Breakout Performance: The Atlantic Division

Ryan KennedyContributor IAugust 7, 2009

PHILADELPHIA - APRIL 21:  Claude Giroux #28 of the Philadelphia Flyers skates against the Pittsburgh Penguins during Game Four of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinal Round of the 2009 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs  at the Wachovia Center on April 21, 2009 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Penguins defeated the Flyers 3-1 to take a three games to one lead in the series.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

Over the next few weeks, I will go through each division of the NHL, analyzing players who I think will have breakout performances in the '09-'10 campaign.

We begin with the Atlantic division.

Ryan Callahan
Callahan enjoyed a breakout year already in '08-'09, setting career highs in goals, assists, points, games played, and penalty minutes. However, many believe that Callahan has just begun.
Under new coach John Torterella, Callahan was seemingly the best player night in and night out for the Rangers, leaving much optimism that his offensive numbers this year were no fluke. Callahan not only scored 22 goals and 40 points this year, but he finished with a plus-seven rating while coming in fourth in the league in hits.
He's not a point per game guy, but he will certainly fit into the Rangers top six while still providing tons of energy and physical play night in and night out. Realistically, Callahan could score 30 goals. He doesn't posess the playmaking skills to get any more than 25 or 30 assits. He's a safe bet this season to score anywhere from 50-60 points, or at the very least, mimic the 40 points he put up this year.
Claude Giroux
Claude Giroux has already become a fan favorite amongst Flyers' faithful. A midseason call-up, Giroux was able to put up decent numbers alongside Danny Briere, while playing third line minutes during the regular season.
He was the Flyers' best offensive weapon in their first round playoff exit to Pittsburgh. Big things are expected of Giroux come this season, as he's expected to help pick up the slack left by Mike Knuble and Joffrey Lupul.
Giroux will no doubt see his ice time increase this season, and will play on the top two lines alongside either Mike Richards or Jeff Carter. Giroux showed good chemistry with both Danny Briere and Simon Gagne at points last year, but Giroux is not a player who needs amazing line mates to make things happen. He is a very talented player and can make the players around him better.
He has fantastic offensive instincts, and even though he's generally considered a playmaker, Giroux is an underrated shooter and finisher. Point per game totals wouldn't surprise many, given Giroux's talent, but I would expect 70 points or so from the 21-year-old Ontario native.
Alex Goligoski
Although Goligoski only saw two games during the Penguins' cup run in this year's playoffs, the young Minnesota native turned in a fine regular season.
Goligoski was called up from the baby Pens to help Kris Letang provide some offense from the blue-line because veteran quarterback Sergei Gonchar was out most of the season with an injury. 
In just 45 games, Goligoski posted six goals and 20 points, along with a plus-five rating. Goligoski has all the offensive tools of a powerplay quarterback, but he's also fairly responsible in his own end. He will likely start the year with the big boys, playing on the third, pairing with veteran Jay Mckee.
With Letang and Gonchar running the first powerplay unit, Goligoski will likely get most of his points running the second unit and setting up guys like Jordan Stall and Chris Kunitz. Goligoski may have to adjust some more to Dan Bylsmas-style of play, but with the ice time he's expected to see, he's more than capable of five goals and 30-plus points. Those numbers will increase, should Gonchar or Letang go down with an injury at some point during the year.
Kyle Okposo
Currently, most Islander fans are too excited about the debut of first overall pick John Tavares to even remember who Kyle Okposo is.
Okposo led the NHL's worst team last year in goals, with 18, and was second only to defensemen Mark Streit in points, with 44. Not terrible numbers for a player's first full season to begin with. Okposo missed 17 games due to injury.
This year, big things are expected of the St. Paul native, who is still only 21. He will likely skate on the top line with John Tavares, who, like him, is a multi-dimensional offensive talent.
Okposo has the passing ability to find teammates anywhere in the offensive zone, but also possesses great shooting ability and knows how to put the puck in the back of the net.
Okposo, along with Tavares and center Josh Bailey, is a huge piece to Islanders during their current rebuilding phase. Many have compared Okposo to Jarome Iginlia. While Okposo could stand to play a bit more physical like Iginlia, that comparison isn't very far off.
Okposo is another player capable of putting up point-per-game totals or better. But for a breakout year, 30 goals and 70-plus points seem adequate for the former seventh overall pick.
Matt Carle
Some may argue that Matt Carle already had a breakout season with the Sharks in '06-'07, which saw him post career highs with 11 goals, 42 points, and a plus-nine rating.
However, I think Matt Carle is capable of putting up numbers even higher than that. After being traded during the '07-'08 season to the Lightning, Carle was traded again at the begining of the '08-'09 season to the Flyers.
Carle is one of the better young puck-moving defensemen in the game today, and at 24 -years-old, still has room to improve. Now settled in Philadelphia and 64 games into coach John Stevens' system, Carle will hopefully put up numbers similar to his '06-'07 campaign. 
Carle figures to fit into Philadelphia's top four, along with Chris Pronger, Kimmo Timonen, and Braydon Coburn. Timonen and Coburnhave have proven to be a solid pairing for some time now, so realistically, one can assume Carle will be given a shot alongside Pronger.
Carle has fantastic offensive instincts, but could use some improvement in his own end. Playing with Pronger will do wonders for Carle's defensive game.
With top four minutes, Carle should at least be able to put up 30 points or so. The real question of whether he can break out depends on his powerplay time. Center Mike Richards plays the point often on the powerplay. Whether that will continue now that Chris Pronger is in town remains to be seen.
Either way, any powerplay time Matt Carle sees will likely be on the second unit. But with such a deep Philly attack, the idea of Carle putting up 40-50 points remains a strong possibility.

Honorable Mentions

Matt Gilroy (NYR)—college standout who should make the Rangers' squad out of training camp and provide them with a solid two-way presence. For a rookie season, Rangers' fans should look to Gilroy for a plus-rating and about 30 points.
Dan Girardi (NYR)—having honed his already solid defensive game alongside partner Marc Stall, Girardi can focus on providing more offense to the Rangers' blue-line. Having scored 10 goals before, Girardi is capable of around 40 points, and is one of the better young, two-way defensemen in the game.
David Clarkson (NJ)—third-line, spark plug David Clarkson set career highs this past season with 17 goals and 31 assists. Although not loaded with offensive ability, Clarkson has found a home in front of the net, banging in rebouds and deflecting shots. With Brian Gionta moving on via free agency, a window for improvement has opened for Clarkson to score around 20 goals and 40 points.

Next up, the Northeast division!