Best of 2010: NHL's 25 Biggest Breakout Stars

Cale LoneyCorrespondent IDecember 23, 2010

Best of 2010: NHL's 25 Biggest Breakout Stars

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    Although it's been only been roughly half a season, there are many players in the middle of breakout campaigns this year. While it's impossible to give recognition to all the players who have improved their game, this list  will recognize those who have made a significant impact with their teams.

    A breakout year is determined by improvements in statistics, ice time/responsibility, overall play, age/experience and the amount that they have improved in comparison to prior seasons. Clearly some people will feel that a certain person should be on the list or that someone should be higher/lower so I encourage you to comment below and prove your point.  Without further ado, here are the NHL's biggest breakout stars of 2010!

No. 25 Mikhail Grabovski

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    The scrappy young Belarussian came to the NHL first with the Montreal Canadians. After being basically kicked out of the dressing room due to a feud with the Kostitsyn brothers (among other players), Grabovski was sent packing to the Toronto Maple Leafs for a second round pick.

    In his first full season in the NHL, he boasted 20 goals and 48 points. After an injury riddled season last year, Grabovski is enjoying a breakout campaign on a horrible Leafs squad. One of the few bright spots for Leafs fans this season, Grabovski is on pace for 29 goals and 61 points while being the only non minus player on the team.

    The main reason Grabovski makes this list isn't just due to his career season pace. It's due to the fact that he is accomplishing it on the second worst offensive team in the NHL and the 28th place team in the league. Also, I'm sure the fact that he is on pace to best both of the Kostisyn brothers' best NHL seasons isn't lost on Grabovski, and they should expect a postcard at the end of the season.

No. 24 Ville Leino

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    Ville Leino was on fire to start the season, but as the season progressed his play started to cool off a bit. One of the rare players to excel after leaving the Detroit Red Wings, Leino has found his calling with the Philadelphia Flyers.  Leino is on pace for 18 goals and 55 points which is a 44 point improvement on the career high he established last season.

    Given a more significant role with the Flyers, the 27 year old Fin is an important part of the No. 1 team in the NHL.  With most players on the Flyers signed long term, Leino is making his case for being one of the players that the team builds around.  Look for him to continue his breakout season in the playoffs getting some big points in key situations.

No. 23 Sergei Bobrovsky

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    Sergei Bob-a-what? This time last year Sergei Bobrovsky was starting games for Novokuznetsk of the KHL and putting together a decent campaign. However, very few if any thought that Bobrovsky would be able to improve upon last year's success on hockey's biggest stage. In fact few people outside of Russia even knew of his existence.

    While the young Russian is hardly a household name, Philly fans are clearly thanking their lucky stars for the rookie's stellar play. On pace for 35 wins and with a GAA of 2.44 and a .919 save percentage, the 22 year old is showing that he can be a great starter in the league. Without the emergence of Bobrovsky and the support of Brian Boucher, the Philadelphia Flyers certainly wouldn't be anywhere near first in the league.

No. 22 Clarke MacArthur

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    When the Atlanta Thrashers walked away from Clarke MacArthur's $2.4 million one year deal, few people objected too loudly. After signing with the Toronto Maple Leafs for $1.1 million, MacArthur had the opportunity to prove himself on a team thin up front.  And MacArthur is providing a whole lot of offense for someone who makes less than Derek Boogaard.

    The Lloydminster, Alberta native has established himself as a legitimate scoring threat in the league, and is providing what little offense the second worst offensive team in the NHL can muster. On pace for career highs in goals (22), assists (44) and points (64), it looks like the Leafs have found themselves the allusive top-six forward that everyone was talking about in the offseason. Only now have people begun to realize that the Leafs require at least two more top-six forwards, but for MacArthur his play should earn him respect and a raise.

No. 21 Chris Stewart

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    After a stellar season last year with the Colorado Avalanche, Chris Stewart followed it up with another excellent campaign that was stalled with injury. Before the injury, Stewart had 11 goals for 25 points in 23 games.  A broken hand, along with his first breakout season coming last year is why Stewart falls at No. 21 in the year's list.

    Even with injury, Stewart is still on pace to finish ahead of last year's totals in fewer games which earns him a spot on this year's list. Size, power and finish, the strong winger is establishing himself as one of the top power forwards in the NHL. Look for Stewart's stock to rise as the young Colorado Avalanche continue to improve.

