Every single NHL season there are a handful of breakout players that produce at a high level and catch fantasy managers by surprise. Last year, Leon Draisaitl of the Edmonton Oilers led a cast of breakout performers at the top of a list that includes Cam Atkinson of the Columbus Blue Jackets, David Pastrnak of the Boston Bruins and Mark Scheifele of the Winnipeg Jets. Who is next in line to fill out the list of breakout stars for this upcoming year? Here is a look at the NHL fantasy breakout players from the Eastern Conference for the 2017-18 season.
C: Auston Matthews, Toronto Maple Leafs
Considering the talent he flashed throughout his rookie season, Matthews is an obvious name to start with when it comes to breakout candidates. Matthews became the second rookie in NHL history to score at least 40 goals in his first season. However, the fact that he finished with only 29 assists means that his overall numbers weren’t as good as they could have been. Matthews should be able to duplicate his goal-scoring success in 2017-18. If he can improve on his assist totals he could top 80 points in his second NHL season. He’s obviously not a sleeper by any stretch of the imagination in NHL fantasy but he should be able to move into that top tier. He’s one of those players that was better in reality than fantasy last season.
C: Jack Eichel, Buffalo Sabres
The second-overall pick from the 2015 NHL Draft looked prime for a breakout season a year ago before a training camp injury kept him out of the lineup early in the year and capped his production. Still, Eichel managed to record 57 points in 61 games last season. The potential is there for him to put up even better numbers in his third year with the chance to be a 40-goal, 70-point player in Buffalo. Eichel will turn 21 years old this October, so there is a good chance he is ready to take another step forward. The Sabres continue to be work in progress but Eichel will be on many NHL fantasy general manager’s radars heading into the season. People are expecting him to produce at elite levels in NHL fantasy.
LW: Jake Guentzel, Pittsburgh Penguins
Guentzel had somewhat of a breakout season in a small sample size last year when he recorded 33 points in 40 regular season games as a rookie. He really took off in the playoffs when he led all scorers with 13 goals and finished with 21 points in 25 games. Guentzel will look to build on that strong run this year as a lock to skate in the Penguins top-six forward group. Playing on the wing next to either Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin, Guentzel will be primed for a breakout season in 2017-18. Keep an eye on him heading into your NHL fantasy drafts.
C: Brayden Point, Tampa Bay Lightning
It took some time for Point to find his scoring tough at the NHL level last season. However, once he got started he really took off. Point scored 15 goals and registered 25 points over his final 32 games of the season. He will have every opportunity to build on that strong finish when he begins the year in Tampa Bay surrounded by an improved supporting cast. With more top-tier talent around him, Point could be in line for a breakout season.
D: Charlie McAvoy, Boston Bruins
McAvoy was thrown right in to the fire late last season when he joined the Bruins for their first-round playoff series. He recorded three assists in six games and he didn’t look out of place. McAvoy is expected to slide right in to the top-four among Boston defensemen next season and he could see time on the powerplay as well. It usually takes a little longer for defensemen to develop at the next level, but McAvoy has the talent to contribute right away. A 40-point season wouldn’t be an unrealistic expectation if McAvoy can stay healthy and continue his development while taking the next step at the NHL level.
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