Frozen Tools Forensics: 2020-21 Breakout Candidates Part 2
Last week we explored Frozen Tools' 4th Year Report to get an idea what players were breaking out in 2019-20. We then used the Next Year report to take a look at players in their third year who could be primed for a big season in 20-21. This week we are going to start with that list and take a look at who has the best shot for upping their point pace.
This week: 2020-21 Breakout Candidates Part Two.
When last we spoke, we were examining a list of third-year players who were putting up pretty good points-per 60 numbers. I selected that stat because it was pretty clear that role and deployment were playing a huge part for the current fourth-year breakouts so organizing by total points, or just time on ice wasn't going to be that helpful.
The above table lays out the top 15 in points per 60, but we can also see how much total time on ice they are receiving and what percentage of their team's power play they are getting. One of the look-fors here has to be a player who is ranking well in points per 60, but is either lacking in total time on ice or in power-play time. That gives them the option to improve somewhere and increase the point output. In that vein I wanted to take a look at Kailer Yamamoto, Martin Necas, and Zach Sanford.
On the other side of the scale, we have players who are already ranked pretty highly in time on ice and power-play percentage. These are guys like Pierre-Luc Dubois, Anthony Cirelli, and Nico Hischier. These are guys who may already be getting solid deployment so might not be in line for a jump in production.
I will throw out one caveat with all of this. We are looking at NHL lineups as they stand today. Things will undoubtedly shift over the summer, so keep an eye on those depth charts!
Yamamoto has not played very many games in the NHL. A total of 27 marks a career high (with 17 and nine being his other totals). His career game total is less than all but two players on this list, and the list is just looking at one shortened season. All of that is to say it is hard to put a lot of weight on the numbers he has put up so far.
That said he played about 75% of his shifts with Leon Draisaitl and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and finished the season getting between 17.5-18 minutes a night on average. If that even strength deployment sticks, Yamamoto is a no brainer on the list of potential breakouts. He has been inconsistent, so it is certainly not a guarantee, but this combination was clearly working better than Zack Kassian. Yamamoto didn't get much in the way of power-play time ,so that is an area he could improve. Edmonton seems to love having Alex Chiasson fill some space on the power-play, but that is a spot that Yamamoto could conceivably fill to boost his deployment and his output even more.
Necas has been productive in the time he has been given, but that time has been limited. His linemates have shifted a bit as well. He spent the most time with Erik Haula and Ryan Dzingel, and while that trio started 19-20 well, they could not sustain the production. He ended the year with Nino Niederreiter and Vincent Trocheck. On the whole that is probably an improvement, but without exposure to Sebastian Aho, Andrei Svechnikov, and Teuvo Teravainen his upside is limited.
It is possible that the lines switch up a bit, but given that both Aho and Necas play center it seems likely that Necas' best case options for linemates are whoever they don't want to play with Aho. He has also been passed over on the power-play for Trocheck and Justin Williams. In the event that neither of them return for 2020-21, there might be an additional spot on the power play. On the whole there is some potential here, but a few things definitely need to break right.
Sanford caught my eye as he is tied for the fourth highest per-60 rate, with very low time on ice and power-play percentage. This means he is either crushing it while he is on the ice and will explode if given more time, or he got really lucky in 2019-20.
Overall, I would say it was a bit of both, but more so the luck. His team 5-on-5 shooting percentage and his personal shooting percentage are both high so he may not be able to repeat his 19-20 pace. Part of it is also he spent 56% of his shifts with Ryan O'Reilly and David Perron, who was an absolute revelation in 2019-20. There-in lies part of the problem though. He was already getting second-line deployment with a red hot Perron and wasn't able to push his time on ice over the 14-minute mark. He did better as the year progressed, but ultimately at the end of the season he lost out to Sammy Blais. It isn't all doom and gloom, as Alex Steen was getting top deployment and his spot is ripe for the plucking, but that was with Vladimir Tarasenko sidelined for most of the year.
Overall, it is hard to see how Sanford builds on his deployment with Tarasenko returning and with competition from Blais. It doesn't mean he is doomed to irrelevance, but a big breakout seems unlikely.
The problem with Dubois is that he is already getting almost 18 minutes a night and over two and a half minutes of power-play time. He was the de facto number one center for most of the season. That isn't a lot of consolation though as his wingers rotated more than the horses on a merry-go-round. He was with no pair of wingers more than 12% of the time, played with nine different players in ten different combinations.
He was putting up a 60ish point pace in 2019-20, which feels like about the biggest breakout we can expect at the moment. For him to improve he likely needs to get up over three minutes a night on the power-play and to consistently play with the top wingers Columbus can offer. John Tortorella's coaching style seems to make those things unlikely.
Cirelli saw a bit of a jump in point pace in 2019-20 and the cause is not a surprise. His time on ice increased by almost 3.5 minutes a night and he saw time with Steven Stamkos at even strength and on the power play. The problem for Cirelli is a lot of his time (three-ish minutes a night) came shorthanded. In order for him to progress past a 55-point player he needs to translate that non-productive time.
He spent a lot of time with some combination of Alex Killorn, Tyler Johnson, and Ondrej Palat. He seems to be one of many in the mix for some top six deployment, and some power-play time. There is a lot of competition though with those three already mentioned, plus Yanni Gourde and potentially Blake Coleman. It is hard to predict that good things are going to happen to his overall deployment situation when looking at the surrounding cast of characters.
Is this finally the year? Hischier has been stuck in the 50-55-point pace for three seasons. When his linemates were Taylor Hall and Kyle Palmieri there was some optimism. With Palmieri and Miles Wood I am a little less optimistic. Also, at what point does Jack Hughes become the outright number one center? There is definitely still some potential in this lineup, but without Hall, and there are limited wing options with Hughes as competition it is not a shoo-in for Hischier.
That is all for this week. Thanks for reading.
Stay safe out there.
Want more tool talk? Check out these recent Frozen Tool Forensics Posts.
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