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Top 20 NHL Players Poised for Breakout Seasons

As younger players develop, fans and management often await their "breakout year," in which they transform from a prospect or player with potential to a talented NHL player. A breakout season does not

As younger players develop, fans and management often await their "breakout year," in which they transform from a prospect or player with potential to a talented NHL player. A breakout season does not mean a player has hit their prime, but does prove that, in their prime, they may, or will, reach the expectations placed upon them. A breakout season can mean many things to many players, from a significant increase in goals or points to the development of a more consistent and well-rounded playing style to a league-wide recognition of their talent and importance. In any case, a breakout season catapults a prospect or young player from a question mark or fringe player on an NHL team to a important player or even core member of a franchise going forward. While they may cause contract problems further down the line, any NHL GM would unquestionably rather struggle with how to pay a young and immensely talented player than with the problem of replacing a young player who never reached their potential.

This group of twenty NHL players, none of whom are true rookies, having played in the NHL before, are my choices to be this season's breakout players. With three goalies, seven forwards and ten defensemen, the list contains some risk, as defensemen are often the most difficult to gauge in their development. Prospect development is far from a science, however, a fact constantly proven by the number of prospects selected with high draft picks who fail to become top players or, in some cases, to even make it to the NHL. No matter what happens to these twenty players this season, 2014-2015 will undoubtedly stand as an important season in each of their careers.

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20 Tyler Myers (Buffalo)

via wgrz.com

It's hard to say a player who already won the Calder Trophy needs a breakout year, but Myers has struggled on a poor Buffalo team since his rookie season, and needs to turn his career around to re-establish himself as a valuable defenseman. Buffalo's decision to add Josh Gorges and Andrej Meszaros this off-season provides him with defensively reliable veteran mentors, and the two will hopefully steer Myers back to the form he exhibited as a rookie.

19 Ryan Murphy (Carolina)

via toomanymenonthesite.com

The 2011 first rounder has not yet played a full season on Carolina's blueline, and the team does not have the overall talent to give him an easy transition to becoming a full-time player, but Murphy has the puck-moving skills and skating ability needed to help the team's forward group live up to its offensive potential. Don't expect stardom, but an emergence as one of the team's better blueliners would pave the way to a bright NHL future.

18 P.A. Parenteau (Montreal)

via 25stanley.com

Like Tyler Myers, Parenteau is left to re-emerge as a star player, but unlike Myers he must do it on a new team. Given an opportunity to play a top six role in Montreal, one of the East's best teams, Parenteau will prove he should be expected to put up the 50-60 point totals he put up with the Islanders, not the 33 points he scored last year in Colorado. If he can earn regular Power Play time, with the likes of Subban and Markov on the point, he'll definitely have a solid season.

17 Boone Jenner (Columbus)

via bluejacketsxtra.dispatch.com

The second year winger showed an ability to score some points and provide physical play, and should continue to develop all aspects of his game. Assuming Bobrovsky can have another strong season, Jenner will be an important part of Columbus' ascent from league laughingstock to genuine contenders in the East. If he can find a way to work his way onto a line with Ryan Johansen, his ascent will definitely continue.

16 Simon Despres (Pittsburgh)

via thescore.com

With Orpik and Niskanen departed to Washington, and only Ehrhoff brought in to take their place on defense, Despres has the opportunity to play big minutes and fill a top four spot for the Penguins. What he lacks in physicality, he makes up for with poise, skilled puck movement and mobility. If Kris Letang doesn't fully recover, Lepres will also get some valuable power play time.

15 Jake Gardiner (Toronto)

via blogs.thescore.com

His relationship with Carlyle was one of the Leafs' big stories last season, but the two claim to have patched things up. With the distraction out of the way, Gardiner can finally establish his claim to big minutes on the Leaf blueline. If he can use his speed to improve his defensive positioning without sacrificing his offensive talent, Gardiner will become Toronto's most complete defenseman. Competing with the likes of Phaneuf and Robidas, that won't be hard.

14 T.J. Brodie (Calgary)

via nyheter24.se

The 2008 fourth round pick has quietly ascended to become a talented defenseman in Calgary. He'll never outmuscle his opponents, but his smooth skating and ability to make intelligent passes makes him an invaluable asset on a team with several young forwards with offensive potential. If the team makes a big improvement this year, Brodie will play just as big a part as Hiller or any of their forwards.

13 Hampus Lindholm (Anaheim)

via espn.go.com

Lindholm still needs to learn how to use his size and strength to match up against the biggest forwards in the physical West, but has shown himself capable of being an elite defender in his own end if he continues to develop. The Ducks also have a powerful group of forwards who are responsible defensively, he'll have a great support staff. With a fairly high offensive ceiling as well, Lindholm could evolve into Anaheim's best defenseman since Pronger and Niedermayer.

12 Valeri Nichushkin (Dallas)

via starsblog.dallasnews.com

With his huge 6'4 frame, surprisingly strong skating for a player of his size, and tantalizing offensive upside, Dallas' biggest decision is whether they want to place Nichushkin on the wing alongside Seguin and Benn or Spezza and Hemsky. Nichushkin may need several years to reach his true potential, but if he can win a spot on Dallas' top two lines, the talent around him will quickly elevate him far beyond the 34 points he recorded in 79 games last season. The 2013 first rounder has a bright future, and just may have a very bright present as well

11 Tomas Tatar (Detroit)

via officepools.com

Another example of Detroit's drafting acumen, Tatar has ascended since he was selected 60th overall in 2009. His ability to play either wing is especially important with Detroit's group of older forwards susceptible to injuries, and he shows every indication of continuing his offensive improvement while attending his defensive duties as well. With great mentors in Zetterberg and Datsyuk, he's in great hands.

