Our NHL playoff pool is open for registration this week, so conditions seemed all too ideal for me to start discussing young forwards with breakout potential. An important stat to consider when drafting for any fantasy sports league, is how well players produced over the final stretch of the previous season. Many young players struggle through the start of an NHL season or two, as they acclimate themselves to the superior level of play. But it is how they finish a season that often determines how well they will perform the following year. Everyone knows about the Crosbys and Ovechkins who have done well in the second half, so let’s take a look at some of the lesser-known youngsters who produced in the last month, who should take their offensive strides into next season.
Last 17 games: 13G-7A-20P, +4, 22 PIM
2008-09 has been a breakout year for the developing power forward, as he’s learned to use his size down low to finish passes in tight, and clean up his teammates’ rebounds. A 40G-30A-70P campaign next season is definitely attainable, and his fantasy value is higher in pools that value penalty minutes, as he’s accumulated 163 this season.
Last 25 games: 15G-11A-26P, +20, 66 PIM
Another emerging scorer fitting the prototypical power forward mould, Burrows has done it all for the Vancouver Canucks in the second half, posting solid stats across the board.
Last 15 games: 7G-9A-16P, 5 PPG
Nearly impossible to knock off the puck, David Booth is one of several young offensive threats developed by the Florida Panthers. He could flirt with 70 points next season.
Last 18 games: 10G-11A-21P, +3
He’s embarrassed even Roberto Luongo with his sensational dekes and head fakes during shootouts, but more importantly, finally looks to be putting together a solid all-around game. Gagner may have the softest hands in the NHL.
Last 31 games: 16G-17A-33P, +4, 23 PIM
The Canucks were fortunate enough to receive breakout seasons from a pair of forwards this year, which cushions the blow of the Sedin twins likely leaving this offseason. Kesler has a knack for lighting the lamp, and could find the net 40 times next year.
Last 12 games: 6G-9A-15P, +2, 3 PPG
A large piece of the rebuilding puzzle in Long Island, Okposo has been relied upon as a first liner all season. He should gel nicely with John Tavares if the Isles can snag him.
Last 13 games: 7G-9A-16P, 20 PIM
Undisciplined at times (especially when playing against the Habs – 54 PIMs in 6 games this season), Grabovski has shown some incredible talent with the Blue and White.
Last 13 games: 3G-10A-13P, +4
A future Lady Byng candidate, Giroux will put up more than adequate numbers in all offensive categories not named PIMs next season. The sky’s the limit in 2009-10.
Last 19 games: 6G-11A-17P, +5
Just as Gretzky and Lemieux made point producers out of average players, Brooks Laich’s career year has been the result of playing on a line with Alexander Ovechkin. As in all fantasy sports, an ugly win is still a win.
So who do you think is the most likely to bust out in 2009-10? I like Giroux, as he’s going to go late in most drafts having played only half a season. Initially he slipped down the NHL draft ranks for being somewhat smallish in stature, but his play the last couple years in the OHL, AHL, and World Juniors has been anything but small. With so many first round draft picks developing ideally over the past few years, Holmgren will have his hands full keeping all this talent in Philly. Fortunately, as a GM in sports, an over-abundance of talent is the best problem you can have.
Not especially related, but a must-see nonetheless is Edmonton Oilers’ prospect Linus Omark, perhaps a future breakout sniper, scored a sensationally creative shootout goal in an exhibition game last week. Check it out.