Top 10 fourth-year players in 2016-17

by Tom Collins on June 6, 2016

The Top 10 players to keep an eye on, who enter their fourth year in 2016-17…

 

It's that time of year again when the trade market starts to heat up in fantasy circles. It seems as if things start to slow down in April and May before revamping back up again in June. And with good reason. The NHL draft combine this past weekend starts to whet the appetite for fantasy GMs. Then the NHL draft in less than three weeks and then NHL free agency the week after. So poolies are starting to get back into the trade habit again.

So it's never too early to look ahead to next season. Many fantasy GMs subscribe to the theory of the fourth-year player breaking out. Below you'll find the top 10 fourth-year players for next season with the best chances of breaking out. These guys could be worth trading for. Or on the flip side, maybe you can trade them for higher value knowing you can sell your fellow GMs on the fourth-season breakout theory.

You'll notice the omission of some notable fourth-year guys as players such as Evgeny Kuznetsov already had their breakout seasons.

 

10. Valeri Nichushkin

For the record, I'm including eight-game 2014-15 campaign as a season since he spent it on the injured reserve and not in the minors (I usually have a 20-game minimum for it to be considered a season). This year really should have been a much better season for Nichushkin. His top linemate was Jason Spezza and Nichushkin also saw quite some time with Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn. But Nich just couldn't get anything going and finished with just 29 points in 79 games. His low power play time didn't help matters. A 45-point season at this stage would be considered a breakout for a player many are starting to label as a bust.

 

9. Boone Jenner

Jenner had a bit of a breakout season this year with 30 goals, easily surpassing his previous high of 16. But he had just 49 points. There were some good signs for Jenner that bodes well for next year. He played pretty well for most of the season. He started with 16 points in 22 games seeing plenty of ice time and finished the season with 15 in 22. He can flirt with 60 points if he can stay consistent for the whole season.

 

8. Carl Soderberg

Soderberg's time on ice has been steady increasing each season, from 14:16 in 2013-14 to 18:01 this year. And his power play time has gone up a little bit each year as well. But his shooting percentage has decreased over the same time period. Still, he's been consistent points-wise for each of his first three seasons (48, 44 and 51). He should be in line to hit the 60-point mark this season if all the pieces fall into the right place.

 

7. Brock Nelson

Nelson spent a good chunk of the season last year playing on a line with John Tavares. But he also spent a good chunk of the season playing with Josh Bailey and Nikolay Kulemin. It is good that he got plenty of power play time with the top unit though. There is going to be an open spot on the top line if Kyle Okposo leaves so there's a better opportunity for Nelson to stick on that top line. He's been a 40-point guy for the last two seasons. Now will be his best chance to see if he can get in the 50s.

 

6. Elias Lindholm

Lindholm started off really slow this season — like glacier-slow. He had just three points in his first 20 games. He was much better the rest of the season with 36 points in 62 games. That's a 48-point pace over 82 games. I like the fact that his time on ice has increased every year, as has his shots and power play points. I think he can break through next year with a 55-point season at the minimum.

 

5. Morgan Rielly

Rielly finds himself in a great position heading into next season. Rielly had a career high in ice time by an extra three minutes per game and also had career highs in goals (nine) and points (36). With the Leafs about to get more offensive help with Austin Matthews and possibly Steven Stamkos, that will bode well for Rielly. Don't forget that Rielly's power play time skyrocketed once Dion Phaneuf was traded so there's not much of a challenge there.

 

4. Tomas Hertl

After a hot start to his NHL career — he had 25 points in 37 games in his rookie season — Hertl's progressed has slowed down somewhat. But he did have a respectable season with 21 goals and 47 points this year. Hertl is a prime candidate for a breakthrough season. He plays frequently with Joe Pavelski and Joe Thornton (those three were on the same line for 61 per cent of Hertl's even strength shifts this season). This playoff run should also boost his confidence.

 

3. Sami Vatanen

Vatanen has yet to become a 40-point player, but I'm confident he will hit the 50-point mark next season. For starters, he's the Ducks top power play quarterback. And whoever becomes the Ducks new coach will realize that and give him even more of an opportunity to succeed instead of splitting the power play duties among four dmen.

 

2. Mike Hoffman

I think Hoffman has a good chance to be the Sens top forward for points next year with a good shot at 75. The new coach will go a long way to seeing to that. Hoffman won't be in the doghouse all the time like he was last season and should see a spike in ice time and better line mates on a consistent basis.

 

1. Seth Jones

Next year will be the season that Jones finally breaks through as a great fantasy option. No longer stuck behind Shea Weber and Roman Josi, Jones will have a full opportunity to be the top guy. His ice time skyrocketed almost five extra minutes per game once he was dealt to Columbus. More impressive was that he went from around 0.3 points per game with Nashville over three seasons to around 0.5 points per game with Columbus. It all adds up to at least a 40-point year next season if not more.