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There's a handful of players every season who take their game to the next level. These guys can carry you to fantasy success, often at a discounted ADP on draft day. Our breakout selections for the 2021-22 campaign are below.
(Note: All players listed are no longer rookie eligible)
Jack Hughes (NJD): Any list of potential breakout players has to start with Hughes, the No. 1 overall selection in the 2019 draft. He played in all 56 games for New Jersey a season ago, posting 11 goals and 31 points. It wouldn't be surprising if he doubled each of those in 2021-22. Hughes is a magician with the puck and possesses the rare ability to make something out of nothing in the offensive zone. The Devils should be an improved team overall with Hughes leading the charge.
Alexis Lafreniere / Kaapo Kakko (NYR): I have Lafreniere and Kakko listed together since, while I expect both to improve immensely, we may only see a true breakout from one of them. Both should play in New York's top-six this season and get significantly more power-play time than a year ago. If forced to choose, I would go with Lafreniere based on how good he looked at the end of last season, but Kakko took significant strides of his own. I would target both in fantasy drafts, if possible, and be happy if one exploded. At minimum, both should provide value in standard leagues.
Jordan Kyrou (STL): Kyrou finished with career highs across the board a year ago, posting 14 goals, 35 points, and 98 shots in 55 games. He managed that production despite mustering just three power-play points. I'm a tad worried that Kyrou's role could diminish some with St. Louis' acquisitions of Pavel Buchnevich and Brandon Saad this summer — in addition to the return of Vladimir Tarasenko. However, Tarasenko should be traded eventually, and Kyrou has youth on his side at age 23.
Jakub Vrana (DET): Vrana is the oldest skater on the list at age 25 and has posted no fewer than 19 goals in each of the past three seasons, but I expect his game to reach an entirely new level in his first season with a rebuilding Red Wings team. Vrana has elite speed and an excellent shot. The Czech forward is Detroit's most talented offensive player by a considerable margin, and a minimum of 30 goals should be within reach this coming year.
Tim Stutzle (OTT): Stutzle performed better in his rookie season than most expected, posting 12 goals and 29 points in 53 games as an 18-year-old. He looked remarkably comfortable on the ice for such a young kid, and his strong campaign was driven by a significant role on the power play. Stutzle averaged 2:52 with the man advantage, and that number should only grow in the coming years.
Kirby Dach (CHI): Dach would have been on this list a year ago, but he missed the first two-plus months of the season following wrist surgery. He played Chicago's next 18 games (two goals, 10 points) upon returning, before being shut down for the final four meaningless contests. Yes, Jonathan Toews is returning, and yes, the Blackhawks traded for Tyler Johnson, but Dach is arguably the franchise's most valuable long-term asset and should be given every chance to explode at age 20.
Others to consider: Casey Mittelstadt / Dylan Cozens (BUF)
Adam Boqvist (CBJ): Columbus got a bounty for Seth Jones after informing the team he wouldn't be re-signing, and Boqvist was part of the haul. Boqvist has been productive in his brief NHL career, posting 31 points in 70 games despite the fact he turned just 20 in August. Look for the rebuilding Jackets to give Boqvist all the ice he can handle.
Noah Dobson (NYI): Dobson was sheltered by Islanders coach Barry Trotz in his rookie campaign two years ago, but the training wheels came off last season. Dobson finished with just 14 points in 46 games, but he also averaged 1:51 with the man advantage compared to 0:54 in his debut campaign. The trade of Nick Leddy to the Red Wings should only serve to enhance Dobson's role.
Alexander Romanov (MTL): Romanov had two points in his first three NHL games, but it was mostly downhill from there. He finished with just six points in 54 games and served as a healthy scratch for much of Montreal's run to the Stanley Cup Final. Shea Weber's career is likely over due to injuries, so the Canadiens have no choice but to move the 21-year-old Romanov up their depth chart. I don't think he'll make as significant a jump as Boqvist and Dobson, but Romanov makes for a decent pick at the tail end of drafts in deeper leagues.
Others to consider: Evan Bouchard (EDM), Jake Bean (CBJ)
Igor Shesterkin (NYR): Shesterkin has been as advertised through his first two NHL seasons, posting a 26-16-3 record, 2.59 GAA and .921 save percentage. The Rangers were so convinced he's their goaltender of the future that they handed him a four-year, $22.7 million deal this summer — the most expensive contract ever for an NHL goaltender on his second deal. Shesterkin has dealt with some injuries his first couple of years (including a groin issue last year) but there's elite upside here.
Linus Ullmark (BOS): In search of a No. 1 goaltender this summer, the Bruins settled on Ullmark, handing him a four-year, $20 million contract. Ullmark has always posted solid numbers on poor Buffalo teams, and now he's joining one of the best clubs in the NHL. Ullmark has never played more than 37 games in any one campaign, but the amount of money the Bruins gave him makes the Swede the overwhelming favorite to open the season as Boston's starter over rookie Jeremy Swayman.
Thatcher Demko (VAN): Demko's record was below .500 a season ago, but he still managed to put up reasonable numbers in both the GAA (2.85) and save percentage (.915) departments. The Canucks dealt with a ton of injuries last year and should be at full health this time around. Demko will turn just 26 in December and makes for a prime breakout candidate on what should be an improved Vancouver team. The Canucks signed veteran Jaroslav Halak away from the Bruins to serve as Demko's backup.
Others to consider: Cal Petersen (LAK), Jack Campbell (TOR)