Be sure to check out other instalments in our Big List Series
- THW’s Big List of Comeback Candidates
- THW’s Big List of Bust Candidates
- THW’s Big List of Breakout Candidates
- THW’s Big List of Rookie Sleeper Candidates
Suddenly and extremely popular or successful — that is the dictionary definition for breakout as an adjective.
In hockey terms, breakout players are those who take their game to the next level, either by exceeding expectations or living up to past hype. Often times that success is predictable based on potential, recent performance and favourable circumstances.
Tyler Seguin, Kyle Okposo, Ryan Johansen and T.J. Oshie as forwards, Victor Hedman, Matt Niskanen, Roman Josi and Torey Krug as defencemen, plus Semyon Varlamov and Ben Bishop as goaltenders immediately come to mind among those enjoying breakouts in 2013-14.
The likes of Ondrej Palat, Reilly Smith, Andrej Sekera, Frederik Andersen and Anton Khudobin also fit the bill, but they were more so surprise revelations that most didn’t see coming.
Every team enters the season with a handful of breakout candidates, and at least a few of them tend to take steps forward — be it marginal or massive.
So as was the case with Comeback candidates, this Big List of Breakout candidates will highlight 126 players. That sounds like a lot — like way too many — but it equates to 1 in every 6, or essentially 4 per team, which in reality should be about right.
For the most part, I tried to leave rookies off this list, with the odd exception that was too good to pass up — spoiler alert, John Gibson. Not all of these guys will become stars in 2014-15, but the ones who do will likely be labeled steals from a fantasy standpoint and could help you win your league this season. Some of them are high-risk, high-reward types, but the boom potential is generally higher than the bust factor.
This is the third of a four-part Big List series that also covered Comeback and Bust candidates, with Rookie Sleeper candidates still to come as the final instalment.
For simplicity sake, this Big List is compiled on a team-by-team basis in alphabetical order per conference starting with the West. There will be a Top 10 and My 10, as well as Best Bets, Honourable Mentions and Long Shots for each of the 30 teams.
1) Mikael Granlund (F Minnesota)
2) Jonathan Huberdeau (F Florida)
3) Dougie Hamilton (D Boston)
4) Alex Galchenyuk (F Montreal)
5) John Gibson (G Anaheim)
6) Brock Nelson (F New York Islanders)
7) Justin Schultz (D Edmonton)
8) Mark Scheifele (F Winnipeg)
9) Seth Jones (D Nashville)
10) Chris Kreider (F N.Y. Rangers)
1) Cory Schneider (G New Jersey)
2) Tyler Toffoli (F Los Angeles)
3) Valeri Nichushkin (F Dallas)
4) Mika Zibanejad (F Ottawa)
5) Elias Lindholm (F Carolina)
6) Erik Gudbranson (D Florida)
7) Nikita Kucherov (F Tampa Bay)
8) Calvin de Haan (D N.Y. Islanders)
9) Jake Allen (G St. Louis)
10) Rasmus Ristolainen (D Buffalo)
Best Bet: John Gibson, G — It’ll be interesting to see if they label Andersen the starter or if they start platooning from Day 1 in 2014-15. Either way, I think Gibson will eventually emerge as the go-to guy and a potential Calder candidate.
Honourable Mentions: Devante Smith-Pelly, F — He looked great with Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry in the playoffs, but probably won’t start there in 2014-15 with the signing of Dany Heatley. But he’ll be capable of playing a depth role and working his way up, which I expect he’ll do for 15 goals and 30 points similar to Patrick Maroon in 2013-14.
Jakob Silfverberg, F — He very well could have a bigger impact than Smith-Pelly, especially offensively, with 20 goals and 40 points well within reach if he ends up playing with Ryan Kesler as projected for 2014-15.
Sami Vatanen, D — He’s pretty underrated even after putting up 21 points in only 48 games in 2013-14. That pro-rates to 36 points over 82 games, the same number Cam Fowler managed in 2013-14, so I could see a similar jump from Vatanen for 2014-15.
Long Shot: Emerson Etem, F — Not sure if he’ll stick out of training camp, but his speed could really complement Andrew Cogliano on the third line if he makes it. He was over a point-a-game in the AHL in 2013-14 and had 7 goals and 11 points in 29 NHL games, so that’s 20 goals and 31 points over 82 games. I’d say 15 goals and 30 points is doable for 2014-15.
