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Fantasy breakout candidates for 2016-17

Aleksander Barkov, Jonathan Drouin can leap into upper echelon at positions

by Pete Jensen @NHLJensen / NHL.com Fantasy Insider

Fantasy breakouts are well-known young players who exceed expectations.

They differ from sleepers because they are middle-round picks as opposed to late-round fliers. Potential breakouts, often drafted inside the top 100, have a chance to join the upper echelon at their positions for the first time in their NHL careers. Fantasy owners can expect a significant increase in production based on career production and much-improved fantasy standing by season's end.

FANTASY RANKINGS: TOP 250 | CENTER | LW | RW | D-MAN | GOALIE

Examples of breakouts from last season are Calgary Flames left wing Johnny Gaudreau (2015-16 Yahoo ADP: 70.4; final rank: 33), San Jose Sharks goalie Martin Jones (ADP: 126.9; final rank: 28), and Washington Capitals center Evgeny Kuznetsov (ADP: 168.3; final rank: 17).

Here are 10 breakout candidates for 2016-17, with standard-category projections for each. Young players who have not finished among the top 10 at their position are eligible for this list. Last season's most valuable rookies (Artemi Panarin, Connor McDavid, Jack Eichel, Shayne Gostisbehere) can exceed their first-season performance but have been left off this list in favor of more undervalued players. The players are in order of rank in NHL.com's top 250.

John Gibson, G, Anaheim Ducks (NHL.com rank: 42; ADP: 30.2)

With goalie Frederik Andersen  traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs on June 20, Gibson will be the Ducks' No. 1 goalie this season. He was tied for the rookie lead in wins (21 in 40 games) last season and had a 2.07 goals-against average, tied for second in the NHL among goalies to play at least 15 games. If he stays healthy, he should get at least 60 starts and carry his high career winning percentage with excellent peripherals. Take him in the 7-10 range among goalies, even if there's an early run on the position.

Stat projection: 64 games, 39 wins, 2.25 GAA, .923 save percentage, 6 shutouts

Video: FLA@NYI, Gm3: Barkov gives Panthers a two-goal lead

Aleksander Barkov, C, Florida Panthers (NHL.com rank: 44; ADP: 54.7)

Barkov averaged 0.89 points per game last season, 19th in the League (minimum 60 games), and can score 75-80 points if he stays healthy for a full season. He had 59 points in 66 games in 2015-16, with 16 points on the power play, and has the luxury of playing with Jaromir Jagr and defenseman Keith Yandle on the first power-play unit. Barkov has a chance to finish among the top 20 or 30 fantasy assets and is going as low as the 60-70 range in some mock drafts.

Stat projection: 34 goals, 44 assists, plus-16, 18 PIMs, 24 PPP, 220 SOG

Video: WPG@LAK: Jets win finale on Scheifele's SO winner

Mark Scheifele, C, Winnipeg Jets (NHL.com rank: 48; Yahoo ADP: 63.4)

Scheifele finished strong with 34 points (17 goals, 17 assists) and 80 shots on goal centering top-10 right wing Blake Wheeler in his final 26 games, a stretch that began when Bryan Little was injured Feb. 18. Scheifele, 23, had 61 points in 71 games, but still may have a higher gear. If he plays a full season as a No. 1 center and improves on the power play (11 PPP last season), he will be a steal considering he's attainable in the same range or later than Barkov.

Stat projection: 35 goals, 39 assists, plus-11, 40 PIMs, 19 PPP, 210 SOG

Jake Allen, G, St. Louis Blues (NHL.com rank: 55; ADP: 41.5)

Allen was on his way to a top-five goalie finish but missed time because of knee and lower-body injuries in the second half, which opened the door for Brian Elliott. This season Allen will have the crease to himself after Elliott was traded to the Calgary Flames on June 24, and, like Gibson, has top-five potential playing for one of the deeper teams in the Western Conference. If his 2015-16 peripherals line up with what should be a 65-game workload, he'll be a major bargain if available in the fourth or fifth round of a 12-team draft.

