Predicting NHL breakout candidates for 2022-23

September 6, 2022

Predicting that New Jersey Devils heart Jack Hughes can be a breakout participant final season was about as daring as forecasting {that a} canine would win greatest in present from the Westminster Kennel Membership.

Typically, the indicators are simply apparent that it is time for an NHL participant’s glow-up.

In 2020-21, his second NHL season, Hughes labored laborious so as to add dimension, shoot the puck extra typically and even modified the curvature of his stick. His sophomore success advised that 2021-22 can be his breakout. “I feel for gamers like Jack, it is like canine years. That is how a lot he discovered: How good defensemen are, how they take house away,” Devils GM Tom Fitzgerald mentioned on the time.

Final season, he proved these predictions correct: 56 factors in 49 video games, in a season lower quick by damage. A star was born, actually: Hughes performed within the 2022 NHL All-Star Sport, the primary of his profession.

Each NHL season, there are gamers effervescent underneath the floor able to pop. Rookies who stage up of their second seasons. Supporting solid members given a bigger highlight. Strong contributors who, by offseason additions or subtractions, discover themselves with a promising new position.

Listed below are 25 gamers who’re primed for breakout campaigns within the 2022-23 NHL season, positioned into helpful tiers.

Bounce to a tier:
New surroundings
New linemates
Younger star to main star
The wait is over

Tier 1: New surroundings

These gamers switched groups and will see their inventory rise with new surroundings.

After profession highs in objectives (28) and factors (57) in 80 video games final season, Bjorkstrand had his cap hit shipped out to Seattle whereas Columbus inked free agent prize Johnny Gaudreau. He has proven incremental enchancment every season whereas sustaining his standing as an analytics darling.

The Kraken did not actually have a breakout offensive participant of their inaugural season however ought to be a better-scoring group with an inflow of younger and veteran expertise. With top-line minutes, Bjorkstrand might see the highlight shine extra intensely on his spectacular recreation.

The venerable Scotty Bowman instructed Montreal Hockey Now that the Chicago Blackhawks jettisoned Dach as a result of a scarcity of faceoff success and a failure to play to the group’s identification — or not less than what the identification was earlier than it grew to become “lose in any respect prices.”

He is a prospect badly in want of a change in surroundings. There are issues Dach already excels at, similar to passes that arrange linemates’ scoring probabilities and defensive zone puck retrieval. There are actually areas for enchancment. With the fitting linemates, might he discover his recreation in Montreal? The Canadiens introduced him in for that potential.

Maybe the obvious candidate to stage up within the NHL. The 26-year-old discovered himself sitting behind Henrik Lundqvist and Igor Shesterkin with the New York Rangers throughout his five-year NHL profession. Now he’ll share the crease for the defending Stanley Cup champions with Pavel Francouz.

He is like a backup quarterback who takes over a Tremendous Bowl-winning offense that returns all of its expertise. He is in one of the best place to succeed. All he has to do is maintain up his finish of the discount and fulfill the promise he confirmed as a backup in New York.

When Myers was acquired within the Ryan McDonagh commerce with the Nashville Predators, many individuals began mashing contract buyout calculator buttons. However GM Julien BriseBois mentioned Myers was in his plans for subsequent season and signed the 25-year-old to a one-year contract extension.

There’s loads of uncooked materials the Lightning can work with right here: a 6-foot-5 body, an ideal shot and skating that may nonetheless enhance. Logic dictates that Cal Foote will get the post-Jan Rutta spot subsequent to Victor Hedman, however do not low cost Myers if he has a robust camp. (Sidebar: Would Myers-Hedman be the tallest defensive pairing in NHL historical past?)

Final season marked the primary time that Samsonov appeared within the majority of the Washington Capitals’ video games. It additionally produced the worst numbers of his three-season NHL profession, together with an .896 save proportion and minus-2.8 objectives saved above substitute. The Capitals grew uninterested in ready for the 2015 first-round decide to blossom, so that they walked away from the restricted free agent and signed Darcy Kuemper.

Samsonov signed with the Leafs for one yr and $1.8 million, becoming a member of a barely stronger 5-on-5 defensive group analytically. If Matt Murray cannot discover his groove, it might be Samsonov’s crease and his time to shine.

Smith was briefly thought-about to be a part of the Devils’ basis for the longer term after a robust rookie season that noticed him end seventh in voting for the Calder Trophy. However his sophomore struggles noticed his ice time drop by 2:37 per recreation on common, and the Devils shipped him to Pittsburgh for John Marino.

