One Player on Every NHL Team with Potential for a Breakout 2014-15 Season
As NHL training camps open this week, coaches and general managers hope at least one of their promising players enjoys a breakout performance this season. Summer roster moves create opportunities for such talent to garner more playing time and responsibilities.
Some may be highly touted prospects dreaming of becoming a full-time roster player. Some are second- or third-year players hoping to build upon last season's performances. A few are late-blooming talent aspiring for stardom. All seek the opportunity for success.
Here's a look at every NHL team's potential breakout candidate this season, analyzing their respective performances last season and expectations for the coming campaign.
Devante Smith-Pelly, Anaheim Ducks
2013-14 stats: 19 games played, two goals, eight assists, 10 points
Review of last season: Devante Smith-Pelly spent most of 2013-14 in the minors. Recalled late in the season, the young winger acquitted himself well. Smith-Pelly led the Ducks in playoff scoring with five goals. Yahoo Sports notes he also led the club in playoff hits (53). He showed considerable promise when placed on the Ducks first line with Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry.
Outlook for this season: The 6-foot, 225-pound Smith-Pelly has the size, speed and physical style to become an effective power forward. If the versatile 22-year-old winger sticks with Getzlaf and Perry this season, he should enjoy a significant spike in his offensive production.
Mikkel Boedker, Arizona Coyotes
2013-14 stats: 82 games played, 19 goals, 32 assists, 51 points
Review of last season: In his sixth NHL campaign, 24-year-old Mikkel Boedker made significant improvement. He reached career highs in goals, assists and points. He also tied for second in points among the Arizona Coyotes' scorers.
Outlook for this season: With his speed and playmaking skills, a maturing Boedker seems poised to establish himself as the Coyotes' top offensive forward. He's also entering a contract year, providing additional motivation to bolster his production. Boedker could reach, or exceed, 60 points this season.
Reilly Smith, Boston Bruins
2013-14 stats: 82 games played, 20 goals, 31 assists, 51 points
Review of last season: Reilly Smith was among the NHL's most pleasant surprises last season. Acquired by the Boston Bruins last summer as part of the Tyler Seguin trade, the sophomore right winger finished sixth among Bruins scorers in the regular season. Smith tied for second on the Bruins in playoff goals (four) with Milan Lucic.
Outlook for this season: Smith, 23, should remain on the Bruins' second line with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand. As he gains maturity and experience, his development into a reliable second-line scorer should continue. With more consistency, he could reach 30 goals and 60 points.
Zemgus Girgensons, Buffalo Sabres
2013-14 stats: 70 games played, eight goals, 14 assists, 22 points
Review of last season: Zemgus Girgensons was among the few bright spots in an otherwise miserable season for the Buffalo Sabres. He tied for sixth in points, fifth in shots (115) and fourth in short-handed minutes among forwards (1:47). Girgensons wasn't afraid to throw his weight around. As per Yahoo Sports, he was fourth in hits with 161.
Outlook for this season: Only 20, Girgensons should expect more playing time and responsibilities this season on the rebuilding Sabres. He's already proven to be an effective defensive center. As his confidence grows, so should his offensive numbers. Girgensons could reach 40 points this season.
Sean Monahan, Calgary Flames
2013-14 stats: 75 games played, 22 goals, 12 assists, 34 points
Review of last season: Sean Monahan enjoyed a promising NHL debut. His 22 goals were good for second overall among Calgary Flames scorers. He also became the first Flames rookie to score 21 goals since Jarome Iginla in 1996-97. Monahan's performance provided a tantalizing glimpse for Flames fans of his offensive potential.
Outlook for this season: Monahan enters this season facing heightened expectations. Listed at 185 pounds last season, the Calgary Herald's Kristen Odland reports the 20-year-old center added "10-12 pounds of bulk" to his 6'2" frame. That additional size and strength should improve his offensive output. Monahan could play his way into the second-line center role this season.
Elias Lindholm, Carolina Hurricanes
2013-14 stats: 58 games played, nine goals, 12 assists, 21 points
Review of last season: Despite spending part of last season in the minors, Elias Lindholm still posted up decent offensive numbers in his rookie campaign. As his season progressed, the 19-year-old's versatility and two-way game led to an increase in his playing time.