Best Bet: None. Looking at their roster, nobody jumps out for a breakout. Gagner is almost on the comeback list, so the only other names that came to mind are Brandon McMillan and Michael Stone, but I’m confident enough about either of them.
Honourable Mention: None. Put McMillan here if you must as I think he’ll find a role and come close to 30 points.
Long Shot: None. Blanked here, but don’t worry Coyotes fans, your team gets plenty of attention in the other Big Lists.
Best Bet: Mikael Backlund, F — The advanced stats junkies really like his potential for a breakout and it’s hard to disagree considering he’ll be given plenty of playing time in offensive situations. He had 18 goals and 39 points in 2013-14, but most think he’s capable of at least 25 goals and 50 points in 2014-15. Count me among that group.
Honourable Mention: Joe Colborne, F — He established himself as an NHL player with his hometown team in 2013-14, playing 80 games and putting up 10 goals and 28 points. He could up that to 20 goals and 40 points in 2014-15, but 15 goals and 35 points seems probable.
Long Shot: None. Maybe Lance Bouma along the same lines as Brandon McMillan, but I’m not counting on him.
Best Bet: Ben Smith, F — He was coming on strong to end 2013-14 and could have a Reilly Smith (no relation) type breakout in 2014-15. Well, that’s probably pushing it considering Reilly Smith had 20 goals and 51 points playing with better linemates than Ben Smith is likely to get. But after 14 goals and 26 points in 2013-14, I could see 20 goals and 40 points for Ben Smith in 2014-15.
Honourable Mention: Antti Raanta, G — Now that he’s adjusted to North America, I think his save percentage will go from .897 to at least .910 and his playing time behind Corey Crawford will likely receive a bump as a result too.
Long Shots: Jeremy Morin, F — He’s another point-a-game AHLer that the Blackhawks supposedly plan to keep on the roster for 2014-15. He had 5 goals and 11 points in 24 NHL games for 2013-14, which translates to 17 goals and 38 points over 82 games. That’s a stretch being such a small sample size, but 15 goals and 30 points might be a reasonable expectation.
Brandon Mashinter, F — Brandon Bollig’s replacement who was acquired from the Rangers for Kyle Beach. He won’t put up many points, but he could be a PIMs machine trying to prove his worth.
Best Bet: None, not unless you consider Nick Holden a breakout candidate two years in a row. He had 10 goals and 25 points in 54 games, making Andre Benoit expendable in 2013-14. That would equate to 15 goals and 38 points over 82 games, but I doubt his 2014-15 totals will be that much higher than 2013-14 regardless of games played.
Honourable Mentions: Stefan Elliott, D — This is a make or break year for him, at least in Colorado considering he’s waiver eligible and would probably get claimed if sent down again. As a rookie in 2011-12, he had 4 goals and 13 points in 39 games, which is 8 goals and 27 points over 82 games. Could he put up those kind of numbers in 2014-15? I can’t see why not, but I think the Avs would just be happy to see him earn a spot.
Reto Berra, G — The Avs paid quite a bit to get him out of Calgary, so they must see something they like. He’s not likely stealing the crease from Semyon Varlamov in 2014-15, but if he can earn 30 starts, he could turn some heads.
Long Shot: None. Maybe Karl Stollery or Maxim Noreau if one of them makes it, just because they are so under-the-radar and have offensive potential as a defencemen.
Best Bet: Valeri Nichushkin, F — He had an impressive rookie season with 34 points in 79 games, but that was just a tease of what’s to come. The big Russian winger is capable of much more, and I don’t think 25 goals and 55 points is out of reach for 2014-15.
Honourable Mention: Kevin Connauton, D — Jordie Benn sort of played ahead of him in 2013-14, but I fully expect Connauton to earn a bigger role in 2014-15, possibly even seeing some power-play time. He only had 1 goal and 8 points in 36 games last season, but I think he’s capable of 5 goals and 25 points for 2014-15.
Long Shots: Colton Sceviour, F — The additions of Jason Spezza and Ales Hemsky probably keep him down the depth chart, but he could certainly work his way up. Sceviour had 8 goals and 12 points in 26 games for 2013-14, so that’s 25 goals and 38 points over 82 games, but I would obviously temper those expectations to about 15 goals and 30 points for 2014-15.
