If fans weren’t already aware of this, scoring was up in the 2021-22 NHL season. This meant scoring came from more places, and more players stepped up or broke out. Here’s a look at the top 10 breakout players (from all positions) this season, excluding rookies, since they don’t have any previous experience for comparison that would define a breakout campaign.
10. Evan Rodrigues
Evan Rodrigues finally got his shot higher up in the lineup in his sixth season in the NHL (second with the Pittsburgh Penguins). The season may have not been ideal for the team as Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin were both sidelined with injuries, but that allowed depth forwards like Rodrigues to be elevated and show what they can do.
In his first 33 games this season, Rodrigues scored 15 goals and 30 points, including the first hat trick of his career. This is what often happens when a depth player gets a much better opportunity higher up in the lineup or on a new team. Despite only recording 13 points in his final 48 games, he showed what he is capable of when given a chance and ice time, and he warrants recognition on this list. His previous career highs were nine goals and 29 points with the Buffalo Sabres, and he finished well above those marks this season with 19 goals and 43 points.
9. Robert Thomas
Robert Thomas is known for his passing ability, and that’s exactly what he showed this season to make him one of the biggest breakout players of 2021-22. In his fourth season in the NHL, he improved significantly from a previous career-high of 10 goals and 42 points to 20 goals and 77 points in 72 games this season, but his jump wasn’t as big as some of the other players ahead of him.
The St. Louis Blues had nine players score 20 goals this season, so Thomas finished ninth on his team in goals. But he also led the team in assists and finished second in points. He didn’t come into this season with expectations as low as some of the others here, but he also didn’t have a great 2020-21 season when he only scored three goals and 12 points in 33 games.
8. Evan Bouchard
Evan Bouchard missed the cut to be considered a rookie by one game. Nevertheless, he only had 21 games of NHL experience before this season, scoring three goals and six points. He burst onto the scene on the Edmonton Oilers’ blue line on the third pairing and quickly played himself onto the top pairing. He was paired with Duncan Keith in between and elevated his offensive production, and improved his defensive game throughout the season.
He finished his first full season with 12 goals and 43 points, which led the team’s defensemen in points without power-play time. Bouchard plays in all situations and logged over 100 minutes on both the power play and penalty kill. He also plays an underrated physical game while defending and will block tons of shots. His vast improvement landed him on this list.
7. Chris Kreider
Chris Kreider may be the most unexpected of names on this list. He was 30 years old when the season started and the oldest player here to have a career year offensively. He improved in every facet of his offensive game, playing on a much-improved New York Rangers team.
Kreider scored 52 goals, 77 points, 26 power-play goals, 11 game-winning goals, and had over 250 shots on net. His previous career-highs were 28 goals, which he only reached twice in nine NHL seasons, 53 points, 11 power-play goals, and five game-winning goals. His average ice time per game also increased by almost a minute and a half because of his improved play. Don’t expect him to score 50 again next season, but he should hit 30 goals more regularly now that he has found even more confidence scoring goals and has great offensive players around him.
6. Jordan Kyrou
Jordan Kyrou made a big jump this year from his first three NHL seasons. He struggled to find ice time and games in his first two partial seasons while scoring at a low rate. Once he figured out the NHL, he scored 14 goals and 35 points last season, which he more than doubled this season.
Kyrou finished the regular season with 27 goals and 75 points, scoring over a point per game. The Blues are so deep at forward that he did this while averaging just 16:35 per game. His shots went up as well as his power-play time, which both played a factor in his increased offensive output.
5. Ryan Hartman
Ryan Hartman finally produced offensively at the rate that the Chicago Blackhawks had hoped when they drafted him in 2013. He didn’t have a bad start to his career, recording 31 points in consecutive seasons when he arrived on the scene. His production then dropped for the next four seasons, maxing out at 26 points.
In his third season with the Minnesota Wild, he got his shot on the top line with Kirill Kaprizov and Mats Zuccarello, and it helped him finally have a breakout season, with 34 goals and 65 points. He played over three minutes more per game than he had in his career and scored 37 percent of his career goals just this season. He was firing the puck more confidently while also playing hard and physically as he always does.
4. Noah Dobson
Noah Dobson was one of the only bright spots for the New York Islanders this season and drastically improved while being one of the best offensive players on the team. He had to step up in Ryan Pulock’s absence and continued his great play all season long. He also established himself as a defenceman who plays well on the power play.
Dobson played 80 NHL games over two seasons before 2021-22 when he scored four goals and 21 points. This season, he broke out for 13 goals and 51 points while playing over five minutes more per game. Despite starting slow and even being scratched at one point, he turned his season around and led the charge that saw the Islanders fall short of the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. What he was able to do in less than a season shows why he is one of the best young defensemen in the game and has a bright future.
3. Mason Marchment
Mason Marchment came out of nowhere for the Florida Panthers this season. Before exploding offensively, he only had two goals and 11 points in 37 games. This season, he was nearly a point-per-game player on the third line while averaging 14 minutes a game.
Everyone on the Panthers seemed to be adding to their point totals this season as they became one of the most productive offensive teams in years. Marchment finished with only 54 games but had 18 goals and 47 points. Almost all of his production came at even strength, with just two power-play points on the year. Paid just above the league minimum, nobody expected him to elevate his game to this degree. You also can’t forget about his six-point outing on Jan. 31, a club record.
2. Ville Husso
In just his second NHL season, Ville Husso emerged as the Blues’ starter when they needed him the most. This season has been night-and-day from his first campaign in 2020-21 when he finished with a .893 save percentage (SV%) and 3.21 goals-against average (GAA). He started only 15 games last season, and for good reason; his play wasn’t an improvement on Jordan Binnington, which resulted in an early playoff exit.
This season has been completely different. Husso took over the net early on and held it (for the most part) until the playoffs when he was chosen to start Game 1 vs. the Wild. He went 25-7-6 with a .919 SV% and 2.56 GAA while recording two shutouts. He also improved his goals saved above average (GSAA) from minus-6.6 last season to 15 this season. He was considered a fringe backup goalie last season but was one of the best starters in the NHL this season.
1. Tage Thompson
The most improved player in the NHL this season was Tage Thompson. The trade that sent him to the Buffalo Sabres in a package deal for Ryan O’Reilly is finally paying off. Most people were ready to write off the former 26th-overall pick as a bust until he finally put all of the pieces together and was a force on the Sabres’ top line.
To this point in Thompson’s career, he had only scored 18 goals and 35 points in 145 games. This season alone saw him score 38 goals and 68 points, shattering his career-highs and totals. He found chemistry with his linemates and used his 6-foot-7 frame to his advantage. He is the clear-cut top breakout player this season.
Do you agree with the order? Who would you move up or down? Let me know in the comments.
Rob Couch is a THW freelance writer covering mainly the Edmonton Oilers and Philadelphia Flyers. He covers everything you need to know about fantasy hockey. He will also keep you up to date with NHL Stats News, trade talks, and daily betting guides.
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