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.