NHL Power Rankings: Potential breakout players for 2021-22 season

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In this week’s edition of the NHL Power Rankings we look at 10 players on the verge of a breakout season in 2021-22.

There are a lot of recent high draft picks on the list, but also a couple of young players that are getting a fresh start on new teams and a clean slate to build from.

Who all makes the list this week?

To this week’s NHL Power Rankings!

1. Jack Hughes, New Jersey Devils. Hughes showed significant improvement in year two for the Devils and at times looked like an emerging superstar. When I picture a “breakout” year for him, I am envisioning a massive jump from “good young player” to “NHL mega-star.” Like, perhaps even a top-10 or-15 season offensively. His possession numbers were dominant a year ago, his point production increased (21 points to 31), and his playmaking was at times magnificent. He just needs some players with finishing ability around him.

2. Martin Necas, Carolina Hurricanes. The Hurricanes are one of the best young teams in the league, and while their defense gets a lot of attention they have a magnificent group of forwards. Necas is one of their best young players and has really taken some big steps the past two seasons. Do not be surprised if he does again this season, especially as he starts to enter what should be his peak production years.

3. Ilya Sorokin, New York Islanders. Barry Trotz is still going to use both Sorokin and Semyon Varlamov, but Sorokin is the future of the position and he might start to take more playing time just based on the way he performs. His long-awaited rookie season was mostly a success with flashes of brilliance, and he might have been one of the biggest reasons the Islanders got through the First Round to start another deep postseason run.

[Related: Every free agent signing by all 32 NHL teams]

4. Kaapo Kakko, New York Rangers. The Rangers have a couple of potential breakout players on their roster, including Alexis Lafreniere and Igor Shesterkin. Kakko has been a little bit of a disappointment through his first two seasons (23 points to 17), but there are a lot of signs that a breakout could on the horizon. He has been a dominant possession driver and is still loaded with skill. He can put it all together and with a little puck luck could be in line for a huge offensive season.

5. Trevor Zegras, Anaheim Ducks. Anaheim desperately needs a superstar to build around and Zegras might be the player in the system that has the most potential to be that type of player. His rookie season was very promising with strong possession numbers and 13 points in 24 games as a 19-year-old. All of his points came at even-strength while he also averaged close to two-and-a-half shots on goal per game. He repeats that process this season the results should be even better.

6. Nolan Patrick, Vegas Golden Knights. Things did not work for Patrick in Philadelphia, and Vegas needs a potential impact center. Maybe the fresh start for Patrick while playing on a Stanley Cup contender is what he needs to jumpstart his career. Maybe both the team and player can get what they need to take the next step here.

[Related: Expectations should be at all-time high for Florida Panthers]

7. Rasmus Dahlin, Buffalo Sabres. He has been pretty good so far in his career. But now is the time for him to become what the Sabres hoped they were getting when they selected him No. 1 overall in 2018. After a slow start last season he looked like a different player following the coaching change and is still oozing with talent and potential. He could be a game-changer for the Sabres’ rebuild if he pans out like originally hoped.

8. Vince Dunn, Seattle Kraken. This one just seems obvious. Dunn has performed extremely well when given the opportunity in St. Louis, and now he is going to a situation in Seattle where he is going to be counted on to be one of their top players on defense. Do not be surprised if he turns out to be Seattle’s version of Shea Theodore.

9. Carter Hart, Philadelphia Flyers. This is a necessity for the Flyers to be good this season. Hart showed all of the promise the Flyers had hoped for in his first two seasons before just self destructing during the 2020-21 season. Think we will see this season how that performance was the outlier.

10. Jesse Puljujarvi, Edmonton Oilers. It has taken Puljujarvi some time, but he really is becoming a very good NHL player and he was very quietly one of the Oilers’ most effective players last season. He is still young enough and talented enough to become the star player the Oilers hoped he could be when they selected him with the fourth overall pick. Great possession numbers, improved his shot volume, and extremely talented. There is still a potential breakout here.

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

    Nick Turchiaro/USA TODAY Sports

    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

    caufield surgery
    David Kirouac/USA TODAY Sports

    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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    Joe Nicholson/USA TODAY Sports

    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.

    Kuzmenko signs 2-year extension with Canucks

    Andrei Kuzmenko
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    VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Forward Andrei Kuzmenko signed a two-year contract extension with the Vancouver Canucks on Thursday.

    The deal has an average annual value of $5.5 million.

    The 26-year-old Kuzmenko has played in 47 games for the Canucks this season with 21 goals and 22 assists, four penalty minutes and a plus-4 defensive ranking.

    Kuzmenko ranks second on the team in goals and power-play goals (nine) this season.

    His 43 points are also tied for third on the team in overall scoring, while his 32 even-strength points (12 goals, 20 assists) are second on the Canucks.

    Kuzmenko leads all Vancouver skaters in shooting rate (24.7%) and ranks third in the NHL in that category (minimum of 20 games).

    He leads all first-year NHLers in almost every offensive category, including goals, assists, points, points per game (0.91), power-play goals, and power-play points.

    He has also had 14 multi-point games so far this season (second most on the Canucks), highlighted by his first-career NHL hat trick and season-high four-point game against Anaheim on Nov. 3.

    A native of Yakutsk, Russia, Kuzmenko spent his first eight professional seasons in the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) with CSKA Moscow and SKA St. Petersburg, getting 200 points (85-115-200) in 315 regular-season games. He set career highs in goals (20), assists (33), and points (53) last season, ranking second in the league in scoring.

    Kuzmenko has also represented his country on the international stage on multiple occasions, totaling 16 points (10-6-16) and six penalty minutes in 37 games played. He was originally signed by Vancouver to a one-year, entry-level contract on July 13, 2022.