The Penguins have a glut of defensemen. The place Smith matches into that puzzle ought to be decided in camp. He is bought offensive upside and can be underneath the tutelage of affiliate coach Todd Reirden, who has developed his share of defensemen for the Penguins.

Tier 2: New linemates

These gamers might thrive with new linemates; or, in a single case, a brand new coach.

Query: Which participant ranks third amongst forwards in objectives per 60 minutes over the previous three common seasons? The reply is Ross Colton, the Lightning ahead who averages 1.45 objectives per 60 minutes at 5-on-5 in 109 video games, trailing solely Auston Matthews (1.79) and Jakub Vrana (1.59).

There might be some alternative within the Lightning’s prime six with Ondrej Palat signing with the Devils this summer season. Colton has constructed an fascinating case to earn an ideal alternative — past his playoff heroics.

The 21-year-old winger had a greater defensive season than offensive marketing campaign as a rookie for the Kings, though 14 objectives and 13 assists enjoying on an “power line” was promising.

If his capturing proportion jumps from an bizarre 7.2% final season, he might have a big offensive affect down the lineup — particularly if he graduates from enjoying with Blake Lizotte to seeing time with extra offensively impactful gamers.

With Nazem Kadri taking his abilities to Calgary, the Stanley Cup champions will want a middle to play behind Nathan MacKinnon on the depth chart. J.T. Compher stuffed that position at instances through the playoffs when Kadri was out of the lineup, however it has been anticipated that the 21-year-old Newhook would anchor the Avalanche’s second line within the close to future.

Apart from being a cheap answer nonetheless enjoying on his entry-level deal, Newhook additionally confirmed offensive pop as a rookie with 33 factors in 71 video games.

Mercer had 42 factors in 82 video games for the Devils as a rookie final season and exhibited some spectacular versatility. He moved as much as take the place of Jack Hughes on a line with Jesper Bratt when Hughes was injured and produced as a middle. When Hughes returned, Mercer ultimately moved onto his line without any consideration wing, enjoying reverse Yegor Sharangovich.

Placing him again into the highest six would enable Mercer to construct on his conventional stats whereas hopefully bettering on some underwhelming underlying numbers, particularly on protection.

McMichael spent most of his rookie season on the wing, producing 18 factors in 68 video games for the Capitals. The expectation is that the middle will see extra time at his pure place this season. His breakout is dependent upon how their depth chart shakes out within the center. Evgeny Kuznetsov holds down the highest heart spot, however the Capitals can be with out Nicklas Backstrom, who’s on long-term injured reserve. They added Dylan Strome and have veteran Lars Eller again.

If McMichael earns an opportunity to skate in Backstrom’s place on the second line, that might gas his leveling up.

Sillinger had 31 factors in 71 video games for the Blue Jackets final season, though he defended about in addition to you’d anticipate an 18-year-old rookie would. He ought to see an uptick in his 13:42 of ice time per recreation, however there’s an actual probability for Sillinger to maneuver up the depth chart in Columbus.

He has Boone Jenner, Jack Roslovic and Sean Kuraly with him on the depth chart. He had a cup of espresso enjoying with Patrik Laine final season; with a robust sophomore effort, might Sillinger see time with Johnny Gaudreau on Columbus’s prime line this season?

Lane Lambert takes over for Barry Trotz as Islanders head coach after serving as Trotz’s assistant coach for the previous decade. How he’ll differ from Trotz is a little bit of a thriller, and nobody is extra curious in regards to the variations than Wahlstrom.

The 22-year-old ahead is coming into his third season as an NHL common. Whereas Trotz gave him some power-play time in his 73 video games, he averaged simply 10:35 per recreation at even power. Will Lambert bump him up the depth chart?

Tier 3: Younger star to main star

You may already know these names. Prepare to listen to them much more.

The 21-year-old winger introduced his arrival within the NHL with 15 objectives and 24 assists in 47 video games for the Wild as a rookie. He ought to see a rise on his 15:23 common ice time from final season, maybe as a second-line winger for heart Joel Eriksson Ek.

It is an admittedly small pattern dimension, however there was rather a lot to like from Boldy’s ending skill and playmaking in 12 months 1.

Bouchard’s 43 factors in 81 video games final season, his first full NHL marketing campaign, might be referred to as a breakout for the 22-year-old blueliner. However he posted these numbers whereas enjoying the fourth-most even-strength ice time (16:49) amongst Oilers defensemen and with out the good thing about enjoying with their incendiary prime power-play unit.

