Following the conclusion of the regular season and most hockey pools it is a good idea to look back and review some of our expectations heading into the campaign. Most importantly, we should try to figure out why we were correct or not because it helps us learn lessons that can be applied in the future.
Today we will go through 10 projected top-end rookies and 10 breakout candidates to see how their season played out. Due to the strength of the rookie class it was more difficult to be wrong even though some of the better ones were not covered in the top 10. Meanwhile, for breakout candidates it was a lot trickier because the list was constrained to players who had not yet posted significant numbers at the NHL level, and there was no guarantee they would take a big step towards satisfying fantasy owners.
Top Rookies (Original article here)
Sebastian Aho (Carolina) – Despite posting great rookie totals with 49 points, Aho benefited from the opportunity available to him in Carolina to achieve such a strong result. At one point he had 11 points in 25 games which could have spiraled into an underwhelming campaign in the bottom-six. But the Hurricanes stuck with him and it paid off with 38 points in his final 57 games, a strong finish that gives us a glimpse of his potential in the NHL.
Oliver Bjorkstrand (Columbus) – A preseason Calder favorite, Bjorkstrand ended up spending much of the year in the minors while the group of forwards in Columbus enjoyed a great season together. In the end it was easier to justify demoting Bjorkstrand’s entry-level contract when Cam Atkinson and Nick Foligno anchored the top two right-wing spots so well. Bjorkstrand eventually made his way into 26 games and added 13 points. In his young NHL career he has shown a ton of promise and is a strong candidate to have his first big year in 2017-18.
Mitch Marner (Toronto) – Marner certainly delivered on the hype this year, as he was one of three Maple Leaf rookies to clear 60 points. Despite playing on a team not being perceived as a great environment heading into the season, Marner’s immense offensive skill was able to generate points while developing great chemistry on a line with Tyler Bozak and James Van Riemsdyk. While there is risk for all prospects jumping to the NHL, you simply cannot ignore the high ceilings that some of these high picks possess.
Auston Matthews (Toronto) – The expectations for Matthews were immense considering he was the new face of the franchise in Toronto. He delivered on the hype immediately finishing in a tie for 17th in scoring with 69 points. Most surprising was his goal-scoring ability this early in his career – his 40 goals tied for second in the league. He may not be this potent as a goal-scorer every year, but you can bank on his assist total rising if he can find better wingers.
William Nylander (Toronto) – While not as hyped as Marner or Matthews, Nylander had also made a name for himself prior to this year with the top points-per-game mark in the AHL last year and a good 22-game stint with the Maple Leafs. While he also cleared 60 points, he moved around the lineup a bit and spent some time in the bottom-six unlike the other two rookies. Of the three, consider Nylander the most likely to suffer some setbacks along the way which can cut into his point totals.
Ivan Provorov (Philadelphia) – As with most highly-touted blueliners, Provorov posted respectable numbers with six goals and 30 points despite averaging over 21 minutes per game. However, unlike some of the first-year forwards, his effectiveness was limited to deeper fantasy leagues. With the Flyers typically rolling four forwards on the power play, and with Shayne Gostisbehere in the mix, Provorov’s upside is more limited for the foreseeable future.
Ryan Pulock (New York Islanders) – To the surprise of many, Pulock played just one game in the NHL this year, spending the rest of the campaign in the AHL. Simply put, sometimes prospects will make you wait an extra year before they reward you for your patience. Considering he posted 15 goals and 46 points in 55 games with Bridgeport, he looks ready once again to become a full-time NHLer and will be one of the rookies to watch in the fall.
Jimmy Vesey (New York Rangers) – Vesey signed with the Rangers as a highly-touted college free agent and showed a lot of promise in the early going. After putting up 17 points in his first 30 contests he went ice-cold and never recovered. His ice time gradually declined and he ended his first NHL season with 10 points in his final 50 appearances. The Rangers had a surplus of forwards which no doubt played into Vesey falling off the map while other depth options had more success. It's worth noting that the numbers game also hurt fellow Ranger prospect Pavel Buchnevich.
Pavel Zacha (New Jersey) – Zacha was also hyped heavily as a former sixth-overall pick on the rebuilding Devils and was expected to show some of his multi-category potential. Unfortunately, he was limited to third-line minutes with mostly below-average linemates and had a mere 24 points. His only saving grace was the power play where he had 13 points to help avoid a total offensive disaster. Making matters worse is his lack of peripheral contributions with just 19 PIM, 54 hits and 83 shots. Clearly he was not ready to assume a larger role alongside the Devils’ better offensive players.