Outlook for this season: Lindholm can play on the wing as well as at center. He won't supplant Jordan Staal as second-line center, but he could move onto Staal's wing. Given regular second-line playing time, he could reach 40 points this season. For a club which finished 22nd overall in goals per game last season, such improvement on Lindholm's part will be most welcome.
Brandon Saad, Chicago Blackhawks
2013-14 stats: 78 games played, 19 goals, 28 assists, 47 points
Review of last season: Brandon Saad's development as an NHL scorer continued through his sophomore campaign. He tallied career bests in goals, assists and points, finishing sixth on the Chicago Blackhawks in points. Saad's playoff performance was more impressive, finishing third in scoring with 16 points in 19 games.
Outlook for this season: Only 21, Saad has quickly established himself as a top-six winger with the Blackhawks. Having already helped the Blackhawks win the Stanley Cup in 2013, he should remain a key part of their roster for a long time. At Saad's current rate of development, he could tally over 25 goals and 60 points this season.
Tyson Barrie, Colorado Avalanche
2013-14 stats: 64 games played, 13 goals, 25 assists, 38 points
Review of last season: Tyson Barrie rebounded well from a brief, early-season demotion to the minors. All but one of his points came following his November 19 return to the Colorado Avalanche. He finished second in points among Avalanche defensemen and tied Nathan MacKinnon for second with five game-winning goals. Barrie also led all Avs blueliners in goals. His playoffs were cut short by a knee injury.
Outlook for this season: NHL.com's Rick Sadowski reports Barrie should be fully recovered from his knee injury in time for training camp. As a skilled puck-moving defenseman, the 23-year-old Barrie will be an invaluable part of the Avalanche's offensive attack this season, especially on the power play. Over a full season, he could reach 45 points.
Boone Jenner, Columbus Blue Jackets
2013-14 stats: 72 games played, 16 goals, 13 assists, 29 points
Review of last season: Boone Jenner enjoyed a solid NHL rookie campaign. His 16 goals tied with Brandon Dubinsky for sixth overall in team scoring. As per Yahoo Sports, his 212 hits ranked third overall. Jenner also had a strong playoff performance, tying with Jack Johnson for most goals (three) and finishing fourth in points with five.
Outlook for this season: Jenner can play center as well as left wing and could be pressed into service as a second-line pivot if Ryan Johansen stages a contract holdout. Otherwise, expect him to line up on the left side of Johansen this season. A full season with Johansen could result in Jenner scoring 25 goals and over 45 points.
Valeri Nichushkin, Dallas Stars
2013-14 stats: 79 games played, 14 goals, 20 assists, 34 points
Review of last season: Only 18 when last season began, Valeri Nichushkin showed considerable promise in his rookie campaign. His 34 points placed him ninth among NHL rookies, and he finished sixth in scoring on the Dallas Stars. Nichushkin also collected two points in six postseason games.
Outlook for this season: The 6'4” Nichushkin should earn a spot at right wing on the first or second line. Listed at 205 pounds last season, NHL.com's Dan Rosen reports Nichushkin adding 15-20 pounds over the summer. That additional muscle and strength should make the young Russian a more dangerous offensive threat. A 50-point season alongside either Tyler Seguin or Jason Spezza is a good possibility.
Tomas Tatar, Detroit Red Wings
2013-14 stats: 73 games played, 19 goals, 20 assists, 39 points
Review of last season: Tomas Tatar was among several promising Detroit Red Wings forwards who benefited from injuries sidelining several key veterans. Tatar's 19 goals ranked second on the Wings, and he led the club in shots (158). The 23-year-old was rewarded for his efforts with a three-year, $8.25 million contract.
Outlook for this season: The Detroit Free Press' Helene St. James reports Tatar will be expected to become "at least a regular 20-goal scorer." With his speed, puck-handling skills and ability to play either wing, Tatar has the tools to become a reliable scorer. He could start this season on the third line with two other promising forwards, Riley Sheahan and Tomas Jurco.
Nail Yakupov, Edmonton Oilers
2013-14 stats: 63 games played, 11 goals, 13 assists, 24 points
Review of last season: Nail Yakupov's production was well down from his promising 34-point-effort debut in 48 games through the lockout-shortened 2012-13 campaign. He struggled to adjust to coach Dallas Eakins' system. As per TSN.ca, Yakupov missed 16 games with various injuries.
