Every year, there are NHL players who are complete surprises that no one saw coming.
Think of Max Domi last year. After a couple of subpar seasons that saw him get traded to Montreal, Domi broke out for an unexpected 28 goals and 72 points. There were plenty of other surprises: Dylan Strome once he was traded to Chicago, Brayden Point breaking out in Tampa, Jordan Binnington saving St. Louis, and Erik Gustafsson all of a sudden becoming Chicago’s top defensemen.
So, which players are this year’s potential surprises? Many people are naming Carter Hart and Pavel Buchnevich, but they wouldn’t really be shocking since so many people are expecting it.
Below are 10 players who have a real good chance to surprise this year.
10. Travis Konecny
I wrote about Konecny last week as a long-shot to hit 70 points, so including him on this list of potential surprises shouldn’t be any surprise. He’s shown improvement each season in terms of points, points-per-game, shots and ice time. I like the fact that he regularly plays with Claude Giroux, as playing with an elite line mate will help boost a player’s numbers. Although Konecny needs the power-play time to reach 70 points, he could still be a surprise even without it. The biggest issue facing Konecny right now is the fact he’s unsigned. If it goes too long into training camp, he risks losing his spot with Giroux and being behind in the coach’s new system when he finally does play.
9. Andrew Shaw
Shaw had a poor start to last season, with only two points in his first 11 games. After that, he had 45 in 52 with some injury time sandwiched in there. It helped that he was playing regularly with Max Domi, who was one of last season’s big surprises. Now Shaw is back in Chicago, where he could be lining up with Jonathan Toews, which would also be a huge boon to his production. Shaw is hoping that a move back to the Windy City will bring back some health, and it would be shocking if he could hit 60 points.
Morrisey’s impact this year all depends on the health of fellow rearguard Dustin Byfuglien. It seems like Buff is always good to miss games because of injuries, but he could miss the start of the season due to personal issues. With Jacob Trouba no longer hovering around the Jets, Morrissey will settle into the top power-play spot when Byfuglien is out of the lineup. Morrissey had 31 points in 59 games last year (a 43-point pace), so he could flirt with 50 even if everything stays status quo.
7. Ondrej Kase
Injuries — to him and every other Duck — really prevented Kase from having a huge breakthrough season last year, but there’s plenty of optimism to go with the injury pessimism. Kase has seen his ice time, power-play time, points-per-game and shots-per-game all increase in each of his first three campaigns. He should be able to continue that trend this season as he has excellent chemistry with Ryan Getzlaf, who will be looking for a bounce-back season as well. Remember last year, Kase had a 21-game stretch where he played mainly with Getzlaf, and Kase had 10 goals, 18 points and 60 shots in that stretch. If he can stay healthy all season, and line up with Getzlaf for most of it, Kase should flirt with 60 points.
6. Brady Tkachuk
I wrote back in early August that I am expecting big things for Tkachuk this year, even though he won’t have a lot of help in Ottawa. He didn’t need it last year, as he put up 15 points in 21 games (a 59-point pace) once the Sens traded away Mark Stone, Matt Duchene and Ryan Dzingel. Tkachuk will play on the top line, get top power-play minutes and should have plenty of offensive zone starts. I wrote in August that if he can stay healthy, Tkachuk will wind up with 30 goals, 60 points, 70 PIM, 200 hits, 250 shots and 20 power-play points, and I still believe that will happen.
5. Ryan Donato
The 23-year-old Donato seems to be the exact opposite of whatever is happening in Minnesota. While the management seems intent on icing an old team, trading for Donato actually made them younger. Once he was dealt to the Wild, he started receiving extra ice time and responded well. He went from nine points in 34 games with Boston (while averaging 12:30 ice time) to 16 points in 22 games with Minnesota (while averaging 15:33). He had great chemistry with Eric Staal and Jason Zucker, and should be able to flirt with a minimum 50 points in a full 82 games with Minnesota.
I’ve been a big fan of Dvorak for a few years now, but there’s no doubt his pectoral injury last year really hurt his development. Once he did return to the lineup, he was playing regularly with Clayton Keller, but was limited in minutes (just over 14 a game). He’s been dominant at every level, and he has a solid chance of being a top-six player this year. A 50-point season would be a huge surprise, but if he can get power-play time, I expect he could flirt with 60.
3. Jesper Bratt
There’s been a lot of focus on many of the new signings in New Jersey this year, but don’t overlook the speedy 21-year-old Bratt. He had 33 points in 51 games (a 53-point pace) last year and was getting minutes on the second power-play unit, where he posted eight points. You have to think that with all the signings in New Jersey, the second power-play unit will be better (as long as Bratt can stick there). There has also been some talk that Bratt could end up playing on a line with Jack Hughes, which would also help immensely.
2. Devon Toews
There’s not enough talk about sophomore Devon Toews, who had a great postseason after an okay rookie season last year. The most important takeaway from the playoffs? Toews was the lead quarterback on the power-play, usurping both Ryan Pulock and Nick Leddy for the top unit quarterback. That switched actually started over the last 14 games of the regular season as well. If Toews can continue to get top power-play minutes, expect him to flirt with 40 points.
This could be Duclair’s last season with a real chance at the NHL, so he really needs to take advantage. He’s on his fourth team in the past two years, and while he showed a lot of promise early in his career (including a 20-goal, 44-point rookie season in 2015-16), he’s been underwhelming since. However, there are a few reasons to like Duclair for this year. He was excellent for Ottawa last year after getting away from Columbus (and coach John Tortorella, who didn’t like him) as he had 14 points in 21 games. According to media reports, he has impressed new Sens coach D.J. Smith early in training camp. There’s also the fact that the Sens don’t have a lot of depth, so it will be easier for Duclair to get top-six minutes and power-play time in Ottawa than anywhere else. Add in the fact that he could be playing for his NHL career, and there’s a lot of reasons to believe the 24-year-old can surprise.
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