There’s a theory that goes around hockey circles that a player will see a significant increase in production in their fourth NHL season.
There’s some credence to that. Years ago, someone here at Dobber wrote that almost a quarter of forwards entering their fourth season saw their production increase by about 25 per cent.
Below are 10 players (including goaltenders and defensemen) who are entering their fourth season next year that could be due for a breakout. You may be able to pick up a few of these players for cheap if you’re a believer.
Just as a note, I’ve put the cut-off at 15 games to count towards a season.
10. Max Domi
After a tremendous rookie season where he posted 18 goals and 52 points, Domi has seen his drop like a stone. This past year, he notched only 45 points, and a 45-point player has no value except in the deep leagues. Domi needs to see an increase in overall ice time (he’s been under 17 minutes in all three seasons) but is still on the top power-play unit. He’s going to need help to have the fourth-year breakout season, but Clayton Keller, Dylan Strome and possibly Nick Merkley should be able to help with that.
Wideman played only 16 games this season, thanks to a hamstring injury that needed surgery. He was on his way to a breakout season before the injury with three goals and eight points in 16 games, despite his ice time down two minutes a game from the previous season. However, he did man the Sens power play when Erik Karlsson missed the first five games of the season. Even if Karlsson stays with the Sens, Wideman should have a regular top-four role.
There’s a belief that players in a contract year will have seasons that defy logic (just look at Loui Eriksson a few years back) and will parlay that one season into a huge contract. Nurse fits into this category. Nurse had a career-high 26 points and 194 shots this year and saw some time as the team’s top power-play quarterback when everyone else was struggling. He told the Edmonton Sun last week that “I want to grow my offensive side. I can take that to another level. I believe I should be a two-way threat, night-in, night-out.”
7. Zach Hyman
While there are plenty of fans who believe Mitchell Marner should be paired with Auston Matthews, let’s not overlook what Hyman has been able to accomplish. Hyman was on the ice for 85 per cent of Matthew’s ice time this year. Why would we expect that to change next year? Hyman has been up to the task, seeing his ice time and production increase each season. His biggest issue is not getting any power play time, but should that change even in the slightest, Hyman could break through for 55 points next year.
In a column last summer about goalie battles, I opined that Darling was in trouble as a number one because of Cam Ward. I figured Ward was getting at least 30-35 games, more if Darling faltered. And Darling faltered, and Ward stole the starter’s job for a while. Ward is a free agent and may not be back next season. A new owner, coach and GM may be looking for new blood, and could turn to prospect Alex Nedeljkovic to be a backup. That would solidify Darling as the true number one netminder for the Hurricanes.
5. Noah Hanifin
Hanifin was one of only four defensemen under the age of 23 to play 1,450 minutes and notch 30 points. He may be second fiddle to Justin Faulk, but it has to be seen as a positive that his ice time was up a minute per game this year. He is clearly the second-best option for the Hurricanes on the power play (no other Carolina defenseman outside of Hanifin and Faulk averaged even 40 seconds of power play time per game) and his shot rate rose from 1.33 to 2.09 shots per game.
How good is Parayko? He and Ivan Provorov were the only two defensemen to have 200-plus shots, 120 hits and 140 blocked shots. Parayko is one of those strange cases where he is getting extra ice time each year, plus a little bit of extra power play time, but his points-related statistics don’t change. He’s hovered around 35 points and 10 power play points in all three seasons in the league. The reason I like Parayko to have that fourth-season breakout has more to do with teammate Alex Pietrangelo. The Blues power play struggled this year with AP as the main QB option, and Pietrangelo had only 13 PP compared to Parayko’s nine. If that continues early next season, look for PP ice time to shift to Parayko.
3. Ryan Dzingel
The key to forecasting Dzingel’s breakout is to look at his ice time, power play ice time and linemates. In his first three years, he went from 10:48 to 14:24 to 16:30 minutes per game. In that time span, he also went from 0:02 to 1:21 to 2:09 power play minutes per game. He’s also proven he can keep up with linemates such as Matt Duchene and Mark Stone. It would be hard not to envision Dzingel taking on a bigger role with the Sens next year.
2. Sam Reinhart
Reinhart has shown slow steady improvement every season, hitting career highs this year in goals (25), points (50), shots (188), hits (48), power play goals (12) and power play points (21). He’s now on a fixture of the top power-play unit that will be adding Rasmus Dahlin. He had some chemistry with Ryan O’Reilly and was also the fourth most frequent forward linemate of superstar Jack Eichel. Expect him to continue to improve.
It’s almost not fair to call Theodore a fourth-year player as he has only played 114 games through his first three seasons (an average of 38 games a year), but he seems poised to break through next season. He played in 61 games as the Golden Knights sent him to the minors at the start of the season because they had too many defensemen, plus another six games missed in February due to a throat infection. When he was in the lineup, he was Vegas’ top power play option and averaged the second-highest minutes per game. Theodore should play all 82 games next year, which will bode well towards a breakout season.
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