Outlook for this season: In July, NHL.com's Derek Van Diest reported Yakupov spent most of the summer in Edmonton working with the Oilers' conditioning and skating staff. He also vowed to improve his two-way play. Yakupov's determination to step up his game should make him a more valuable part of the Oilers lineup. His long-awaited breakout as a scoring star could begin this season.
Jonathan Huberdeau, Florida Panthers
2013-14 stats: 69 games played, nine goals, 19 assists, 28 points
Review of last season: Jonathan Huberdeau won Rookie of the Year honors in 2013, but his sophomore follow-up was disappointing. His production was well down from his 31 points in 48 games during the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season. TSN.ca also indicates he missed 13 games to concussion and a foot injury.
Outlook for this season: Huberdeau should be motivated to rebound from last season's sophomore slump. He's also been reunited with his former Junior-A coach Gerard Gallant, who was hired this summer as the Florida Panthers' new head coach. Gallant should have a positive influence on the promising 21-year-old. Barring injury, Huberdeau should regain the promising form of his rookie season.
Tyler Toffoli, Los Angeles Kings
2013-14 stats: 62 games played, 12 goals, 17 assists, 29 points
Review of last season: Tyler Toffoli showed promise during the regular season, tying for second on the Los Angeles Kings in game-winning goals (five), as well as tying for the lead in that category among NHL rookies. His playoff performance was even better. His 14 points led all rookies in playoff scoring, while his two game-winning goals tied for second overall on the Kings.
Outlook for this season: The combination of Toffoli, Jeff Carter and Tanner Pearson gave the Kings a dangerous second line in the playoffs, bolstering their scoring depth. Expect that line to remain intact to start the season. If their postseason success carries over into this season, Toffoli could reach 25 goals and 50 points.
Nino Niederreiter, Minnesota Wild
2013-14 stats: 81 games played, 14 goals, 22 assists, 36 points
Review of last season: Nino Niederreiter made the most of his first season with the Minnesota Wild. He was also a physical presence, as Yahoo Sports indicates he finished second in hits with 175. Niederreiter also proved to be a clutch playoff performer, leading the Wild with two game-winning goals. He recently signed a three-year, $8 million contract extension.
Outlook for this season: Armed with his new contract, Niederreiter can now focus on building upon last season's solid performance. The 22-year-old right wing is among several promising young Wild forwards who will ensure the club remains in playoff contention this season. Niederreiter's physical style and offensive skills could carry him to 20 goals and 45 points this season.
Alex Galchenyuk, Montreal Canadiens
2013-14 stats: 65 games played, 13 goals, 18 assists, 31 points
Review of last season: Alex Galchenyuk's sophomore season was hampered by injury. As per TSN.ca, he missed 15 games to a broken hand plus two regular-season and 12 playoff games to a lower-body injury. Still, he continued to show considerable promise. In five playoff games he scored twice and set up another.
Outlook for this season: Big things are expected of Galchenyuk entering his third season. The 20-year-old should start this season on the Montreal Canadiens second line, though it remains to be seen if he'll play left wing or center. Armed with speed and considerable offensive skills, Galchenyuk should be a breakout star for the Habs.
Seth Jones, Nashville Predators
2013-14 stats: 77 games played, six goals, 19 assists, 25 points
Review of last season: Seth Jones made the jump from fourth overall pick in the 2013 NHL draft to regular roster player with the Nashville Predators. Though the 19-year-old struggled at times adjusting to the NHL game, he still acquitted himself well. Two of his goals were game-winners. As per Yahoo Sports, Jones finished third on the Predators in blocked shots (99).
Outlook for this season: In July, The Tennessean's Josh Cooper reported the 205-pound Jones added another five pounds of muscle to his 6'4” frame. Playing on a deep Predators blue line allows Jones time to develop his game. With more experience and confidence, Jones' performance should improve considerably this season. He could log considerable ice time on the Predators' second-defense pairing.
Adam Larsson, New Jersey Devils
2013-14 stats: 26 games played, one goal, two assists, three points
Review of last season: Since Adam Larsson's promising debut in 2011-12, he has struggled at the NHL level. As per TSN.ca, a lower-body injury sidelined him for 21 games, plus he spent 33 games in the minors. In June, Larsson re-signed a one-year deal with the New Jersey Devils.
