Look for these players in the Western Conference to have big rebound or breakout campaigns…
This is predominantly a list of players who had off years last season and should be expected to rebound in a big way. Injured players were largely ignored unless their rate of production was expected to increase as opposed to just their overall totals. Much like players set to break out in a given season these players may have seen their value drop over the past year, meaning that the ability to acquire them cheaply may now exist. As winning hockey pools is often as much about how much it cost to acquire a player as having the best players finding a player on the rebound, or rise, can be a boon to a poolies’ chances.
Milan Lucic – Forward, Los Angeles
From a points standpoint, last year was not the abomination that many made it out to be for Lucic. Points were largely the only area in which Lucic suffered last season as he still put up 80 plus penalty minutes and 259 hits. In terms of hits, that was his second highest single season total of his career and on a per game basis he was still at an elite three hits game level. The only player to record 250 or more hits last year and record more points than Lucic was Alex Ovechkin. Only Matt Martin, Ryan Reaves and Cody McLeod recorded more hits and had more penalty minutes than Lucic. Which is to say that while his multi-category stud status took a well deserved hit last year the fall has been overblown. He also turned arund his season towards the end as he had 26 points in his 39 games from January through March.
This season saw Lucic move to the Los Angeles Kings and into a better situation. Right from start things are looking up for Lucic. Even Pierre Lebrun thinks so:
Watched Lucic play with Kopitar and Gaborik again today at Kings camp. Um, I think that line is going to work :)— Pierre LeBrun (@Real_ESPNLeBrun) September 20, 2015
This bodes for Lucic based on the type of game the Kings play and the speed at which they play. That is even truer based on his being put on a line with Kopitar. Kopitar plays a cycle game which is well suited to Lucic and generates a ton of shots close to the net. That is exactly the same area where Lucic plays and gets most of his shots. This is just a really good fit for Lucic and that there appears to be chemistry already bodes well. Furthermore, if this line works then ‘That 70’s Line’ should be back together which bodes for every member of that line as well, especially Tanner Pearson.
Nathan Mackinnon – Forward, Colorado
Mackinnon is another player who saw his point totals drop precipitously last year. That occurred despite the fact that he was able to take three shots per game for the second straight season. That pace would have put him among the top 10 forwards in shots with far and away the lowest point total. At the pace he was scoring last season he would have finished 13 points behind the lowest scoring forward in that group. Part of the reason for that is that his shooting percentage was more than a point and a half lower than the forward with the lowest shooting percentage in the group. Of that group of 10 forwards, eight of them had shooting percentages over 10%, most finished with a shooting percentage five points higher than Mackinnon’s. It goes to show the caliber of player who shoots as much as Mackinnon does. If Mackinnon had started predominantly shooting from the outside there might be some sort of rational explanation for the massive drop he experienced but his shot numbers by area look largely unchanged. Mackinnon will rebound this season to close to at minimum a 60 point player.
Taylor Hall – Forward, Edmonton
For the most part this column avoided players who missed a lot of time due to injury as players who should see a bump to their point production this season. Hall made the list because while he will see no doubt see his point production but he should produce at a higher per game and points per 60 rates. There a number of reasons to believe that last year’s production for Hall was something of an aberration. First, he fell from back to back seasons with points per 60 minutes rates over three to a rate of 2.2 P60. That was his lowest P60 rate since his rookie season and not surprisingly coincided with him falling well short of the point per game pace he set in his two previous seasons. Second, Hall’s shooting percentage fell below 10% for the first time in his five year career. With the Oilers having two legitimate NHL centers, that should not be a huge leap regarding McDavid, Hall will play with a quality center regardless of which line he plays on. If you read the Best of the West columns then you know that this column has high expectations for McDavid and Hall alike.
Andrej Sekera – Defense, Edmonton
Sekera has only once in his career recorded more than 30 points, that was 2013/14 when he had 44 points. It is no coincidence that was also the year he had a career high in power play points with 15. It should then come as no surprise that was also the year when Sekera received first unit power play minutes getting 2.6 minutes per game for Carolina. After moving to the Oilers over the summer Sekera finds himself in a similar situation to the one in which he found success in Carolina. First, he should have no problem equaling the minutes he received in Carolina, there is a good chance he comes close to 25 minutes per game. He will play tough minutes, as Justin Schultz will get the easiest offensive minutes, but he should be used that as he consistently has tougher zone starts than his teammates. Even if he is playing tougher minutes there is enough talent in Edmonton that he should have no problem still putting up points. Second, Sekera is once again in a situation where he should get first unit power play minutes. Other than Justin Schultz no Oiler defenseman had more points than Sekera, and after beating Muzzin for power play minutes to close the year in Los Angeles beating the assembled mess in Edmonton should not be a problem. On a weak power play, Schultz had three points per 60 minutes and with an influx of even more talent that power play should improve meaning Sekera should end up easily match his power play production rate from last year which should get him close to 10 power play points. All told expect Sekera to hit 35 points if not challenge for 40.
Nikita Zadorov – Defense, Colorado
Zadorov could almost be on this list just on the fact that he escaped the tire fire that was the Buffalo Sabres last year. Hell he could probably make the Eastern Conference just based on the improvements the Sabres made this offseason if he was still there. Colorado could be a great situation for Zadorov as there is a huge opening on the Avalanche defense for an offensive defenseman to man the power play, currently Barrie and Johnson are the two Avalanche defensemen averaging more than two minutes of power play time per game. The competition for is also somewhat sparse as Zach Redmond clearly has not earned Roy’s trust as he produced at a high rate on the power play but never got significant power play or even strength minutes. That leaves Brandon Gormley who was not able to crack the Coyotes defense but has the pedigree to push Zadorov for a spot on the power play. Zadorov as the more seasoned defenseman should have the inside track despite having never received more than a minute and a half per game in Buffalo. Even if Zadorov fails to land a spot on the Avs power play just based on the Avs scoring 0.7 more goals per game and taking 3.5 extra shots per game Zadorov should be able to beat last year’s 15 points.
Matt Dumba – Defense, Minnesota
Dumba is exactly what the Wild need on the power play, a dynamic offensive force that could a spur a lackluster power play. No other Wild defenseman who was used regularly on the power play had even close to Dumba’s rate of production on the power play. Ryan Suter, the power play staple on the blueline had a point per 60 minute rate on the power play of 2.34. Dumba on the other hand in half as many power play minutes per game had 4.24 points per 60 minutes on the power play. That is a level of production that will be hard for Wild coaches with the power play stumbling and bumbling at the bottom of the league. With regular first unit power play time Dumba could add 10 points to his overall point totals just based on increased power play production. As it will be tough for Dumba to make major in roads into the Wild’s top four of Suter, Brodin, Scandella and Spurgeon the bulk of the increase for Dumba will come from the power play. That being said, Dumba will receive more ice time as he faired quite well last year with numbers in line with the rest of Minnesota stellar defense. Yeo should trust Dumba more after essentially a full season of games and begin to use him more in offensive situations as last in limited use he produced at similar rates to Suter and Spurgeon at even strength.
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