NHL Predictions 2011-2012: Evander Kane and 10 Players Ready To Break Out
What is a "breakout?" For one, it's an overused cliche.
Secondly, it's a term that has lofty expectations built in. Fans read about a player on the web and start to think that a 22-year-old kid who has 74 career points is ready to top that in one season. A fantasy expert says to watch out for a guy because "he'll play the point on the first power-play unit," and people expect him to finish in top three in points at his position.
Unfortunately, Claude Griouxs and Keith Yandles don't grow on trees.
Talent doesn't always equal production. You have to look at the total package: the player, the type of game he plays and the role they will find themselves in.
Here are some players ready to take the proverbial next step in 2011-2012...
(Author's note: as some comments have pointed out, this list excludes some notable second-year players. That is because I am currently working on a list that is geared specifically toward sophomores and didn't want to be redundant.)
10. Mike Smith, Phoenix Coyotes
Mike Smith hasn't had a successful season in six NHL seasons. Which means he must finally be due for one!
At 67-66-19 for his career, with a 2.71 goals against average and .906 save percentage, there isn't a lot to suggest the new 'Yotes netminder is a breakout candidate.
But as mediocre as Smith has been thus far in his career, he's still better than Jason LaBarbera, the other goalie on Phoenix's depth chart. Dave Tippet also employs a more defensive system than the ones Smith played behind in Tampa and Dallas.
And remember what Ilya Bryzgalov's resume looked like when he first arrived in the desert? Bryz had just 26 wins in 58 NHL starts. Four seasons later, he's signing a nine-year, $51 million contract. Must be that Arizona sun...or the parks, eh Ilya?
9. Victor Hedman, Tampa Bay Lightning
The Swedish behemoth turned in a solid sophomore campaign, registering 26 points, 70 penalty minutes, 54 hits and 84 blocked shots. His 23 assists were tops among Tampa blueliners and his plus-three rating was fourth-best.
About to enter his junior year, Hedman is still just 20 years old. He's the youngest defenseman on Guy Boucher's bench by six years. But that shouldn't stop the charismatic coach from giving the 6'6" giant a larger role.
With all of the scoring ability the Lightning have up front, they don't need to rely on offense from the back end. But Hedman has the ability to provide it. I look for another solid step from the 2009 second overall pick.
8. Troy Brouwer, Washington Capitals
It would stink to find out you've been traded from a team with Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa and Duncan Keith. But it would stink a lot less if you were traded to a team with Alex Ovechkin, Alexander Semin, Nicklas Backstrom and Mike Green. Just ask Troy Brouwer.
Acquired by the Caps in a draft-day deal, Brouwer spent five years in Chicago, accumulating 450 hits in 238 games to go along with 103 points. Last season he was fifth in the NHL in hits, finishing with 36 points in 79 games. The hard-hitter also notched seven power-play goals.
Brouwer wasn't too keen on the Blackhawks Stanley Cup dismantling, and felt he never got a fair shot with Chicago's top six. It remains to be seen whether it will be any different in the nation's capital.
The 6'2" winger will bring some size, grit and Stanley Cup experience to a Capitals team that could use a little more of all three. Having him on the roster to go along with fellow new additions Joel Ward and Jeff Halpern gives Bruce Boudreau some (expletive) depth.
7. Grant Clitsome, Columbus Blue Jackets
Get your laughs out now folks, but I think we're ready for some more Grant Clitsome.
The definition of a late-bloomer, the Blue Jackets called up the defenseman in January. After a 31-game sample in 2010-2011, the 26-year-old is in Columbus to stay. Four goals and 19 points, 10 of which came on the power play, solidified Clitsome as one of the surprise pleasures of the new year. He also blocked 29 shots and delivered 67 hits while averaging over 21 minutes of ice time.
A ninth-round draft pick (No. 271 overall) in 2004, he spent four seasons at Clarkson University before going pro. Though he only has 42 NHL games under his belt, Clitsome has shown a well-rounded game.
He has the trust of Blue Jackets coach Scott Arniel and should get a look as a partner for prized free-agent signing, James Wisniewski.
6. Michael Frolik, Chicago Blackhawks
Michael Frolik began his NHL career with back-to-back 21-goal seasons...in Florida.
After coming to Chicago, he had nine points in 28 regular-season games. But he turned up his two-way play in the playoffs, recording five points and a plus-three rating in seven games. Keep in mind he was making his postseason debut, in the middle of an intense rivalry no less.
Frolik has speed, the ability to skate and play multiple positions, and skill. That package shouldn't come as too big of a surprise as he was the 10th overall pick in the 2006 entry draft.
So even though he saw a 10-goal drop in 2010-2011, there is plenty of reason to believe the Czech will not only bounce back, but break out in 2011-2012.