No. 20 Brandon Dubinsky

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    Prior to this season, Brandon Dubinsky was frequently featured in trade rumors coming out of the Big Apple. This season, Dubinsky is showing the team that it was a wise decision to keep him. After a 44 point season last year, the 25 year old's play has improved significantly this year.

    This year the physical forward is on pace for 32 goals and 62 points, good enough for the team lead in both. Add in the blocked shots and Dubinsky's ability to read the play and he is on the verge of becoming a star in the league.  Clearly the New York Rangers are happy they held on to this one.

No. 19 Kevin Shattenkirk

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    Selected by the Colorado Avalanche 14th overall in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft, Kevin Shattenkirk was expected to be an NHL defenseman after a few years of honing his skills.  After only two years of collegiate play, Shattenkirk decided that it was time to go pro. And after his minor league pro hockey career lasted only three games, it appears he chose the right time.

    On pace for 58 points, the 21 year old is showing the NHL that he has the ability to be a great offensive defenseman. With 19 points in only 21 games, even if the young blueliner doesn't get anymore points this season, it would still be considered a good campaign for a young defenseman. Of course, Shattenkirk doesn't appear to be slowing down too much so expect his name to be tossed around a lot come Calder Trophy nomination time.

No. 18 Ondrej Pavelec

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    After coming over from the Czech Republic in 2005, Ondrej Pavelec has a significant advantage over his other European goalie peers. The 23 year old already has five years of North American hockey under his belt. That's five years of learning the different angles, styles and bounces of the North American game. This year it appears to be paying off with career best numbers.

    On pace for 27 wins with a GAA of 1.88 and a save percentage of .943, the young Czech is one of the main reasons for the Atlanta Thrashers recent play. After a early season scare that saw Pavelec faint and fall to the ice, suffering a concussion alone in his crease, he has battled through adversity.  As the young team in Atlanta continues its progression, look for Pavelec to continue stopping pucks at an alarming rate.

No. 17 Cam Fowler

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    After plummeting from an expected top five selection, Fowler was stolen by the Anaheim Ducks at No. 12.  If anyone ever wanted to prove their critics wrong it was Fowler, who appeared very unhappy and shocked at dropping out of the top five and then top ten picks. The third of seven defenseman picked in the first round, Fowler is already ahead of everyone else in terms of progression.

    While Eric Gudbranson who was selected third overall and the first defenseman of the draft has five more points than Fowler, it's while playing in the OHL with over ten more games. On pace for 42 points this season and rated only one spot after Gudbranson by the NHL's Central Scouting Agency, many GMs will be pointing an angry finger at their scouts come Calder Trophy voting this season.

No. 16 Taylor Hall

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    Now that Taylor or Tyler mania is over, Taylor Hall and the Edmonton Oilers can concentrate on rebuilding the Oilers dynasty. Last year's first overall pick, Hall is showing why he is currently more NHL ready than No. 2 overall, Tyler Seguin. After similar starts, Hall has taken his play to another level, showing why he should have been rated No. 1 going into the draft.

    On pace for 25 goals and 50 points this season, Hall is among a young group of Oilers that could be the core of the team for years to come.  With the talent that is available to the Oilers thanks to some shrewd drafting, Hall should have the support he needs to become a premier scorer in the NHL. If he isn't already, Hall will be a household name even as early as next year.

No. 15 Jordan Eberle

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    Before Jordan Eberle even began his pro hockey career, thousands of young children were already playing street hockey under his name. After being arguably the most clutch scorer the Canadian junior team has ever seen, it was only a matter of time before Eberle made an impact at the NHL level.  After scoring 11 points in 14 games in the last year when he finished playing in the WHL, it was clear Eberle was ready for the big league.

    At 20 years old, Eberle is already showing the league that he is ready to take his clutch play to the pros. On pace for 23 goals and 56 points in his first NHL season, Eberle is would be a lock for Rookie of the Year if it wasn't for another first year forward on the list.  Regardless, Eberle is another player having a breakout year in just his first season.

