Geek of the Week: Potential Peripheral Breakouts

Ben Burnett


A big part of the early season is figuring out players who could breakout before they actually do. A lot of ink is spilled in the lead up to drafts about sleepers, which players will get a chance to play up in the lineup, and which rookies have a chance to win the Calder. But very little is said about players who can break out peripherally. But in categories leagues, those stats: penalty minutes, hits, and blocks, are worth just as much as the offensive categories if you can win them.

The formula for predicting peripheral breakouts is fairly similar to trying to pick up on possible offensive sleepers. You’re looking for either talent or opportunity, and preferably both. In fantasy sports, opportunity is king. In hockey terms, that means you’re looking for players who will have a huge jump in time on ice, and will be able to maintain their scoring / peripheral rates in their new role.

Over the past few years, recognizing early-season trends has been key for picking up on players who make a huge impact in bangers leagues. Darnell Nurse went largely undrafted a few years ago, but his hits and penalty minute rates showed he was due for a huge breakout in bangers leagues. He’s now become one of the most dependable players in these formats. This year I have my eye on two defenders through the early season, who have a chance to be incredibly valuable in new roles: Erik Cernak and Neal Pionk.


Neal Pionk is a highly controversial figure in hockey circles. To fantasy hockey players, he represents a very decent floor-player who puts up great peripherals, and can produce on the power play. Those who watched the Rangers closely in 2018-19 saw a defenseman who was way out of his depth at even strength, and for some reason kept being put in a position to fail, by being placed on the top pair with veteran Marc Staal.

What made Pionk a great own in fantasy circles last year was his production on the power play, matched with his strong peripheral category coverage. Over the first half of the season, Pionk averaged over 22:30 per night in ice time. Over the first 39 games, he put up a per-82 game pace of 41 points, 26 power-play points, 154 shots, 166 hits, and 141 blocks. While none of the three latter categories are mind-blowing numbers, they’re all useful contributions. The only player who eclipsed those totals in the all three categories last year was Nurse.

Midway through 2018-19