Breakout candidates can be defined in a few different ways, but in this article we’ll look at young, Pacific Division non-rookies who have established themselves at least somewhat in the NHL and signs point to them reaching a higher-than-expected levels of play and statistical achievement in 2017-18. In fantasy, these are players one would likely draft in the middle rounds that, while perhaps previously considered solid team staples, could surprise by reaching upper tiers within their position rankings.
Jakob Silfverberg, RW, ANA
On the heels of an outstanding 2016-17 campaign featuring career-bests in goals (23) points (49), and equaling his previous high in assists (26), Silfverberg may surpass these again. Following an upward scoring trajectory moving from 19 points in his strike-shortened rookie year to 23, 39, 39 again and last year’s 49, the soon 27-year-old right wing 2017-18 provides several reasons for optimistic projections. Traditionally not an overly prolific power-play producer seeing relatively limited minutes, Silfverberg registered further highs with five goals and nine points on the man advantage. Should he move into a first-unit role alongside Ryan Getzlaf as some have speculated and retain a second-line spot to the right of Ryan Kesler, look for his points total to hit the mid-to-upper 50s. Even while sporting a career low 37.52 OZ%, Silvferberg’s 10.1% shot rate, 227 total shots and 18:29 average ice time last year were career highs, and it’s within reason all three could additionally surge upward. With their aging core the Ducks need to transition some of their younger talent into even more prominent roles. Expect Silvferberg to benefit.
Matthew Tkachuk, LW, Calgary
Tkachuk, a vital cog in Calgary’s “3M” line along with resurgent Mikael Backlund and Michael Frolik, was a force of offense and grit that set the tone in the Saddledome. The first year forward was a multi-category boon for poolies, tops among NHL rookies with 105 PIM, finishing third with a plus-14 (best among all Flame forwards), sixth in scoring with 48 points, and dishing a fourth-best 35 assists. Far from one-sided, Tkachuk’s ridiculously low 35.02 OZ% helped shelter top-line scorers Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan, increased his value to the team, and created even greater expectations that, with a year of seasoning and familiarity, he should meet. Expect more Tkachuk time in the offensive zone. While not low, his 142 shots could easily increase along with his 9.2 shot percentage, not to mention his mere 14:40 average TOI, all contributing factors to a potential 55-60 point campaign.
Bo Horvat, C, Vancouver
Horvat, now with three NHL campaigns under his belt has emerged, increasing his points total each season from 25 to 40 to 52. He’ll likely up production further as he enjoys his new six-year, $5.5M AAV contract extension, particularly if he continues on a line with Brock Boeser and the rookie has the kind of season many are predicting. As with many recently struggling squads, potential breakouts depend on quality linemate play, so we’ll see. If all goes well, he could help lead an upswing in southern BC and greater compensate for the soon age-37 Sedins’ declining play, adding to last year’s three goals and seven assists in just 1:57 per game on the man advantage. Don’t be surprised if Horvat’s shots increase too. While 157 isn’t bad, one can see this franchise cornerstone firing more than last year’s 1.9 shots per game. A reasonably optimistic outlook places Horvat around 60 points in 2017-18.
Christian Dvorak, C, Arizona
Dvorak leaped from a 52-goal, 69-assist OHL London Knights campaign, topped off by 35 points in an 18-game postseason run, to the NHL last year. With just a two-game 2015-16 AHL buffer between juniors and the Arizona, Dvorak become a key Coyote. As a rookie he assumed their first line center role after Martin Hanzal’s mid-season trade to Minnesota and impressed while skating predominantly between franchise legend Shane Doan and developing sniper Brendan Perlini, as well as with Max Domi and team scoring leader Radim Vrbata on the power play. With former Ranger Derek Stepan likely assuming the top-line pivot role, Dvorak seems destined to shift to second line duty, perhaps again skating with Perlini and uber-prospect Clayton Keller. That dangerous mix could vault Dvorak from his 33-point rookie total (with 15 goals on 88 shots for a 17% shot rate – taking just 1.14 shots per game) to 50 or above should Keller hit stride and Perlini build on the strong offensive play he displayed in flashes last year.
Sam Bennett, C/W, Calgary
While yet to deliver on the potential that made him the fourth overall selection in 2014, Bennett turned 21 just this summer and is coming off a sophomore scoring slump that might add up to a bargain on a possible breakout. After a streaky year and 10-point production drop (to just 13 goals and 13 assists), with his new two-year $1.95M AAV extension in place, and an added year of experience both for himself and key young Calgary forwards, Bennett may gain traction in 2017-18. If he does, the 6-01, 186-pound likely third-line center could boost his scoring. With more hits (127) than shots (122) last year, and 75 penalty minutes to boot, adding points by clicking with the right line and/or increasing his power play time (just 1:14 TOI in 2016-17) and Bennett becomes a valuable multi-category forward. Many “ifs” here, so by no means break the bank to get him, but maybe worth a smallish, speculative investment.
Antti Raanta, G, Arizona
The first number-one gig for a career backup stud (47-23-9, 2.32, .917 in 94 contests), Raanta will have a bit more defensive protection than recent Arizona netminders. Niklas Hjalmarsson joins a hopefully healthy OEL, Alex Goligoski, Luke Schenn and perhaps upcoming Kyle Wood as defensive support. That’s no Nashville, but it is getting better than the crew that allowed the third most goals in the NHL (258) and 28-year-old Raanta should eventually benefit. He’ll possibly see 60 starts, with backup Louis Domingue serviceable but not a challenge for the number one spot unless Raanta bombs or gets hurt.
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