Some players who break into the NHL take almost no time to establish themselves as very productive players. However, in most cases it usually takes at least few seasons before a player truly starts to make an impact. Every season there are more than a few players who have breakout seasons. The 2015-16 season was no exception. The biggest breakout player of last season was arguably Washington Capitals forward Evgeny Kuznetsov. In his first 97 games with the Capitals he scored 46 points. Last season alone, he led the entire Capitals team with 77 points.
Breakout season’s don’t just apply to forwards and defensemen, goalies are also capable of having them too. The main difference for goalies is that with the limited positions available, there is usually only one or two breakout goalies per season. Last year’s break goalie was the San Jose Sharks Martin Jones. He was never given the opportunity to be a starting goalie until last season. Jones showed that he was more than good enough to be a number one goalie in the NHL, his 37 wins was good enough to rank third in the league.
The upcoming 2016-17 season is sure to have some breakout players of it’s own. Rookies for the most part won’t be included on this list. Just like Connor McDavid was expected to be impact player from day one last season, the same thing goes for players like Auston Matthews this season.
Here are the 15 players who are poised to breakout next season.
15. Mikhail Grigorenko
Prior to the start of 2015-16 season, Mikhail Grigorenko was on the verge of being labelled a bust. He was originally drafted by the Buffalo Sabres with 12th overall pick in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft. He initially showed promise, making the Sabres opening night roster as an 18-year-old. Grigorenko would end up just lasting three season in the Sabres organization. He played a combined total of 68 games with the Sabres, recording just 14 points. At the 2015 draft, Grigorenko was traded to the Colorado Avalanche.
It looks like a change of scenery was what Grigorenko needed. In his first season with the Avalanche, he set many career highs, included games played with 74 and scoring 27 points. If he can earn a spot in Colorado’s top six next season, scoring in the 40 to 50 points range isn’t a big stretch for him. It looks like Grigorenko might live up to at least some of the potential he once showed.
14. Oscar Klefbom
The Edmonton Oilers have been trying improve their terrible defense for the past few seasons. While they went out and acquired a promising defenseman in Adam Larsson, they already had a promising defender of their own in Oskar Kelfbom. The Oilers took the big defenseman in the first round of the 2011 draft. Each and every season there has been a noticeable improvement in Klefbom’s game. He has shown he can play big minutes, against the top players in the league. While nobody will mistake him for the next Paul Coffee, his offensive game if fairly underrated. The main problem with Klefblom is that he lacks the ability to stay healthy. He missed 52 straight games due to injury during the 2015-16 season. The only saving grace for the Oilers, is that injuries he suffered were freak accidents.
If Klefblom is able to stay healthy next season, it will go a long way in helping the Oilers finally clinching a playoff birth. The Oilers might have themselves, a Jay Bouwmeester-like player in Kelfbom, which is the exact type of player the Oilers are missing.
13. Bo Horvat
When the Vancouver Canucks traded star goaltender Cory Schneider in 2013, they acquired the ninth overall pick in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft. The Canucks used that selection to draft London Knights center Bo Horvat. Even though Horvat wasn’t actually a part of the trade for Schneider, Canucks fans had high expectations for him considering who they gave up to draft him. So far, Horvat has shown signs that he was in fact worth the trade. Horvat had a decent rookie season with the Canucks in 2014-15, scoring 25 points in 65 games. He stepped up his game during his sophomore season. He played a full 82 games and ranked third on the team with 40 points.
Horvat has never put up huge offensive numbers, even in junior. However, he has plays a very gritty game, and plays a great two-way game. Horvat has the potential to be one of the leagues best two-way forwards, and that time isn’t too far away. The Sedin brothers on in the twilight years of their careers, and players like Bo Horvat are the future of the Vancouver Canucks. The passing of the torch could come as early as next season.
12. Mathew Dumba
It seems like Mathew Dumba has been around for quite a while now, but he’s still a very young player, especially for a defenseman at 22-years-old. Dumba made his NHL debut with the Minnesota Wild as a nineteen year old in the 2013-14 NHL season. He played 13 games for the Wild that season, before he was sent back to junior. During the 2014-15 season, Dumba made the transition to pro hockey full-time. He split the season between the Wild and their AHL affiliate in Iowa. In 58 games with the Wild, Dumba recorded eight goals and 16 points. He proved that he was more than ready to be an NHL regular.
The 2015-16 season was a bit of a coming out party for Dumba. He set numerous career highs, including games played with 81, and points with 26. He is quickly making his way up the Wild’s depth chart. He has shown he is capable of being a goal scoring defenseman in junior and now in the NHL. He could be fixture on the Wild’s power play unit for years to come. If Dumba can earn top four minutes next season, him eclipsing the twenty goal mark from the back end is a very attainable goal.
