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Every season there is a handful of players who take their game to the next level. These guys can take you to fantasy success, often at a discounted ADP on design day. Below are our breakout picks for the 2021-22 campaign.
(Note: All listed players are no longer eligible for rookie)
Jack Hughes (NJD): Any list of potential breakthrough players should start with Hughes, the No. 1 overall squad in the 2019 draft. He played in all 56 games for New Jersey a season ago, scoring 11 goals and 31 points. It wouldn’t be surprising if he doubled each of those in 2021-22. Hughes is a magician with the puck and possesses the rare ability to make something out of nothing in the attack zone. The Devils should be an improved team overall with Hughes in the lead.
Alexis Lafreniere / Kaapo Kakko (NYR): I have Lafreniere and Kakko together on the list because while I expect both to improve tremendously, we may only see a real breakthrough from one of them. Both should be in New York’s top six this season and get significantly more power play time than they were a year ago. If I had to choose, I would go for Lafreniere based on how good he looked at the end of last season, but Kakko himself made great strides. I would, if possible, aim for both fantasy concepts, and be happy if one exploded. Both must offer minimum value in standard leagues.
Jordan Kyrou (STL): Kyrou finished a year ago with career highs across the board, scoring 14 goals, 35 points and 98 shots in 55 games. He managed that production despite racking up just three power play points. I’m a little concerned that Kyrou’s role could diminish with the St. Louis acquisitions of Pavel Buchnevich and Brandon Saad this summer, in addition to Vladimir Tarasenko’s return. In the end, however, Tarasenko has to be traded and Kyrou has the youth on his side at the age of 23.
Jakub Vrana (DET): Vrana is the oldest skater on the list at 25 and has scored no fewer than 19 goals in the last three seasons, but I expect his game to be a whole new level in his first season with a rebuilding Red Wings team. will reach. Vrana has elite speed and an excellent shot. The Czech striker is Detroit’s most talented attacking player by a significant margin and should have at least 30 goals within reach next year.
Tim Stutzle (OTT): Stutzle has outperformed most in his rookie season, scoring 12 goals and 29 points in 53 games as an 18-year-old. He looked remarkably comfortable on the ice for such a young lad, and his strong campaign was propelled by a key role in the power play. Stutzle averaged 2:52 with the male advantage, and that number should only grow in the coming years.
Kirby Dach (CHI): Dach would have been on this list a year ago, but he missed the first two months of the season following wrist surgery. He played Chicago’s next 18 games (two goals, 10 points) on his return, before being shut down for the last four pointless games. Yes, Jonathan Toews returns, and yes, the Blackhawks traded for Tyler Johnson, but Dach is arguably the franchise’s most valuable long-term asset and should have every chance to explode at age 20.
Others to consider: Casey Mittelstadt / Dylan Cozens (BUF)
Adam Boqvist (CBJ): Columbus got a bounty for Seth Jones after informing the team that he would not re-sign, and Boqvist was part of the catch. Boqvist has been prolific in his brief NHL career, racking up 31 points in 70 games, despite turning just 20 in August. Look for the rebuild jackets to give Boqvist all the ice he can handle.
Noah Dobson (NYI): Dobson was taken care of by Islanders coach Barry Trotz in his rookie campaign two years ago, but the training wheels came off last season. Dobson finished with just 14 points in 46 games, but he also averaged 1:51 with the man advantage compared to 0:54 in his debut campaign. Nick Leddy’s trade for the Red Wings should only serve to bolster Dobson’s role.
Alexander Romanov (MTL): Romanov had two points in his first three NHL games, but things went downhill after that. He finished with just six points in 54 games and served as a healthy scratch for much of Montreal’s run to the Stanley Cup final. Shea Weber’s career is likely to be over due to injuries, so the Canadiens have no choice but to take 21-year-old Romanov to the next level. I don’t think he will make as big a jump as Boqvist and Dobson, but Romanov makes for a good pick at the end of drafts in deeper competitions.
Others to consider: Evan Bouchard (EDM), Jake Bean (CBJ)
Igor Shesterkin (NYR): Shesterkin was as advertised during his first two NHL seasons, with a 26-16-3 record, 2.59 GAA and a 0.921 save percentage. The Rangers were so convinced that he is their goalkeeper of the future that they handed him a $22.7 million four-year contract this summer, the most expensive contract ever for an NHL goalkeeper on his second contract. Shesterkin has had some injuries in his first few years (including a groin problem last year), but there’s an elite upside here.
Linus Ullmark (BOS): Looking for a No. 1 goalkeeper this summer, the Bruins settled on Ullmark and handed him a $20 million four-year contract. Ullmark has always posted solid numbers on poor Buffalo teams, and now he’s joining one of the best clubs in the NHL. Ullmark has never played more than 37 games in a campaign, but the amount of money the Bruins gave him makes the Swede the overwhelming favorite to open the season as Boston’s starter over rookie Jeremy Swayman.
Thatcher Demko (VAN): Demko’s record was below .500 a season ago, but he still managed to get decent marks in both the GAA (2.85) and the savings rate (0.915) divisions. The Canucks had a ton of injuries last year and should be completely healthy this time. Demko will only turn 26 in December and is a prime candidate for a breakthrough in what should be an improved team in Vancouver. The Canucks signed veteran Jaroslav Halak away from the Bruins to serve as Demko’s backup.
Others to consider: Cal Petersen (LAK), Jack Campbell (TOR)
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