Last season, forwards Vladimir Tarasenko of the St. Louis Blues and Jakub Voracek of the Philadelphia Flyers went from reliable fantasy producers to elite-level assets. On the defenseman and goalie fronts, fantasy owners witnessed Roman Josi of the Nashville Predators and Cory Schneider of the New Jersey Devils joining the likes of stardom at their respective positions.
These were players who made their mark on the fantasy landscape before, but never to the degree of statistical prowess that they put forth last season. Sleepers are under-the-radar players who are drafted much later than they should be. Breakout players are known commodities who elevate their fantasy production to new heights, usually in an expanded role.
Targeting breakout candidates in your fantasy draft can go a long way in building a championship-caliber roster. Here are five players I believe can make the jump from household name to superstar in 2015-16. Pete Jensen's breakout list can be found here.
1. Jonathan Huberdeau, C/LW, Florida Panthers
Yahoo average draft position: 148.5
Yahoo end-season rank: 102
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After recording 14 goals and 31 points and winning the Calder Trophy in the shortened 2012-13 season, many pegged Huberdeau for a breakout in 2013-14. Unfortunately that didn't happen as he struggled and finished the season with nine goals and 28 points in 69 games. Because of that disappointment, Huberdeau flew under the radar in fantasy drafts last season and ended up providing unexpected value by the end of the campaign (15 G, 39 A, plus-10). Going into his fourth NHL season, Huberdeau is primed for what could be a huge year. The 6-foot-1 forward finished last season on a line alongside another potential breakout player in Aleksander Barkov and veteran Jaromir Jagr, who the Panthers acquired at the NHL Trade Deadline. Huberdeau led the way with 21 points in his final 20 games and ended up as the 102nd-best fantasy player in Yahoo leagues. The trio is expected to open up this season on the same line and Huberdeau should end up with plenty of fantasy value. While he didn't score a power-play goal last season, he still had 12 man-advantage-points while averaging 2:20 of PP time per game. With the Panthers continuing to show improvement, there's reason to believe Huberdeau can be an extremely valuable all-around fantasy player this season. Look for him to score 25-plus goals and 65-plus points with strong contributions in the plus/minus, PIMs, PP points and shots on goal categories.
2. Jake Allen, G, St. Louis Blues
Yahoo ADP: 109.5
Yahoo end-season rank: 115
Goalie - STL
GAA: 2.28 | SVP: .913 | SO: 4
There's a lot of uncertainty between the pipes for the St. Louis Blues
heading into the 2015-16 season. Last season, Brian Elliott
, the team's opening night starter, finished with 45 starts in goal while Allen made 32. But thanks to his stellar play toward the end of the regular season, Allen wrangled away the starting job and then started all six of his team's Stanley Cup Playoff games (2-4 record, 2.20 goals-against average, .904 save percentage). Looking ahead, this tandem will likely begin the season in a 50-50 split and I expect Allen to earn the starting nod on opening night. From there, I expect it to be a competition. And with that, I expect Allen to win the competition and see the bulk of playing time. Allen has always been a highly regarded goalie as he's moved through St. Louis' system and he capped it off last season with 22 wins, a 2.28 GAA and a .913 save percentage in his 32 starts. Elliott's overall numbers from last season were slightly better, but he got progressively worse from November on (.940 SV% in Nov., .936 in Dec., .919 in Jan., .910 in Feb., .906 in March and .877 in April), while Allen displayed his best performances late in the season (.964 SV% in four April starts). The Blues are one of the League's best defensive teams (second in the NHL in shots allowed per game last season at 27.2) and with Allen at the helm, they should get even better. The 25-year-old is currently being drafted 21st among goalies in Yahoo leagues (one spot after Elliott), but he has the talent and the team to end up a top-10 fantasy goalie this season. Move him up in your pre-draft rankings.
