Looking at 5 potential breakout players for the 2020-21 NHL season

NHL breakout players 2020-21 season
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With the start of the 2020-21 NHL season (potentially? hopefully?) just around corner we wanted to take a look at some potential breakout players for the season.

When we say “breakout,” we mean players that have some NHL experience (so no Alexis Lafreniere or Quinton Byfield here), but have also played less than 200 games. We have some sense of what they can do, but they have not fully shown all of their potential.

Here are the players we are keeping an eye on.

Nick Suzuki, Montreal Canadiens

Even though the team itself has been mired in mediocrity for much of his tenure, general manager Marc Bergevin has made a couple of moves that have worked in his favor.

The Max Pacioretty trade is one of those moves.

While Pacioretty is still a star in Vegas, the Canadiens received a bonafide top-line player in Tomas Tatar and a potential star of their own in Suzuki. While Tatar has been great — and maybe should be re-signed — Suzuki is going to be the player that ends up defining this trade. Based on what we saw from him in his debut season a year ago, he is off to a great start.

We saw glimpses of his potential during the regular season when he was one of the top rookie point producers in the league. His 41 points were sixth among all rookies, while he also demonstrated an advanced two-way game and helped tilt the ice in Montreal’s favor in shot attempts and expected goals. It was during the playoffs that he really took a step forward and was one of Montreal’s most effective players in their upset win over the Pittsburgh Penguins, as well as their Second Round matchup against Philadelphia. He was second among forwards in ice-time and finished as the team’s leading goal scorer and point producer.

Robert Thomas, St. Louis Blues

It can be tough for a young player to crack a lineup like the one in St. Louis, but Thomas has played a fairly sizable role over his first two years and has probably shown that he is ready for an even bigger role.

How good has he been?

During 5-on-5 play over the past two years Thomas ranks second among the team’s forwards in total points per 60 minutes (2.11), trailing only Ryan O'Reilly.

His 1.08 primary assists per 60 minutes are first on the team.

In other words, he is already an outstanding playmaker and one of the best the Blues have. He is still only 21 years old.

Kailer Yamamoto, Edmonton Oilers

This is an interesting situation.

On one hand, there is reason to believe that some of Yamamoto’s production (26 points in 27 games) from this past season was a bit unsustainable. He is not going to score on 25 percent of his shots again, and certainly not over the course of a full (or even potentially shortened) season. It is just not something that happens, especially in this era of the NHL. At least not on a consistent basis.

Having said that, he is also still in a position where he has the chance to still have a great year. The talent and the potential is there for him individually, and with players like Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins around him he should be a strong scoring environment.

[Related: Top-25 NHL Players Under The Age Of 25 (Power Rankings)]

Devon Toews, Coloardo Avalanche

This just seems like an absolutely perfect fit for team and player, and it would honestly stun me if Toews did not have a monster season in Colorado.

His ability to feed his team’s transition game is a great match for Colorado’s style of play and he is going to be surrounded by All-Star talent at both forward and defense.

He scored at close to a 30-point pace per 82 games during his first two years with the New York Islanders, but given his skillset and the talent around him I wouldn’t rule out a nice jump there this season. And beyond.

Denis Gurianov, Dallas Stars

Every time I watch a Stars game Gurianov jumps off the screen at me. He is always making an impact when he is on the ice.

Which leads to a question every time I watch a Stars game: Why isn’t he on the ice more?

He was not only the Stars’ most efficient goal scorer this past season, he was one of the most efficient goal scorers in the entire NHL. In the regular season and playoffs.

His 20 regular season goals were tops on the Stars roster, despite the fact he played just 12 minutes of ice-time per game and was not a primary player on the power play. His 1.08 goals per 60 minutes of 5-on-5 ice-time were also tops among all Stars forwards, and 45th among the more than 340 forwards that logged at last 500 minutes.

He was even better in the playoffs.

His production a year ago, combined with the Stars’ injury situation to start the year, should get him an increased role. It could greatly benefit the Stars’ offense.

