NHL Predictions: 10 Unheralded Players Poised for a Breakout
In the same fashion that Claude Giroux and Keith Yandle burst onto the NHL scene during the 2010-2011 season, dozens of young, talented NHL players are hoping to make a similar impact this fall.
Normally, a player takes three years or so to really adjust to the league and develop fully as a player. Still, there are always some rare exceptions to that rule.
This season there are a handful of players that have flashed promise in the past and should be able to put it all together this season.
After seeing limited action during the second half of the 2009-2010 season, Adam McQuaid stepped in and played 67 games a year ago for the Bruins—in addition to all 23 playoff games.
McQuaid has the size and physical ability to be a solid second pairing defenseman in the NHL. I expect him to build on his strong performance in the 2011 NHL Playoffs and take another big step forward this season.
James Van Riemsdyk
James van Riemsdyk may not exactly be unheralded after his productive postseason and big contract extension, but expect JVR to earn every penny of that contract and more this season.
Power forwards typically take a while to develop due to the adjustment it takes going from being the biggest guy on the ice to playing against other sizable opponents. Van Riemsdyk, however, is progressing at an excellent pace and showed a true nose for the goal throughout last postseason. He has an excellent motor and uses his size very well in the offensive zone.
There is a real chance that James van Riemsdyk makes the 2012 NHL All Star Game.
Breakouts happen on different scales for each player. In Erik Condra's case, I would expect the former Notre Dame standout to reach his offensive potential of roughly 40-50 points, but more importantly, Condra should become a defensive standout for a rebuilding Ottawa Senators' team.
The Edmonton Oilers are ready to for a breakout season in 2011-2012, but most of the young players on the roster have already received their fair share of hype. One, however, has been lost in the shuffle.
Defenseman Ladislav Smid has developed a bit slower than the future stars that surround him, but he looks to be a very reliable blue liner at this point in his career. Furthermore, with Taylor Hall and company ready to step up their offensive production, Smid could see his point totals soar.
It's tough for any offensive prospect to truly excel in the defensive minded system Barry Trotz has in place in Nashville. If anyone can do it, the well rounded Blake Geoffrion has just the skill set to do so.
Geoffrion will obviously need to make defense a priority, but if he gets an increased role this season, the former Wisconsin Badger could develop into a 40-50 point player.
The Ottawa Senators seemed to suit up a team full of rookies by the end of the 2010-2011 NHL season. The team is in full scale rebuilding mode, so a handful of youngsters are expected to shoulder big loads this season.
Among those is Bobby Butler, who dominated in the AHL Playoffs for the Binghampton Senators. He could be a star for the Senators.
Victor Hedman is a prized prospect and well regarded around the league. I think next season could be the one where Hedman emerges as an All-Star defenseman for the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Hedman has incredible size and offensive ability to go with outstanding poise in his own zone. Playoff experience can take this young kid to the next level of his development, His valuable postseason playing time for the Lightning last year will pay dividends.
Leafs' fans love to hype Nazem Kadri, and for good reason. Kadri has elite stick skills and is as quick as any player on Toronto's roster.
Finally, there is a bit of depth and talent up front for the Maple Leafs, so perhaps Kadri will be able to piece together a breakout season of sorts for the Leafs. I wouldn't be surprised to see somewhere between 40-50 points from Kadri, similar to Claude Giroux's output in his first full NHL season.
Going into the 2010-2011 season, there was reason to be skeptical of Corey Crawford as a true No.1 goaltender in the NHL. After watching Crawford nearly carry the Blackhawks past the Canucks in the first round of the 2011 NHL Playoffs, however, there is no doubt in my mind that he will be a star in this league.
Crawford now takes over the reigns as the unquestioned No.1 netminder with just Ray Emery competing with him. Crawford could be the MVP of the Hawks in 2011-2012.
Devan Dubnyk performed well in limited action last season, but with Nikolai Khabibulin's off the ice trouble this offseason, the Oilers ought to hand the rains over to Dubnyk and add to the 35 games he played a season ago.
Dubnyk has a very solid skill set, and with an improved team in front of him, he could easily improve on his already solid statistics.