Forensics: The Fourth Year Breakout

by Cam Robinson on December 9, 2016

Is the fourth-year breakout a thing? If so, who fits the mould?

 

For some time, there’s been a notion that players are destined to ‘breakout’ in their fourth full season in the league; and for good reason. Historically, an offensive forward usually sees a spike in production between their second and sixth seasons, with the biggest jump occurring smack dab in the middle of those prime years. Some numbers suggest that nearly a quarter of all fourth-year forwards will see roughly a 25 percent uptick in production – nothing to sneeze at.

 

Players such as Blake Wheeler and James Neal are perfect examples of guys who moved the needle offensively during their first three campaigns only to jump into the next echelon come season four. Wheeler had a career-high 45 points before taking off for 64 in his breakout campaign. Neal left Dallas as a 55-point player only to explode next to Evgeni Malkin to the tune of 40 goals and 81 points in 80 contests in his ‘senior’ season.

 

While injuries, demotions and stints in the press box can often be the theme for young players in the NHL, simply relying on a ‘fourth’ season can be difficult. Instead, try looking at players who have fall in the range of 200-300 career games as maybe a better indicator of a potential boon.

 

Using the fourth-year breakout tab on Dobber’s Frozen Pool Report Generator, let’s check in on some marquee forwards and see how they’re progressing in this, the all-important ‘breakout’ season.

 

 

Mark Scheifele 227 career games heading into this season

 

We may as well start this process off with a positive example. Scheifele has taken a well-worn path to stardom. He’s a top 10 draft pick who spent his next two seasons honing his two-way game and dominating the scoresheet at the OHL-level. After that, Scheifiele went straight from junior to the NHL and has witnessed steady improvements in each of his first three campaigns.

 

NHL Stats – Last 5 Years

SEASON

GP

G

A

P

PntPG

+/-

PIM

Shots

SH%

HITS

PPG

PPP

SHG

BLKS

FOW

FO%

PPTOI

%PP

%SH

TOI/G

%TOI

2016-2017

26

13

13

26

1.00

5

22

66

19.7

28

3

5

0

14

218

44.7

03:32

59.6

10.7

20:32

33.9

2015-2016

71

29

32

61

0.86

16

48

194

14.9

53

7

11

0

36

515

44.2

02:41

48.8

5.3

18:33

30.6

2014-2015

82

15

34

49

0.60

11

24

170

8.8

100

4

14

0

61

492

42.9

02:25

43.1

7.9

18:35

30.4

2013-2014

63

13

21

34

0.54

9

14

100

13.0

63

2

5

0

39

331

42.2

01:58

36.6

0.8

16:21

26.7

2012-2013

4

0

0

0

0.00

0

0

6

0.0

4

0

0

0

0

10

71.4

00:41

9.6

0.0

11:32

18.8

Average

82

23

33

57

0.69

14

36

179

13.1

83

5

12

0

50

522

43.5

02:28

44.3

5.6

18:06

29.7

 

 

So far in 2016-17, Scheifele has been a horse for Winnipeg and his fantasy owners. Despite a lower-body injury that has held him out of a couple contests, Scheifele still sits tied for ninth in NHL scoring with 13 goals and 26 points through 26 games.

 

He’s supplanted Bryan Little as the team’s top line centre and has a plethora of talented wingers to dish the puck to. So far he’s spent most of his time next to Nikolaj Ehlers and burgeoning generational sniper, Patrik Laine. Between the three of them, their average age sits at just over 20 years old.

 

I think we can safely say that youth has been served in the Peg.

 

The former Barrie Colts’ production appears sustainable and likely even has room for improvement as he continues to fully develop into a premier centre. While his 20 percent conversion rate is in line for a regression, his power play production is likely due for an increase.

 

He appears destined for his first 70-plus point season.

 

 

Reilly Smith 285-career games coming into this season

 

Smith isn’t your typical fourth year breakout candidate. He’s 25 years old, been traded twice, has two 50-point seasons under his belt and has already experienced a regression in his second full campaign.

 

Lining up on the Panthers’ potent second line that overachieved greatly last season, forecasters appeared to expect at least stagnation if not further development from the trio, however that has not been the case for Smith or his line mates.

 

 

Freq

Line Combination

33.8%

JOKINEN,JUSSI – SMITH,REILLY – TROCHECK,VINCENT

25.4%

MARCHESSAULT,JONATHAN – SMITH,REILLY – TROCHECK,VINCENT

23.7%

SCEVIOUR,COLTON – SMITH,REILLY – TROCHECK,VINCENT

10.7%

RAU,KYLE – SMITH,REILLY – TROCHECK,VINCENT

6.4%

BARKOV,ALEKSANDER – JAGR,JAROMIR – SMITH,REILLY

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

27 games into his fourth campaign, Smith as totaled just four goals and 10 points. His shooting percentage sits at 7.7 – nearly half the rate in which he converted on last season (14.5 percent). He remains a staple on the team’s second power play unit, seeing 2:41 per contest – a 44 percent share of his team’s opportunities. The problem is, he and his mates have yet to take advantage of said opportunities.