Travis Morin, F — He was the AHL’s regular-season and playoff MVP with a combined 110 points, but he’s small and already 30 years old, so I wouldn’t put a ton of stock in this late bloomer for 2014-15.
Best Bet: Justin Schultz, D — He had 27 points as a rookie in the lockout year then 11 goals and 33 points in 74 games for 2013-14, but his production was hindered by the Oilers going with five forwards on their top power-play unit. Assuming that experiment is over, Schultz should be good for 40, maybe even 50 points in 2014-15. He’ll have added motivation after settling for a 1-year, “show me” contract worth $3.675 million following a long summer of negotiations.
Honourable Mentions: Martin Marincin, D — Quietly developed into a top-four defender last season but possesses an offensive element he has yet to display at the NHL level with only 6 assists in 44 games for 2013-14. I could see closer to 20 points for 2014-15.
Mark Arcobello and/or Anton Lander, F — This is likely more OR than AND as only one of them will be in a scoring role assuming the Oilers don’t acquire a true second/third line centre prior to 2014-15. The 2013-14 stats favour Arcobello with 4 goals and 18 points in 41 games (8-36 over 82) to Lander’s 1 assist in 27 games. Whoever wins that spot in training camp will probably end up with between 25 and 35 points for 2014-15.
Long Shot: None. Or the loser of that Arcobello-Lander battle as an underdog to climb the depth chart.
Los Angeles Kings
Best Bet: Tyler Toffoli, F — He played a key role in the Kings’ Cup run with 7 goals and 14 points in 26 games, which pro-rates to 22 goals and 44 points over 82 games. That should be doable, and Toffoli could push for 25 goals and 50 points in 2014-15.
Honourable Mentions: Tanner Pearson, F — He was kind of overshadowed in the playoffs by his emerging linemate Toffoli, but if they stay together with Jeff Carter for 2014-15, then Pearson should also be in that 20-goal, 40-point range.
Alec Martinez, D — Scored the Cup-winning goal and used the playoffs in general as his coming-out party. Expect him to build on that but within reason, so 30 points would be a success in 2014-15.
Kyle Clifford, F — He’s struggled to find a permanent place in the Kings’ lineup but if he could stick with Anze Kopitar and Marian Gaborik, then Clifford could breakout for 15 goals, 30 points and 150 penalty minutes in 2014-15.
Long Shot: Brayden McNabb, D — If he’s not on the roster to start the season, he’ll be the first injury call-up and could also solidify a spot sooner than later. He was a nice buy-low by Dean Lombardi.
Best Bets: Mikael Granlund, F — He really came on strong after the Olympics and into the playoffs. It’s only a matter of time until he’s a point-per-game player and surpasses his compatriot Mikko Koivu on the depth chart, but 60 points is a realistic expectation for 2014-15.
Honourable Mentions: Charlie Coyle, F — Looks to have the inside track to play on a scoring line, which should mean a nice bump from the 30 points he put up in 2013-14. I’d say 50 points is a good target.
Nino Niederreiter, F — He could overtake Coyle, but will likely start on a checking line with Kyle Brodziak and Matt Cooke, which could limit El Nino’s offence. He should still be good for 40 points and possibly 50 as well.
Long Shot: Erik Haula, F — Coming off a breakthrough playoff performance that showcased his breakaway speed with 4 goals and 7 points in 13 games, which pro-rates to 25 goals and 44 points over 82 games. That might be a stretch, but 35 points could be possible.
Best Bets: Seth Jones, D — New coach Peter Laviolette really liked him and played him a ton at the world championships, so expect that to continue in Nashville for 2014-15. He had a solid rookie season with 6 goals and 25 points in 77 games for 2013-14, but he could get closer to 40 points in 2014-15.
Craig Smith, F — He basically broke out in 2013-14, taking his previous-best point total of 36 up to 52, including 24 goals, but I think that was just a sign of things to come. In a more offensive system, Smith is capable of 30-30 for 60 points for 2014-15. In other words, he hasn’t peaked yet.
Honourable Mentions: Ryan Ellis, D — Similar to Smith, Ellis jumped from 11 points to 27 in 2013-14, but I think he’ll take another leap towards 40 points in 2014-15. Ellis is in a tough spot behind Shea Weber, Roman Josi and Jones for power-play time, but if he produces that time will increase sooner than later.
