Each year, prospects make a name for themselves in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and go on to contribute for their clubs as full time NHL players the following season. It happened a season ago with Jonathan Drouin in a big way with 14 points in Tampa Bay’s 17 games en route to the Eastern Conference Finals. Pittsburgh’s Conor Sheary played well alongside Sidney Crosby, winning a Stanley Cup, and paving the way for a 50-point season this year. Tyler Toffoli became a household name for the Kings in their run to the Stanley Cup in 2014 and nearly hit 50 points in 2014-15. Torey Krug capped off a good rookie season in 2013-14 and cemented himself in the Boston top four with 10 points in the Bruins 12 playoff games that same season. There are many examples but these are just a few.
This season it appears there are some prospects that will be following that same trend. Here are five that you already know but could be further breakout candidates next season.
Jake Guentzel – Pittsburgh Penguins
Guentzel’s breakout actually began at midseason with 33 points in his first 40 regular season games, but has carried over into the playoffs where the University of Nebraska-Omaha star put up six points in the Penguins five game series victory over Columbus. Sidney Crosby has a knack for playing well with certain players, making Chris Kunitz, Pascal Dupuis and Conor Sheary-types household names. Guentzel is the next in line for making this jump, as he has clicked with Crosby, and has a higher offensive ceiling then any of the above. Guentzel is currently the number one forward prospect in Dobber’s Top 200 list, and could reach 60-plus points next season with a full season in Pittsburgh.
Shea Theodore – Anaheim Ducks
As fantasy owners know, Theodore’s road to a secure spot on the Anaheim blue line has been a long one. Despite playing well in his stints with the Ducks in the past, Theodore has worn out the path between San Diego (AHL) and Anaheim throughout the year. Injuries to Cam Fowler and Sami Vatanen allowed for Theodore to provide offense in Anaheim’s four-game sweep of Calgary in round one. His five points in those four contests lead all rookie defensemen, and his 1.25 points-per-game average leads all rookie skaters. The Ducks only have two defenseman signed past next season (Vatanen and Hampus Lindholm) so look for Theodore and Brandon Montour to take on bigger roles this upcoming year.
Artturi Lehkonen – Montreal Canadiens
Lehkonen played in 73 games for Montreal in his rookie season, and showed some flashes of his talent throughout the season. The former second round pick loves to shoot the puck and has the ability to be a 25-30 goal scorer as early as next season if he gets the correct deployment opportunities. He averaged 2.16 shots-on-goal per game during the regular season, but that number jumped to 3.17 in the Canadiens first round series with the Rangers, where he posted two goals and two assists. Lehkonen’s shooting percentage in 2016-17 was sustainable at around 11%, and if he is able to eclipse 200 shots on goal next season, you will see an increase in the goal scoring category. An even more positive fact is that after Claude Julien took over the reins in mid February, Lehkonen was a .50 point-per-game player in his final 24 games of the season, and averaged 2.59 shots-on-goal per game.
Charlie McAvoy – Boston Bruins
Boston’s first round selection from 2016 was thrown right into the fire, starting his first NHL game in the first game of the Bruins series against the Ottawa Senators. Fresh off signing his entry-level contract, McAvoy played big minutes, averaging over 23 minutes per game in all situations. He had three assists in six games, with strong peripheral numbers that should carry over to next season. In addition to his assists, McAvoy had 12 hits and nine blocked shots through six games, which point towards a multi-category beast on the horizon.
Kevin Fiala – Nashville Predators
Similar to Theodore above, fantasy owners and fans alike have wondered when Fiala will get his shot to stick in the Nashville lineup. After being shuffled between the AHL and NHL for short stints over the last two seasons, Fiala finally was able to play 53 games for the Preds this year. The Swiss-born former first round selection scored twice in Nashville’s first round sweep of the Chicago Blackhawks, and has seen his time-on-ice average jump from 13:30 during the regular season to 16:01 in the playoffs. Should be a good sign for Fiala if he is able to build on the Predators success in round one and parlay his playoff role into a more stable role in 2017-18. He has the offensive ability to be a breakout performer next year with the right opportunity.
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