11. Nikolaj Ehlers
Last season as a 19-year-old, Nikolaj Ehlers had to either make the Winnipeg Jets, or be sent back down to junior. Fortunately for Ehlers, he made a strong enough impact during the preseason, that the Jets had no choice but to keep the talented forward in the NHL.
Ehlers rookie season in the NHL certainly had it’s fair share of ups and downs. He was slotted in all over the lineup during the season, from the third line, all the way up to the first. He really started to catch fire when he played on the top line alongside Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler. Ehlers finished the season with 15 goals and 38 points in 72 games, which was good enough for ninth in NHL rookie scoring. If Ehlers can earn a regular spot on the Jets top line next season, 20 goals and 50 points is definitely not out of the question.
10. Anthony Duclair
Anthony Duclair was originally a third round draft of the New York Rangers in 2013. In 2014-15, his stock rose greatly after he had 50 goal season with the Quebec Remparts. The following season Duclair defied the odds and made the Rangers out of training camp as a teenager. After recording seven points in 18 games with New York, he was sent back down to junior. In 2015, Duclair was traded to the Arizona Coyotes in the trade involving Keith Yandle. The move to Arizona really benefited Duclair, as he went to a Coyotes team in desperate need of some more scoring in their top six.
Duclair’s first season in Arizona was exceptional. Playing alongside fellow rookie Max Domi, Duclair was on fire early on in the season. Although he couldn’t keep up the point per game pace he was on during the early part of the season, he still finished with a more than respectable 20 goals and 44 points. With a solid first season of experience under his belt, Duclair has only gotten stronger and smarter. The Coyotes are full of young and talented players, and Anthony Duclair’s is one of the best of them. His incredible stick handling skills and speed will help him be among the Coyotes point leaders as soon as next season.
9. William Nylander
It seems where ever William Nylander has played he has been super productive. He’s a point per game player everywhere he’s been, even as a 16-year-old playing against men twice his age in Sweden. After being drafted by the Toronto Maple Leafs with the eighth overall pick in 2014, Nylander made his North American pro debut that same year in the AHL. Nylander took no time getting his game adjusted, as he scored 32 points in 37 games. During this past season he played another 38 games in AHL, where improved his point total to 45. Although the AHL isn’t the most skilled league, Nylander has definitely benefited from playing against tougher competition than he would have in junior.
Nylander also made his NHL debut last season, scoring 13 points in 22 games. Although those may not be mind blowing numbers, those are pretty good for a teenager. The Toronto Maples are assembling a fantastic group of prospects, and Nylander is one of the best of them. He might even give fellow Leafs rookie Auston Matthews some stiff competition when it comes to the Calder Trophy.
8. Jake Allen
Jake Allen spent the past couple seasons splitting time in the St. Louis Blues goal with Brian Elliot. The two formed one of best goaltending tandems in the entire league. The Blues were tired of rotating starting goalies, so they decided to trade Eilliot to the Flames, making Allen their main man in goal. The Blues signed Carter Hutton as replacement for Brian Elliot. While Hutton has proven to be a solid goaltender, he is not a threat to steal any playing time from Allen.
The brunt of the load is going to be on Allen’s shoulders next season. If he can keep up the same fantastic numbers he has had in his career so far, while playing in more games, Allen could be candidate for the Vezina Trophy next season. Something that Allen needs to work on is his playoff performance. However, what will help Allen, is knowing that’s the Blues don’t have another veteran goalie to replace him after one bad game.
7. Sam Bennett
After being drafted fourth overall by the Calgary Flames in 2014, Sam Bennet has had his share of ups and downs. He missed the majority of the 2014-15 season due to shoulder surgery. However, Bennett was determined get over the injury and make his NHL debut, and that is exactly what he did. Bennett joined the Flames just ahead of the 2015 NHL playoffs, and appeared in 11 games with the team. While his numbers weren’t through the roof, it gave Bennett a taste of what it takes to play in the NHL.
Bennett’s first full season with the Flames was a fairly productive one. In 77 games he recorded 36 points. His 18 goals had him tied for fifth among rookie goal scoring. Bennett’s fellow Flames teammate Sean Monahan had a fantastic sophomore campaign, going from 34 points in his rookie year to 62 the following season. You can expect the same kind of increase for Bennett next season.
6. David Pastrnak
There has being so much hype surrounding David Pastrnak ever since made his North American professional debut in the 2014-15 season. He made his debut as an 18-year-old playing for the Providence Bruins of the AHL. He took absolutely no time adjusting his game, as he recorded 28 points in just 25 games. This was more than enough to earn him a call up from Boston. Pastrnak showed a great deal of promise in the 46 games he got in with Boston, putting up a very respectable 27 points.
Things were looking very encouraging for Pastrnak heading into the 2015-16 season. Unfortunately for him, he battled inconsistency and injury. He made little to no progress offensively as he put up just 26 points in 51 games. However, Pastrnak has put on a great deal of muscle this off-season in order make sure his body is ready to handle the rigours of a full NHL season. He should be able to secure a role in Boston’s top six this upcoming season. If he’s able to stay healthy, there is no reason why he can’t be among, if not the top scorer on the Bruins next season.