No. 14 Anthony Stewart

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    The older brother of No. 21 Chris Stewart, Anthony Stewart is enjoying the best season of his pro career with the Atlanta Thrashers. At 25 years old, Stewart is finally started to reach his potential as one of the better power forwards in the NHL.  Though not as offensively gifted as his younger brother, Stewart brings a bit more of a physical game to make up for it.

    The rugged winger is on pace for 22 goals and 51 points, shattering his previous career high of seven points.  If there is a poster boy for improvement, Stewart would be the man. In a league where teams are craving big tenacious forwards who can score, Stewart (like his brother) will become more and more talked about in seasons to come.

No.13 Ryane Clowe

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    It took Ryane Clowe about six years of pro hockey to become the dominant power forward that he is today. After two back-to-back 50+ point seasons, Clowe is on pace for the best season of his career. The rugged Newfoundlander is on pace for 21 goals and 74 points, and is currently one of the best power forwards in the league.

    If Clowe continues his steady improvement, the trade rumors that seemed to follow him will certainly be squashed.  Most teams don't like to part with 20 goal, 70 point players let alone ones who are as physically dominating as Clowe. At 28 years old, Clowe's stock is still on the rise.

No. 12 Jeff Skinner

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    When the Carolina Hurricanes drafted Jeff Skinner 7th overall in 2010 it was clear they must have known something the rest of the league did not. Not even ranked among the top ten North American skaters, Skinner was another anomaly from last year's draft. Like Fowler, Skinner was determined to prove he belonged. And belong he does.

    At only 18, Skinner is on pace for 20 goals and 60 points in his first year of pro hockey. Basically coming out of nowhere, Skinner is leading his draft class in points. If it wasn't for Logan Couture, Skinner would have the Calder Trophy locked up.  If Skinner continues his success, this will be another situation where GMs will be asking their scouts what they were doing while Carolina found Skinner.

No. 11 Logan Couture

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    After being selected 7th overall in 2007, Logan Couture needed less than a full season in the American Hockey League to be ready for the NHL. Few people would believe that at about the halfway point of the season that Couture would be leading the San Jose Sharks in goals. Couture has brought his scoring ability to the next level and the Sharks are reaping the benefit.

    The prime candidate for Rookie of the Year, Couture is on pace for an astounding 43 goals in his first NHL season. At 21 years old and on pace for 59 points the future looks friendly for the young forward.  For the Sharks, Couture represents another successful draftee earning his stripes at the NHL level, and doing so exceptionally well.

No. 10 Andrew Ladd

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    The most underrated player in the league, Atlanta Thrashers captain Andrew Ladd is finally showing us that he is a rising star. After winning two Cups before the age of 25 (most recently with the Chicago Blackhawks), Ladd is showing the offensive prowess that got him drafted 4th overall in 2004.

    On pace for 27 goals and 70 points, the British Columbia native is second on his team in points. He is also leading his team to a playoff berth, the team's second in the history of the franchise. With the support of the two-time Cup winning captain, the Thrashers may be a team that others should be weary of come playoff time.

No. 9 Claude Giroux

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    Claude Giroux has been one of the most sought after trade deadline and offseason acquisitions in recent years. Coming into the league in a third line role for the Philadelphia Flyers, rival GMs saw a talented young player that could crack the top-six of most teams. After an impressive season last year, the Flyers shipped out the injury prone Gagne and gave Giroux the extra responsibility that he had earned.

    Giroux has the complete package: talent, drive and grit. Although Giroux isn't big by any standards, he plays hard and isn't afraid to get rough. On pace for 37 goals and 72 points, Giroux is going to become not only a star in Philly but of the league. Any playoff drive by the Flyers will involve the talented Ontario native to a large extent.

No. 8 Kris Letang

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    When the Pittsburgh Penguins decided to let Sergei Gonchar leave via free agency, many questioned the validity of the move. For Kris Letang, it provided him the opportunity to prove to himself, his team and the league that he is one of the top offensive defenseman in the league.

    At only 23 years old, Letang is second in the league among defenseman with 30 points in 35 games. On pace for 70 points, the young blueliner is proving that the Penguins' faith in him was well placed. Letang could merit some serious Norris Trophy consideration.

