Every year in the NHL, there are players that have breakout seasons and end up making all the difference for fantasy hockey owners.
These players that are usually well-known in the hockey world, but have the potential of taking that next step in their careers in the upcoming season. Take Rangers’ forward Mika Zibanejad and Panthers’ forward Jonathan Huberdeau as examples from last season. Both players were considered valuable entering 2018-19, but they turned in breakout seasons to make themselves elite fantasy options.
Here are 10 fantasy hockey breakout candidates for the 2019-20 season.
Nico Hischier, C, New Jersey Devils
A significantly improved New Jersey Devils squad should help Swiss centreman Nico Hischier turn in a big year. The Devils drafted Jack Hughes first overall at the 2019 NHL Draft, traded for P.K. Subban and Nikita Gusev, and signed Wayne Simmonds this summer. As the team’s second-line center, Hischier should take a step forward in 2019-20. He’s hovered around the 20-goal, 50-point mark in his first two NHL seasons thus far, but injuries have limited his production. Even if he doesn’t start on New Jersey’s loaded first power-play unit anchored by Subban, he should be able to improve on his career-high 11 power-play point from last year due to the strength of both units. Hischier is already a reliable fantasy play and would have finished with higher numbers in 2018-19 had an upper-body injury not forced him to miss 13 games. It is also known that Hischier played all of his rookie season with a hand injury. Fantasy owners should be salivating at what the two-way stud can do in a full healthy season with talented new additions around him.
Andre Burakovsky, LW, Colorado Avalanche
There’s certainly more to the Colorado Avalanche than the Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog line. Andre Burakovsky‘s fantasy value got a boost this summer when he was traded to the Avalanche from the Capitals. Once considered an elite prospect, the former 23rd overall pick saw his production diminish as he failed to carve out a role for himself on a stacked Washington club. The Capitals have been a powerhouse over the last several years, and Burakovsky always seemed to be a bit on the outside, failing to live up to his potential. He’s hit the 20-point barrier in each of his five NHL seasons to date and scored 10 goals every year aside from his rookie campaign, but you can’t help but think he has another gear. A trade to a new team doesn’t automatically guarantee better production, but Burakovsky is a very skilled forward who averaged just 11:08 of ice time in his final year with the Capitals. He should get top-six minutes and power-play time with Colorado, and at 24 years of age, Burakovsky makes for a great breakout candidate on a rising Avalanche squad.
Carter Hart, G, Philadelphia Flyers
The Metropolitan Division is going to be very tough this season, but 21-year-old Philadelphia Flyers goaltender Carter Hart should be up for the challenge. Hart is the undisputed starting netminder for the Flyers in 2019-20 after he posted a 30-16-13 record with a .917 save percentage last season. Hart’s fantastic rookie season included an eight-game winning streak and showed that the youngster can handle the pressure of being the starter at the NHL level. Everything about Hart’s confidence and poise both on and off the ice makes the Silvertips alum a budding fantasy gem. The offseason additions of Matt Niskanen and Justin Braun should help No.1 blueliner Ivan Provorov and rising two-way rearguard Travis Sanheim in improving the Flyers’ defensive play. Michal Neuvirth is now in Toronto and current backup Brian Elliott is now 34 years of age and dealt with injury last season. The Flyers might not be the best team in the Metro, but Hart is a great breakout candidate given the heavy workload he will be receiving and the poise he’s shown in his NHL career to date.
William Nylander, RW, Toronto Maple Leafs
William Nylander may already be a household name in the hockey world, but he has the potential to truly breakout in 2019-20. The Maple Leafs’ forward managed just seven goals and 27 points in 57 games for Toronto last season after holding out and ending his contract stalemate by signing a six-year contract with an AAV of $6.9 million. “Last year’s just gone,” Nylander told Sportsnet’s Chris Johnson. “Out of the books, really, except for maybe taking some stuff that I learned. I look forward to dominating.” Given how much he is being paid and his disappointing 2018-19, I expect Nylander to play next season with something to prove and turn in a massive year as a result. He’ll get every opportunity he needs on a line with one of the best players in hockey in superstar Auston Matthews. Nylander turned in back-to-back 20-goal, 60-point seasons before the contract distraction impacted his 2018-19 season. The Leafs are one of the best young teams in the NHL and Nylander has shown in the past that he can be one of the most electrifying offensive players in the NHL. Everything seems to be pointing to the Swedish playmaker exploding in 2019-20.
