Breakout candidates can be defined in a few different ways, but for the purposes of this article we’ll look at young, Central Division non-rookies who have established themselves at least somewhat in the NHL and signs point to them reaching a higher-than-expected level of play and statistical achievement in 2017-18. In fantasy, these are players one would likely draft in the middle rounds that, while previously considered solid team staples, could surprise by reaching upper tiers within their positions.
Nick Schmaltz – RW/C – Chicago
Who knows if it’ll remain, especially with the way Coach Quenneville adjusts lines, but Schmaltz centering Patricks Kane and Sharp at this weekend’s training camp scrimmage makes the 21-year-old Madison, Wisconsin native an even more appealing breakout candidate choice. He registered 21 points as a rookie mostly skating alongside Jonanthan Toews in the last 26 regular schedule contests of 2016-17, and now without Artemi Panarin and Marian Hossa, Chicago has a greater top-six need. Schmaltz could generate production that blows away last year’s six goals and 22 assists in 61 games, particularly if he lands increased power play opportunities (just 1:03 per game for two points) and takes more shots. Schmaltz’s 66 SOG worked out to barely over one per game, and his 9.1 shot percentage is well within reach. Able to also play right wing, Schmaltz can fit in a variety of scenarios as the Blackhawks get their lines sorted. After a rough 30.9% faceoff success rate on a Chicago squad that struggled overall in that area, game situations may bear heavily on when he plays pivot or wing.
Mikko Rantanen – RW – Colorado
It won’t be easy to generate large numbers as an Avalanche forward, but if things improve even slightly and potential top-linemate Nathan MacKinnon continues his scoring ways, 20-year-old Rantanen should add to last year’s 20-goal total in a morbid 2016-17 Colorado campaign. Accumulating 38 points, including seven in his final eight contests as Sven Andrighetto provided a jolt on the Rantanen-MacKinnon line, it’s not a stretch to see him hitting near 50 points and 25 goals in the upcoming campaign. If he can better utilize his 6’4”, 211-pound frame, avoid significant regression from a 15.0 shot percentage while increasing his 1.77 shots-per-game, and keep a prominent role on the power play (2.43 average man advantage TOI) progress should ensue.
Sven Andrighetto – LW/RW – Colorado
Or it could be Andrighetto on the left wing should that top line really click. Registering 16 points in his final 18 games with Colorado he by far led the Avalanche in points-per-game (other than Samuel Henley who eked out a point in his only contest) last year with 0.84. Coming over from Montreal in a deadline deal for big Andreas Martinsen it’s not a large sample size, but with little talent standing between him and extended minutes, power-play time and a opportunity to help led this beleaguered franchise out of the dark, the 24-year-old Swiss speedster could approach 50 points of his own. While he’s not e