It may have taken nearly 4 months to get the Fantasy Hockey talk going, but the time has finally come. I’m not here to tell you about the usual suspects (Crosby, Malkin, Ovechkin, Giroux, Stamkos, etc). The idea of this article is to help identify 10 players who are poised for a “Breakout” year. This doesn’t necessarily suggest that these players haven’t already been successful in the NHL in the past, however the players identified here seem ready to take their game to the next level. Very often you will find in your fantasy leagues that it’s your mid to late round picks that can really take your team to the top. We’re always trying to find the next breakout star, and the goal of this list is to help make that a little bit easier for all of you.
With that being said, here’s the Top 10 Potential Breakout Candidates for the shortened 2013 Season.
10) Cody Hodgson – C (Buffalo Sabres)
While Hodgson always carries a significant amount of injury risk, he also comes with tremendous offensive upside. After the Sabres dealt away their top center (Derek Roy) to the Dallas Stars in the summer, the door has opened for Hodgson to be the team’s #1 center our of camp. He may have the opportunity to skate alongside Thomas Vanek and Jason Pominville, but he will have to fight of the emerging Tyler Ennis (another breakout candidate) in order to gain that right . The former Vancouver Canucks center only had 8pts in 20 games with the Sabres last year, but with increased ice time and better linemates those numbers figure to rise in 2013. The time is now for the 2008 10th overall pick to take the next step in his game and seize this incredible opportunity. If he stays healthy and maintains top 6 minutes, 15 goals and 35pts is not out of the question for Hodgson in a 48 game season.
9) Patrick Berglund – C (St Louis Blues)
Berglund has been a “Breakout” candidate for a couple of years now, and this may be his last chance to solidify himself as one of the games better young centers. While he did not have a strong regular season in 2011-2012, Berglund was a huge part of the Blues round 1 win over the Sharks in the 2012 playoffs with 7pts in the series. The 6’4 Swedish Center has been playing for VIK Västerås of the Swedish League (2nd highest Swedish League) during the lockout, and he has been nothing short of dominant. With 20 goals in 28 games the former 1st round pick is having a strong season playing in a league with several NHL players, including L.A Kings Center Anze Kopitar. Berglund has a chance to play with some excellent wingers in St.Louis and might form a strong duo with rookie Vladimir Tarasenko. If he catches fire early, Berglund may land top Center duty in St Louis and has the potential to score close to 40pts in the shortened season.
8) Matt Duchene – C (Colorado Avalanche)
After a solid rookie campaign, followed by an excellent 67 point sophomore season, Duchene regressed in an injury plagued 2011-2012 Season. The former 2009 3rd overall pick finished the year with only 28pts in 58 games played with a -11 rating. He also fell out of favor and was pushed to 3rd line center duty after the emergence of C Ryan O’reilly. Duchene has all the tools to be a top line center and should start putting it all together in his 4th season in the NHL. The Avs have also brought in some help on the wing by signing playmaking winger P.A Parenteau in the off season. We can also expect to see Duchene get some time with 2011-2012 Calder Trophy winner Gabriel Landeskog. Led by Duchene, the Avalanche are a young team on the rise and could get back into the playoff picture in a hurry. With a healthy 48 games under his belt, there is every reason to believe that the 5-11 center could amass 20 goals, and 40 points.
7) Oliver Ekman-Larsson – D (Phoenix Coyotes)
Ekman-Larsson played in his first full 82 game season in 2011-2012 and finished with a very solid 32 points. While the Phoenix Coyotes are not exactly expected to be a very offensive team, the scoring has to come from somewhere, and it may very well be from the back end. Along with Ekman-Larrson, the Coyotes Power Play will be anchored by star d-man Keith Yandle. While it’s never likely in the NHL, we may very well see two defensemen as the top two scorers for the Yotes at the end of the season. As for the former 6th overall pick Ekman-Larrson, he carries elite offensive upside from the back end, and the 2012-2013 sesaon may be the time for him to put it all together. The Swedish blueliner is currently playing in Portland of the AHL where he has amassed an impressive 21 pts in 20 games played. He has missed some time with a foot injury but is expected to be ready to go for the start of NHL training camp. If he stays healthy this season, we may witness the next “Erik Karlsson” type of offensive performance by Ekman-Larrson (to a lesser extent of course). 30-35 pts is not out of the question for the 6-2 D-man in a 48 game season in 2013.
6) Tyler Ennis – C (Buffalo Sabres)
As mentioned earlier in this article, Sabres center Tyler Ennis has the opportunity to skate between Thomas Vanek and Jason Pominville this season. The diminutive forward battled through injuries in the 2011-2012 campaign, however he came back and finished strong with 34 points in only 48 games played along with a +11 rating. This gives us a good feeling at what he can produce in another 48 game season in 2013. If the former first round pick proves to win the top line Center job out of camp, he can most definitely make some noise in his 3rd full NHL season. He’s a speedy, shifty player with a nose for the net and above average Hockey IQ. During the lockout Ennis only played 10 games this season for SC Langnau Tigers of the Swiss League, and posted a solid 8pts. It will be interesting to see how the center ice position shakes up between Hodgson and Ennis in Buffalo, however the 5-9 forward is expected to be a big part of the team’s offense nonetheless. If healthy, Ennis may be able to contribute at close to a point per game level this season.