Outlook for this season: Only 21, Larsson still has plenty of time to blossom into an effective NHL defenseman. The talent is certainly there, but he must build up his confidence. The offseason departures of veterans Mark Fayne and Anton Volchenkov will provide Larsson the opportunity to establish himself on the Devils' blue line.
Brock Nelson, New York Islanders
2013-14 stats: 72 games played, 14 goals, 12 assists, 26 points
Review of last season: Promising Brock Nelson had a solid start to his NHL career. He finished fifth on the New York Islanders in goals and sixth in points. The 22-year-old's size (6'3”, 196 lbs), versatility and two-way skills helped him earn a regular-roster spot.
Outlook for this season: Nelson's ability to play either wing could come in handy this season. He's likely to start this season on the third line. If he develops as expected, however, he could find himself a permanent spot as a second-line winger. Nelson could reach 20 goals and 40 points this season.
Chris Kreider, New York Rangers
2013-14 stats: 66 games played, 17 goals, 20 assists, 37 points
Review of last season: Recalled from Hartford earlier in the season, Chris Kreider swiftly became one of the New York Rangers' top forwards. The 6'3", 226-pounder was also a physical force. Yahoo Sports indicates he finished third on the Rangers in hits with 146. Though Kreider missed 10 playoff games to injury, he collected 13 points in 15 postseason games during the Rangers' march to the 2014 Stanley Cup Final.
Outlook for this season: Kreider, 23, possesses an excellent mix of physical and offensive skills. His blazing speed also makes him a dangerous offensive threat. Kreider should become the Rangers' first-line left wing this season, where he could reach 25 goals and 55 points.
Mika Zibanejad, Ottawa Senators
2013-14 stats: 69 games played, 16 goals, 17 assists, 33 points
Review of last season: Mika Zibanejad began last season with the Ottawa Senators' farm team but was recalled in late October. He bounced around the roster at times last season, playing wing and center. As per TSN.ca, he also missed five games to various injuries. Still, his 33 points were good for seventh overall in team scoring.
Outlook for this season: The Senators signing veteran center David Legwand this summer means Zibanejad could start this season centering their third line. The 21-year-old Swede has considerable upside, and his ability to also play on the wing should prove invaluable as this season progresses. He could work his way up to the second line.
Sean Couturier, Philadelphia Flyers
2013-14 stats: 82 games played, 13 goals, 26 assists, 39 points
Review of last season: Sean Couturier continued to improve as a strong two-way center with the Philadelphia Flyers. The 21-year-old led all Flyers forwards in short-handed ice time (281:22), becoming an effective shutdown forward. He also finished seventh overall on the Flyers in assists and eighth in goals and points.
Outlook for this season: CSNPhilly.com's Tim Pannacio reports Flyers general manager Ron Hextall hopes to see more scoring from Couturier this season. If he can step up his offensive game without sacrificing his defensive play, Couturier could join the ranks of the league's elite two-way forwards. At the very least, he'll become a serious scoring threat for the Flyers in defensive situations.
Patric Hornqvist, Pittsburgh Penguins
2013-14 stats: 76 games played, 22 goals, 31 assists, 53 points
Review of last season: Patric Hornqvist enjoyed another quietly productive performance. The 27-year-old right winger reached the 20-goal mark for the fourth time in six NHL seasons and exceeded 50 points for the second time. During the 2014 NHL draft, Hornqvist was dealt to the Pittsburgh Penguins in exchange for winger James Neal.
Outlook for this season: Though Hornqvist lacks Neal's physical style and quick shot, he plays a more disciplined, two-way style. He could begin this season alongside either Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin. If so, Hornqvist could reach over 30 goals and 65 points.
Tomas Hertl, San Jose Sharks
2013-14 stats: 37 games played, 15 goals, 10 assists, 25 points
Review of last season: Tomas Hertl was off to a terrific start to his NHL rookie season when a knee injury in December sidelined him until late in the regular season. Though still hampered by his ailing knee, the 20-year-old Hertl scored three goals and collected two assists in seven playoff games.
