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Behind The Numbers

Analytics point to four ready to score

Nazem Kadri of Maple Leafs, Carl Hagelin of Penguins among those primed for breakout season

by Rob Vollman / Correspondent

There are a number of ways statistics can be used to predict a breakout season, and all indicators point to forwards Nazem Kadri of the Toronto Maple Leafs, Carl Hagelin of the Pittsburgh Penguins, Erik Haula of the Minnesota Wild and Jonathan Drouin of the Tampa Bay Lightning each being able to take his play to the next level this season.

There are many different ways to define a breakout; it's treated here as when a player's scoring totals set an NHL career high by roughly 20 points or more.

Players who look to be on the cusp of such a significant increase in scoring sometimes can be discovered by looking at a particularly unlucky shooting percentage, a strong second-half performance, a large number of primary assists, or an even-strength scoring rate that normally precedes a big increase in power-play time.

There are many other factors that can contribute to a breakout season, including a return to full health, contractual incentives and success with a new linemate and/or coach. However, it can be difficult to predict such situations with statistics.

Based on what we can objectively measure, here are the four players most likely to have a breakout season:

Nazem Kadri, Toronto Maple Leafs

Kadri, who turns 26 on Oct. 6, is one of the most underrated players in the NHL. He can draw penalties, play tough minutes, and has excellent shot-based metrics, and his 45 points (17 goals, 28 assists) in 76 games led the Maple Leafs last season.

Statistically, the primary clue for Kadri's potential breakout is his unusually low shooting percentage last season. Going into 2015-16, Kadri had scored 64 goals on 510 shots, an NHL career shooting percentage of 12.5 percent. If that had continued, he would have scored 33 goals, instead of 17, on his 260 shots last season.

A steep drop in shooting percentage sometimes can be explained by changing teams, coaches or linemates, or a steep reduction in power-play time, but it's usually just bad luck.

The arrival of gifted rookies Auston Matthews and William Nylander, and the return to health of James van Riemsdyk and Tyler Bozak could offer Kadri the offensive support he needs to surpass his NHL career high of 50 points in 2013-14, with potential to reach 70.

Video: TOR@FLA: Kadri picks up third career hat trick

Carl Hagelin, Pittsburgh Penguins

On Jan. 16, the Penguins acquired Hagelin, 28, in a trade with the Anaheim Ducks for forward David Perron and defenseman Adam Clendening. Hagelin scored 27 points (10 goals, 17 assists) in 37 games during the regular season, followed by 16 points (six goals, 10 assists) in 24 games during the Stanley Cup Playoffs on a highly acclaimed line with Nick Bonino and Phil Kessel.

Though that level of scoring suggests Hagelin can exceed his NHL career high of 39 points (last season) by scoring between 55 and 60 points this season, it's not the primary piece of statistical evidence pointing toward a breakout.

When a player reaches new scoring heights, power-play scoring often is a key component. With 35 even-strength points in 1,106:06 of ice time last season (1.90 points per 60 minutes), Hagelin is one of the highest-scoring players in the NHL who doesn't already play a regular shift on the power play. Even an assignment on the second power-play unit would be enough to ensure Hagelin breaks out offensively.

Erik Haula, Minnesota Wild

With an increase from 14 points in 2014-15 to 34 (14 goals, 20 assists) last season, the case can be made that 2015-16 was Haula's breakout. But several statistical perspectives suggest his scoring totals could climb higher.

Like Hagelin, Haula, 25, has a very high scoring rate for someone who doesn't see time on the power play. His 29 even-strength points in 828:03 of ice time last season (2.10 points per 60 minutes) should be high enough to earn a full-time power-play role from new coach Bruce Boudreau.

Statistically, other breakout clues include Haula's 27 points in 40 games in the second half, tied with Zach Parise for the Wild lead, and college scoring levels at the University of Minnesota from 2010-11 to 2012-13 that confirm an upside of 50 points or more. Also, an opportunity to play with veteran center Eric Staal could be the key to unlocking Haula's scoring potential.

Video: OTT@MIN: Haula finishes Pominville's feed to tie game

Jonathan Drouin, Tampa Bay Lightning

Primary assists can be a strong indicator to identify players most effective at directly setting up goals, a description that fits Drouin, 21, perfectly.

Among those who have played at least 1,000 minutes at even-strength in the NHL over the past two seasons, Drouin's scoring rate of 1.06 primary assists per 60 minutes ranks third behind Blake Wheeler of the Winnipeg Jets (1.14) and Evgeny Kuznetsov of the Washington Capitals (1.13), according to Hockey Analysis. Wheeler and Kuznetsov each finished in the League's top 10 in scoring last season, with 78 and 77 points.

How many points will Drouin score this season? Translating his scoring for Halifax of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League from 2011-14 sets the bar at 50 points, but his 14 points (five goals, nine assists) in 17 playoff games with the Lightning last season indicate an upside of 68.

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