Frozen Pool Forensics – Potential Breakout Players: Part 1

by Cam Robinson on June 16, 2017
Nathan MacKinnon - USA TODAY Sports Images


Boy that went quickly; another season completed and another Stanley Cup victory for the Pittsburgh Penguins. Not too shabby considering they were without their top defenseman in Kris Letang. Kudos to the Pens, but now it’s time to shift gears back into the fantasy mindset and start mining for value and identifying some breakout candidates heading into 2017-18.

This past season was host to several players who broke through: Viktor Arvidsson, Leon Draisaitl, Mark Scheifele, and David Pastrnak just to name a few. There were of course several projected ones that didn’t come to fruition for one reason or anyother, either: Dylan Larkin, Max Domi, Sam Bennett, Robbie Fabbri… so it’s certainly not an exact science.

As we head into the doldrums of another (hopefully sunny) but long-winded summer, astute fantasy managers must dig deep to unearth some potential gems for the upcoming campaign. With that in mind, over the next few weeks on Frozen Pool Forensics, we’ll outline several potential breakout players and follow that up with a look at some players who may look the part of breakout, but are more likely to disappoint.




Nathan MacKinnon


The former first overall selection from 2013 has tantalized the fantasy hockey community for several years now. After bursting onto the scene with a 24-goal, 63-point rookie campaign as a fresh-faced, 18-year-old, the sky appeared to be the limit for the fleet-footed centre.

However, things haven't gone so smoothly in that thin Denver air since. In his next 218 games spread across the following three campaigns, MacKinnon has accumulated just 143 points – good for a 53-point pace. 


It’s easy to forget that the former Halifax Mooseheads’ star will be just 22 to begin the 2017-18 season and has plenty of developmental growth and peak production left ahead of him.

Despite the historically terrible season that the Avalanche suffered through in 2016-17, there were some signs of life. MacKinnon and rookie, Mikko Rantanen formed some nice chemistry down the stretch and looked downright electric at times. That duo should be locked at the hip moving forward and make up two-thirds of the Avs top line.

Additionally, MacKinnon himself was a very successful contributor at even-strength play. Despite finishing outside the top-75 point scorers this past season, MacKinnon managed to rank 19th league wide for even-strength primary assists per 60 minutes – tied with Nicklas Backstrom and ahead of players such as Leon Draisaitl and Artemi Panarin.

He also managed to average more than three shots per contest for the third consecutive year, yet his personal shooting percentage dropped down to just 6.4 percent – a career low.

His points-per-60 also hit a career-low of just 1.9 displaying that even if he was setting up teammates with aplomb, his mates weren’t making the most of the opportunities. Not surprising when you see that the Avs scored a league-worst 165 goals. That’s barely, and we mean barely, two goals per contest (2.01).


Bottom Line

There is literally nowhere to go but up for MacKinnon and the entire Avalanche squad after the debacle that was the 2016-17 campaign. As a soon-to-be 22 year old with solid shot generation, blazing speed, top-end pedigree and early chemistry with another young and exciting player, MacKinnon is in line to produce at a breakout pace.

There will be some difficulties in Colorado once again, but after another down season, MacKinnon should be ripe for a minor slip down the draft board and present an enticing value pick opportunity.


Andre Burakovsky


After fully investing in their Cup hopes this past season by loading up at the deadline, it’s time for Washington to promote a talented player from within. The turnover in the nation’s Capital is likely to be significant. TJ Oshie, Kevin Shattenkirk and Justin Williams are allunrestricted free agents this offseason, and with their potential departures, there are new openings in prime offensive situations.

Enter Burakovsky.

Drafted 23rd overall back in 2013 out of the Malmo Redhawks program from Sweden’s second division (Allsvenskan), Burakovsky has always had loads of offensive skill. He’s slippery, smooth and owns deft playmaking ability to go along with an underrated shot. He popped 41 goals in 57 games with Erie in his draft –plus one season and has been a steady half-point-per-game contributor during his brief NHL career.

This coming fall will be his fourth full season in the league – a historically prime spot for a breakout.


Pegged as a potential breakout player a year ago, Burakovsky was given a plum assignment last fall. He began the season next to Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov and looked strong even if the points didn’t come with enough consistency. 

Surprisingly, he actually performed his best from a make-shift third line during the third quarter of the season: 

Some further signs of life are that Burakovsky has improved his points per 60 minutes and IPP each year he’s been in the league while also seeing his offensive zone start time and even-strength shooting percentage dip.

The 22 year old saw just 1:26 of ice time on the man-advantage last season, compiling only five power-play points. His 30 even-strength points in just 64 games represent a nice foundation to predict future production.

Capable of playing both wings, Burakovsky could get the first look on the top line and No. 1 power-play unit this coming season. With those improved deployment opportunities and being in the beginning stages of his prime-aged years, Burakovsky is a tasty fantasy jewel just waiting to be snapped up for terrific value.

For a player who has yet to break 40 points in any NHL campaign, he could realistically be breaking into the low-60’s in 2017-18.



Robby Fabbri


Fabbri has always seemed to battle some adversity. After winning the 2013-14 OHL playoff MVP award by leading his Guelph Storm to a league championship and a spot in the Memorial Cup, he was pegged as a likely top-10 selection for that upcoming June entry draft but fell to 21st overall due to concerns about his size. He followed that up with a high ankle sprain that took him out of the 2015 World Junior Championships right before the medal round in which his Team Canada mates would bring home gold.

And then finally, after a terrific postseason performance in the 2015-16 NHL playoffs, he was pegged as a potential breakout to start last season, only to suffer a torn ACL in his left knee that cost him the final 30-plus games of the regular season and playoffs.

That final issue will almost assuredly knock him down many fantasy player’s draft boards and open an opportunity for a great value pick on a player who is in line for a breakout campaign. 

Let’s be frank, the St Louis Blues desperately need to take advantage of Vladimir Tarasenko’s prime. He turns 25 this coming season and has posted at or near 40 goals for the last three years. Now imagine what he could do with a young, smart centre who shows chemistry alongside him?

Hello, Fabbri.

Drafted as a center, Fabbri has played the majority of his brief NHL career as a left winger. He spent 47.3 percent of his even-strength shifts rights across the ice from Tarasenko with Jori Lehtera in the middle. 45 percent of his even-strength production came from being on that line. 

With Lehtera in obvious decline and never really owning the offensive skills to play next to Tarasenko, and Paul Statsny continuing to show signs of breaking down, it seems only natural to finally slot Fabbri back into his natural position. Patrolling the middle of the rink and feeding one of the league’s most deadly scorers, is a cushy fantasy setup for Fabbri.

Fabbri’s unfortunate 98.3 PDO, his drop in IPP from 75.5 to 65.9, a nearly four percent dip in his personal shooting percentage and a mere 0.57 points per game are all masking the true potential of a highly offensive and creative player.

While you may not want to jump too high on the 21-year-old during your drafts, as it’s not assured he receives the plum assignment, the likelihood is strong enough that taking him a tad earlier then he’s rated would be an astute move and could pay off in a big way.

An increase in even-strength opportunity coupled with a secure spot on the team’s No. 1 power-play unit should be in line. With Ken Hitchock gone for good, and Mike Yeo handling a more offensive oriented bench, now could be the time to jump in on the ground floor of a burgeoning asset.

Fabbri is another player who has yet to crack 40 points in a season but could conceivably break into the 60’s in 2017-18.




Check back next time for a look at Part 2 in our Breakout Candidate series.




Thanks for reading and feel free to follow me on Twitter @CrazyJoeDavola where I pretty much talk exclusively about prospects this time of year.