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Fantasy breakout candidates for 2018-19

Provorov, Grubauer, Nugent-Hopkins have higher ceilings ahead of expanded roles

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

NHL.com identifies 10 fantasy breakout candidates: well-known young players who have been relevant at the NHL level but have higher fantasy ceilings in potential expanded roles this season. Attainable outside the top 100 on average, each has room to significantly improve his fantasy rank and potentially reach the upper echelon at his position. For more fantasy coverage, visit NHL.com/Fantasy.

 

MORE FANTASY COVERAGETop 250 | 100 'F' | 50 'D' | 25 'G'

Sleeper candidates | Deep sleepers | Rookies to watch | Team previews

 

Ivan Provorov, D, PHI

NHL.com rank: 108; 2017-18 Yahoo rank: 168

There are not many cases when you would say one of the NHL defenseman goal-scoring leaders could have a higher ceiling, but Provorov (17 last season, T-1st) has room to grow in many fantasy categories. The Philadelphia Flyers, who have been inconsistent over the past two seasons, have depth at every position and a young core that could blossom in the near future. Provorov, 21, played through a shoulder injury in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference First Round against the Pittsburgh Penguins and did not need offseason surgery. After the addition of goal-scoring left wing James van Riemsdyk, Provorov should have multiple talented forwards (Sean Couturier, Nolan Patrick, Travis Konecny) with him on the second power-play unit and could challenge Shayne Gostisbehere for time on the first. Provorov, a potential 2019 restricted free agent, could see his assists (24) and power-play points (five) skyrocket and replicate or build on his impressive totals from last season (41 points, plus-17, 203 shots on goal).

Video: NYR@PHI: Couturier, Provorov team up to break the ice

 

Jake Guentzel, C/LW, PIT

NHL.com rank: 119; 2017-18 Yahoo rank: 176

The Pittsburgh Penguins left wing has been spectacular in back-to-back Stanley Cup Playoffs, scoring 23 goals (most in NHL) and 42 points (T-2nd) in 37 games on a line with elite center Sidney Crosby. So how is Guentzel on the list of breakout players? He has yet to put together an elite fantasy season in his young NHL career (2016-17: 384th in Yahoo; last season: 176th). He fell short of his average draft position (104.6) last season, spending time on the first or third line and playing mostly on the second power-play unit. Guentzel, who will turn 24 on Oct. 6, had a decent PPP output (12) and 48 points despite a drastic dip in shooting percentage (12.9 from 19.8 in 2016-17). Guentzel will be available outside the top 100 overall in most non-keeper leagues and could return immense value on Crosby's wing over a full season, especially in a hits league (1.7 per game in NHL career).

Video: WSH@PIT, Gm4: Guentzel sweeps puck past Holtby

 

Philipp Grubauer, G, COL

NHL.com rank: 128; 2017-18 Yahoo rank: 79

The 26-year-old goaltender was acquired by the Colorado Avalanche on June 22 and signed a three-year contract with them the following day, entering a situation where he has a higher long-term ceiling. Grubauer, previously the backup for the Washington Capitals, stole playing time from starter Braden Holtby last season and went 11-3-0 with a .934 save percentage in his final 17 regular-season games (14 starts). Colorado goaltender Semyon Varlamov, a potential 2019 unrestricted free agent, has dealt with injuries in recent seasons, and the Avalanche are tied for the second-fewest back-to-back sets (11), signs that Grubauer can emerge as the full-time starter this season. The Avalanche have improved by signing defenseman Ian Cole, giving Grubauer the chance to translate his efficiency (.923 save percentage in NHL career) to a heavier start volume with his new team, which also made the playoffs last season.

 

Pierre-Luc Dubois, C/LW, CBJ

NHL.com rank: 130; 2017-18 Yahoo rank: 118

There's uncertainty surrounding elite left wing Artemi Panarin (potential 2019 UFA; could be traded), but Dubois, the No. 3 pick in the 2016 NHL Draft, appears to have locked down the top-line center role for the Columbus Blue Jackets. He scored 48 points (20 goals, 28 assists) as a rookie with inconsistent usage, sometimes behind centers Nick Foligno and Alexander Wennberg. Ten of Dubois' 15 PPP came in the second half of the regular season, when he played more often on the first power-play unit. He followed that with four points (two goals, two assists) in six postseason games on a line with Panarin and right wing Cam Atkinson. If Panarin stays with Columbus, Dubois' ceiling could be 65-70 points. But even if Panarin is traded before or during the season, Dubois can take the next step in his second season and finish among the top 100 fantasy players along with Atkinson.

 

Alex DeBrincat, LW/RW, CHI

NHL.com rank: 131; 2017-18 Yahoo rank: 166

DeBrincat, another unheralded rookie from last season, quietly had 52 points (28 goals, 24 assists) on mostly the third line at even strength and 12 power-play points on the second unit for the Chicago Blackhawks, who missed the postseason. The potential wrinkle is that the 20-year-old wing has since played on a line with elite forward Patrick Kane for the United States at the 2018 World Championship, and they could carry over their success with the Blackhawks this season. Chicago could be in the market for a wing after creating NHL salary cap space by trading Marian Hossa to the Arizona Coyotes, but DeBrincat is its best young building block with two seasons remaining on his entry-level contract. DeBrincat was second among rookies in even-strength goals (22) behind Winnipeg Jets left wing Kyle Connor (24) and could erupt offensively if he sees more ice time with Kane and the Blackhawks bounce back.