 

While not considered a powerhouse man-advantage unit in past years, the Panthers sit way down at 29th in the league this season with a 12.9 percent conversion rate. That’s down from the 16.9 percent they clicked at a season ago. Smith himself helped bolster his totals with 11 power play points in 2015-16 but has just two this season.

 

It certainly appears that the fourth-year breakout isn’t meant to be for the Ontario native.

 

 

 

Cam Atkinson 300 career games coming into this season

 

If you’re a long-time visitor of this site, you’ve certainly heard about Cam Atkinson’s potential for breaking out for some time. He’s been trending in the right direction by improving on his point-per-game output in each of his first three full seasons in the league. Now on a surprisingly offensively dominant Blue Jackets squad, all that promise is coming to fruition in this predictive campaign.

 

NHL Stats – Last 5 Years

SEASON

GP

G

A

P

PntPG

+/-

PIM

Shots

SH%

HITS

PPG

PPP

SHG

BLKS

FOW

FO%

PPTOI

%PP

%SH

TOI/G

%TOI

2016-2017

24

8

15

23

0.96

2

4

74

10.8

9

4

11

1

9

2

100.0

02:43

59.3

32.1

18:11

29.9

2015-2016

81

27

26

53

0.65

-8

22

226

11.9

47

4

10

2

40

2

50.0

02:15

45.6

32.1

17:48

29.3

2014-2015

78

22

18

40

0.51

-2

22

212

10.4

55

7

10

1

39

4

44.4

02:19

45.4

15.6

16:59

27.9

2013-2014

79

21

18

39

0.49

-5

18

216

9.7

55

4

9

1

38

0

 

02:13

39.5

3.1

15:47

26.0

2012-2013

35

9

9

18

0.51

9

4

91

9.9

24

1

2

0

16

0

 

01:19

27.0

15.6

15:35

25.2

Average

82

24

24

48

0.58

-1

19

226

10.6

52

6

12

1

39

2

53.3

02:11

42.7

18.0

16:49

27.6

 

Through 24 games, the speedy winger’s 23 points rank him in a tie for 16th most in the league, even though his five-on-five shooting percentage sits a mere 5.26 percent – down three percent from 2015-16. So, where are all these points coming from?

 

From the league’s most potent power play, that’s where.

 

So far this season, Columbus’ power play is clicking at a ridiculous 24.6 percent rate and Atkinson is making the most of his time on that top unit. His 11 points with the man advantage are already a career-high and we’ve still got 48 games to go!

 

Power Play Line Production (11)

Pnts

%Total

Line Combination

7

63.6%

ATKINSON,CAM – FOLIGNO,NICK – GAGNER,SAM – WENNBERG,ALEXANDER

3

27.3%

ATKINSON,CAM – BJORKSTRAND,OLIVER – FOLIGNO,NICK – WENNBERG,ALEXANDER

1

9.1%

ATKINSON,CAM – FOLIGNO,NICK – GAGNER,SAM – SAAD,BRANDON – WENNBERG,ALEXANDER

 

While it is unrealistic to expect CBJ to continue to pile up the man-advantage points with such ferocity for the entire season, Atkinson is in a strong position and is being utilized in situations that are tailored for his skill set. He is a crafty player who has a very strong chance of finishing with upwards of 30 goals and 60 points.

 

The breakout looks real for the former Hobey Baker finalist.

 

***

 

Quick Hits

 

Mike Hoffman – 186 career games coming into this season

  • Fantasy owners were left wringing their hands over the sluggish start for the Senators’ sniper, but he has awoken in a big way with eight points in his last five games and a look of confidence in his deadly release. His 20 points through 25 games represents an increase in his point-per-game output from a year ago; something he’s made a habit of in his young career.

 

Elias Lindholm – 221 career games coming into this season

  • The former fifth overall pick from 2013 appeared to be a decent bet to improve on his 0.48 point-per-game output from a year ago. Carolina looked to be building some nice offensive pieces to surround the talented Swede, but alas the results have not been there. Just seven points in 24 games thus far and not much to be excited about.

 

Brandon Saad – 286 career games coming into this season

  • This player barely makes the threshold for me as he’s seen a ton of ice in both the regular season and playoffs in his short career. That said, he’s also witnessing a very nice spike in production, seeing his point-per-game output jump to 0.88 after posting a career-high 0.68 a season ago. 21 points and none via the man-advantage? Sign me up as a believer for this output to be sustainable.

 

Tomas Tatar – 263 career games coming into this season

  • For some odd reason, Tatar has decided to go all Benjamin Button on us. He’s witnessed his point-per-game output drop in each of the past two seasons, and sits with just 11 points through 27 contests in 2016-17. His shooting percentage sits at half of his career-norm so there is some hope, but this certainly will not be a breakout for the skilled Slovakian.

 

***

 

Thanks for reading! You can follow me on Twitter @CrazyJoeDavola3 where I often give unsolicited fantasy advice that I’m sure at least someone is listening to.