No. 7 Corey Perry

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    After leading the Anaheim Ducks in points last year, Corey Perry has taken his play to another level after winning gold with Canada. For the second year in a row, Perry has more goals and points than linemate Ryan Getzlaf. For the 25 year old, leaving Getzlaf's shadow and coming into his own the past two seasons has been an important step forward in his career.

    After posting a career high 76 points last year the gritty winger is on pace for 41 goals and 88 points this season.  The significant increase in goals from 27 to a 41 goal pace is just part of the reason why Perry gets to be so high on this list. Look for Perry to continue to improve and be the No. 1 talked about player on the Ducks for the next few seasons.

No. 6 Jonathan Quick

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    In just his fourth season of professional hockey, Jonathan Quick has established himself among the top goalies in the league. At 24, Quick has continued to improve year after year. With the young nucleus surrounding Quick, his swift rise to prominence shows just how talented a goalie he really is.

    On pace for 41 wins with a 1.94 GAA and a .929 save percentage, Quick is a large part of his team's success. While Quick has improved each year, this year marks his emergence as a breakout star in the league. Quick is another goalie whose name will be whispered come time for Vezina Trophy nominations.

No. 5 Matt Duchene

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    Growing up a Colorado Avalanche fan, Matt Duchene would have liked nothing more than to follow in the footsteps of Joe Sakic. When he was drafted 3rd overall by the Colorado Avalanche, Duchene was ecstatic and it was clear to see. In his first season, he scored 24 goals and 55 points for the team he grew up cheering for. At 19, it appears he is ready to shatter his production from his rookie season.

    No sophomore curse for Duchene as he is on pace for 30 goals and 81 points. With the retirement of Joe Sakic, the Avs were looking for a new leader and they found one. While it is too early to compare Duchene to Sakic, it certainly isn't too early to start talking about it.

No. 4 Carey Price

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    After a great rookie season, Montreal Canadiens goaltender Carey Price suffered a series of setbacks. Lackluster play followed by trouble with the fan base caused Price to be yanked from his starting spot by Jaroslav Halak. After Halak lead Montreal to the conference finals last year, the Canadiens sent Halak packing in the offseason.

    For Montreal, Price was their guy and this season it's paying off. With a 2.23 GAA and a .925 save percentage, the 23 year old netminder is having a bounce-back year. Given the fact that he is on pace to win 43 games, it's fair to say that trading Halak may not have been such a bad idea.

No.3 Dustin Byfuglien

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    After winning the Stanley Cup, Dustin Byfuglien was traded from the Chicago Blackhawks to the Atlanta Thrashers in the offseason. As part of the move, Byfuglien was allowed to transition back to his original postion, defense. Halfway through the year, and it is obvious that Byfuglien is better off on the blue line.

    With 36 points in 36 games, the 255 pound defenseman is leading the league in scoring among defenseman. He is on pace for 27 goals and 82 points. If the Chicago Blackhawks were ever dreading signing Brian Campbell, it would be now.

No.2 Steven Stamkos

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    Seen Stamkos? The expectations were huge for Stamkos when the Tampa Bay Lightning drafted him No. 1 overall in 2008.  After a huge season last year where Stamkos scored 51 goals for 95 points, tying Sidney Crosby for the Rocket Richard Trophy, the sniper is following it up with another big season.

    On pace for 62 goals and 112 points, Stamkos is showing the world that at just 20 he is of the same ilk as Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin. He started the season so hot that people were saying he would be the first forward in years to score 50 in 50. While that most likely won't happen, Stamkos  has proven that he's reached the same level as Crosby and Ovechkin.

No. 1 Sidney Crosby

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    It's hard to believe that Sidney Crosby could breakout any further, but he is still managing to do so. After winning the Stanley Cup and then scoring the OT winner to win gold for Canada at the 2010 Olympics, Crosby has shown that he still is driven to compete. After tying with Steven Stamkos for the Rocket Richard Trophy last year, Sid the Kid is showing the world that he wants it all to himself.

    Canada's golden boy is on pace for 65 goals and 135 points which would make him the first player to crack 130 points in more than a decade.  Currently, the 23 year old is in the middle of the second longest point streak in 18 years at 22 games. Just when you think that Crosbymania can't get any bigger, he proves you wrong.

    I think it may be safe to say after this year Crosby cannot breakout anymore, then again, he will probably just prove me wrong.