The NHL is prepared to start another season as they recently announced a start date: January thirteenth. That being said, there is a multitude of potential breakout players who have not shined as brightly as one may have hoped.
With an extended offseason for many of these players, they will finally prove why they deserve to play in the NHL circuit. Some of these guys can launch their team into instant success once they get into a groove in the NHL. To start, let’s take a deep dive into hockey in southern California to see who has breakout potential.
1. Sam Steel
Steel was selected by the Anaheim Ducks with the last selection in the first round of the 2016 entry draft. His road to the NHL follows that of a typical late first-round pick. Steel required an additional year of development at the CHL level with the Regina Pats. It would be an understatement to say he had success with the Pats. In fifty-four games, Steel amassed eighty-three points, thirty-three goals, and fifty assists. Steel managed to be well-above a point per game player and had a good +/- of +27. During this year, he was selected to represent Canada at the world juniors where he was yet again a point per game player. He scored four goals and five assists in seven games ultimately helping Canada attain gold.
After a solid 2017-18 campaign, he earned playing time with the Ducks in 2018-19. However, his play fell short of expectations, so he split time in Anaheim and with their AHL affiliate in San Diego. He managed to be a +2 player with eleven points in twenty-two games with the Ducks. Steel got another opportunity in 2019-2020. Similar to the previous year, Steel failed to perform well getting only twenty-two points in sixty-five games. So why will Steel break out? The Ducks were one of seven teams who did not participate in the return to play. This gave Steel time to develop and train to make sure he was ready for the start of the 2021 season. The extended offseason should help Sam Steel break out in 2021.
2. Gabriel Vilardi
Vilardi was selected by the Los Angeles Kings with the eleventh overall pick in the 2017 draft. He has not yet made a significant impact at the NHL level due to health concerns. Vilardi has had issues with back spasms the last few years which has delayed his ability to get to the NHL quickly.
However, towards the end of this most recent season, he was an instrumental player as the Kings finally found their winning ways thanks to Villardi. In a ten-game span, he displayed his talent on the biggest stage. He scored three times and gathered four assists along the way. If he can put up those numbers over the course of this fifty-six-game season, he will be in the conversation for being rookie of the year. That would certainly earn him breakout honors as well.
3. Kirill Kaprizov
Kaprizov was selected in the fifth round of the 2015 entry draft by the Minnesota Wild. He is expected to earn his first shot on the NHL circuit this season. Kaprizov has gained a significant amount of attention as the twenty-three-year-old Russian winger enters the rookie of the year conversation alongside teammate Marco Rossi. The Wild are ready to give Kaprizov adequate playing time as they feel he is finally ready to make an impact.
Although he is expected to start as a third-line wing, he may quickly earn a promotion to the second line. Kaprizov has had plenty of time to develop in the KHL which makes him one of the most dangerous players despite lacking NHL experience. If the stars align, he can be the talk of this rookie class. Kaprizov may be considered a steal since he was a fifth-round pick if he has instant success.
4. Nolan Patrick
The Philadelphia Flyers selected Nolan Patrick second overall in the 2017 draft. Patrick has had two underwhelming seasons at the NHL level. The Flyers have made it public knowledge that Patrick has been suffering from migraines preventing him from playing to the best of his ability.
However, the Flyers are optimistic that he will be completely healthy for the entirety of 2021. If so, Patrick could instantly succeed due to his raw talent which led the Flyers to select him second in the draft. If his health concerns have been resolved Patrick can become the player many thought he could be. Expect Patrick to breakout if migraines are a thing of the past.
5. Olli Juolevi
The Vancouver Canucks selected Juolevi with the fifth overall pick in 2016. Juolevi has managed to only make one appearance in an NHL game. While the selections around him have found success in the NHL, Juolevi has struggled. However, with the departure of one of Vancouver’s’ top-four defensemen. Juolevi is certainly gonna play some time if not all at the NHL level. Juolevi will not have the pressure to be a top-four defenseman in Vancouver which may help him find his niche with the team. Although busts do happen early on in the draft, Vancouver has had recent success with developing defensemen and Juolevi may be the next to breakout.
What do you think about these players? Do you agree with this list? Leave your thoughts in the comments down below.