Breakout candidates can be defined in a few different ways, but for the purposes of this article we’ll look at young, Central Division non-rookies who have established themselves at least somewhat in the NHL and signs point to them reaching a higher-than-expected level of play and statistical achievement in 2017-18. In fantasy, these are players one would likely draft in the middle rounds that, while previously considered solid team staples, could surprise by reaching upper tiers within their positions.
Nick Schmaltz – RW/C - Chicago
Who knows if it’ll remain, especially with the way Coach Quenneville adjusts lines, but Schmaltz centering Patricks Kane and Sharp at this weekend’s training camp scrimmage makes the 21-year-old Madison, Wisconsin native an even more appealing breakout candidate choice. He registered 21 points as a rookie mostly skating alongside Jonanthan Toews in the last 26 regular schedule contests of 2016-17, and now without Artemi Panarin and Marian Hossa, Chicago has a greater top-six need. Schmaltz could generate production that blows away last year’s six goals and 22 assists in 61 games, particularly if he lands increased power play opportunities (just 1:03 per game for two points) and takes more shots. Schmaltz’s 66 SOG worked out to barely over one per game, and his 9.1 shot percentage is well within reach. Able to also play right wing, Schmaltz can fit in a variety of scenarios as the Blackhawks get their lines sorted. After a rough 30.9% faceoff success rate on a Chicago squad that struggled overall in that area, game situations may bear heavily on when he plays pivot or wing.
Mikko Rantanen – RW - Colorado
It won’t be easy to generate large numbers as an Avalanche forward, but if things improve even slightly and potential top-linemate Nathan MacKinnon continues his scoring ways, 20-year-old Rantanen should add to last year’s 20-goal total in a morbid 2016-17 Colorado campaign. Accumulating 38 points, including seven in his final eight contests as Sven Andrighetto provided a jolt on the Rantanen-MacKinnon line, it’s not a stretch to see him hitting near 50 points and 25 goals in the upcoming campaign. If he can better utilize his 6’4”, 211-pound frame, avoid significant regression from a 15.0 shot percentage while increasing his 1.77 shots-per-game, and keep a prominent role on the power play (2.43 average man advantage TOI) progress should ensue.
Sven Andrighetto - LW/RW - Colorado
Or it could be Andrighetto on the left wing should that top line really click. Registering 16 points in his final 18 games with Colorado he by far led the Avalanche in points-per-game (other than Samuel Henley who eked out a point in his only contest) last year with 0.84. Coming over from Montreal in a deadline deal for big Andreas Martinsen it’s not a large sample size, but with little talent standing between him and extended minutes, power-play time and a opportunity to help led this beleaguered franchise out of the dark, the 24-year-old Swiss speedster could approach 50 points of his own. While he’s not entirely averse to physical play, at 5-10, 187 pounds Andrighetto would benefit from Rantanen upping his on-ice presence as well.
Mattias Janmark - LW/C - Dallas
The Stars should return to their high-scoring ways this year with a healthier squad beefed up particularly by additions Martin Hanzal and Alexander Radulov. While there should be more points to go around everywhere, whoever gets the second-line left wing gig stands to take the biggest production leap. Prior to the last campaign with a genetic knee condition Janmark showed spark along with seriously speedy skates in his 2015-16 rookie campaign, registering 15 goals and 14 assists. That was in 73 games and just 14:10 average ice time. Put him to the left of Hanzal and/or Jason Spezza as many speculate and that total should increase dramatically. All the better if he can find a spot on their second power-play unit. With a skilled defensive game, an effective backcheck, and solid possession numbers Janmark can play in a wide range of situations and contribute many more minutes as long as his knee holds up. If the offense performs as expected Janmark’s a solid breakout candidate.
Kevin Fiala – LW - Nashville
Extremely fast and smart, Fiala impressed with 11 goals and five assists in 54 games while racking up 114 shots in just 13:33 TOI, contributing two goals in five postseason Predator contests before his tragic broken femur. He too looks a likely candidate for second-line left wing duty on a Nashville squad turning over their forward depth, and is forecast to line up with Nick Bonino and Craig Smith. Their veteran presence should help the 21-year-old 11th overall pick negotiate his first full NHL year. Expect Fiala also to see an uptick in power play time. After averaging just 49 seconds on the man advantage last year, a 2017-18 second unit spot looks likely. On the heels of breakout campaigns from Viktor Arvidsson and Filip Forsberg, there are high expectations for Fiala as the next young star. His solid possession game, featuring a 55.0 CF% and 5.3 Corsi Rel add to his value in a top-six role for the Western Conference champs.
Robby Fabbri – C/LW - St. Louis
Like Fiala, Fabbri is a speedster returning from serious injury with a top-six spot and power-play time awaiting. His 11 goals and 18 assists in 51 contests prior to tearing an ACL in February followed a productive rookie 2015-16 campaign (18 G, 19 A in 73 games). In training camp the Blues are working the 5’10”, 194-pound Mississauga native at center, but with a plethora of pivots in St. Louis he could shift to left wing and re-claim a top-line spot opposite Tarasenko. Regardless, expect big things out of Fabbri and draft accordingly. A second-line role would be a fine consolation, as he’d likely skate next to Brayden Schenn with whom he might share power play duty as well. With Schenn sharing honors for most power play goals in the league last year, Fabbri has several opportunities to hit or surpass the 50-point marker in 2017-18.
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