His versatility will serve Blackhawks bench boss Joel Quenville well. While Q likes to shuffle lines, it isn't far-fetched to see Frolik line up with fellow countryman Marian Hossa and 34-goal scorer Patrick Sharp. I think it is safe to say he didn't have those luxuries as a Panther.
5. James Neal, Pittsburgh Penguins
Can a player who has already eclipsed the 50-point mark be eligible for a "breakout" season? When your ceiling is higher than 50 points, yes—absolutely.
Neal has 30-goal potential, and has come close in every season he's been in the league. He netted 24 as a rookie, 27 as a sophomore and 22 last year between Dallas and Pittsburgh.
4. James Van Riemsdyk, Philadelphia Flyers
If lightning strikes Broad Street again this year, look for it to hit James Van Riemsdyk.
Philly fans are hoping JVR can parlay a strong postseason into a breakout regular season, much like Claude Giroux did the year prior.
The second overall pick in the 2007 draft is often unfairly compared to the player who was taken before him: Patrick Kane. The two players ended up in completely different circumstances. Kane went to Chicago where he was instantly given top-six minutes, whereas Van Riemsdyk went to Philly, a team deep up front.
So while his development in Philly has taken more time than some had hoped, he's still wearing orange. Mike Richards and Jeff Carter are not. Flyers GM Paul Holmgren's drastic offseason changes could provide a great individual opportunity for Van Riemsdyk. With Richards and Carter gone, the door is now open for JVR to play consistent top-line minutes. What's even more exciting is that some of those minutes could come alongside the uber-talented Giroux.
The 6'3", 205-pound Van Riemsdyk improved five points from his rookie season to tally 40 in 2010-2011. He then went on to score seven goals in 11 playoff games for the Flyers last year, and more remarkable than that, you could hear chants of "J-V-R!" in the Wells Fargo Center.
@JVReemer21, as he's known on Twitter, has taken his licks and now he's getting a bone. Let's see what he does with it.
3. T.J. Oshie, St. Louis Blues
If T.J. Oshie breaks out this year, it won't catch many people off guard.
As the 24th overall pick in the 2005 entry draft, the 24-year-old has come to embody the Blues franchise in recent years—young and talented, but also dinged-up and underacheiving.
The former University of North Dakota star has all the tools, but hasn't yet been able to put them in the same box for a full NHL season. He is coming off a year that will be remembered for a broken ankle and a missed practice. In just 49 games, he recorded 12 goals and 34 points, playing an average of 19 minutes a night.
There is a sense of optimism in St. Louis and even talk of a possible playoff berth. But in order for that to happen, Oshie will have to have the breakout season people have been expecting.
He'll have the help with David Backes, Chris Stewart and Andy McDonald on the wings. If he comes back healthy and with a renewed focus, Oshie may finally deliver the goods and become the top-line center we've been waiting to see.
If we have to keep waiting, we'll just watch Patrik Berglund...
2. Kyle Okposo, New York Islanders
I don't care what S&P or Wall Street tells me, I'm buying New York Islanders stock. Call it lunacy, but I believe in the direction the talent this team has. And it starts with Kyle Okposo.
At 23 years old, last year was supposed to be Okposo's platform for a breakout. But he suffered a shoulder injury in camp, and surgery pushed his start date to January.
Upon returning from the IR, the Minnesota native put up five goals and 20 points in 38 games. This coming from a player who was coming off a 52-point season.
The seventh overall pick in 2006 had 18 and 19 goals in the last two seasons respectively. Look for him to return to that number, with some insurance. With the emergence of players like Michael Grabner, P.A. Parenteau, Blake Comeau and Josh Bailey, Okposo will have more help in 2011-2012. Not to mention John Tavares and Matt Moulson, as the latter of the two has had back-to-back 30-goal seasons.
With the young talent on the roster and in the system, it's a good time to hop on the Isle.
1. Evander Kane, Winnipeg Jets
Speed, size, strength, skill and a one-punch knockout of Matt Cooke. What's not to love about Evander Kane?
He cracked the Thrashers lineup as an 18-year-old rookie, just a few months after being selected with the fourth overall selection in the 2009 entry draft. That year, he scored 14 goals and added 12 assists in 66 games. As a sophomore, he doubled his offensive output, putting up 43 points in Atlanta's swan-song season.
Having just celebrated his 20th birthday, his 6'2", 190-pound frame will only get bigger, faster and stronger. Add in more experience, and it's easy to see a future star.
Kane should continue to heat up despite the cold in Winnipeg. He also may have some good goal-scoring karma, as the bruising youngster is seeking permission to wear Bobby Hull's No. 9. Winnipeg fans can only hope some Golden Jet rubs off on the kid...
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