself as a New York Islander. He overslept his alarm and was late to the first practice of the offseason. This in return made him play another season in the AHL, which was embarrassing for the young kid. However, he turned it around during his call up this past season and did a very solid job.
This upcoming season will Ho-Sang’s breakout year because he will have the opportunity to play with talent like John Tavares. Ho-Sang is a pure goal scorer and will dominant playing with one of the best playmakers in the league. Now that it appears that he has his career in check, expect Ho-Sang to reach the potential everyone knows he has.
8 Break Down: Andrew Ladd
Andrew Ladd should always be respected for his great leadership and ability to win, but Ladd’s age is starting to creep up on him. This season saw the beginning of Ladd’s offensive decline and it is easy to believe that this will continue. The issue with this happening is that he still has six years left on his monster contract from the 2016 offseason.
No matter how much Ladd’s skill drops this season, he will still be valuable to the team because of his presence in the locker room. Yet, for the money he is making, this is an issue because the Islanders expect to see results on the scoreboard from him. His 31 points from 2016-17 is simply not enough, but expect to see at most that next season.
7 Break Out: Aleksander Barkov
Aleksander Barkov is an elite talent in the NHL, but he has yet to hit the franchise level that everyone knows he capable of. Over the past few seasons, Barkov has shown displays of his abilities and put up solid numbers, but there is still belief that he very well could produce at a point per game level. This should happen in 2017-18.
Although the Panthers have lost a good amount of forwards, this should propel Barkov to work better individually and carry the offensive load for the team. If Barkov can get going right from the start of the season, he very well could reach career highs in his stats that very well should be happening. Barkov and teammate Aaron Ekblad very well could carry the Panthers to all time highs.
6 Break Down: Daniel and Henrik Sedin
The Sedin Twins have been incredible talents in the league for a number of seasons, but 2017-18 will mark the end of them being considered elite. This past season they struggled offensively due to the lack of talent around them and this should only continue with next season. The Sedins are at an age where they need help around them and the Canucks’ roster simply cannot provide that.
If the Sedin Twins choose to not leave Vancouver soon, their numbers will only continue to drop and very well could mark the ends of their careers. As previously stated, they no longer have the power to carry the offensive load for the Canucks, but they are still given that pressure because they have no help. This ultimately will hurt them this coming season.
5 Break Out: Morgan Rielly
Morgan Rielly has blossomed into the best defenseman on the Toronto Maple Leafs, but there is clear reason to believe that he will only improve from here. With the Maple Leafs building an incredibly strong offensive core, Rielly now has the chance to play with real elite talent. This will help his stats and confidence as he improves.
Rielly also has already been given leadership expectations by being an alternate captain for the Leafs. With that, Rielly now is under the impression that he is a true veteran for the club and will begin to see his play increase because of it. Now that Rielly is in good hands in Toronto, he will have some of the best seasons of his career and truly make himself a franchise player.
4 Break Down: Patrick Marleau
The Maple Leafs made a mistake signing Marleau because he is a player on the decline and this will only start to happen more over the next three seasons. Marleau had a great season in 2016-17, but it is hard to believe that he will be able to continue that success at his age. No matter what his playing time is, it just seems very unlikely.
Another aspect that will hurt Marleau’s game is that he is joining a new team, which is something he never did in his career. He spent his entire career playing in San Jose and has been under the same system for two decades. It will take Marleau time to learn how to play in a new city and at his age, he clearly does not have much left.
3 Break Out: Matthew Tkachuk
The Calgary Flames got lucky when they were able to draft Matthew Tkachuk in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft. He made an immediate impact for Calgary because of his scoring ability and very active physical play. Tkachuk played like a true veteran in his first season and the beauty of it all is that he has yet to hit age 20.
With the rise of the Flames, it is clear that Tkachuk is in a great position to progress. He has awesome talent around him like Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau, which will only help pad his offensive stats. Tkachuk is a player that all teams love to have because he has the ability to not only be a star, but add grit to a roster. With all of that, Tkachuk will be a superstar in 2018.
2 Break Down: Joe Thornton
Before we begin, Joe Thornton is a true future Hall of Famer who is still a strong talent in the game even at his age. However, with that, it is clear that he is also on the downslide. This past season, Thornton saw a significant drop in points and that is always a bad sign for veteran players. Although he can still play at the NHL level, his time as an elite player may be ending.
Thornton still could provide great secondary scoring for the Sharks this season and be a great asset on their powerplay. However, it is a bit unrealistic of them to expect him to carry the load anymore. Captain Joe Pavelski and Logan Couture now need to understand that they are the most important pieces to the core this upcoming season.
1 Break Out: Jack Eichel
Jack Eichel has yet to hit the territory of players like Connor McDavid and Auston Matthews, but this year will be the year he does. This past season Eichel spent a chunk of the year injured and that hurt his stats immensely. However, even with this, he was just under a point per game. It is easy to believe that he will be able to hit this feat if he stays healthy.
Eichel is the face of the Buffalo Sabres and could even get the captaincy this year with the loss of Brian Gionta. Giving him that very well could boost his confidence as a player and him realize that he is now expected to be a true franchise player. Eichel is still very young and has not reached his full potential, which is a great thing for Buffalo because he is already elite.