He has an excellent increased ceiling offensively whereas his protection will enhance with expertise.

Caufield’s rookie season was a catastrophe by 30 video games. He had one aim and 7 assists. He was demoted to the AHL. Then Martin St. Louis was employed because the group’s interim head coach; all of the 5-foot-6 Caufield wanted was a small king to steer him.

After St. Louis was employed, Caufield had 22 objectives and 13 assists in 37 video games, seeing his ice time crest over the 20-minute mark for the primary time. It is assumed he begins on the highest line this season, hopefully to ship on the promise of that run.

Drysdale projected to be a productive offensive defenseman within the NHL and delivered on that final season for the Geese. He posted 32 factors in 81 video games final season, averaging 19:53 in ice time per recreation.

However like so many younger scoring blueliners, he struggled defensively — the Geese had 2.73 anticipated objectives towards per 60 minutes when he was on the ice. Younger gamers mature, and Drysdale ought to develop into a extra well-rounded participant as he does.

Jarvis burst onto the scene with 40 factors in 68 video games for the Hurricanes, after which adopted that with eight factors in 14 playoff video games. But that did not actually transfer the needle on league-wide acknowledgement for the Hurricanes ahead, who obtained one fourth-place and two fifth-place votes for the Calder.

He is a complete package deal participant with stable ending skill that resulted in 17 objectives. Give him a full season with Andrei Svechnikov and Sebastian Aho and watch him go.

It is not precisely troublesome to comply with this development line for the third total decide in 2020. He went from 2.1 factors per 60 minutes as a rookie to 2.4 factors per 60 final season. His proportion of shot makes an attempt rose from 53% to 57%. He earned a rise in ice time from 15:44 in 12 months 1 to 18:25 final season.

His defensive metrics improved yr over yr, however the Senators are nonetheless ready for his offensive breakout. Maybe their offseason infusion of expertise in Claude Giroux and Alex DeBrincat will spark that.

Tier 4: The wait is over

Gamers we have been ready to interrupt out who lastly will.

Beniers performed 10 video games for the Kraken final season and generated 9 factors in these video games. His poise, his skill on each ends of the ice, his faculty and Olympic expertise … all of it provides as much as the 19-year-old doubtlessly getting a top-line look from Seattle.

Preseason projections have him as a Calder Trophy candidate, and people might very properly be spot-on.

Two phrases: “keep” and “wholesome.”

When Byram has performed, he has been excellent, together with a 20-game run within the Avalanche’s Stanley Cup championship journey through which he led the playoffs with a plus-15. He missed a lot of the 2021-22 common season battling again from concussion signs. His skating is elite, his puckhandling is robust and he can develop into the form of shutdown defenseman many challenge he’ll develop into. Prepare for a one-two punch of Cale Makar and Bowen Byram for the subsequent a number of seasons.

This would be the third season within the NHL for the primary total decide in 2020, and it might be the marketing campaign through which Alexis Lafreniere lastly arrives.

He had flashes of brilliance within the Stanley Cup playoffs with the Rangers’ “Child Line.” His playmaking and special-teams play want enchancment, however his total offensive numbers improved yr over yr, whereas his capturing proportion remained constant. He can deal with himself defensively and has a robust compete stage.

In the end, his breakout season is dependent upon coach Gerard Gallant’s deployment — like doubtlessly enjoying on his off-wing on the highest line?

There are causes to consider Podkolzin goes to keep away from a sophomore stoop after posting 14 objectives in 79 video games regardless of restricted ice time (12:48).

He is extra comfy within the NHL. He is extra comfy in Vancouver, because of the arrival of a few new Russian teammates. He competes laborious and may play a bodily model of hockey. Whereas locking down a top-six position is in the end going to be as much as coach Bruce Boudreau, Podkolzin might power the difficulty.

Discovering a 6-foot-6 defenseman who skates like Owen Energy is close to not possible, which is why he ended up as the highest decide within the 2021 draft. At 19 years previous, he is an NHL-ready prospect who’s going to see large minutes and accountability in Buffalo this season.

There’s been nothing to point he will not be as much as the duty. If he meets the problem, Energy might develop into the third defenseman in 4 seasons to win the Calder Trophy.

The 21-year-old ahead had a stable debut season for the Predators with 32 factors in 76 video games, profiting from restricted ice time (11:32). Relying on what occurs at camp, he might discover himself amongst their prime six forwards.

Nashville bought a style of that final season when Tomasino performed properly in a quick stint with Ryan Johansen and Filip Forsberg. If he earns extra ice time, his numbers might spike.

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