The Top Five
5) Gabriel Landeskog – LW (Colorado Avalanche)
After being drafted 2nd overall in 2011, Landeskog had a fantastic rookie season as he walked away with the Calder Trophy. The budding Power Forward finished the year with 22 Goals, 52 Points, a +22 Differential as well as an astounding 219 Hits. He immediately cemented himself as one of the games top young forwards and he still has lots of untapped potential. The 20 year old forward figures to form a lethal duo on the team’s top line with Center Matt Duchene & off season free agent acquisition P.A Parenteau. No matter who his linemates ultimately end up being, the sky is the limit for 6-1 Swedish forward. With 14 points in 17 games in the Swedish Elite League, Landeskog has all the tools to be a point per game player or better, in the NHL for years to come. He should have a fantastic second season in Colorado and could amass 40-45 pts in 48 Games along with at least 100 hits and a great plus minus rating. Landeskog may evolve into one of Fantasy Hockey’s most reliable wingers. He had this to say when the news broke about the lockout finally coming to an end.
4) Jamie Benn – C/LW (Dallas Stars)
The Dallas Stars knew that losing Brad Richards in the off season would hurt their offense, but they also knew that they had a rising star in forward Jamie Benn, and that he was ready to shoulder the load offensively. Drafted in the 5th round of the 2007 draft, Benn is one of those rare diamond in the rough draft picks that every team dreams of. He has already had 3 very good seasons in the NHL and has increased his point totals in each one. This year, the 6-2 Center has a chance to play with one the NHL’s greatest players of all time in Jaromir Jagr. He should also have four time 25 goal scorer Loui Eriksson lining up on his left to complete the trio. This line could prove to be one of the more dangerous combinations in the entire league. During the lockout, Benn played for Hamburg Freezers of the German League. He performed exceptionally well, playing in unfamiliar territory by putting up a solid 20pts in 19 games. If all goes well for the Victoria B.C native, we can see him playing at a point per game pace, being a plus player and having 80-100 hits along the way.
3) Tyler Seguin – RW/C (Boston Bruins)
Tyler Seguin had his coming out party last season in the NHL after finishing with 67 points and a +34 differential in 81 games played. What’s even more impressive is that he only averaged 16:56 of ice time per game. This season he is going in to camp in the best shape of his life, and ready to be the team’s go to offensive player. If Seguin is awarded a couple of minutes more per game there is no telling how far he can go. Could he challenge for the scoring title? While it’s not likely at this stage in his career, it’s certainly possible if everything goes right for the 20 year old. He will also be one of the more game ready players in the league as he has kept very busy during the lockout. The former 2nd overall pick in 2010 has played for EHC Biel in the Swiss league, and amassed an impressive 40pts in only 29 games played. He also played for Canada at the Spengler cup and was a major contributor in the tournament, helping team Canada win their first Spengler cup since 2007. If he remains healthy this season and with increased ice time, Seguin can finish in the top 15 in scoring while averaging a point per game or better.
2) Jordan Staal – C (Carolina Hurricanes)
The expectations for Staal in his first season with the hurricanes are sky high after he signed a monstrous 10 year 60 million dollar deal in the off season. While Staal has never been known as a dominant offensive force, this season will mark the 1st time in his career where the 24 year old will be exclusively featured in a top 6 role. He has the opportunity to play big minutes with some great offensive talent in Skinner, Semin, Ruutu, Jokinen, and of course his big brother Eric. Regardless of which line mates he ends up with, this could be a big coming out party for Jordan. In 62 games with the Penguins during the 2011-2012 regular season, Staal amassed 50pts, a +11 differential along with 101 hits, all while maintaining his defensive responsibilities. Only time will tell, but a point per game season (or better) is not out of the question for Staal in 2013.
1) Ryan Nugent-Hopkins – C (Edmonton Oilers)
Where do we start with RNH? After being drafted 1st overall by the Edmonton Oilers in 2011, nobody was questioning his skill, but many were debating his size and strength. While he did sustain an injury in his first pro season, “The Nuge” definitely proved that he not only belonged in the NHL, but would also be a dominant offensive force out of the gate. He finished the year with 52 points in 62 games and fell just short in the Calder Trophy race. Now a year later, the 6-1 Center seems poised to take his game to the next level. After putting up 20pts in 19 games with the OKC Barons of the AHL, and battling a shoulder injury, Nugent-Hopkins took part in the World Junior Championships for Team Canada. He was clearly the most dominant offensive player in the tournament finishing with a tournament leading 15pts in only 6 games played. While his team ultimately fell short of the Bronze medal to the Russians, the Burnaby B.C native proved that he has elite offensive talent. He will now join a young, offensive Edmonton team where he will be able to showcase his offensive skills on a nightly basis. RNH will have to continue hitting the gym and adding size to keep up with the physical side of the NHL. However should he remain healthy for all 48 games, there is every reason to believe that the skilled Center could finish top 10 in league scoring.
RNH 2011-2012 NHL Highlight Reel :
10 Rookies to consider in your Fantasy Leagues for 2013
10. Cory Conacher – W (Tampa Bay Lightning)
9. Alexander Galchenyuk – C/W (Montreal Canadiens)
8. Jonathan Huberdeau – LW (Florida Panthers)
7. Gustav Nyquist – W (Detroit Red Wings)
6. Jakob Silfverberg – W (Ottawa Senators)
5. Damien Brunner – W (Detroit Red Wings)
4. Vladimir Tarasenko – RW (St.Louis Blues)
3. Nail Yakupov – RW (Edmonton Oilers)
2. Mikael Granlund – C (Minnesota Wild)
1. Justin Schultz – D (Edmonton Oilers)
Santino Fasulo currently works as a QMJHL Fantasy scout for DobberSports.com. He is also actively involved in hockey forums & social media, and is building a strong following. Santino will be covering the Tampa Bay Lightning for THW. Follow him on twitter @SantinoFasulo