Frozen Pool Forensics: Potential Breakout Players

by Chris Liggio on June 15, 2018


Though I am not going to say I will make a call like prior Frozen Pool Forensics writer Cam Robinson on a breakout season for Nathan Mackinnon, it’s time to bring some youth-oriented names to the table that seem like they’re ready to bust out in 2018-19. A couple of the following really stood out more in the postseason to me, playing important minutes for their respective squads that speak to their abilities. An array of different styles of play from each one, let’s look at some names you should consider a late round gamble on next year.


Jakub Vrana

Arguably the most important reason the Capitals finally got over the hurdle is because of the play of their dynamic second line of Nicklas Backstrom, TJ Oshie, and young speedster Jakub Vrana. Though he doesn’t have the points to show for it like the other two, Vrana was incredibly effective in this plum spot. From game five of their series with Pittsburgh where he was elevated to the top line, to his opening goal of the championship clinching fifth match against Las Vegas, Vrana became more noticeable with each passing contest. Putting Vrana here isn’t about points per se but more so intuition. Going from 21 games and 6 points in 2016-17, to 27 points in 73 played with 100 more shots speaks to improvement and the ability to be an everyday NHL player. His confidence ballooned immensely after Washington finally conquered the Penguins, looking comfortable in the top six with two world class players. Backstrom’s brilliance, Oshie’s skill, and Vrana’s speed made it very difficult on defensive assignments. If Vrana finds himself with these two again from the start in 2018-19, expect career goals and assists for the young Czech.


Alex Tuch

Though Braden Holtby shall haunt his dreams for the rest of his days, Tuch should be excited about his future in the NHL and you should too for fantasy purposes. Like Vrana, his postseason numbers aren’t substantial, though respectable with six goals and four assists in twenty games played. Seeing a majority of his time with goal scorers Erik Haula and James Neal, Tuch had a quietly solid rookie campaign with 37 points (15G, 22A) in 78 games played. Most impressive is his endurance as he played in over ninety contests, continuing to chug along as the postseason progressed. Young and gifted with an imposing physical body at a young age, the New York native has the makings of an impact power forward in the league if he continues to progress. In 98 total contests between the regular season and playoffs, Tuch posted 21G, 26A, 215 SOG, and 142 hits while averaging 15 to 16 minutes per game. This is the beginning of a possible ascent making him a smart pick late in drafts banking on increased totals. With Tuch’s stature, he bodes well to avoid the dreaded sophomore slump being able to play a heavy game. Look to see him take on an increased role for the Knights in 2018-19.


Alex DeBrincat

You can consider his rookie campaign a breakout already with 28 goals and 24 assists but DeBrincat should be here because nobody really talks about the kid in the shadow of Patrick Kane. Seeing only 88 minutes at 5-on-5 in the regular season with the aforementioned Kane and a smorgasbord of line combinations in general all season, the rookie posted a 2.6 PTS/60, a 1020 PDO, and looked good in the possession department with a 53.68 CF%. Averaging fewer than 15 minutes per game, his ability to lead his team in goals despite this is reminiscent of James van Riemsdyk. Now that Father Time has taken Patrick Sharp, the timing is right for DeBrincat who possesses a similar skill set to establish himself as a go to forward in the windy city. If he finds himself in the top-six this coming year the question is if he can replicate his offensive flair against stiffer defensive assignments. Either way, DeBrincat showed me enough in year one to warrant putting him here in looking to a 60-point campaign in season two.


Ondrej Kase

With each passing season as Corey Perry fades further toward irrelevance, the Ducks look to their youth to lead them as the next chapter unfolds. Beyond Rickard Rakell, no other forward has seemed destined to come close to filling the shoes of Perry and Ryan Getzlaf. A glimmer of hope has emerged though in 2017-18, with Ondrej Kase scoring 20 goals in 66 games on the third/fourth line. If the Ducks are going to be realistic, the time has come to accept Corey Perry is a secondary scoring option. Despite Perry’s price tag, if Kase can usurp him on the top line with goal scoring Rakell and playmaker Getzlaf, he could really erupt offensively. 2.5 PTS/60 playing bottom six minutes while going plus-18 warrants consideration for an extended look in the top six if you are asking me. Perry in a third line role despite his contract would alter the landscape for the Ducks as far as opposition’s defensive assignments. Kase had 23 points in the final 39 games of the regular season averaging around 13 and half minutes per night. He has great speed with slick puck skills that come at a bargain price for his seventh-round selection. I like what I see from the young Czech and expect better in 2018-19.


Thomas Chabot

Soak up all you can from the grandmaster whilst still in a Senators jersey Thomas Chabot, for once Erik Karlsson inevitably leaves the city of Ottawa it’s your time to shine. Towards the end of the regular season we saw a glimpse of the post Karlsson era with Chabot playing 25 minutes a night at times and racking up 7 points in the last 15 games. The ability to be on the top pair is apparent and more time as the quarterback on the primary power play will lead to more points. Chabot lasted 13 games in the AHL where he racked up three goals and four assists before being called up to the big club permanently and playing in 63 games. 25 points in said games at age 21 is certainly respectable. Though not eye-popping production, he’s on a far less potent squad and 30 points is not out of question for him in season two. The Senators are by no means a powerhouse so his production until the team around him improves can only go so far but he’ll be available at the tail end of drafts and certainly is worth a gamble late. Chabot has all the tools to be successful in today’s game and can prosper sooner rather than later.


Valentin Zykov

There’s a lot of chatter about the Carolina Hurricanes shaking up their roster going into 2018-19. One name that keeps popping up in trade mills is Jeff Skinner, the team’s purest goal scorer. His leaving would create a void in that department where leading AHL goal scorer Valentin Zykov hopefully steps up. Zykov was originally a Los Angeles Kings prospect who came to the Hurricanes organization in exchange for Kris Versteeg. Scoring 33 goals in 63 AHL games last year and seven points in 10 NHL contests, Zykov seems ready for full-time NHL work now 23 years of age. Though he certainly fits the bill for a natural goal scorer, what’s more enticing is his net-front presence where he showcases his strength and scores in close much like Anders Lee. When Zykov was recalled last season, he spent the majority of his time on a line with Finnish duo Sebastian Aho and Teuvo Teravainen. Should he again be in this cherry position to start the year and more importantly retain it, Zykov could potentially bust out in a big way right off the bat if the scoring touch translates. A perfect complement to the slick playmaking style of the two Finns, the table is set for him to excel offensively.


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