Skill Meets Opportunity: Three to Watch in 2009-2010

Jeff Angus




Trying to predict the next breakout star in the NHL is something we all enjoy. It involves both research and prognosticating, and often taking a risk or two. I tend to take moderate risks when proclaiming my picks for breakout stars. No guts, no glory, right? (Might be a bit of an exaggeration, as we are simply talking fantasy hockey here, but who cares!)


Two seasons ago my guy was Zach Parise (hit). Last season it was Brent Burns (jury is back and forth on this one). However, this season it was Steve Bernier (miss), proving even the “experts“ (a term self-proclaimed at times) are far from perfect. Having a breakout season requires a combination of factors, many outside of the players‘ control. A supremely skilled player may never break out until given the right opportunity, and a less skilled player may break out if put in a position to succeed. In addition, Dobber has noticed and proven the statistical trend of the “fourth year breakout.”

A few of the players on this list may seem more obvious than others. Read on to find out about three players (in no specific order) I have noticed showing signs of breaking out in the not-too-distant future.

James Neal – Dallas Stars. I was a bit hesitant to put Neal on this list because he as essentially already broken out. However, I believe Neal is only scratching the surface of his offensive potential, and due to both skill and opportunity, next season will be a big one for him. Firstly, lets start with the skill. He gained coach Dave Tippett’s trust right off the bat by showing an ability to play at both ends of the ice. Neal was given ample ice time (on both the PP and PK), which undoubtedly helped his game develop further. He skates very well for such a big guy, and has some jam to his game as well. And with regards to an opportunity, Neal could not have asked for more this season. Captain and fellow left-winger Brenden Morrow went down for the season, allowing Neal to step in and play offensive minutes. Sean Avery, another left-winger, spoke his way off the team. Fellow rookie Fabian Brunnstrom was injured and sick as well, giving Neal even more responsibility. Now that he has taken advantage of his opportunity, an even bigger one will arise next season when Morrow and Mike Ribeiro will be looking for a full time line mate. Jere Lehtinen will mos