Colin Wilson, F — He’s been a breakout candidate for years now, but Laviolette could help him get over that hump. He’s been pretty consistent for the 15-goal, 35-point range, but I’m thinking 20 goals and 50 points for 2014-15.
Long Shot: Mattias Ekholm, D — Buried even further down the depth chart, he only had 1 goal and 9 points in 62 games for 2013-14, but Ekholm could double that to reach 20 points in 2014-15.
San Jose Sharks
Best Bets: Logan Couture, F — This is a no-brainer, he’ll be this year’s Matt Duchene and put up at least 70 points in 2014-15 considering he was on pace for 67 points before getting hurt in 2013-14.
Tomas Hertl, F — No surprise here either, he would have challenged for the Calder if not for injury, and could be a 60-plus point guy in 2014-15.
Matt Nieto, F — Quietly also had a good rookie season in a depth role, could put up 20-20 for 40 points in 2014-15.
Long Shots: James Sheppard, F, Tye McGinn, F, Freddie Hamilton, F. Sheppard was fitting in nicely at the end of 2013-14, while the other two could earn depth roles.
St. Louis Blues
Best Bet: Vladimir Tarasenko, F — He took a step forward as a sophomore in 2013-14 with 21 goals and 43 points in 64 games, but injuries derailed his momentum. If Tarasenko can stay healthy in 2014-15, he could go 30-30 for 60 points.
Honourable Mentions: Jake Allen, G — He’s a rookie and he’ll start off as a backup to journeyman Brian Elliott, but Allen is going to get his chances and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him make the most of them. I think he’ll be the Blues’ No. 1 by Christmas.
Magnus Paajarvi, F — He got off to a real slow start in St. Louis after coming over from Edmonton for David Perron, but he picked up the pace towards the end of the regular season to finish 2013-14 with 6 goals and 12 points in 55 games. The Blues are bringing in a lot of new forward talent for 2014-15, which means even more competition, but I think Paajarvi will be up to the challenge and will get back to that 15-goal, 35-point range from his rookie season in 2010-11. I guess that makes him more of a comeback candidate, but considering he’s on a different team now, those totals would signal a breakout for him in St. Louis.
Long Shot: None.
Best Bet: Zack Kassian, F — I think most of Vancouver’s forwards will show improvement under new coach Willie Desjardins, and that Kassian will find some consistency to his game. He had a strong finish to 2013-14, pushing his totals to 14 goals, 29 points and 124 penalty minutes, but I think he’s almost a lock for a 20-20, 40-point, 100-plus PIMs season in 2014-15.
Honourable Mentions: Chris Tanev, D — He’s another guy drawing rave reviews from the advanced stats community and his progression made Jason Garrison expendable this off-season. Tanev will probably take over Garrison’s minutes at even strength and on the power play, which should result in a nice boost from the 6 goals and 17 points he had in 64 games for 2013-14. I’m cautiously optimistic that he can get to 10 goals and 30 points in 2014-15.
Shawn Matthias, F — He’s another guy that was supposed to break out 10 times over already, but it just hasn’t happened. He seemed to fit in pretty good with Vancouver after coming over from Florida in the Roberto Luongo trade, finishing with 4 goals and 7 points in 18 games to end 2013-14. If Matthias can pick up where left off, that would make for an 18-goal, 32-point pace for 2014-15, which I think is reasonable even though his previous career highs are 14 goals and 24 points.
Long Shot: Derek Dorsett, F — He’s one of Willie’s boys from their Medicine Hat days, along with fellow new addition Linden Vey (don’t worry he’s on another Big List to come). Dorsett had a career year with Columbus in 2011-12, racking up 12 goals, 20 points and 235 penalty minutes. Back in the Western Conference and playing for his old coach, I could see 15 goals, 30 points and 150-plus PIMs for Dorsett in 2014-15.
Best Bets: Jacob Trouba, D — Much like Jones in Nashville, this should be a natural progression for Trouba, coming off a 10-goal, 29-point debut in 65 games for 2013-14. That would be 13 goals and 37 points over 82 games, so 40 points for 2014-15 sounds realistic.
Mark Scheifele, F — Likewise, Scheifele should raise his rookie totals from 13 goals and 34 points in 2013-14, but being a forward he could push for 20 goals and 50 points in 2014-15.
Honourable Mention: None.
Long Shot: None.