Stat projection: 66 games, 35 wins, 2.39 GAA, .920 SV%, 8 SO

Video: BUF@CGY: Ristolainen records hat trick vs Flames

Rasmus Ristolainen, D, Buffalo Sabres (NHL.com rank: 88; ADP: 99.3)

Ristolainen should stay fit playing for Team Finland in the World Cup of Hockey 2016 and could be in for a big scoring uptick once the NHL season rolls around. He will anchor a first power-play unit that is expected to feature Eichel, Ryan O'Reilly and Kyle Okposo, and likely will play huge even-strength minutes for a deep, improved offense. He has a chance to jump from 41 points to the 55-60 point range, and could be a top-10 fantasy defenseman for the first time.

Stat projection: 15 goals, 41 assists, minus-10, 46 PIMs, 26 PPP, 225 SOG

Dylan Larkin, C/RW, Detroit Red Wings (NHL.com rank: 90; ADP: 90.2)

Larkin had his ups and downs last season as a rookie, but finished second among first-year players in even-strength points with 40 (Panarin was first with 53). Some of Larkin's rookie company, namely Panarin, McDavid, Eichel and Gostisbehere, come with greater fantasy hype. But don't be surprised to see a heightened power-play workload (2:02 per game as rookie) for Larkin after Pavel Datsyuk's departure help the young center erupt in his second season.

Stat projection: 32 goals, 32 assists, plus-7, 46 PIMs, 16 PPP, 240 SOG

Video: CAR@FLA: Ekblad nets Panthers' third goal of the 1st

Aaron Ekblad, D, Florida Panthers (NHL.com rank: 93; ADP: 78.4)

Ekblad dipped from 39 points as a rookie to 36 in his second season, but improved his goal (15) and SOG (182) totals. He has a chance to do more damage if he's on the first power-play unit with Yandle, and it wouldn't be shocking to see each finish among the top 10-15 defensemen if they thrive there together. Such a spot would allow Ekblad to produce 15-20 PPP with more than 200 SOG and an NHL career-best point total. There are some concerns following his injury at the World Cup of Hockey 2016, but Ekblad is still a high-reward player attainable in the seventh round of a 12-team draft.

Stat projection: 19 goals, 30 assists, plus-20, 50 PIMs, 19 PPP, 203 SOG

Jonathan Drouin, LW, Tampa Bay Lightning (NHL.com rank: 97; ADP: 136.5)

Drouin, 21, got his NHL career on track during the Stanley Cup Playoffs, with 14 points (6 PPP) in 17 games. That said, the big question is whether Drouin will mesh well with Steven Stamkos, who was injured during most of Drouin's postseason surge, on the top line, or if the Lightning will split them among their top six. Drouin's breakout candidacy also hinges on keeping a spot on the first power-play unit. If Drouin picks up where he left off, he could be this season's Kuznetsov and go from outside the top 130 to inside the top 50.

Stat projection: 21 goals, 39 assists, plus-4, 46 PIMs, 21 PPP, 177 SOG

Video: FLA@MTL: Canadiens score on slick tic-tac-toe passing

Alex Galchenyuk, C, Montreal Canadiens (NHL.com rank: 107; ADP: 134.3)

Galchenyuk had a higher shooting percentage last season (30 goals on 201 shots; 14.9 percent) compared to 2014-15 (20 goals on 163 shots; 12.3 percent). A further step forward hinges on whether Montreal coach Michel Therrien keeps Galchenyuk with Max Pacioretty and either Brendan Gallagher or Alexander Radulov on a full-time basis. For how late Galchenyuk is going in drafts, it's worth saving a center or bench spot for him. He's entering his fifth NHL season and continues to trend upward in fantasy.

Stat projection: 35 goals, 34 assists, minus-2, 28 PIMs, 20 PPP, 217 SOG

Seth Jones, D, Columbus Blue Jackets (NHL.com rank: 133; ADP: 126.9)

Jones' fantasy performance elevated after he was traded to the Blue Jackets from the Nashville Predators on Jan. 6. He had 20 points, nine PPP and 83 SOG in 41 games with the Blue Jackets. That productivity for a full season equals top-15 fantasy-defenseman status. The Blue Jackets' defensive struggles make Jones' plus/minus rating a potential liability, but he should take the next step in his NHL career this season and be well worth a pick outside the first 10 rounds in a 12-team draft.

Stat projection: 7 goals, 38 assists, minus-13, 30 PIMs, 19 PPP, 180 SOG

Additional breakout candidates: Matt Murray (G, PIT), Brandon Saad (LW/RW, CBJ), Adam Henrique (C, NJD), Colton Parayko (D, STL), Leon Draisaitl (C, EDM), Connor Hellebuyck (G, WPG)

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