Eastern Edge – Eastern Conference Breakout Candidates
After covering the top rookies in the Eastern Conference for the 2016-17 season last week, this week the focus shifts to non-rookie breakout candidates. As appealing as they often are, first-year players are usually not ready to emerge as scoring-line producers out of the gate. Usually, they need additional experience playing in the league before finally taking the big step forward. As an added bonus, after a couple years of adjusting and not generating eye-popping numbers many young players with big upside actually slip under the radar on draft day.
To be eligible for this list, forwards must have a career-high point total of less than 40 while defensemen cannot have a campaign of 25 or more points under their belt. While there remains a ton of risk in selecting these players, there is some hope they might emerge as fantasy-worthy contributors this year. When risky players are drafted late you get the best of both worlds – the risk is minimized and there is a possibility your selection grossly exceeds expectations.
Andreas Athanasiou (F – Detroit)
Athanasiou had a good showing last year with 14 points in 37 games despite averaging just nine minutes per game in ice time. He is also the player on this list who is most at risk of not spending the whole year in the NHL. The Red Wings have Anthony Mantha looking to stick with the big club and will also be getting Tomas Jurco and Teemu Pulkkinen back from injury at some point. If Athanasiou struggles early, he could find himself back in the AHL for more seasoning.
On the bright side, Athanasiou’s game is about putting up points which is something the Red Wings desperately need. If he is up to task and the team’s more familiar names are struggling to produce offense, Athanasiou could even sneak into the top-six. All in all, getting the most out of Athanasiou will depend largely on how well the more established players hold up. There may simply not be any room for him to be more than a depth scorer.
Reid Boucher (F – New Jersey)
Much like Athanasiou, Boucher has the benefit of being on a team in need of help scoring goals. Last year, he solidified himself as a viable NHLer with upside as he posted 19 points in 39 games with the Devils while adding 32 points in 34 games with Albany down in the AHL. Now entering his first full campaign at the highest level, he should be a decent depth scorer at the very least.
As a left winger, Boucher sits behind Taylor Hall and Mike Cammalleri on the depth chart. Given both have long histories with injuries, Boucher should have plenty of chances throughout the year playing a greater role. Whether or not he can take advantage of those opportunities when they present themselves will make or break his worthiness in fantasy leagues. In fact, he will be much more useful as a temporary pick-up when Hall or Cammalleri hit the sidelines.
Andre Burakovsky (F – Washington)
In his second year, Burakovsky showed glimpses of what he is capable of with 38 points in 79 games despite logging just 13 minutes per night. The Capitals possess a pair of star centers which allows wingers like Burakovsky to thrive next to a high-end player without having to work his way onto the top line. This proved to be very helpful as he developed strong chemistry with Evgeny Kuznetsov.
Although having a great linemate helps, Burakovsky’s upside is limited as long as he continues to be used sparingly. There are some good signs however. In his final 35 games his average ice time was actually over 14 minutes, showing he is earning the coach’s trust as he gains experience and is on an upward trend. Ultimately, with Alexander Ovechkin and Marcus Johansson also on left wing it will be difficult for Burakovsky to receive a big increase but even a moderate gain should be enough to put him in a position to finish with 45-50 points.
Jonathan Drouin (F – Tampa Bay)
At the other end of the spectrum we have Drouin, a player with limited success at the NHL level who happens to be a household name. His well-documented issues with the Lightning followed by a strong performance in the 2016 postseason have him on just about everyone’s radar as a serious breakout candidate for this year. As a result, chances are someone in your draft will reach for him and take on a lot of risk.
Prior to posting 14 points in 17 playoff games, Drouin had been putting up subpar numbers at the NHL level. In 91 games, he has just 42 points, including a meager eight goals. While he should have no trouble topping his career-best 32 points, his lack of track record putting it together over long stretches is concerning as it relates to an instant breakout year over a full schedule. While it is reasonable to assume he will get 40-50 points this year, his odds of him falling to a reasonable spot in the draft are very slim.
Noah Hanifin (D – Carolina)
As a rookie, Hanifin’s production was not noteworthy but he saw plenty of time on the power play which should continue in his second year. Additionally, he finished the year on a high – eight points in his final 15 games while his average ice time climbed to just under 20 minutes. Look for utilization to continue to climb which should naturally lead to an increase in points while the return of Justin Faulk to full health should help the team’s output on the man advantage.