Best Bets: Dougie Hamilton, D — He looked great in the playoffs and has been learning the ropes from one of the best in Zdeno Chara. He had 7 goals and 25 points in 64 games for 2013-14 (9-32 over 82), but I think he’s going to easily hit 10 goals and 40 points in 2014-15.
Carl Soderberg, F — He made an immediate impact as a rookie in 2013-14, with 16 goals and 48 points in 73 games, but he’ll probably tack on 10 goals in 2014-15 and be in that 25-goal, 60-point range.
Honourable Mentions: Matt Bartkowski, D — He’s sort of the forgotten one among Boston’s good young D behind Torey Krug and Hamilton, but he also acquainted himself quite well in his first full season with 18 assists in 64 games for 2013-14. He’ll score his first career NHL goal in 2014-15 and probably come close to 30 points.
Niklas Svedberg, G — More people know more about Malcolm Subban than Niklas Svedberg, but the latter is next in line for NHL time with Boston and he could be the next Anton Khudobin, capable of picking up the slack if Tuukka Rask goes through a tough stretch or goes down to injury.
Long Shot: Ryan Spooner, F — There’s going to be at least one and possibly two youngsters making the opening-night roster and Spooner has as good a chance as any. He had 11 assists in 23 games for 2013-14 but also has yet to score his first NHL goal. That will come in 2014-15, with potential for a 10-goal, 30-point campaign.
Best Bets: Rasmus Ristolainen, D — He only had 2 goals and 4 points in 34 games for 2013-14, but he’ll likely spend all of 2014-15 in Buffalo and get plenty of opportunity. I expect him to turn that into about 25 points.
Tyler Ennis, F — He’s got a new contract to live up to and considering his career highs came in 2013-14 with 21 goals and 43 points in 80 games, I definitely think he’ll tack on an extra 20 points in 2014-15, probably around 25 goals and 35 assists. Consider Cody Hodgson in the exact same boat, as together they will drive Buffalo’s offence.
Honourable Mentions: Zemgus Girgensons, F — He’s going to take a big step forward too from his 2013-14 totals of 8 goals and 22 points. He’ll be closer to 20-20 for 40 points in 2014-15.
Marcus Foligno, F — He broke into the league as a point-per-game player in a small sample size to end 2011-12, but his offence has steadily decreased since to just 7 goals and 19 points in 74 games for 2013-14. Like Girgensons, I expect Foligno to be closer to 20-20 for 40 points in 2014-15.
Long Shots: Mikhail Grigorenko, F — If he makes the Sabres, and that’s a pretty big IF with Sam Reinhart likely making the jump as an 18-year-old centre, but Grigorenko could produce 20-plus points in 2014-15. It sounds like he’s had a good off-season and will be motivated coming into training camp, so time will tell what that amounts to in terms of playing time and production.
Jhonas Enroth and/or Michal Neuvirth, G — These guys are going to see a lot of rubber in 2014-15 and not much is expected from them or their team, but if one (or both) of them can post a save percentage of .915 or better, the Sabres might not be picking Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel next June.
Best Bets: Jeff Skinner, F — Comparable to Couture in San Jose, Skinner is on the cusp of becoming one of the league’s elite talents much like his 2010 draft-class peers Seguin (84 points) and Taylor Hall (80 pts) did in 2013-14. After exceeding expectations with 31 goals and 63 points in his rookie season (2010-11), Skinner has been slowed by a couple of concussions and some other injuries. He established a new career-high with 33 goals in 2013-14, finishing with 54 points, but he could flirt with 40 goals and pot 70-plus points in 2014-15 providing he can stay healthy.
Elias Lindholm, F — He had 9 goals and 21 points in 58 games for 2013-14 but underachieved by most accounts. Don’t be surprised if he doubles both those totals for a 40-point sophomore season in 2014-15.
Honourable Mention: Ryan Murphy, D — New coaching staff should mean a new opportunity for this highly skilled blue-liner. He had 2 goals and 12 points in 48 games for 2013-14, so like Lindholm, I fully expect Murphy to double that output for at least 25 points in 2014-15.
Long Shot: Zach Boychuk, F — He’s another one of those annual breakout candidates that never seems to reach his potential. If he doesn’t stick in 2014-15, he’ll likely be a career AHLer, but I think Boychuk makes the Hurricanes and puts up around 15 goals and 30 points.