Outlook for this season: CSNBayArea.com's Kevin Kurz believes Hertl could become the San Jose Sharks next superstar. He also reports Hertl is expected to be fully recovered from his knee injury in time for training camp. If the 20-year-old left wing avoids injury and remains on Joe Thornton's line, he could reach the 40-goal mark this season.
Vladimir Tarasenko, St. Louis Blues
2013-14 stats: 64 games played, 21 goals, 22 assists, 43 points
Review of last season: Despite missing 15 games to a hand injury, Vladimir Tarasenko continued to blossom as an offensive threat. His 21 goals tied him for fifth among St. Louis Blues scorers. Only seven of his points came on the power play. Tarasenko also led the Blues in playoff scoring with four goals.
Outlook for this season: The 22-year-old Tarasenko is a strong skater with slick puck-handling skills. He has the talent to be a regular top-six forward, but injuries over the past two seasons have affected his production. Provided Tarasenko can stay healthy this season, he should reach 30 goals and 60 points.
Nikita Kucherov, Tampa Bay Lightning
2013-14 stats: 52 games played, nine goals, nine assists, 18 points
Review of last season: After starting last season in the minors, Nikita Kucherov was called up to the Tampa Bay Lightning in late November. He registered 14 points in 31 games, but he struggled over the remainder of the season and was at times a healthy scratch.
Outlook for this season: Only 21, Kucherov has the speed and offensive skills last season to earn a full-time roster spot this season. The Lightning lack depth on right wing beyond Ryan Callahan, so this is a good opportunity for Kucherov to elevate his game.
Morgan Rielly, Toronto Maple Leafs
2013-14 stats: 73 games played, two goals, 25 assists, 27 points
Review of last season: Morgan Rielly enjoyed a very good rookie season. The smooth-skating blueliner was sixth in scoring among NHL rookie defensemen, while his 12 power-play points ranked sixth on the Toronto Maple Leafs. The 20-year-old displayed considerable confidence and maturity in his play. NHL.com's Mike Brophy noted Leafs coach Randy Carlyle had no problem using Rielly in "critical" late-game situations.
Outlook for this season: Brophy also reported Carlyle praised Rielly's skating and puck-handling skills, adding he wants the youngster to play to his strengths. Rielly told the Toronto Star's Kevin McGran he's unconcerned about a possible sophomore jinx. If he continues playing with confidence, Rielly should quickly move up on the Leafs' blue-line depth chart.
Nick Bonino, Vancouver Canucks
2013-14 stats: 77 games played, 22 goals, 27 assists, 49 points
Review of last season: Nick Bonino had a solid outing in 2013-14, finishing third on the Anaheim Ducks in goals and points and second in power-play points (20). He also tied for second in playoff goals (four) and third in points (eight). In June, the Ducks shipped Bonino to Vancouver as part of the return for center Ryan Kesler.
Outlook for this season: In June, The Vancouver Province's Jason Botchford reported the Canucks intend to use Bonino as their "second-line center." Replacing the departed Kesler, Bonino has big skates to fill. This is a terrific opportunity for the 26-year-old to establish himself as a proven top-six forward.
Evgeny Kuznetsov, Washington Capitals
2013-14 stats: 17 games played, three goals, six assists, nine points
Review of last season: After completing the final season of his KHL contract, Evgeni Kuznetsov joined the Washington Capitals in March 2014. The promising young forward wasted little time making an impact, collecting six points in his first eight games. He also went 3-of-6 in shootout attempts.
Outlook for this season: Though Kuznetsov saw limited action last season, his offensive skills will earn him considerably more ice time this season. In July, new Capitals coach Barry Trotz told NHL.com's Dan Rosen he intends to put Kuznetsov at center. Don't be surprised if the 22-year-old ends up centering their second line.
Mark Scheifele, Winnipeg Jets
2013-14 stats: 63 games played, 13 goals, 21 assists, 34 points
Review of last season: Mark Scheifele finally cracked the Winnepeg Jets' roster as a regular, finishing eighth in team scoring and 10th among NHL rookies. If not for a season-ending knee sprain, his offensive numbers would've been higher. His absence hurt the Jets' playoff hopes.
Outlook for this season: Having avoided knee surgery, a healthy and confident Scheifele should build upon his promising rookie campaign. The 21-year-old will likely center the Jets' second line. Given his development last season, he could reach 45 points this season.