Casey Mittelstadt, C, Buffalo Sabres
Buffalo’s eighth overall selection in the 2017 NHL Draft had a decent rookie season, recording 12 goals and 25 points in 77 games to go with an ugly minus-19 rating. I definitely see him taking a step forward in his sophomore campaign. Mittelstadt struggled with consistency throughout his rookie year, but he clearly has the elite offensive skills to turn him into a top-tier fantasy player. The Sabres were 21st in the NHL in goals scored per game last season and I like some of the additions they made this offseason to add depth to their lineup. Jack Eichel, Jeff Skinner, and Sam Reinhart form a lethal trio on the top line, but Mittledstatdt didn’t necessarily have great options available on his wings in 2018-19. The Sabres brought in wingers Jimmy Vesey and Marcus Johansson this offseason and blueliner Brandon Montour should provide a solid boost to the second power-play unit. Vesey is a great bounce-back candidate after the trade from New York, while the Sabres have an improved team on paper entering 2019-20 and may use Reinhart with Mittelstadt to balance out the talent. With Mittelstadt close to a lock to return to the second-line center role for Buffalo, the University of Minnesota alum has the talent to breakthrough in his second NHL season.
Andrei Svechnikov, LW, Carolina Hurricanes
The second overall pick in the 2018 NHL Draft, Svechnikov, unfortunately, had his terrific rookie season cut short when he was knocked out in a fight by superstar forward Alex Ovechkin in Round 1 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Before suffering the concussion, the young forward was fitting in very nicely in a top-six role for the Hurricanes. At 6’2” and 195 lbs, the 19-year-old is physically mature for his age and already a great contributor in a variety of fantasy categories. After recording 20 goals, 37 points, 62 PIM and 189 shots on goal last season, Svechnikov, should take another step forward in 2019-20 playing with Sebastian Aho. Svechnikov has been a lethal goal-scorer at every level he’s played at, and potting 20 goals in your first NHL season is no easy feat. Carolina surprised everyone last season with their Stanley Cup Playoff run and Svechnikov is well on his way to becoming one of the most dynamic goal-scorers in the NHL.
Juuse Saros, G, Nashville Predators
With veteran and longtime Nashville starting goaltender Pekka Rinne turning 37 in November, it’s time for Juuse Saros to demonstrate that he’s the goaltender of the future for the Predators. The 24-year-old Finnish goaltender started a career-high 27 games in 2018-19, posting a 17-10-0 record with a .915 save percentage. There are two main reasons to consider Saros a breakout fantasy candidate in 2019-20. The first being the age and declining play of star netminder Rinne. Pekka had an up-and-down regular season last year before faltering in the playoffs with a .905 save percentage as Nashville lost in the first round to Dallas. The second reason being the importance of teams having two reliable goaltenders in today’s NHL. The best teams can rest their starter in the regular season to an extent so they aren’t completely burned out come the postseason. Saros should get plenty of starts this season, and if he impresses, he has a decent chance of stealing the starting gig away from the aging Rinne.
Ryan Donato, C, Minnesota Wild
If there’s one team to be wary of come fantasy hockey season this year, it’s the Minnesota Wild. Minnesota was the 27th worst team offensively last year and they canned GM Paul Fenton this offseason after just one year with the club. The team has made several questionable moves in the last few years, but adding Ryan Donato from Boston is looking like a smart one. The 23-year-old Harvard graduate has a great offensive skill set that was never utilized to its potential with the Bruins. In 22 games with Minnesota last season, Donato recorded four goals, 16 points and 64 shots on goal. The signing of veteran Mats Zuccarello could force him down the depth chart, but if Donato can land a top-six role, he should be in for a career year. Even if Donato doesn’t get top-six minutes at even strength, he can be a solid power-play contributor. Donato has a strong shot and great offensive awareness, so based on the small sample size in Minnesota, he should be able to excel in a full year with his new club.
Anthony Mantha, RW, Detroit Red Wings
Red Wings forward Anthony Mantha would have had a career year offensively in 2018-19 had a hand injury not forced him to miss 15 games. The 24-year-old power forward did hit 25 goals for the first time in his NHL career, but he finished with 48 points for the second consecutive season. He’s shown great chemistry with Dylan Larkin on the top line and has been a power-play monster over the last two years. One big reason to consider Mantha a breakout candidate for 2019-20 is his dominating performance at the 2019 World Championships for Team Canada. Mantha was a force to be reckoned with, netting seven goals and 14 points in nine contests. Given his lethal goal-scoring ability and prominent role in Detroit’s offense, the 6’5″, 225 lbs forward appears destined to reach the 30-goal, 60-point mark in 2019-20.
Jake DeBrusk, LW, Boston Bruins
Boston’s 14th overall pick in the 2015 NHL Draft put together a strong sophomore season in 2018-19, recording 27 goals and 42 points in 68 games. The 22-year-old feisty forward has all the makings of an elite fantasy player. He has terrific goal-scoring ability to compliment a strong physical game. DeBrusk always seems to know where to go to put the puck in the net and has a very lethal release. He has 30-goal, 50-point potential for the Bruins, but I think his fantasy value is somewhat limited if Boston doesn’t split up the Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak line. DeBrusk scored eight power-play goals last season and his role on the first power-play unit gives a big boost to his fantasy value. If second-line center David Krejci turns in another healthy season, Debrusk has the potential to break out in a top-six role for the Bruins in 2019-20.