10 Robin Lehner (Ottawa)

via circlingthewagon.wordpress.com

Ottawa does not have a strong team this year, but the emergence of Lehner as the team's long-term starter could solve a goaltending problem that has plagued the Senators throughout their entire existence as a modern franchise. Anderson is still a viable starter but has struggled with consistency throughout his career. Lehner has shown he has starter quality, and even though the team in front of him will prevent him from putting up anything better than middling numbers, he will still stand as one of the few bright spots in Ottawa this year.

9 Jacob Trouba (Winnipeg)

via xnsports.com

Trouba has all of the tools to become Winnipeg's number one defenseman for a very long time, if he isn't already. His toughness and booming shot from the blueline are already intriguing after just one NHL season. If he can continue to gain strength and the hockey IQ to know how best to use it, he may stand as a perennial NHL All-Star and a true force on a Winnipeg team desperate for such a player. If paired with Tobias Enstrom on the power play, Trouba could be explosive.

8 Sean Monahan (Calgary)

via metronews.ca

In my opinion, the question is not whether Monahan will eventually have a breakout season, but simply when and to what extent. He may not have the strength to match up physically at center against the likes of Kopitar or Getzlaf, but he has the offensive skills and hockey acumen to compensate until he adds more muscle. Monahan has the chance to find long-term linemates amongst Calgary's skilled young forward group and form a line that will scare opponents in the West for a decade or more.

7 Mikael Granlund (Minnesota)

via foxsports.com

With the opportunity to serve as Thomas Vanek's center, Granlund will have a strong chance to become one of the NHL's best young playmakers. His Olympic performance of seven points in six games showed him capable of excelling under pressure and of performing at a top level with skilled linemates. With one full NHL season under his belt, he has room to continue to fulfill his vast potential. If Vanek lives up to his billing, and especially if Charlie Coyle or Nino Niederreiter can also have a breakout season on his opposite wing, look for Granlund to have a big season this year.

6 Travis Hamonic (New York Islanders)

via nypost.com

Hamonic is already playing 25 minutes a night for the Islanders and is the team's best defenseman, but still hasn't infiltrated the public consciousness. His offensive numbers aren't great but show room for improvement, and his size and toughness make him a difficult matchup for any opposing forward. By the end of this year, I see him as a part of any discussion about the better defensemen in the NHL. He may not win any Norris Trophies, but defensemen his age who can play dependable minutes are worth their weight in gold.

5 Dougie Hamilton (Boston)

via veooz.com

At 37, Zdeno Chara isn't getting any younger, and Hamilton's seven points in twelve playoff games last season showed he is capable of taking Chara's place as Boston's best defenseman. The change won't come this year, but a strong season at both ends of the ice would earmark Hamilton to take that role in two or three years. Along with Torey Krug, the Bruins have two very promising defenders in their ranks.

4 Vladimir Tarasenko (St. Louis)

via blogs.windsorstar.com

Tarasenko already scored 21 goals and 43 points in just 64 games last year, but this upcoming season will show further improvement. With the opportunity to play on a line with the newly signed Paul Stastny and Jaden Schwartz, who had a big year last year, the sky's the limit for the strong, skilled winger. If he and his linemates stay healthy, I feel he has 30 goal, 60 point potential for this season.

3 Roman Josi (Nashville)

via clarksvillesportsnetwork.com

Josi is best known today as Weber's defense partner in Nashville, but there's a strong possibility that Weber and Josi could give Weber and Suter a run for their money as Nashville's best partnership in franchise history. His point totals have risen every year and, with a more offensive system, he has a chance to become one of the NHL's offensive leaders amongst defensemen. Some may have considered last year to be a breakout for him after scoring 40 points in 72 games, but his true breakout is still yet to come.

2 John Gibson (Anaheim)

via prohockeytalk.nbcsports.com

Gibson was the highest selected goaltender in 2011, and recorded two strong seasons with the Kitchener Rangers, as well as exceptional performances to lead the USA to a gold and bronze medals in the 2012 and 2013 World Juniors. During both of his seasons in Kitchener, as well as last season with Norfolk in the AHL, he recorded strong goals against averages and save percentages in the regular season, and then recorded even better ones in the playoffs all three times. When combined with a shutout performance in his first NHL game, Gibson has demonstrated a clear ability to thrive under pressure and perform best when he is most needed. He even appeared in four playoff games for the Ducks and, while not putting up his best numbers, more than held his own. His 6'3 frame, strong positioning and athleticism are all NHL starter caliber. His goaltending partner, Frederik Andersen, is also very skilled, but put up considerably worse numbers in the playoffs last year, and is still working to become a more consistent and experienced goalie. With a Stanley Cup contending team together in Anaheim, Gibson just may grab the starter position by the horns and lead the team on a memorable playoff run.

1 Cory Schneider (New Jersey)

via hockeyordie.com

With Brodeur out of the picture, Schneider is firmly established as the full-time starter, as neither Scott Clemmensen nor Keith Kinkaid seem capable of causing a Luongo/Schneider or Schneider/Brodeur-type controversy. New Jersey has a team that will surprise a lot of people, and I think they will make the playoffs, in large part because of Schneider. He has repeatedly proven he has the talent to break out as an elite NHL goaltender. With the opportunity now laid out before him, all he has to do is seize it and play as well as he is capable of over an 82 game season. Schneider's breakout season should be all but assured, making him the clear choice as the number one pick on this list.

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Top 20 NHL Players Poised for Breakout Seasons