3. John Klingberg, D, Dallas Stars
Yahoo ADP: 124.7
Yahoo end-season rank: 220
Defense - DAL
Goals: 11 | Assists: 29 | +/-: 5
Shots: 98 | PPP: 12 | PIM: 32
Klingberg, 23, is currently being drafted 32nd among defenseman in Yahoo leagues. I believe he has the potential to be a top-20 fantasy defenseman as early as this season. There are several reasons I'm all in on Klingberg, who has been compared to as a young Erik Karlsson
1) He plays on the Dallas Stars, a team that averaged 3.13 goals-per-game last season (second in the NHL behind Tampa Bay).
2) The Stars added even more offensive firepower by acquiring Patrick Sharp via trade. They'll also have Valeri Nichushkin, who was limited to eight games last season, healthy and ready to go.
3) He's the No. 1 offensive defenseman on the Stars with not much competition behind him. Alex Goligoski remains in the picture, but Klingberg distanced himself significantly last season.
4) He's expected to quarterback the top power-play unit that could include Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin, Jason Spezza and Sharp.
5) He was really good in his first 65 games at the NHL level.
Add up all these things and it's pretty easy to see why I like Klingberg to break out. Despite not making his debut until Nov. 11, Klingberg still finished last season with 11 goals, 29 assists, a plus-5, 32 PIMs, 12 PPP and 98 shots in 65 games. Among defensemen with at least 50 games played, his 0.62 points-per-game were tied for 15th best and his 0.17 goals-per-game were tied for 13th best. He had elite per-game rates and with the Stars on the cusp of being a contender, expect Klingberg to develop into an elite offensive defenseman in the NHL for years to come.
4. Alex Galchenyuk, C/LW, Montreal Canadiens
Yahoo ADP: 154.7
Yahoo end-season rank: 134
Center/LEFT WING - MTL
Goals: 20 | Assists: 26 | +/-: 8
Shots: 163 | PPP: 12 | PIM: 39
Galchenyuk, 21, is slowly getting more and more comfortable in the NHL. His offensive production has improved each season with his 20 goals and 26 assists last season career-highs. And while 46 points in 80 games doesn't scream fantasy dominance, his peripheral stats made him a solid performer that saw him finish as the 134th-best player in Yahoo leagues. However, in 2015-16 I expect a full breakout from the No. 3 pick in the 2012 NHL Draft. Galchenyuk is expected to shift back to his natural position of center and should end up as the Canadiens' No. 2 center behind Tomas Plekanec
. An increase in average ice time should be expected (16:25 per game last season) as well as a bump in power-play usage (2:13 last season). If he can find a way to improve his shots on goal per game (2.04), Galchenyuk's goal total should also increase. I have him ranked 135th in preseason, but I believe a 30-goal, 60-point season with more sound peripherals is realistic, and that would make Galchenyuk a top-50 fantasy player.
5. Mark Scheifele, C, Winnipeg Jets
Yahoo ADP: 156.4
Yahoo end-season rank: 119
Center - WPG
Goals: 15 | Assists: 34 | +/-: 11
Shots: 170 | PPP: 13 | PIM: 24
Scheifele, who made my fantasy sleepers list last season, graduates to the next level and makes the cut as one of my three forwards ready for a breakout season. Scheifele's stats (15 G, 34 A, plus-11, 24 PIMs, 13 PPP, 170 SOG) were very similar to Huberdeau's and he too finished the regular season on a bit of a high note. The 22-year-old notched five goals and nine assists in his final 19 games while centering a line with Drew Stafford
and Blake Wheeler
(one of the most underrated players in fantasy hockey). Expect this unit to start this season together again and for Scheifele to take his game to the next level. After scoring 13 goals on 100 shots in 63 games in his rookie season in 2013-14, Scheifele was a bit unlucky last season with 15 goals on 170 shots while appearing in all 82 games for the Jets. Expect his shot totals to rise as well as his shooting percentage and you could easily envision Scheifele scoring around 25 goals. I have him ranked 138th coming into the season and he's currently being drafted nearly 20 picks later. He might be center-eligible only in Yahoo leagues, but I love his chances of finishing as a top-100 fantasy player this season.