Columbus Blue Jackets
Best Bets: Ryan Murray, D — Just like Seth Jones in Nashville, Murray is expected to take another step forward from his 4 goals and 21 points in 66 games for 2013-14. He could flirt with 40 points in 2014-15, but should at least be good for 30.
Cam Atkinson, F — He kind of broke out in 2013-14 with 21 goals and 40 points in 79 games, but he’s got even more offence in him (his shooting percentage was only 9.7 last season), so expect 25 goals and 55 points for 2014-15.
Honourable Mentions: Boone Jenner, F — Might be buried down the depth chart a little with a healthy Nathan Horton and the acquisition of Scott Hartnell, both similar players with more experience/credentials, but Jenner showed signs of what he’s capable of last season and I don’t think it was a flash in the pan by any means. He had 16 goals and 29 points in 72 games, so I think he’ll be another 20-20 for 40-point guy in 2014-15.
Matt Calvert, F — Ditto for Calvert on the 20-20 front for 2014-15, although he only had 9 goals and 24 points in 56 games for 2013-14.
David Savard, D — He had 4 assists in 6 playoff games after 5 goals and 15 points in 70 regular-season games for 2013-14, but his offensive upside should equate to about 30 points for 2014-15.
Long Shot: Tim Erixon, D — He’s also got decent offensive upside even if his stats don’t reflect that with only 7 assists in 51 total games to date. First things first, Erixon has to earn a roster spot, but if he can do that, then his first career NHL goal should come in short order and he could push for 20 points in 2014-15.
Detroit Red Wings
Best Bet: Brendan Smith, D — His brother, Reilly, had the big breakout in 2013-14 and now it’s Brendan’s turn. He’ll likely get top-four minutes and power-play time in 2014-15, so 30 points seems like a natural progression.
Honourable Mentions: Danny DeKeyser, D — He’ll battle Smith for all those minutes but there should be enough to go around and he too should easily hit 30 points in 2014-15.
Riley Sheahan, F — There’s more depth up front if all the veterans are healthy and Daniel Alfredsson returns, so Sheahan may not get as much playing time as last season, but if he makes the cut out of training camp, he could push for 20 goals and 40 points in 2014-15.
Long Shot: Jakub Kindl, D — It seems he’s been a breakout candidate forever, or at least a few seasons, and has yet to put up the offensive numbers he’s capable of. Kindl had 19 points in 66 games last season, so 30 points might be possible in 2014-15.
Best Bets: Jonathan Huberdeau, F — Reunited with his former junior coach Gerard Gallant, Huberdeau has the potential to burst into a point-a-game type player, and I’m thinking 60 points minimum in 2014-15. After only scoring 9 goals and 28 points in 69 games in 2013-14, the third overall pick in 2011 might be overlooked despite his 14-goal, 31-point rookie campaign in the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season.
Honourable Mentions: Sasha Barkov, F — Had a strong start to his rookie season before getting hurt in 2013-14. Will be in prime positions to succeed, so 50 points is possible.
Nick Bjugstad, F — Like Barkov, he’ll centre one of Florida’s top two lines and could reach 50 points.
Best Bets: Alex Galchenyuk, F — He’s immensely skilled, probably Montreal’s most skilled forward, and that should translate into better results for 2014-15 after only 13 goals and 31 points in 65 games for 2013-14. I’m thinking 20 goals and 50 points.
Lars Eller, F — He had a mediocre regular season in 2013-14, but picked it up for Montreal’s playoff run with 5 goals and 13 points in 17 games. That translates to 24 goals and 62 points over 82 games, which seems a bit steep, but 20 goals and 50 points is definitely a possibility.
Honourable Mention: Alexei Emelin, D — He might not put up many more points than his 17 in 2013-14, but he’ll continue developing into one of the league’s better shutdown defenders and most feared hitters.
Long Shot: Dale Weise, F — He was surprisingly effective in the Habs’ playoff run, getting under opponents’ skin and even chipping in some timely offence. I wouldn’t bank on the offence continuing, but the pest factor will make him a PIM machine unless Milan Lucic scares (or beats) that out of him in 2014-15.
New Jersey Devils
Best Bet: Cory Schneider, G — He might seem out of place on this Big List, but believe it or not, Schneider has never won more than 20 games in a season and only won 16 during his Devils’ debut in 2013-14. I believe he’s going to double that win total in 2014-15, stealing several victories and getting serious consideration for the Vezina Trophy as the NHL’s best goalie.