 

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Canucks’ Ilya Mikheyev to have season-ending knee surgery

Ilya Mikheyev
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VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Vancouver Canucks right wing Ilya Mikheyev is set to have season-ending surgery on his left knee.

Canucks general manager Patrik Allvin said Friday night the 28-year-old Russian forward tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in the team’s first preseason game Sept. 25. Mikheyev will undergo surgery next week and is expected to be ready for training camp in the fall.

Mikheyev was originally listed as week-to-week with the injury and played 45 regular-season games, finishing with 13 goals and 15 assists. He scored in his final appearance Friday night, a 5-2 home victory over Columbus.

Mikheyev signed a four-year, $19 million contract as a free agent last summer.

Maple Leafs’ Matthews out at least 3 weeks with knee injury

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Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews will miss at least three weeks with a sprained knee.

The team announced the reigning MVP’s anticipated absence Friday, two days after Matthews was injured in Toronto’s victory against the New York Rangers.

Matthews is expected to miss at least six games and could be out for a few more. The timing of the injury coinciding with the NHL All-Star break and the Maple Leafs bye week prevents this from costing Matthews more time out of the lineup.

After being voted an All-Star by fans, Matthews is now out of the event scheduled for Feb. 3-4 in Sunrise, Florida. The league announced Aleskander Barkov from the host Florida Panthers will take Matthews’ place on the Atlantic Division All-Star roster.

Matthews, who won the Hart Trophy last season after leading the NHL with 60 goals, has 53 points in 47 games this season.

Caufield opted for surgery with Habs out of playoff race

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MONTREAL — Montreal Canadiens winger Cole Caufield said Friday he wouldn’t be having season-ending surgery on his right shoulder if the team were in playoff contention.

But with the Canadiens near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, the 22-year-old Caufield said he decided to have the surgery to protect his long-term health. The procedure is scheduled to be performed by Dr. Peter Millett on Wednesday.

“I didn’t want to stop playing,” Caufield said. “I had a couple tests done to look at it more clearly but, in the end, like it could’ve been one more fall and it could have been even worse.”

Caufield, who leads the Canadiens with 26 goals in 46 games, had three different medical opinions on his shoulder before concluding that his season was over.

“I think they’ve seen a lot more than I have and they know the differences and what they like or don’t like about it,” he said about the medical opinions. “Long term, I think this is what’s best but for sure it was tough to sit out that game against Toronto on Saturday night.”

Caufield initially felt the injury in an awkward fall during Montreal’s 4-2 loss at Dallas on Dec. 23. He said his right shoulder popped, and he replaced it himself.

Caufield felt it again in the Habs’ 4-3 loss at Nashville on Jan. 12. The club announced on Jan. 21 that Caufield would miss the rest of the season.

Caufield is nearing the end of his three-year, entry-level contract and will be a restricted free agent this summer.

All-Star Matty Beniers to miss next 2 games for Kraken

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SEATTLE — Seattle Kraken rookie All-Star Matty Beniers will miss the team’s final two games before the All-Star break after taking a big hit from Vancouver’s Tyler Myers earlier this week.

Seattle coach Dave Hakstol said after morning skate Friday that Beniers would not play Friday night against Calgary or Saturday against Columbus. Hakstol did not speculate on Beniers’ availability for next weekend’s All-Star Game in Florida.

The team has not specified what kind of injury Beniers sustained from the hit. He was barreled over by Myers away from the play early in the second period in Wednesday’s 6-1 victory over Vancouver. Myers was penalized for interference on the play. Beniers returned briefly for one shift later in the period but did not play in the third period.

Beniers is Seattle’s lone All-Star selection this season. He leads all rookies in goals (17) and points (36), and is fifth in total ice time for rookies.

Seattle also placed defenseman Justin Schultz on injured reserve and recalled forward Max McCormick from Coachella Valley of the AHL. Hakstol said Schultz is improving but there’s no timeline on his return.