NHL.com continues its preview of the 2015-16 season, which begins Wednesday.
One year ago, the Tampa Bay Lightning were hoping forward Nikita Kucherov could have a breakout season, prove his skill could translate in the NHL, that he was worth the tough love he was shown during his rookie season of 2013-14.
At the same time, the Calgary Flames were hoping center Sean Monahan could build on his strong rookie season to bust out in a big way, and the Detroit Red Wings were banking on Tomas Tatar to become a go-to scorer in his second full season.
All three answered.
Kucherov finished with 29 goals and 65 points, 20 more goals and 47 more points than he had as a rookie. Monahan scored 31 goals and 62 points, nine more goals and 28 more points than he had in his first season. Tatar had 29 goals and 56 points, 10 more goals and 17 more points than the previous season.
Each is now considered a potential all-star and is expected to match his stats from last season, if not exceed them.
There will be more players like Kucherov, Monahan and Tatar this season. Who will they be? Who will be the breakout performers of the 2015-16 season?
Here are eight possibilities, in alphabetical order, with the qualifiers that they have played in the NHL but have 200 or fewer games and have never scored 50 or more points in a season:
JONATHAN DROUIN, TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING
Last season: 4-28-32 in 70 games
Career: 4-28-32 in 70 games
The game looked like it was starting to slow down for Drouin during the preseason, and he started to look like a legitimate top-six forward primed for a big season. Lightning coach Jon Cooper, who scratched Drouin for 20 of Tampa Bay's 26 games during the Stanley Cup Playoffs last spring, has offered effusive praise of the 20-year-old forward throughout training camp, telling the Tampa Bay Times last week that he has "come back on a little bit of a mission, and it's good to see."
Drouin will likely start the season playing alongside center Steven Stamkos, which should undoubtedly benefit him. Most important, Drouin was playing with confidence, almost as if he were back in junior hockey, during the preseason. If that carries over to the regular season, he could be in line for a big season, similar to Kucherov in 2014-15.
MATT DUMBA, MINNESOTA WILD
Last season: 8-8-16 in 58 games
Career: 9-9-18 in 71 games
Like his team, Dumba, the No. 7 pick in the 2012 NHL Draft, had a strong second half last season. The 21-year-old defenseman had 12 points, including seven goals, in Minnesota's final 38 games after spending six weeks in the American Hockey League.
Dumba is expected to play a bigger role on the Wild's improving defense from the start this season. He should be in the top four, possibly paired with Jonas Brodin, playing upwards of 17-18 minutes per game; more if the Wild want to reduce the workload on Ryan Suter.
ALEX GALCHENYUK, MONTREAL CANADIENS
Last season: 20-26-46 in 80 games
Career: 42-62-104 in 193 games
Galchenyuk is finally getting to play his natural position this season, his fourth in the NHL. He'll start at center, likely on the second line between Alexander Semin and Lars Eller. Given the opportunity to play in his comfort zone, with a healthy Semin, and on the power play, should give Galchenyuk the opportunity to approach or crack 60 points.
He should show the Canadiens, if he didn't already in the preseason, that he is a strong two-way center who is in control when he has the puck and capable of keeping it in the offensive end. He might prove that he is their future No. 1 center.
CHRIS KREIDER, NEW YORK RANGERS
Last season: 21-25-46 in 80 games
Career: 40-46-86 in 169 games
Kreider showed signs of starting to break out last season, when he found his niche as a power forward. His play away from the puck improved. His play on the boards improved. He shot the puck more (2.25 shots per game, up from 2.06 per game in 2013-14).
All of that has led to Rangers coach Alain Vigneault raising his expectations for Kreider this season. Vigneault said at the start of training camp that he thinks Kreider can be a dominant power forward and an elite player in the NHL. The feeling around the Rangers is that Kreider can be a 30-30 guy this season, as in 30 goals and 30 assists.
EVGENY KUZNETSOV, WASHINGTON CAPITALS
Last season: 11-26-37 in 80 games
Career: 14-32-46 in 97 games
Kuznetsov had a strong second half to his rookie season in 2014-15 and established himself as Washington's second-line center behind Nicklas Backstrom. He had five goals and seven points in 14 Stanley Cup Playoff games after scoring five goals and 13 points in the Capitals' final 17 regular-season games.
Kuznetsov will get ice time with Alex Ovechkin on the top line and top power-play unit early in the season, until Backstrom is able to get up to speed after hip surgery that's expected to keep him out for at least a few games. Coach Barry Trotz's goal for Kuznetsov is for him to start this season the way he finished last season. He'll get the chance to do more. He has the ability to do more.
JAKOB SILFVERBERG, ANAHEIM DUCKS
Last season: 13-26-39 in 81 games
Career: 33-48-81 in 181 games
Silfverberg should have the ability to build off of his strong postseason, when he had 18 points, including 14 assists, in 16 games playing on the Ducks' second line alongside Ryan Kesler. The Ducks are banking on Silfverberg and Kesler being their second scoring duo behind Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry.
Silfverberg has taken on a proper progression of building up his production and his value to his team in each of his first three NHL seasons. Now he is going to be put in a prime role and should be able to break the 50-point barrier with ease if he stays healthy and continues to feed off of Kesler's hard-edge, two-way game.
TEUVO TERAVAINEN, CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS
Last season: 4-5-9 in 34 games
Career: 4-5-9 in 37 games
The departures of Brandon Saad and Patrick Sharp open the door for Teravainen to play a bigger role on the Blackhawks this season. The team feels he's ready.
Teravainen, 21, had 10 points in 18 playoff games and helped Chicago win the Stanley Cup for the third time in six seasons. He can play on the wing or at center, and is likely to start the season as the third-line center behind No. 1 Jonathan Toews and No. 2 Artem Anisimov. But don't be shocked if Teravainen quickly becomes a first- or second-line left wing.
MIKA ZIBANEJAD, OTTAWA SENATORS
Last season: 20-26-46 in 80 games
Career: 43-57-100 in 200 games
Zibanejad's production went up under coach Dave Cameron after he took over for Paul MacLean on Dec. 8 (0.60 points per game in 55 games under Cameron, 0.52 PPG in 25 games under MacLean). He also went from averaging a shade over 15 minutes per game under MacLean to nearly 17 minutes per game under Cameron, and blossomed as the second-line center playing with Bobby Ryan and Mike Hoffman.
This season, Zibanejad plans to get a little more selfish. He told the Ottawa Sun at the start of training camp that one of his goals is to shoot more. He averaged 1.875 shots on goal per game last season and had 14 games without a shot altogether. There were 51 centers in the League who took more shots on goal than Zibanejad last season, including fellow second-line centers Ryan Kesler (205), Jason Spezza (204) and Tyler Johnson (203).
EIGHT MORE IN THE MIX: Andre Burakovsky, Washington Capitals; Marko Dano, Chicago Blackhawks; Elias Lindholm, Carolina Hurricanes; J.T. Miller, New York Rangers; Valeri Nichushkin, Dallas Stars; David Pastrnak, Boston Bruins; Tanner Pearson, Los Angeles Kings; Nail Yakupov, Edmonton Oilers