Every year, there are a handful of NHL breakout players that have outstanding seasons and catch the league by surprise with their much-improved play. Last season we saw two of best from the Edmonton Oilers in Connor McDavid and Leon Draisatil.
Connor McDavid took over the league in scoring, won the Art Ross Trophy, Hart Memorial Trophy and the Ted Lindsay Award. Meanwhile, Leon Draisaitl had career-high, 29 goals and 77 points, and finished as the sixth highest scorer in the NHL.
We are less than three months away from a brand new season of NHL hockey. We will get to see the emergence of new breakout players.
Let’s take a look at ten players from the Eastern Conference who has potential to have an NHL breakout player’s year in 2017/18:
Auston Matthews, Toronto Maple Leafs
This is an obvious place to start; the 2016 first overall pick had an impressive start to his NHL career. To include him on the list of NHL breakout player’s is a no-brainer. He scored 40 goals, 29 assists for a total of 69 points. Matthews took home the Calder Trophy. He was the only rookie other than Alexander Ovechkin to score 40 or more goals their first NHL season.
As good as he was, Matthews looks like he has even more to give and is far from his true potential. Simply put, he is a generational talent that has the tools to be a top-five scorer in the NHL. With the addition of an elite finisher like Patrick Marleau, there is more reason to believe that Matthews can become a premier scorer in the NHL next season.
We should expect him to be 80-point player next year and be a dark horse to win the Art Ross trophy.
Brayden Point, Tampa Bay Lightning
Next on the NHL breakout players list, in his first NHL season with the Tampa Bay Lightning, Brayden Point started slowly. It took him 12 games to score his first NHL goal; an injury forced him out of the lineup until early in the new year. After that, Point started to really take off and showed everyone why the Tampa Bay Lightning decided to keep him around after training camp.
In his final 32 games of the season, Brayden Point scored 15 goals and 10 assists for 25 points and looked like a solid top-six forward for the Lightning. Eventually, he finished his rookie season with 18 goals, 22 assists, and 40 points in 68 games.
If Point is able to carry that late season momentum into next year and play at a consistent level next year, he can definitely become a 50-60 point in 2017/18.
One thing his teammates must clear up is whether or not they are yelling for the puck to go to the point or Point… the player.
Charlie McAvoy, Boston Bruins
Charlie McAvoy was thrown right into the fire late last season. After signing his entry-level NHL contract on April 10, 2017 he made his NHL debut for the Boston Bruins in their first playoff game on April 12, 2017. It was quite impressive to see the impact McAvoy made in the Bruins’ lineup, for someone with no prior NHL experience.
In six playoff games with the Bruins, McAvoy was able to get three assists. Most importantly, he did not look out of place and looks to be NHL ready for next season.
Taking a look at the Boston Bruins’ depth chart, he is slotted in as a second pairing defenseman and should see plenty of playing time next year. The 19-year-old has plenty of offensive upsides and should see his fair share of powerplay time as well.
Like many, I expect McAvoy to put up the same type of numbers as Ivan Provorov for Philadelphia in his rookie season; around five-to-ten goals, 30 assists for around 30-40 points. That’s NHL breakout players territory.
Jack Eichel, Buffalo Sabres
The 2015 second overall pick had a decent start to his NHL career. Yet, it doesn’t seem like he has reached his true potential yet. Jack Eichel put up respectable 56 points in 81 games in his first year, despite being injured for the first two months last season.
He managed to finish his NHL breakout player’s sophomore year with 57 points in 61 games.
On top of all that, Eichel still ended up leading the Buffalo Sabres in scoring by the end of the year.
Jack Eichel is an elite young center, who has the potential to be in the same conversation as other young stars like Connor McDavid, Auston Matthews, and Patrik Laine. In that, his ceiling should be a lot higher than 24 goals and 57 points.
With another year of experience, and if he is able to stay healthy, Eichel can be a 70-80 point player, and a 30-40 goal scorer, as early as next season.
Jake Guentzel, Pittsburgh Penguins
Jake Guentzel was a major surprise for the Pittsburgh Penguins last year. Although he didn’t play a full 82 game season, he still managed to put up 33 points in 40 regular season games as a rookie. He really caught the attention of the hockey world in the playoffs, as he notched 21 points, in 25 games and led the NHL in playoff goals with 13.
