Now that the fantasy season has concluded for most of us, it’s already time to start looking ahead to next season.
One of the more popular theories that many fantasy general managers subscribe to has to do with the fourth-year breakout season. Basically, it states that a player entering his fourth year of NHL action will have a major breakthrough.
The best example for this season would be Max Domi. His career high was 52 points, but he struggled last season. Now he’s on pace for 72 points.
All it takes is an opportunity, whether that be a new squad, increased ice time or a chance to get on the top power-play unit.
Below are 10 players that have a good chance to have a great breakout season next year. We’re looking only at points, but remember that a breakout means different things for different players. For some, a 45-point season is a breakout. For others, it’s an 80-point season.
10. J.T. Compher
Compher’s had an audition this year with top power-play time and some shifts with elite teammate Nathan MacKinnon. He’s been somewhat successful, with 32 points in 60 games (a 44-point pace over 82 games). For 17 games from Dec. 17 to Jan. 23, he averaged 5:09 a night on the power-play. He wasn’t able to produce much and was eventually taken off the top unit. However, when Gabriel Landeskog went down with an injury, it was Compher who went back to the top power play, an encouraging sign. If he can grab more shifts with MacKinnon next year, and start producing on the power play, a 55-point breakout season should be almost guaranteed.
9. Adrian Kempe
Kempe normally wouldn’t scream out as being a candidate for a fourth-year breakout, even though his ice time and power-play ice time have both increased every year. His points just aren’t there. However, you have to think with L.A. having such a poor season this year, that they’ll start putting more emphasis on youth as opposed to Dustin Brown, Jeff Carter and Ilya Kovalchuk. That bodes well for guys like Kempe, but the Kings need to go into at least a mini-rebuild first.
8. Kevin Labanc
Labanc is already in the midst of a somewhat breakout season, on pace for 55 points, despite averaging less than 14 minutes of ice time a night. That point production is buoyed by his 18 power-play points. He needs to go back to shooting the puck more often if he wants to take the next step (he’s averaged 1.59 shots a game, down from 2.03 a year ago). However, most of his success will depend on what the team does with free agents Joe Pavelski, Joe Thornton, Gustav Nyquist and Erik Karlsson. If the majority of those guys walk, Labanc can step into the top-six on a regular occasion and also earn more power-play time.
I am including Dvorak even though he hasn’t played much this year as he missed most of the season recovering from pectoral surgery. His ice time is down from a year ago as he gets back into NHL shape but is still on the second power-play unit. Dvorak is one of those players I mentioned earlier that a 50-point season would be considered a breakthrough campaign.
Puljujarvi’s career is reminding me a lot of Nino Niederreiter’s and Mikhail Grigorenko’s start to their careers in that the management doesn’t seem to know what to do with him. He bounces up and down the lineup, is frequently healthy scratched and is frequently shuffled between the NHL and the AHL. Now he’s out with surgery on both hips. Truthfully, most of his potential breakout for next year will depend on two factors: Either he is traded to a new team for a fresh start, or if the Oilers hire a new coach who will allow Puljujarvi to play top-six minutes and make mistakes without fear of being benched.
Buchnevich has to be one of the most frustrating owns in fantasy hockey. So much skill, still the victim of the dreaded healthy scratches. Things have been looking up recently. Since Feb. 6, he has nine goals and 16 points (along with six power-play points) in 22 games. That’s the highest among all Rangers in that timeframe, despite being eighth among forwards in ice time per game. He’s also seeing top power-play minutes since the NHL trade deadline. He could get an opportunity to start next season in an expanded role if he continues this streak for the last two weeks of this season.
Konecny’s biggest holdup to breaking through has been power-play time, as he’s already seeing plum 5-on-5 ice time with Claude Giroux, James Van Riemsdyk and Sean Couturier, his most frequent linemates. However, on the power-play, those most-frequent linemates switch to Nolan Patrick and Oskar Lindblom. The 22-year-old will have to battle Patrick for a potential move to the top power-play line, but if Konecny is shifted there, he’s a good bet for 65 points.
Theodore is on pace for 39 points, which is pretty good, but he can do so much more. Or least, his fantasy owners hope he can. There are lots of reasons to be optimistic. He’s on pace for 213 shots and he averages more than 20 minutes a night. Most number one defensemen easily get the top power-play minutes (they’re on the ice for at least 65 per cent of the team’s power-play time). Theodore is below 50 per cent. That needs to change, but if it does, he should be a shoo-in for 50 points next year.
2. Jakub Vrana
Vrana is on pace for a career-high 49 points, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see the 23-year-old break 60 next season, but he’ll have to start producing more on the power-play to get there. After all, his ice time has increased about 1:30 per game each season and he’s playing mostly with T.J. Oshie and Nicklas Backstrom. If that continues, and he gets another significant bump in ice time, 60 points are within reach.
1. Ondrej Kase
This year was supposed to be Kase’s breakout season, but there were too many factors working against him. He started off the season injured and played just 30 games before suffering a season-ending shoulder injury. Many of his teammates were also injured when he was in the lineup, making it difficult to play with any consistent linemates. Plus, the whole team seemed to stop playing for coach Randy Carlyle. There’s plenty of reasons to like Kase for next season. His time-on-ice and power-play time per game have gone up every year, as has his goals-per-game, assists-per-game and shots-per-game. The opportunity is there. He just needs to stay healthy long enough to seize it.