Last season, forwards Tyler Seguin of the Dallas Stars, Joe Pavelski of the San Jose Sharks and Wayne Simmonds of the Philadelphia Flyers went from reliable fantasy producers to elite-level assets. On the defenseman and goalie fronts, fantasy owners witnessed Mark Giordano of the Calgary Flames and Semyon Varlamov of the Colorado Avalanche 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 this past 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.
FANTASY HOCKEY ANALYSIS
The 2014-15 NHL season is drawing closer by the day, so NHL.com has you covered with all the fantasy hockey advice you'll need come draft day.
Targeting breakout candidates in your fantasy draft can go a long way in building a championship-caliber roster. Here are five players I believe will take the jump from household name to superstar in 2014-15. Matt Cubeta's five breakout candidates can be found here.
1. Nathan MacKinnon, C/RW, Colorado Avalanche
Thanks to a monster second half (39 points over final 42 regular-season games) as a rookie, MacKinnon won the Calder Trophy in 2013-14 and took it a step further in the Stanley Cup Playoffs (10 points in seven games). He's on everyone's radar, but not high enough in Yahoo leagues. His average draft position is 35.4 (late third/early fourth round) -- way too low for a player who's moving to his natural position with a chance to exceed 80 points as a sophomore. The 19-year-old reportedly added 12-13 pounds of muscle to his blazing speed this offseason, so don't underestimate his fantasy value and room for improvement. This dual-eligible forward will be playing alongside Gabriel Landeskog and either Alex Tanguay or Jarome Iginla and warrants top-20 consideration. If you're high on MacKinnon, draft him in the second round of standard formats and first round of keeper leagues. There's a great chance you'll be rewarded.
2. Cory Schneider, G, New Jersey Devils
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Based on Schneider's stellar save percentage over the past four seasons (0.928), this 28-year-old is more than deserving of a starting role. He has weathered the storm in timeshare situations with Roberto Luongo and Martin Brodeur and will finally have the crease to himself for the Devils, who had the League's fewest shots on goal allowed per game and top penalty kill unit last season. There are questions surrounding his defense after the departure of Mark Fayne and Anton Volchenkov, but those vacancies mean the Devils can finally develop 'D' prospects Eric Gelinas and Adam Larsson at the NHL level. The team also added goal scorer Mike Cammalleri to fill a top-line need and is in position to contend. It's absolutely appropriate to consider Schneider a borderline top-10 goalie entering the season, because he has even greater potential if his numbers translate to a workload of 60-plus outings.
3. Brandon Saad, LW/RW, Chicago Blackhawks
Left Wing - CHI
GOALS: 19 | ASST: 28 | PTS: 47
SOG: 159 | +/-: 20
Early signs out of Blackhawks training camp are that the team's second line will benefit largely from the addition of veteran center Brad Richards
-- and that's music to the ears of Saad and top-10 fantasy forward Patrick Kane
. Saad, 21, is a dual-eligible asset who touched on five standard-league categories in 2013-14 and was a multipoint machine in the playoffs, peaking in the late stages of Chicago's series against the Los Angeles Kings
. Fantasy owners tend to avoid spending first- and second-round fantasy picks on left wings, so Saad's Yahoo ADP (132.7) provides a perfect recipe for owners who want to fill other positional needs early and pick up their second left wing after the 10th round. The caliber of his linemates and his place on a proven contender cement Saad's value moving forward, and fantasy owners can expect 25-plus goals, 60-plus points and a plus-20 rating or better. There's room for Saad to grow on the power play and in terms of generating shots on goal, which would be icing on the cake for fantasy owners.
4. Dougie Hamilton, D, Boston Bruins
Defense - BOS
GOALS: 7 | ASST: 18 | PTS: 25
SOG: 114 | +/-: 22
Boston has proven talent and depth on the blue line, but Hamilton, 21, appears to be the team's puck-moving defenseman of the future. Zdeno Chara is 37 and Torey Krug is a power-play specialist who is currently unsigned (restricted free agent). Hamilton saw an increase in ice time last season and emerged as Boston's best possession defenseman, so it's only a matter of time before he sees an expanded role in the offense. If the Bruins start the regular season without Krug, Hamilton could really take off production-wise in a hurry. If/when Krug signs, Hamilton should still continue to see more than two minutes per game with the man advantage and carry top-20 potential in multicategory leagues. He's a lock to produce a strong rating and could make a push for 40-plus points in the final year of his entry-level contract if he avoids injury.
5. Vladimir Tarasenko, RW, St. Louis Blues
Right Wing - STL
GOALS: 21 | ASST: 22 | PTS: 43
SOG: 136 | +/-: 20
Tarasenko has been limited to 102 of a possible 130 games in his first two NHL seasons, but will be in prime position to take his goal-scoring output to the next level in 2014-15. With David Backes
(C/RW), offseason addition Paul Stastny
and the arrival of Jori Lehtera
, Tarasenko can benefit from the Blues' center depth, build continuity with more experience, and expand his role on the power play if he stays healthy for a full season. He has 30-plus goals written all over him, especially after scoring four in six games this past postseason. His Yahoo ADP (166.9) is evidence that he's under the radar, so consider him a borderline top-20 right wing who could see a spike in value this season. Have Tarasenko in your queue in the 13th round and target him as your second right wing or first bench forward.