Video: CHI@STL: DeBrincat buries wrister to tie the game

 

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, C, EDM

NHL.com rank: 132; 2017-18 Yahoo rank: 184

The Edmonton Oilers forward, selected with the No. 1 pick in the 2011 NHL Draft, hasn't lived up to high expectations, but he does have three seasons of at least 52 points and reappeared on the fantasy map down the stretch last season. After returning March 3 from a rib injury, Nugent-Hopkins latched onto the wing of center Connor McDavid (NHL scoring leader in each of past two seasons) and scored 17 points (eight goals, nine assists) with a plus-14 and nearly three SOG per game (45) in his final 16 games. He was also productive prior to his injury on the third line and finished with 48 points (24 goals, 24 assists) in 62 games, an 82-game pace of 63 points. If the Oilers' NHL-worst power play (14.8 percent) reverts to anything resembling its 2016-17 level (22.9 percent; fifth), Nugent-Hopkins could at least double his PPP (nine) and join McDavid and Leon Draisaitl in 70-point territory.

 

Sam Reinhart, C/LW/RW, BUF (restricted free agent)

NHL.com rank: 138; 2017-18 Yahoo rank: 185

The Buffalo Sabres could be one of the most-improved teams in the NHL after winning the 2018 NHL Draft Lottery, selecting defenseman Rasmus Dahlin with the No. 1 pick, signing goaltender Carter Hutton, and acquiring forwards Conor Sheary, Vladimir Sobotka, Patrik Berglund and Tage Thompson in two trades. These additions mean elite center Jack Eichel should have more help than in any of his first three NHL seasons and could have a full-fledged breakout with Reinhart on the top line and first power-play unit. Reinhart, 22, has improved his point and PPP totals in each of his NHL seasons and had 37 points (18 goals, 19 assists) in his final 38 games last season. Stacking Reinhart (late rounds) with Eichel (third round of NHL.com's first mock draft) or Dahlin (sixth round) is risky but could reap huge rewards.

 

J.T. Miller, C/LW/RW, TBL

NHL.com rank: 144; 2017-18 Yahoo rank: 136

The Tampa Bay Lightning re-signed Miller to a five-year contract and gave elite right wing Nikita Kucherov an eight-year contract extension this offseason, committing to two of their top line players. Miller was moved off the line late in the playoffs but played mostly with Kucherov (second in Yahoo) and Steven Stamkos (eighth), two top-10 fantasy finishers, after being acquired in a trade with the New York Rangers on Feb. 26. Miller had 18 points (10 goals, eight assists), six PPP and shot 22.2 percent in 19 regular-season games following the trade. He has back-to-back seasons of at least 56 points and has not missed a game since 2014-15. Playing a full season in Tampa Bay's top six could easily yield 60-65 points, with forward Yanni Gourde (64 points as rookie) the latest example. Jump all over Miller if he slips to the 10th round or later in a 12-team draft after a quiet postseason (eight points in 17 games).

Video: BOS@TBL, Gm5: Miller nets PPG off give-and-go play

 

Matt Dumba, D, MIN

NHL.com rank: 148; 2017-18 Yahoo rank: 112

The Minnesota Wild defenseman, who agreed to terms on a five-year contract on July 21, remains underrated in fantasy despite scoring 50 points last season, 37 at even strength (T-6th at position). With top defenseman Ryan Suter uncertain for training camp in his recovery from an ankle injury late in the regular season, Dumba could patrol the first power-play unit on a more regular basis this season and improve in PPP (12; third among Wild defensemen). Dumba, who will turn 24 on July 25, has at least 10 goals in each of the past three seasons and would be a candidate to lead NHL defensemen in the category in an expanded role. He's been plus-13 or better in three of the past four seasons for Minnesota, which has a relatively complete roster and regular-season success but hasn't broken through in the playoffs.

 

Bo Horvat, C, VAN

NHL.com rank: 162; 2017-18 Yahoo rank: 239

Longtime forwards Henrik Sedin and Daniel Sedin have retired, so the Vancouver Canucks will lean on their young players and prospects for big roles this season. Vancouver's prospect pool is led by centers Elias Pettersson and Adam Gaudette, defenseman Quinn Hughes (No. 7 pick in 2018 NHL Draft) and goaltender Thatcher Demko, but it's easy to forget the top line early last season was Horvat with eventual Calder Trophy finalist Brock Boeser and left wing Sven Baertschi before all three were injured. Horvat, 23, had 52 points (20 goals, 32 assists) in 2016-17 and was on an 82-game pace of 56 points last season (59-point pace prior to his foot injury). If Boeser (back; expected to be ready for training camp) is fully healthy, the Canucks could be a surprise team in the Western Conference with Boeser scoring 35-40 goals and Horvat leaping to 65 points.

 

Other breakout candidates: Aaron Ekblad, D, FLA; Mika Zibanejad, C, NYR; Travis Konecny, C/LW/RW, PHI; Anthony Mantha, LW/RW, DET; Nolan Patrick, C, PHI

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