Eatern Conference Breakout Candidates

by Eric Daoust

Tyler Ennis - USA Today Sports Images


Tyler Ennis, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Olli Maatta lead the way among Eastern Conference breakout canidates ...


Predicting breakout campaigns is one of the most popular aspects of fantasy sports. Not only is it fun to try to get ahead of the curve, they also play a great role in the outcome of fantasy leagues. Of course, there is some risk involved because often things do not unfold the way we think or hope. Those that successfully pick the right players usually end up celebrating fantasy league titles while those that swing and miss often find themselves out of the mix in a hurry.

The key is to make educated guesses rather than simply targeting any young player showing some positive signs. The player’s environment plays a huge role. Did his team acquire help during the offseason? Will he be placed in a better role this year? Also, there are ways to break down season stats and find trends indicating a probably improvement coming up.

The best way to minimize risk is to select your breakout candidates at the right draft position. Try to avoid overthinking the situation by reaching for your favorite breakout candidate. Be patient. If someone else wants to reach, let him deal with the potential headaches and target a different risk/reward player later.

The four players featured today are not rookies. They have at least one full NHL season under their belt but have yet to hit their potential. You can find a list of fantasy-relevant NHL newcomers here.

Other breakout candidates featured recently

Jonathan Huberdeau
Adam Larsson
Anders Lee
Kyle Palmieri


Tyler Ennis (RW – Buffalo)

Ennis will be 26 by the time the season starts and already has five full years of NHL experience under his belt. The fact he has never hit 50 points will lead many to think this is all he has to offer. However, things have changed in Buffalo which makes Ennis a sleeper to keep on your radar on draft day.

This year the Sabres will be greatly improved offensively thanks to the additions of second overall pick Jack Eichel as well as Ryan O’Reilly and Evander Kane. Having those options in the top-six is a major improvement from having Zemgus Girgensons and Johan Larsson as primary centers last year.

With Brian Gionta being his main competition, Ennis is clearly the Sabres’ top right wing. There is also Larsson and Jamie McGinn in the mix but they figure to be depth options. This will ensure Ennis is on a strong scoring line at all times. With that in mind, look for him to post big improvements in shots on goal (leading to a few more goals), assists and power play points while crossing the 50-point mark for the first time in his career. Just beware of his plus/minus. While the Sabres will score more goals this year they are far from a good team. There will be a lot of minuses on their roster this year.


Alex Galchenyuk (C – Montreal)

It appears Galchenyuk will be making the switch to center permanently this year. With that comes a greater opportunity as he will have a chance to ascend to the team’s top line as opposed to being stuck behind Max Pacioretty on the team’s depth chart at left wing. There will be growing pains but from a fantasy perspective his upside has increased tremendously or the upcoming season.

Three years into his career, Galchenyuk’s personal-best is 46 points. This matched Ennis’ point total las year but due to the team he plays for Galchenyuk is more in the spotlight and thus more well-known. This makes him less likely to fall in one-year drafts.

Galchenyuk is now entering his fourth year which often means a jump in production. We did get a glimpse of him at center last year for a dozen games. He had nine points in those contests before moving back to the wing. While this is a small sample, it scales up to 62 points over 82 games which gives you an idea of his potential.

As a more focal point of the Canadiens’ offense, Galchenyuk is in a great position to post career-highs this year. The move to center should help produce more assists while an increase in power play time will help him be a more productive player with the man advantage. Additionally, he will get added value in leagues that count faceoff wins as he will be able to give your team a boost while being LW-eligible.

Keep in mind that as a young center Galchenyuk will likely have a poor faceoff percentage. In fact, with the team having an excess of natural centers it would make sense to move one to the 21-year-old’s wing to help with defensive zone faceoffs.


Evgeny Kuznetsov (C – Washington)

Kuznetsov’s 37-point effort in his first full NHL season was a positive step in his quest to meet some lofty expectations. Not only did he establish himself as a full-time NHL player, he did so in limited minutes. Now the question is how good can Kuznetsov be in year two? How viable is he in one-year pools? Looking deeper into his numbers from last year can give us an indication of what is to come.








First half (39 GP)







Second half(41 GP)







Final 12 games









Clearly, Kuznetsov’s best play was in the second half after a slow start. While his power play minutes actually decreased as the year wore on, his overall ice time climbed steadily and so did his production. The lackluster first half can be attributed to an NHL rookie trying to figure out the game while playing for a new coach in Barry Trotz. Now that he appears to have figured things out he should be able to carry his second-half momentum into this year. Getting more ice time from start to finish will help Kuznetsov post career-highs in all areas.

One area of concern is his goal-scoring ability. Kuznetsov’s 11 goals came on 127 shots, for a shooting percentage of just 8.7 percent. This will likely increase in the year ahead but unless he shoots more than he did as a rookie his goal-scoring upside will be limited. Like his other numbers, his shooting and goal-scoring did trend up in the second half but it remains to be seen how potent he can be as a shooter over a full campaign.


Olli Maatta (D – Pittsburgh)

Maatta’s young NHL career has been marred by serious injury and health problems. However, we cannot overlook his solid play when he has managed to suit up for the Penguins. Through 98 career games, his point total puts him on pace for 32 points per 82 games while his nine points through 20 games in 2014-15 were on pace for 37. He is also a fairly frequent shooter for a defenseman with 146 shots thus far which will help keep his goal-scoring numbers up in the years to come. This gives you an idea of what the young defenseman is capable of heading into this year.

This summer the Penguins waved goodbye to Paul Martin and Christian Ehrhoff, opting to spend their cap space on a boost up front in Phil Kessel while going younger and cheaper on the back end. This will help Maatta in two ways: he will get more minutes as the team’s best defenseman behind Kris Letang while the added firepower will help produce more goals and thus more points for the 21-year-old.

The Penguins will likely go with four forwards on their top power play unit. Obviously Letang will be option number one to be their accompanying defenseman. But Letang gets hurt a lot as well which will leave Maatta and rookie Derrick Pouliot competing for the spot at various times this year. Otherwise, the second power play unit should sill produce good results as the Penguins have good options up front outside of their big guns.

Provided Maatta can shake the injury bug, he will be a significant fantasy option this year while eclipsing the 35-point mark and perhaps even 40 points. The added ice time will help in the assist department while the increase in goal-scoring prowess will help turn power play minutes into extra points. Of course, this assessment makes a lot of assumptions as Maatta is a major red flag health-wise. He will be most valuable in leagues with IR slots and an abundance of allower waiver wire transactions. This will allow you the chance to find a replacement whenever Maatta is not available.



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