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Fantasy breakout candidates for 2017-18

Guentzel, Klefbom, Vasilevskiy have high ceilings ahead of expanded roles

by Pete Jensen @NHLJensen / NHL.com Senior Fantasy Editor

Breakout candidates are well-known players who can exceed fantasy expectations and take the next step in their careers.

They are non-rookies who have high fantasy ceilings and, in many cases, the chance to see an expanded role for their respective team. Attainable outside the top 50 on average, breakout candidates have a chance to significantly improve their fantasy standing this season and potentially reach the upper echelon at their positions. The two best examples of fantasy breakouts from last season are center Mark Scheifele of the Winnipeg Jets and right wing Leon Draisaitl of the Edmonton Oilers.

Here are some breakout candidates for the 2017-18 season, listed in order of Yahoo average draft position (ADP):

 

FANTASY RANKINGS: Top 250 | Top 100 'F' | C | LW | RW | Top 50 'D' | Top 25 'G'

DRAFT GUIDES: Standard mock draft 1.0 | Keeper / dynasty | Hits | Faceoff wins

2017-18 PROJECTIONS: Forward points | D-man points | Goalie wins | Team previews

LISTS: Forward bargains | D-man bargains | Breakouts | Sleepers | Deep sleepers | Rookies

 

NOTE: Last season's rookies who finished among the top 100 in Yahoo's performance-based rankings (Auston Matthews; William Nylander, Matt Murray, Patrik Laine, Mitchell Marner, Zach Werenski, Matthew Tkachuk) still have higher ceilings but have been left off this list in favor of more underrated second-year players.

 

FORWARDS

Sebastian Aho, LW/RW, CAR

Yahoo ADP: 93.0

Aho, 20, had 49 points (24 goals, 25 assists), 17 power-play points and 214 shots on goal as a rookie. He came with much less hype than Matthews and Laine and shot a moderate percentage (11.2), but is among the top 15 rookie goal-scorers over the past five full seasons and finished just outside the top 100 in Yahoo (109th). If the young Carolina Hurricanes take another step forward and Aho can find more consistency in his top-six and first power-play role, he could leap to 30-35 goals, at least 60 points and 20-25 PPP this season.

Video: CAR@PHI: Aho blisters a PPG to even the game

 

Jake Guentzel, C/LW, PIT

Yahoo ADP: 103.6

Guentzel's potential was on full display for the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Stanley Cup Playoffs; he scored 21 points in 25 games and had a League-high 13 goals. The 22-year-old had 33 points (30 at even strength) in 40 regular-season games and was a popular waiver-wire addition in the fantasy playoffs. Even if his high shooting percentages (19.8 in reg. season; 25.0 in postseason) regress a bit, a full season playing with center Sidney Crosby with an elite plus/minus and potentially more power-play time could help Guentzel build on his fantasy momentum.

Video: NSH@PIT, Gm1: Guentzel snipes late go-ahead goal

 

Andre Burakovsky, LW/RW, WSH

Yahoo ADP: 135.0

The Washington Capitals traded forward Marcus Johansson to the New Jersey Devils for salary cap reasons, so Burakovsky will finally get a chance to seize an expanded role. Johansson played mostly on the second line with Evgeny Kuznetsov and first power-play unit with left wing Alex Ovechkin and center Nicklas Backstrom, standing in the way of Burakovsky in recent seasons. Burakovsky, 22, has a chance to shatter his previous career highs in goals (17), assists (23), points (38) and power-play points (five), and finish among the top 50 players in standard fantasy leagues.

 

Jakob Silfverberg, RW, ANA

Yahoo ADP: 151.2

The 26-year-old scored a career-high 49 points (23 goals, 26 assists) on a line with center Ryan Kesler for the Anaheim Ducks last season, but has never hit double-digit PPP in his NHL career. Earning first-unit power-play time with Ryan Getzlaf could be the final piece to the puzzle for Silfverberg, who has been one of the League's highest scorers the past three playoffs combined. It was encouraging to see him finally get a bump in power-play time this past postseason (3:05 per game), and that could very well carry over into this season. Kesler's injury absence could affect Silfverberg's value, but it's not likely considering he'll still be centered by either Getzlaf or fellow breakout candidate Rickard Rakell (C/LW in Yahoo).

 

Alexander Wennberg, C, CBJ

Yahoo ADP: 162.7

Wennberg was a big fantasy steal last season, finishing 105th in Yahoo after an average draft position of 153.2. Now, he could take a step further after the Columbus Blue Jackets acquired left wing Artemi Panarin from the Blackhawks. Wennberg, who will turn 23 on Sept. 22, has a chance to team up with Panarin on the top line and first power-play unit. Wennberg jumped from 40 points and 12 PPP two seasons ago to 59 points and 23 PPP last season, and could max out at 70 points with 25-27 PPP with Panarin. You could easily draft Panarin in the third round and then reach for Wennberg in the 126-150 range.

