Cage Match Tournament 2018 – Breakout Players (Week 2)

Rick Roos


Welcome to the second of what will be at least three Summer Cage Match Tournaments on breakout skaters. By your votes last week, Mitch Marner is the player who, despite never having previously scored over 75 points (or above a 75-point full season pace), is most likely to produce at a point-per-game level or better during this upcoming season.

Cage Match Tournament #2 – Breakout Tier 2 Forwards

The week it’s time to focus on second-tier forwards (i.e., those who have a career best of 55-65 points (or a 55-65 point scoring pace)), to vote on which will improve upon his/their career best by at least ten points in this upcoming season. The 14 choices (15, counting the “none of the above” choice) are listed below – once again in alphabetical order – along with their previous career high in single-season scoring.

Voting Rules and Guidelines

Like last week, you can vote for as many or as few players as you want – just be sure every player you’re voting for is someone you realistically see as someone who’ll finish ten or more points beyond his previous career best in scoring or scoring pace. A difference from last week is Band-Aid Boy status and injury history are very key, since unless a player suits up for enough games it’s much less likely he’ll be able to best his previous career high by ten.

Beyond that, and as also was the case last week, make sure to vote with your head more so than your heart. That means you should mainly bear in mind objective factors which will affect a player’s scoring, like his contract status, likelihood of being traded during the season, and individual/team situation. Of course you can still use instinct and hunches; but keep in mind your fellow Dobberites will look at the results for crowdsourced fantasy guidance, so don’t – for example – vote for someone for “good karma” simply because he’s on your team or not for someone else because he’s on the squad of your chief rival. The idea is to enjoy yourself, but also have the results be meaningful.

Once again voting will take place in the Dobberhockey forums. I’ll put a direct link at the bottom of the column. Now without further ado, here are your voting choices (in alphabetical order):

Kyle Connor (Previous career high scoring pace = 61 points)

At age 21, Connor was given keys to the Winnipeg offensive castle, with a regular spot on the top line and PP1. He showed he belonged and not only never had a prolonged poor stretch (posting double digit points each quarter) but saved his best for last, with 19 points in his final 23 regular season games (albeit only 10 in 17 playoff contests). Entering 2018-19 Connor’s “spot” still looks to be his to lose; the question is whether he’ll get better from here (and, if so, when), stay at this level, or suffer a sophomore slump to cause him to yield all-important playing time at even strength and with the man advantage to other Jets forwards, such as………

Nikolaj Ehlers (Previous career high scoring pace = 64 points)

After a 64 point rookie output, many had Ehlers pegged for 70+ points last season with a chance at a huge breakout. Instead, he regressed and landed at 60 points. It’s not difficult to explain why – two words: Kyle Connor. Connor’s presence cost Ehlers nearly 90 seconds of total ice time per game, with a third of the lost time coming on the man advantage. The question becomes whether Ehlers will have to continue to play under these limitations, since with his talent if given more ice time and a larger role he not only might best his career high by ten but could surge all the way to point-per-game output.

Alex Galchenyuk (Previous career high scoring pace = 59 points)

Before the June trade bringing him to Arizona, it would’ve been difficult to picture Galchenyuk doing much better for 2018-19 than the 51 points he posted last season. After all, despite a litany of criticisms and second guessing regarding seemingly all aspects of his effort and play, he ended up with a career high in PP ice time per game and saw similar overall ice time as when he posted his previous career best. On the upstart Coyotes, he should see more minutes and be leaned on for heavy scoring. And let’s not forget – before being injured during 2016-17, he had emerged with 22 points in his first 22 games, so the talent for top level production is there.

Yanni Gourde (Previous career high scoring pace = 64 points)

Not only did Gourde scoff at the concept of a rookie wall, he surprised many (this writer included) by not faltering after veteran Ondrej Palat returned, finishing with 38 points in his final 42 games. Yet one has to wonder if we might’ve already seen the best we’ll get from Gourde, unless he finds a way to do better than barely 16:00 per game and a tad over a third of Tampa’s available PP minutes he saw in 2017-18. And a very lofty 11.41% team shooting percentage at 5×5 doesn’t help quell concerns that his 64 points resulted from unsustainable good luck. Still, it’s tough to bet against Gourde after such a superb second half and with ice time that was low in part due to early season games well below his season average.

Bo Horvat (Previous career high scoring pace = 56 points)

Although Vancouver might be in for offensive struggles in the post-Sedin aftermath, Horvat should be given every chance to succeed. For a while there was concern he’d become Jonathan Toews 2.0 in fantasy, saddled with ample SH duty and being forced to play shut down defense while still trying to generate offense. But last season his percentage of time spent on the ice during the man advantage rose considerably (57%, up from 39% in 2016-17) while the opposite was the case on the PK (29% of the team’s SH minutes, down from 40% in 2016-17). If this trend continues and the Canucks are able to generate enough offense, Horvat should have a great shot at a big jump in his production.

Evander Kane (Previous career high scoring pace = 63 points)

As much attention as was paid to Kane’s 2017-18, we can’t lose sight of the fact that it wasn’t even his statistically best season. That being said, he did perform quite well when he arrived in San Jose, with 15 points in his final 18 games; and then he opted to sign with the Sharks rather than test the open market, where he may well have been able to sign for a higher price tag. It may be difficult to envision Kane posting 73 points, what with his tendency to take games off and get hurt, plus without the motivation of having to play well enough to earn his next contract; however, the talent is most certainly there.