Honourable Mention: Jon Merrill, D — He has immense potential and providing he continues to mature on and off the ice, Merrill should easily double his 2013-14 totals of 2 goals and 11 points in 52 games. I’d say 25 points is possible for 2014-15.
Long Shot: None.
New York Islanders
Best Bets: Brock Nelson, F — Expected to start the season on the top line with John Tavares and Kyle Okposo. If that trio comes to fruition, Nelson will be the biggest benefactor.
Calvin de Haan, D — He’s drawn favourable comparisons to Alex Pietrangelo and should start to realize that potential this season.
Honourable Mentions: Ryan Strome, F — He could produce even more points than Nelson. At least one of them will hit 50 points, possibly 60-plus.
Travis Hamonic, D — He’s a known commodity but should take another step towards becoming an elite defenceman while upping his offensive numbers.
Chad Johnson, G — Had solid numbers backing up Tuukka Rask in 2013-14, so should be a good fit and potential platoon with Jaroslav Halak.
Long Shots: T.J. Brennan, D — He’s produced offensively in the AHL on several farm teams, but he’ll still be hard-pressed to earn a regular role with the Islanders.
Justin Johnson, F — He’s not much of a player, but he knocked out big John Scott to serve notice that he can scrap with the best of them.
New York Rangers
Honourable Mention: John Moore, D — He became a regular for the Rangers in 2013-14, chipping in 4 goals and 15 points in 74 games. He’ll be closer to 25 points in 2014-15.
Long Shot: J.T. Miller, F — He became a point-a-game AHLer in 2013-14 but couldn’t quite stick in the NHL lineup. It looks like there will be a roster spot there for his taking in 2014-15, so I expect he’ll seize it and score about 10 goals and 25 points.
Best Bets: Kyle Turris, F — He’s been coming on strong in Jason Spezza’s shadow the past couple seasons, but now he’s the go-to guy for offence and will be given every opportunity to be a point-per-game, top-line centre. That might be a stretch, but 70 points is a reasonable target coming off 58 last season.
Mika Zibanejad, F — He’s also going to benefit from Spezza’s departure and probably play ahead of free-agent addition David Legwand. After 16 goals and 33 points in 69 games for 2013-14, I think Zibanejad could explode for 25 goals and 50 points in 2014-15.
Honourable Mentions: Robin Lehner, G — It’s only a matter of time until he overtakes Craig Anderson as Ottawa’s starter and I fully expect that torch passing to take place in 2014-15. It wouldn’t surprise me if Lehner starts 50 games.
Jared Cowen, D — He may never be a big point producer, but after 15 in 68 games for 2013-14, I think he’ll be closer to 25 points for 2014-15. Moreover, I expect Cowen to emerge as a bona fide top-four and a nice complement to Erik Karlsson. I see them as full-time partners by season’s end.
Long Shots: Cody Ceci, D — He’s got more offensive upside than Cowen and should build on his 3 goals and 9 points in 49 games from 2013-14. Ceci could also be near that 25-point range for 2014-15.
Mike Hoffman, F — He’s another big-time AHL scorer trying to earn a regular role in the NHL. He’ll have to beat out some top prospects for a spot in 2014-15, but if successful, Hoffman could be a 10-goal, 30-point guy.
Honourable Mentions: Sean Couturier, F — He seems to be cast in more of a checking role behind Claude Giroux and Schenn, but he still managed 13 goals and 39 points in 2013-14. He’s starting to remind me of Jordan Staal from his Pittsburgh days, so I think 20 goals and 50 points sounds about right for 2014-15.
Luke Schenn, D — I thought Toronto gave up on him too soon and although his point totals have actually dropped since moving to Philadelphia, I think he’ll prove me right in 2014-15. Like Cowen and Emelin, I think Luke Schenn will become a legitimate top-four and start to look more like Marc Staal sooner than later.
Long Shot: Michael Raffl, F — He had a solid first season in North America, scoring 9 goals and 22 points in 68 games as a relative unknown. With him now knowing what to expect in 2014-15, I think 15 goals and 30 points is a possibility.
Best Bet: Patric Hornqvist, F — He’s managed to produce a couple 50-point seasons with weak linemates in Nashville, so just imagine what he might be capable of with Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin. If the chemistry develops and they find the right fit, I could potentially see 35 goals and 65 points.