 

Sam Reinhart, C/RW, BUF

Yahoo ADP: 164.5

Reinhart's most-frequent linemate last season was center Jack Eichel, who had some of the best per-game stats League-wide when healthy in points, PPP and SOG. A full season on a line with Eichel at even strength and on the Sabres' stellar power-play unit (led NHL at 24.5 percent last season) could mean a bump from 47 points and 17 PPP last season to 60 points and 20-25 PPP this season. His shot volume should continue to increase the longer he plays with Eichel, and a coaching change to Phil Housley could bring more line stability after Reinhart bounced around from center to right wing last season.

 

Anthony Mantha, LW/RW, DET

Yahoo ADP: 166.6

Mantha, who finished 217th in Yahoo last season, had impressive numbers for a rookie on the non-contending Detroit Red Wings last season. He had a strong second half with 29 points (28 at even strength) and a plus-8 in his final 44 games. He certainly deserves more power-play usage this season with the Red Wings shifting toward a rebuild, and could easily jump from 36 points to the 55-60 range if he ends up playing with productive veteran center Henrik Zetterberg at even strength and on the first power-play unit. He scored 17 goals (one on PP) in 60 games, so playing 82 games with an uptick in power-play time could help him get 25-30 goals and land among the top 75 overall assets.

 

Mika Zibanejad, C, NYR

Yahoo ADP: 169.1

Zibanejad was a sleeper candidate entering last season, but his regular season was derailed by a broken fibula. He had 37 points and 11 PPP in 56 regular-season games, but has renewed fantasy promise after leading the Rangers in scoring this past postseason (nine points in 12 games). The Rangers are thin down the middle after trading Derek Stepan to the Arizona Coyotes, so Zibanejad is the leading candidate to be New York's new No. 1 center and a first power-play staple alongside defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk. That would mean a real shot at eclipsing 60 points for the first time in his NHL career (had career-high 51 with Ottawa Senators in 2015-16).

 

DEFENSEMEN

Oscar Klefbom, D, EDM

Yahoo ADP: 108.5

Klefbom (2:31 per game on power play) shared first-unit man-advantage duties with defenseman Andrej Sekera (2:11) last season and still finished 28th among defensemen in Yahoo (165th overall) for the resurgent Edmonton Oilers. Each defenseman dealt with an injury in the Western Conference Second Round against the Anaheim Ducks, but Sekera tore his ACL and will miss the start of the regular season. If Klefbom sees a heavier workload in all situations and even more constant exposure to center Connor McDavid and Draisaitl (top 20 fantasy forwards according to NHL.com), he could jump from 38 points to around 50 with 20-25 PPP and finish among the top 10 at his position.

Video: SJS@EDM, Gm5: Klefbom rips one-timer to tie game

 

Nikita Zaitsev, D, TOR

Yahoo ADP: 175.0

Zaitsev finished 337th in Yahoo as a rookie last season in 82 games for the Toronto Maple Leafs, so he still has a ton of room to grow. He should improve in his second season seeing so much time playing with Matthews, Nylander, Marner and veteran addition Patrick Marleau at even strength and on the Maple Leafs' first power-play unit. If Toronto takes a further step forward and contends for the Atlantic Division title, Zaitsev could be their power-play specialist with Jake Gardiner and Morgan Rielly shouldering greater loads at even strength. Zaitsev, who had 36 points and 12 PPP last season, is a 10-point bump and an improved plus/minus away from joining the top 20 fantasy defensemen.

 

GOALTENDERS

Andrei Vasilevskiy, G, TBL

Yahoo ADP: 63.3

With goaltender Ben Bishop out of the picture, Vasilevskiy gets a clean slate and clear path to a full-time starting role with the Tampa Bay Lightning. Bishop and centers Steven Stamkos and Tyler Johnson missed time because of injuries last season, and the Lightning missed the playoffs as a result. That said, Vasilevskiy is one of the best keeper-league options at his position after a .917 save percentage in a career-high 50 games (47 starts) last season. He has a strong chance to win 30-35 games this season and finish among the top 10 fantasy goalies.

Video: BUF@TBL: Vasilevskiy denies Gionta's breakaway

 

Scott Darling, G, CAR

Yahoo ADP: 120.3

Darling has a chance to go from efficient backup to full-time starter after being traded to and signed by the Hurricanes. He went 18-5-5 with a 2.38 goals-against average, .924 save percentage and two shutouts last season, and filled in respectably when Chicago Blackhawks starter Corey Crawford missed time the past three seasons. With a young, developing defense and a loaded forward group, the Hurricanes are a dark-horse playoff contender after upgrading from Cam Ward to Darling this offseason. Darling, attainable outside the top 100, could finish among the top 15 at his position.

 

Other breakout candidates: Conor Sheary (LW/RW, PIT), Jacob Trouba (D, WPG), Bo Horvat (C, VAN), Connor Hellebuyck (G, WPG), Matt Dumba (D, MIN)

Breakout candidates from last season who still have strong candidacy: Jonathan Drouin (LW/RW, MTL), Brandon Saad (LW, CHI), Alex Galchenyuk (C/LW, MTL), Colton Parayko (D, STL)

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