Dylan Larkin (Previous career high scoring pace = 63 points)

Last season alone Larkin posted 16 more points than in his previous 116 games, placing him right back in the good graces of poolies who’d worried he might’ve been a flash in the pan. His 20 points in his final 24 games is a positive sign that 2018-19 could be even better; however, there’s still the issue of him never having posted more than eight PPPts in a season nor having taken the ice for 50% of his team’s time with the man advantage. Beyond that, Detroit has the makings of a team which will yet again struggle to score. Still, Larkin put the team on his shoulders last season and could do even more for 2018-19, which just so happens to be his magical fourth year.

J.T. Miller (Previous career high scoring pace = 58 points)

Following his trade to the Lightning, Miller acquitted himself to his new team right away and the results (20 points (11 goals) in his final 22 games) put equally wide smiles on the faces of both Lightning fans and those poolies who had owned Miller since day one and had seen him spin his wheels in New York. As great as the Tampa’s offense once again figures to be, and even with a fat new five-year contract in his back pocket, Miller could have difficulty seeing his points total rise enough to be ten better than last season’s career best scoring pace.

William Nylander (Previous career high scoring pace = 61 points)

Why should we expect Nylander to break out this season, since after all he didn’t manage to improve from his first full campaign despite playing nearly all his shifts with young star Auston Matthews? For one, Matthews missed a chunk of time last season, and a full year alongside Matthews should alone up Nylander’s total. But also the signing of John Tavares will create two powerful lines for the Leafs and, in turn, force teams not to necessarily put their best units against Matthews and Nylander. Also of note is it’s still only Nylander’s third full season, making a chance at a breakout more likely than had he passed his magical fourth season.

Kyle Palmieri (Previous career high scoring pace = 58 points)

With 18 points, including ten on the PP, in his final 22 games, Palmieri established himself as a weapon for the Devils to deploy alongside Taylor Hall at even strength or with the man advantage. Still only 27, Palmieri should have at least a couple of seasons to improve before slowing down due to age. The key with Palmieri is his Band-Aid Boy status, since to get your vote he needs to put up 67+ points and that, of course, requires him to stay healthy for the season. And considering he’s played in 71+ games only twice in his career, that might be a stretch.

Nick Schmaltz (Previous career high scoring pace = 54 points)

Thumbing his nose at a sophomore slump, Schmaltz instead saw his scoring rate spike while becoming fixture on a line with Patrick Kane. Schmaltz also was consistent through the season, which in his case meant 11-15 points in each quarter. But that came with upwards of 18 minutes per game and taking the ice for half of Chicago’s man advantage time. That means he’s already receiving top deployment and thus will have to take things up a notch in order to top his total from last season by 10+ points; and it’s not clear that can happen in only his third season, let alone on a Chicago team that might once again fall below expectations ala last season.

Ryan Spooner (Previous career high scoring pace = 57 points)

After following up a surprise 49-point season in 2015-16 with Boston – one which featured Spooner as a fixture on PP1 but also predominantly stuck with third line center duty at even strength – with a mere 39 points during 2016-17, it was not a major shock to see the Bruins deal the then impending RFA during the 2017-18 campaign. What did end up surprising poolies was Spooner’s explosion in the Big Apple after being dealt, as he posted 17 points in his final 21 games after emerging with four multi-point efforts in his first seven contests with the Rangers. What remains to be seen is if he can put together truly top level season once he inks what should be a contract that secures him a top six spot for the first time in his career.

Teuvo Teravainen (Previous career high scoring pace = 64 points)

Much of what was said last week about Sebastian Aho can be echoed here, as TT broke out for a career best then shined even brighter on the major stage of the IIHF World Championships (14 points in eight games). But in TT’s case he started with point per game output early in 2017-18 then had cooled by midseason, leaving poolies to wonder if he has the consistent effort level and explosiveness to make the leap ala Aho, or if instead he might just settle in as a player who’s good for points in the 60s each season. In this, his magical fourth year, we should find out.

Matthew Tkachuk (Previous career high scoring pace = 59 points)

Going into 2017-18 it was thought that Tkachuk would provide a nice combination of PIM and SOG while perhaps chipping in with second line scoring and a few PPPts. He easily exceeded those expectations, thanks in large part to working his way onto Calgary’s PP1, which helped him rise to 34 points in his final 40 contests despite still being a second line player at even strength. With a new coach in Calgary and the additions of Elias Lindholm and James Neal, the question remains as to whether Tkachuk can keep his coveted PP1 spot; however, odds are it’s his to lose and between that and more time on ice in general he might be able to surpass his career best by enough to deserve your vote.

. . . . . .

There are your 14 voting choices (15 if you count “none of them,” which this time I will list as a choice as well). As noted above, you can vote for as many or as few of them as you think will best their career high scoring total/rate by at least ten points this coming season. To vote, click here.

As with last week, when voting, be sure to also post in the thread about who you chose to vote for and why, as that way your fellow Dobberites can get better insight into your thought process and the Tournament can be as instructive as it is fun. See you back here next week for Tournament #3.


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