With a performance such as that, he qualifies for the NHL breakout players club.
Heading into 2017/18 there is a lot to like about Guentzel’s upside. He seems to be the perfect winger for Sidney Crosby and knows how to capitalize on his chances. If he plays a full season with Crosby, he has potential to be a 30-goal scorer and a 60-point player.
Given how impressive he was in the playoffs against tougher competition, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Guentzel be a 40-goal scorer in the NHL very soon.
Jonathan Drouin, Montreal Canadiens
The Montreal Canadiens made one of biggest trades this summer, acquiring 2013, third overall pick, Jonathan Drouin from the Tampa Bay Lightning. Right now, he is slotted in as a top line player for the Canadiens and should be given every opportunity to succeed.
He did somewhat have a breakout year last year, scoring 21 goals and 53 points in 73 games, but that was playing on an offensively stacked Tampa Bay Lightning team.
Montreal is much thinner on offense, and Drouin should garner a bigger role entailing first-line minutes on the powerplay and on even strength. Reasonable expectations for Jonathan Drouin should be at least 55-60 points. But given his talent, and expanded role, I think he can take his game to the next level and be a 70-point player.
Josh Ho-Sang, New York Islanders
Josh Ho-Sang has been one of the most intriguing prospects for the New York Islanders in a while. He is a dynamic offensive player with incredible hands, along with game-breaking ability. Limited to only 21 games last season, he still has a lot of untapped potential in the NHL.
It’s fair to say that, the Islanders brought him up from the AHL very late last season, and never really gave him enough time to get acclimated to NHL hockey.
With this new up-and-coming season, Ho-Sang should be able to make the Islanders right out of training camp. He will play in their top-nine, and possibly even the top six. With a full season in the NHL, Ho-Sang will definitely be able to outscore his four goals, six assists, in 21 games rookie season.
He has shown glimpses of brilliance and has potential to be a 20-30-goal scorer in this league.
Look out for Josh Ho-Sang to surprise a lot of people with an NHL breakout player’s performance next year.
Sam Reinhart, Buffalo Sabres
Before the Buffalo Sabres drafted Jack Eichel, Sam Reinhart was supposed to be the team’s future number-one center. He still has potential to be just that, but his first two seasons in the NHL hasn’t been what many expected. He has made steady improvements from 42 points in 79 games during his rookie season, to 47 points in 79 games during his sophomore year.
Reinhart is entering his final year of his entry-level deal. Next year might be the year where he finally takes a huge leap forward. Obviously, more is expected from the former second overall pick, and the talent and skillset are there. He just needs to learn to apply it at the NHL level and do it on a consistent basis.
With that said, if he reaches his potential next year, we should see Reinhart score at least 60 points next year.
Travis Konecny, Philadelphia Flyers
Statistically, Travis Konecny didn’t have the most impressive rookie season last year (11 goals, 28 points in 70 games). But there is still a lot to like about his game and potential in the NHL. No question the Flyers see that in him, since taking him 24th overall in 2015. He was a former first overall pick in the OHL Priority Selection draft.
Konecny had a wonderful junior career, scoring 239 points in 183 career games.
According to scouting reports on the Hockey Writers, Konecny is projected as “a top six sniper who can play anywhere in the top nine. Despite being undersized, Konecny playing style resembles a player like Phil Kessel in the way that he can unleash a shot in mid-stride.”
If these projections are true, we might start seeing more of that player as early as next year.
Konecny’s NHL breakout player’s year will likely include 20 goals and around 50 points.
Sebastian Aho, Carolina Hurricanes
Sebastian Aho had a stellar rookie season for the Carolina Hurricanes last season, scoring 24 goals and 49 points, in 82 games. He was the second highest scorer on the Hurricanes only behind veteran center, Jeff Skinner.
Compared to his draft class, aside from Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel, Aho has made the biggest impact in the NHL so far and is looking like one of the biggest steals in that draft.
Before entering the NHL, Aho was a point-per-game player in the Finnish Elite League, so we know the offense is there. Going forward, Aho will likely see a lot of time on the Hurricanes’ top-six next season. With opportunities to play with better players, his production could potentially result in an NHL breakout player’s season next year.
Reasonable expectations for Aho are around 30 goals and 60 points, and he might be able to reach that level next season.
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