Of course, defensemen can be difficult to predict and Hanifin is not prone to experiencing more growing pains. However, he has already shown an ability to collect a respectable amount of points despite limited overall ice time. Even if the road gets rocky at times he should find his name on the score sheet fairly often as his role continues to expand. A safe bet would have him at 30 points but there is potential for 35-40 points, especially if the Hurricanes manage to surprise offensively as a team.
Colin Miller (D – Boston)
Miller’s rookie campaign in the NHL was a mixed bag. He started the year on a strong note but quickly faded and was in the press box on numerous occasions before going back to the AHL. There is an opportunity for a similar start this year with Torey Krug recovering from offseason shoulder surgery. It is not clear if Krug will be ready for the start of the year or how effective he will be when he returns.
Miller is definitely worth an investment at the draft table this fall considering he has a chance to start the year in an important role. Just keep an eye on the wire in case he suffers a similar setback afterwards. The talent is there but Miller has a lot to prove in terms of sustaining his stretches of good play and finding other ways to be valuable to the Bruins to avoid being a frequent healthy scratch.
Vladislav Namestnikov (F – Tampa Bay)
After a very successful three years in the AHL, Namestnikov has taken his game to the NHL for the past season and a half and continues to improve. This past year, he increased his point total to 35 while averaging just 14 minutes per game. However, there are some minor concerns as his ice time faded down the stretch. Following a two-game absence with an upper-body injury, he had just nine points in 25 outings, and his ice time dipped under 13 minutes during that stretch.
With that said, there are opportunities to rise up the depth chart in Tampa Bay. Steven Stamkos’ most frequent linemates – Alex Killorn and Ryan Callahan – are not ideal top-line wingers aside from the intangibles they bring to the table. Look for Namestnikov and Drouin to spend extensive time on Stamkos’ line this year. The added ice time with a top center will help both youngsters immensely. While not as hyped as Drouin, Namestnikov could easily be the more successful of the two this year.
David Pastrnak (F – Boston)
Pastrnak has yet to play a full NHL season, but he has been impactful since day one at the highest level. In his two partial campaigns, he has produced at a 45-point pace which should create plenty of optimism moving forward. Even more impressive is the fact he accomplished the feat while averaging just under 14 minutes per night. His role should expand this year as he is arguably the team’s most talented right winger.
In one sense, Pastrnak is a safe pick because of his impressive numbers at the NHL level, even as a teenager. However, he has yet to go through the grind from start to finish. Simply maintaining his pace over 82 games would be a huge accomplishment. With that said, his lack of games played last year could cause him to slip under the radars of more casual poolies. If this happens, Pastrnak could be a great value pick in the later rounds.
Damon Severson (D – New Jersey)
After a promising rookie year, Severson was a dud as a sophomore despite a perfect opportunity to solidify himself as the organization’s top point-producing defenseman. The Devils are in the midst of a youth movement and have a total absence of puck-movers on the back end. Yet somehow Severson managed to allow the likes of John Moore and David Schlemko cut into his minutes on the power play.
This summer the Devils lost both Schlemko and Adam Larsson and brought in Ben Lovejoy. Essentially, the same opportunity is on the table for Severson to take a big step forward if he is able to learn from his experience. The Devils as a team will still have trouble producing goals despite the addition of Taylor Hall, so Severson’s upside is limited. However, if he can have steal the minutes on the top power-play unit he would be sharing the ice with a lot of talent.
Teuvo Teravainen (F – Carolina)
Acquired from Chicago in a cap-dump trade, Teravainen has a chance to emerge as the Hurricanes’ best offensive player as early as this year. Last year in Chicago, he managed 35 points despite an extremely low five-on-five shooting percentage (5.5 percent) and his constant bouncing around from one line to another. This season, he should see an increase in ice time in all situations and there is very little in terms of proven offensive talent in the lineup to keep him out of the top-six.
Considering the opportunity in Carolina, Teravainen should easily improve upon last year. His floor should be around 45 points given the potential lack of support he will have around him to help produce offense. Although, if all goes well and the team gels better than expected he could easily clear 50 points, making him an excellent value pick in the later rounds of your fall draft.
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