5. Teuvo Teravainen
Teuvo Teravainen has always been a very promising prospect, a player the Chicago Blackhawks were hoping would be a big part of their future for years to come. The former 2012 first round draft pick spent a few seasons developing, before finally becoming a full-time NHLer in 2015-16. Playing on a loaded Blackhawks team, the versatile forward was forced to bounce all over the Blackhawks lineup. This caused some inconsistency in Teravainen’s offensive game. In 78 games he managed to put up a decent 35 points. However, what might be a more valuable part to Teravainen’s game is his ability to play on the penalty kill. This skill proved crucial in helping the Blackhawks make the playoffs.
Teravainen’s career is still trending upwards, but the Blackhawks were somewhat forced to trade the talented forward to the Carolina Hurricanes this past off-season, in order to get rid of Bryan Bickell’s $4 million cap hit. The Hurricanes are a much younger, less talented team than that Blackhawks, so a player like Teravainen will most likely get a shot at playing on the top line. He has all the skills necessary to be able to play a top six role, and with the increased minutes, Teravainen should see a huge increase in point production next season.
4. Robby Fabbri
Robby Fabbri is a highly skilled forward, but most experts didn’t expect him to make an NHL impact as a 19-year-old last season. He was among the top rookie players in the 2015-16 season. He was ranked in the top ten among rookies in goals with 18, and points with 37. A great regular season wasn’t going to be enough for Fabbri, as he added another 15 points in the playoffs. Those numbers were good enough to tie Vladimir Tarasenko for the Blues lead in playoff points.
If his 2016 playoff performance is any indication, the 2016-17 season could be a impactful one for Fabbri. St.Louis lost one of their best leaders and goals scorers in longtime Blues’ player David Backes and didn’t add a whole lot of players to their roster this off-season, so Fabbri is going to expected to step up his game. With the way Fabbri ended last season, it looks like he is more than capable of playing under the pressure.
3. Seth Jones
It wasn’t too long ago when Seth Jones was almost an unanimous choice to go first overall in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft. Jones surprisingly slid all the way down to the fourth overall selection to the Nashville Predators. The Predators already had a loaded defensive corps that included stars like Shea Weber and Roman Josi. Seth Jones ended up taking a back seat in Nashville for his first couple of seasons. He wasn’t able to play top minutes, but he still put up solid totals of 25 and 27 points respectively.
In the middle of the 2015-16 season, Jones was surprisingly traded to the Columbus Blue Jackets for Ryan Johansen. This move definitely ended up working in Jones’ favour. He immediately became a top pairing defenseman on the Blue Jackets. He saw his point totals double from 11 points in 40 games for Nashville, to 20 points in 41 games for Columbus. Next season should be Jones first full season as a top pairing defenseman in the NHL. Not only is Jones going to establish himself as the top defenseman on the Blue Jackets, he will start making a name for himself among the best defenseman in the entire league.
2. Jonathan Drouin
The 2015-16 season for Jonathan Drouin was roller coaster of a season if there ever was one. He started out the season with the Tampa Bay Lightning. He played 19 games with the team, registering eight points before he was demoted to the AHL. The Lighting thought Drouin could benefit with more ice time down in the minors. Drouin reluctantly went down to the AHL where he scored 11 goals in 17 games. In January he would be suspended by the team for not showing up to a game. This eventually lead to a hold out, with Drouin requesting a trade.
Drouin and the Lightning were eventually able to get back on good terms, and he was recalled to the Lightning just ahead of the playoffs. Drouin had a bit of a coming out party during the playoffs, recording 14 points in 17 games. With Drouin back in Tampa Bay’s good books, it wouldn’t be surprising if Drouin becomes one of Tampa’s leading scorers next season.
1. Jack Eichel
Heading into the 2015 NHL Draft, there was two players who were considered generational talent. One of them was Connor McDavid, and the other one was Jack Eichel. The Buffalo Sabres were disappointed that they missed out on McDavid, but Eichel may just be the best consolation prize ever. There was great deal of pressure put on Eichel to perform ahead of his rookie season, but he did not disappoint. He displayed all of his amazing skills that made such as highly regarded prospect in the first place. Eichel was among the leaders when it came to almost all rookie stat categories. He ranked second in goals (24) and points (56).
The Buffalo Sabres are a young, up and coming team. The Sabres are only going to get better in the next few seasons, and so will Jack Eichel. He has already proved he is more than capable of handling the pressure, and next season Eichel will step up his game even more. Some might say Eichel has already broken out as a player, but with his prodigy-like skills, he has the ability to produce on a whole other level. He can be a point per game player as early as next season, he is simply that talented.
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