Every year, there is a handful of players that breakout in the NHL and have outstanding seasons that catch the league by surprise. Last season we saw two of the best from the Edmonton Oilers in Connor McDavid and Leon Draisatil.
Connor McDavid took over the league in scoring, and therefore won the Art Ross Trophy, Hart Memorial Trophy and the Ted Lindsay Award. Meanwhile, fellow Oiler, Leon Draisaitl had a career-high in goals (29) and points (77), and finished as the sixth highest scorer in the NHL.
Last time we took a look at ten possible breakout players from the Eastern Conference. This time around, we will take a look at some potential NHL breakout players in the Western Conference in 2017/18.
Nick Ritchie, Anaheim Ducks
Despite averaging only 12:59 of ice-time, Nick Ritchie made a decent contribution for the Anaheim Ducks last season. He scored 14 goals, 14 assists for 28 points in 77 games.
The Anaheim Ducks seem to be fond of the 21-year-old power forward, and did not make any moves this summer to acquire a top-six winger. This likely means that Ritchie will be accommodated in on one of the top two lines, playing with either Ryan Getzlaf or Ryan Kesler.
With a perfect environment to excel, the 2014 first round pick has potential to notch new career-highs next season. 20 goals and 45 points should be reasonable expectations for Nick Ritchie in the 2017/18 season.
Max Domi, Arizona Coyotes
Max Domi, the son of former NHL player Tie Domi, plays a very different style than his father. He has a little more offense to his game and showed that in his rookie season, scoring 18 goals and 52 points in 82 games.
He looked like he was on his way to a breakout year last season until he suffered an injury that put him out of the lineup for 23 games starting in early December.
Heading into year three, Domi looks poised to have the best year of his career. Arizona Coyotes’ management did their due diligence this summer by acquiring big names in Derek Stepan and Niklas Hjalmarsson. This should help improve the team’s overall play and give offensive-minded players like Domi better scoring opportunities to capitalize on than years past.
Granted that health won’t be a concern, Max Domi can very likely have a breakout season, which entails around 20-25 goals, and 60-70 points.
Matthew Tkachuk, Calgary Flames
Matthew Tkachuk is another second-generation NHL player, he is the son of former NHL All-star Keith Tkachuk. He burst onto the scene last year and made an immediate impact for the Calgary Flames. As a 19-year-old rookie, he scored 13 goals, 35 assists, and 48 points in 76 games.
He plays on the edge and gets under the skin of his opponents, which is an overlooked asset of his game. With that, Tkachuk will likely draw his fair share of penalties next season and be rewarded with some time on the Flames’ power play. He has good hands in tight areas and is not afraid to play in front of the net, so his point totals should see an increase.
With that in mind, Tkachuk has a good chance to top his rookie numbers. A feasible estimation for Tkachuk would be around 18-24 goals, 30-45 assists for 55-65 points.
Nick Schmaltz, Chicago Blackhawks
Among the star-studded Chicago Blackhawks lineup, the team managed to inject another one of their prospects, Nick Schmaltz, on their roster last season. Schmaltz had a very slow start early on, but picked things up in February and March, scoring 20 points in those two months.
Schmaltz finished his rookie season with six goals and 28 points in 61 games. However, it is important to highlight that; he got a majority (20) of his points late in the season. Showing that he finally got used to the rigors of the NHL late in the season.
With the departure of Artemi Panarin, and with Marian Hossa out indefinitely, Schmaltz is a good candidate to be promoted into a top-six role. Seeing more time with players like Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews can only help increase his personal stats.
Look out for Schmaltz to potentially be a major contributor for the Blackhawks’ offense next season and become a 20-goal scorer and 50-point player in 2017/18.
Mikko Rantanen, Colorado Avalanche
The Colorado Avalanche had a horrible season in 2016/17, but Mikko Rantanen was one of the rare bright spots on the team. The 2015 first round pick managed to have a solid season, scoring 20 goals on a Colorado Avalanche team that was last in the NHL in goals with only 165.
Heading into 2017/18, Colorado probably won’t fare much better, meaning that they will place a big emphasis on player development. Therefore, Rantanen’s usage rate should go up, giving him every opportunity to improve on his numbers from last year.
