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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.

 

Video: Fantasy players expected to break out this season

 

Ivan Provorov, D, PHI
NHL.com rank: 101; ADP: 113.1

There are not many cases when you could say one of the NHL defenseman goal-scoring leaders has a higher ceiling, but Provorov (17 goals last season, T-1st) has room to grow in many other fantasy categories. The Philadelphia Flyers have been inconsistent over the past two seasons but 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 but did not need offseason surgery. After the addition of goal-scoring left wing James van Riemsdyk, Provorov will have multiple talented forwards (Sean Couturier, Nolan Patrick, Travis Konecny) with him on the second power-play unit and could even challenge Shayne Gostisbehere for first-unit usage. 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: PHI@COL: Provorov pots one-timer through traffic

 

Jake Guentzel, LW, PIT
NHL.com: 104; ADP: 113.5

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 (140th in Yahoo last season; 329th as rookie). 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 shooting percentage dip (12.9; 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 with hits (1.7 per game in NHL career) now a standard category.

 

Sam Reinhart, C/RW, BUF
NHL.com: 118; ADP: 159.6

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, acquiring left wing Jeff Skinner and signing goaltender Carter Hutton. 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. Reinhart is a versatile forward who could end up on the second line with another high-upside rookie in center Casey Mittelstadt.

Video: BUF@FLA: Reinhart cuts through the defense, scores

 

Pierre-Luc Dubois, C/LW, CBJ
NHL.com: 119; ADP: 148.1

There's uncertainty surrounding elite left wing Artemi Panarin and goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky (potential 2019 UFAs), but Dubois, the No. 3 pick in the 2016 NHL Draft, at least 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/or Alexander Wennberg. Ten of Dubois' 15 PPP came in the second half of the regular season, when he played more often on the first 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).

 

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, C/LW, EDM
NHL.com: 120; ADP: 150.4

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 re-emerged 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) and Nugent-Hopkins, now dual-eligible in Yahoo, sees more usage on the first unit, he could at least double his PPP (nine) and join McDavid and Leon Draisaitl in 70-point territory.

Video: EDM@FLA: Nugent-Hopkins nets wrister for SHG


Alex DeBrincat, LW/RW, CHI
NHL.com: 121; ADP: 129.5

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 PPP on the second unit for the Chicago Blackhawks, who missed the postseason. But 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.

 

J.T. Miller, C/RW, TBL
NHL.com: 133; ADP: 160.9

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 and Steven Stamkos, 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 nine could easily yield 60-65 points, with forward Yanni Gourde (64 points as rookie) being the latest example. Miller had a quiet postseason (eight points in 17 games) but is worth targeting after the 10th round in a 12-team draft.

Video: TBL@NJD, Gm4: Miller pots Kucherov's dish to tie game

 

Philipp Grubauer, G, COL
NHL.com: 144; ADP: 155.9

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.

 

Anthony Mantha, LW/RW, DET
NHL.com: 170; ADP: 168.1

The Detroit Red Wings forward had an NHL career-high 48 points in 80 games last season, but his points-per-game average (0.60) was in line with his rookie season. Mantha, who will turn 24 on Sept. 16, is an emerging power forward attainable in late rounds, but Detroit's short-term lineup concerns overshadow his fantasy value. Whether he plays on a line with center Dylan Larkin, Henrik Zetterberg (back; could miss start of season) or Frans Nielsen, Mantha can achieve greater consistency. He started and finished strong (19 points in first 19 games; five in final five games) and had five games with at least three points. He can also benefit from exposure to a high-end prospect (Filip Zadina, Michael Rasmussen) and has room for PPP improvement (12).

Video: DET@BOS: Mantha shovels home a loose puck in front

 

Brandon Montour, D, ANA
NHL.com: 178; ADP: 127.5

The 24-year-old defenseman saw significant power-play time (2:15 per game), sometimes on the first unit, in his second NHL season and covered all six standard fantasy categories well (nine goals, 23 assists, plus-16, 12 PPP, 160 SOG, 96 hits). Top defenseman Cam Fowler was limited to 67 regular-season games because of a lower-body injury in October and shoulder injury in April, the latter keeping him out of Anaheim's four postseason games when they were swept by the San Jose Sharks. Montour's fantasy value is complicated in the short term because the Ducks again have a crowded defense (others: Josh Manson, Hampus Lindholm) and Fowler is usually productive when healthy (same point total as Montour in 13 fewer games). But Montour has proven he has a ceiling of at least 50 points over a full season with power-play exposure to forwards Ryan Getzlaf and Rickard Rakell and is one of the few fantasy breakout defensemen attainable outside the top 120.

 

Other breakout candidates: Mika Zibanejad, C, NYR; Travis Konecny, LW/RW, PHI; Nolan Patrick, C, PHI; Bo Horvat, C, VAN; Noah Hanifin, D, CGY
 

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