Nikita Zaitsev (Toronto) – The Leafs really needed a guy like Zaitsev to emerge on the blueline and play top-line minutes. His ugly minus-22 rating aside, he had a successful rookie campaign with 36 points while clearly benefiting from the team getting tons of offense from multiple lines. This is an example of opportunity and environment helping a young defenseman realize his short-term potential.
Top Breakout Candidates (Original article here)
Andreas Athanasiou (Detroit) – Athanasiou had a strong rookie showing last year with 14 points in 37 games despite averaging just nine minutes in ice time. He was a gamble this year, as we did not know how he would handle more responsibility. In the end he did fairly well with 29 points in 64 games considering the Red Wings were a mess this year and did not produce much offense. Not a breakout player by any means, though.
Red Boucher (Vancouver) – Even though the Devils had a need for Boucher’s offense, he managed to play himself into the press box and eventually onto the waiver wire. He went on to Nashville and then Vancouver while producing next to nothing. In one year, he went from having a decent career outlook to being a total afterthought playing as a filler for the lottery-bound Canucks. With that said, the NHL expansion might help keep him in the league, although his opportunities to produce will be rare.
Andre Burakovsky (Washington) – Last year, Burakovsky developed chemistry with Evgeny Kuznetsov down the stretch leading to hope for a breakout year. However, this year he played mostly with Lars Eller on the third line, which is far from ideal from an offensive standpoint. He still managed 35 points in 64 games which put him on pace for 45 over a full schedule. There is potential for big things in the future if he can move up to the top-six full-time.
Jonathan Drouin (Tampa Bay) – Drouin created a lot of momentum last spring following his dispute with Lightning management. This raised expectations coming into this year as he was a former third-overall pick with high-end potential. He did not disappoint, posting 53 points in just his second full NHL campaign. The injury to Steven Stamkos helped create the space he needed to shine.
Noah Hanifin (Carolina) – Hanifin did post a small increase over his rookie numbers, finishing with 29 points. What makes this number impressive is he played a third-pairing role for most of the year with an average of just under 18 minutes per game. If is only a matter of time before his role increases and he finally starts posting numbers relevant in fantasy leagues.
Colin Miller (Boston) – For the second year in a row, Miller has failed to establish himself as a reliable point-producer for the Bruins. In fact, this year’s 13 points were a step back after last year’s 16 in 42 games. His opportunity to reach fantasy-relevance may have passed him by, as the Bruins may look elsewhere for help next year including the highly-touted Charlie McAvoy.
Vladislav Namestnikov (Tampa Bay) – Following a successful first full NHL season, the expectation was for Namestnikov to take the next step forward, and that opportunity grew when Stamkos went down to injury. Despite playing a ton of shifts alongside Nikita Kucherov, Namestnikov amassed just 28 points while averaging under 15 minutes per game. This is a massive disappointment and opens the door for someone else in the organization to overtake him on the depth chart. Brayden Point made a strong case down the stretch.
David Pastrnak (Boston) – The biggest breakout star on this list was Pastrnak who reached 70 points in his first full NHL campaign. The 20-year-old benefits a lot from the Bruins’ lineup – he played across from Brad Marchand who has emerged as an elite scoring winger. He also has two quality centers in Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci who have a long history producing in the NHL, so he had a strong setup man even if the coach shuffles lines.
Damon Severson (New Jersey) – After being a disappointment a year ago Severson bounced back successfully with a career-high 31 points. With no other power-play option on the back end it was only a matter of time before he started putting up numbers. He is still a heavily-flawed defenseman as evidenced by his ugly minus-30 rating, but from an offensive standpoint, he is relevant as a depth option who might show another gear when the Devils improve.
Teuvo Teravainen (Carolina) – In his first year with the Hurricanes, Teravainen managed a career-high 42 points. This is not a surprise as the team’s forward depth has been hurting so there was plenty of opportunity for young players to thrive. His production was very backloaded as he had just 10 points in his first 25 games before finishing with 32 in his last 56 contests. This gives some hope for the future as the newcomers in Carolina gain more experience.
Follow me on Twitter @DH_EricDaoust.
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