Despite all the trade rumors surrounding the Colorado Avalanche, Rantanen looks to be a huge part of the team’s future. Next year looks to be a season where he takes a huge leap forward and possibly be a 30-35 goal scorer.
Jesse Puljujarvi, Edmonton Oilers
The youngest on this list, Jesse Puljujarvi did not have an impressive rookie season in the NHL. He only scored eight points in 28 games before being demoted down to the AHL for good.
In the minors, he put up better numbers (12 goals, 28 points, 39 games) and was a very dominant player for the Bakersfield Condors down the stretch.
With the departure of Jordan Eberle, Benoit Pouliot, and Tyler Pitlick, spots in the Edmonton Oilers’ top nine will open up. Puljujarvi will likely get his shot on the wing with either Connor McDavid or Leon Draisaitl.
Puljujarvi is a former fourth overall pick, who just turned 19-years-old and has plenty of upside. He also has drawn comparisons to Teemu Selanne according to NHL.com scouting reports. No doubt, he has the potential to be a future franchise-winger for the Edmonton Oilers, and next season might be the year where he breaks out and shows us just that.
Joel Eriksson-Ek, Minnesota Wild
Not many of you may have heard of Joel Eriksson-Ek, as he has only played 15 games in the NHL. Yet the 20th overall pick of the Minnesota Wild in 2015 did not look out of place for the team early last season.
He scored his first NHL goal in his first game and went on to score five points in his first five NHL games. Unfortunately, he hit a “rookie wall” and Minnesota did not want to burn a year on his entry-level contract, so he was re-assigned back to Färjestad BK in Sweeden.
Eriksson-Ek then went on to represent Sweden at the World Juniors and was a dominant player for his country in the tournament. Many scouts feel he should be NHL ready come October.
He is a big strong center, who has excellent vision with the puck. Eriksson-Ek should be able to solidify a top-nine spot for the Wild next year. If everything pans out, he could be at least a 40-45 point player for the Wild in the coming season.
Sven Baertschi, Vancouver Canucks
Sven Baertschi had a semi-breakout year for the Vancouver Canucks last season, finishing with 18 goals and 35 points in 68 games. The Swiss had a very slow start to his NHL career in Calgary, but the former 13th overall pick seems to have found a home in Vancouver.
With next season possibly the Sedins’ final one in Vancouver, the Canucks will probably focus on player development as the year progresses. That means players like Bo Horvat, Markus Granlund, and Sven Baertschi will see extended ice-time for the Canucks down the stretch.
The 24-year-old looks to be on the brink of entering his prime and next year might be the year where he takes a huge leap forward. Reasonable expectations for Baertschi would be 20-25 goals and around 50-60 points. If he is able to reach that level, it would be considered a breakout year.
Shea Theodore, Vegas Golden Knights
Shea Theodore was a promising defensive prospect in the Anaheim Ducks’ system for the past few years. However, due to Anaheim’s superb depth in defense, Theodore never got a chance to play a full season with the Ducks.
Theodore was a casualty of the expansion draft this summer. The 22-year-old was traded to the Vegas Golden Knights as a “reward” to ensure that neither Sami Vatanen nor Josh Manson would be selected.
The Vegas Golden Knights don’t have the best defensive depth, so Theodore has a good chance to be a top-four defenseman for them next year.
Theodore had a decent playoff run for the Ducks this past season, scoring eight points in 14 games. If he can carry that momentum with him to Vegas, along with a full-season of top-four minutes, Theodore has potential to be a breakout player for the Golden Knights next year.
Patrik Laine, Winnipeg Jets
Patrik Laine had an amazing rookie season, scoring 36 goals and 64 points in 73 games. It’s fair to say that he could have had a 75-point season if he didn’t miss games due to a concussion.
Truthfully speaking, Laine looks to be the best pure goal scorer to enter the NHL since Alexander Ovechkin and should be a 50-goal scorer in the league in the near future. He is a generational talent who will be a threat to win the “Rocket Richard Trophy” a few times in his career.
With a new season ahead, Laine can quite possibly take his game to another level and reach the 50-goal mark for the first time in his career next season. He also has potential to be a top-five scorer in the NHL, don’t be surprised to see his name up there with the best in 2017/18.
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