Following the lead of my western counterpart, I’ll take a look at players heading into their fourth NHL season and analyze whether or not it is more likely to be magical or mysterious.
The indicators for a breakout season pretty much boil down to an opportunity to play in the top six, combined with a prominent role on the team’s power play. In the salary cap era, players are often given the opportunity to have a breakout season earlier than the traditional fourth year. That said, here are 16 players entering their fourth NHL seasons and my projection on how they’ll fare in 2009-10:
Phil Kessel Bos
Kessel appears to have had his breakout season this past year after jumping from 19 goals and 37 points to 36 goals and 60 points. There is room for improvement though as Kessel recorded only eight goals and seven assists on the power play. With Kessel recovering from surgery to repair a torn rotator cuff, he may not be ready for the start of the season.
Expect the restricted free agent to remain a Bruin while taking four to six months recovering from serious shoulder surgery. If he matches last year’s numbers, consider it a successful season. He only gets better from here on in.
Prognosis for 2009-10: Treading water
Drew Stafford Buf
The thirteenth overall pick in the 2004 entry draft, Stafford’s numbers have gotten successively better in each of his three NHL seasons. He is clearly too good for the AHL as evidenced by his 44 points in 34 games in his only AHL stint back in 2006-07.
In his most recent season, Stafford increased his shots on goal while maintaining the same points per game pace as the previous season. The restricted free agent recorded 17 power play points and is very likely to stay with the Sabres.
Prognosis for 2009-10: Marginal breakout
Anton Babchuk Car
57-9-17-26 (2007-08 – Russia)
Perhaps an odd candidate as a fourth year player, but his five games back in 2003-04 don’t count as a season, nor does the year spent in Russia (2007-08). That season in Omsk only helped gain Babchuk much needed confidence to play at a high