Honourable Mentions: Beau Bennett, F — He’s recovering from wrist surgery and looking forward to playing for his new coach Mike Johnston, who also happens to be his neighhour and the father to one of his best friends. Injuries have held him back as a pro so far, only scoring 3 goals in each of his two seasons to date with his best point total being 14 in 26 games from 2013-14. Assuming he’s healthy in time for training camp, Bennett could hit double digits in goals and put up about 30 points in 2014-15.
Simon Despres, D — With Olli Maatta and Derrick Pouliot recovering from shoulder surgeries, there’s going to be an opportunity for Despres and it’ll be up to him to make the most of it. I think he finally will after also being a breakout candidate the past couple years. He only has 3 goals and 16 points in 85 games over parts of three seasons to date, but I think he’s capable of 20 points in 2014-15.
Long Shot: None.
Tampa Bay Lightning
Best Bets: Nikita Kucherov, F — His upside is huge and he could be a point-per-game guy within a couple years. That sounds like lofty praise for a guy who only had 9 goals and 18 points in 52 games for 2013-14. Expect him to double that total in 2014-15 and be closer to 20 goals and 40 points.
Anton Stralman, D — He emerged as arguably the Rangers’ best defenceman in the playoffs, yet was allowed to leave as a free agent. He signed a big contract with the Lightning and could certainly live up to it. Despite only scoring 1 goal and 13 points in 81 games for 2013-14, paired with Marc Staal in a shutdown role, Stralman had 6 goals and 34 points in 73 games with Columbus as a career high in 2009-10. I’d venture to guess he’ll be closer to those totals again (at least 25 points) in 2014-15.
Honourable Mentions: Brett Connolly, F — He’s becoming another annual breakout candidate and has been a proven scorer in the AHL. He’ll be in the mix for a roster spot out of training camp in 2014-15 and if he makes the cut then 15 goals and 30 points could be possible.
Radko Gudas, D — He’s another one of those all-purpose defenders and while I don’t expect much more offence than the 22 points he had in 2013-14, Gudas will continue to make a name for himself in the less flashy categories such as blocked shots and hits. He’s a modern day Robyn Regehr, in my opinion.
Long Shots: Andrej Sustr, D, Mark Barberio, D. These guys will be hard-pressed to earn regular roles, but in the event of injury, either of them could fill the void with surprising effectiveness.
Toronto Maple Leafs
Best Bets: Jake Gardiner, D — He inked a long-term contract this summer based on his potential and I think he’ll make that deal look like a bargain sooner than later. He already tallied 10 goals and 31 points in 2013-14 and the advanced stats gurus like to pump his tires as Toronto’s best blue-liner, so like his former Wisconsin teammate Justin Schultz, I think Gardiner should be good for 40 and perhaps even 50 points in 2014-15.
Morgan Rielly, D — As good as Gardiner is, Rielly’s offensive ceiling might be even higher. He debuted in 2013-14 with 2 goals and 27 points in 73 games, so depending who gets more power-play time between the two in 2014-15, at least one of them will be in the 40-point range minimum.
Honourable Mention: None.
Long Shot: Peter Holland, F — He dominated the AHL playoffs and appears primed for the next level providing he doesn’t get lost in Toronto’s depth chart, which is a possibility with all of the Leafs’ new additions this off-season. I think he’ll eventually force his way onto the roster and probably score 10 goals and 25 points.
Honourable Mentions: Karl Alzner, D — He has more offence to his game and I think Barry Trotz will be able to get that out of him, with Todd Reirden’s help. Considering Alzner set a career high with 18 points and tied his high of 2 goals while playing all 82 games in 2013-14, the five-year veteran has been pigeonholed as a shutdown type. He’ll continue in that role, but it wouldn’t surprise me if he scored 5 goals and closer to 30 points in 2014-15.
Tom Wilson, F — Might not be ready to start the season after suffering a broken leg this summer, but he’s the closest thing league-wide to a Milan Lucic clone and he could realize some of that offensive potential if placed on a scoring line in 2014-15. He had 3 goals, 10 points and 151 penalty minutes in 82 games for 2013-14, but if he plays 70 games, Wilson could score 15 goals and 30 points with 100-plus PIMs again.
Long Shot: None.
Be sure to check out other instalments in our Big List Series