There was no shortage of surprise breakout performances around the NHL last season. That is particularly true when it comes to Western Conference teams. Leon Draisaitl of the Edmonton Oilers, Mark Scheifele of the Winnipeg Jets and Viktor Arvidsson of the Nashville Predators all enjoyed breakout seasons in 2016-17. So who should fantasy GM’s target as potential sleeper picks in this year’s drafts? Here is a look at five potential NHL Western Conference breakout players for the 2017-18 season.
C: Max Domi, Arizona Coyotes
Domi was in the midst of a potential breakout season last year when he suffered an injury that kept him out of the lineup for 23 games. The 2013 first round pick recorded nine goals and 38 points in 59 games for the Coyotes, including eight powerplay points. Fast-forward to the 2017-18 season and Domi seems primed to breakout in his third year in the NHL. Domi will likely skate with the recently acquired veteran center Derek Stepan on the Coyotes top line. If those two click and can stay healthy, Domi should put up career numbers in 2017-18.
LW: Nick Ritchie, Anaheim Ducks
Ritchie averaged only 12:59 of ice time in 77 games for the Ducks last season. He still scored 14 goals and registered 28 points with 62 penalty minutes. Ritchie has all of the tools to be a premier power forward in the NHL and he flashed his immense potential last season. The 2014 first-round pick will be expected to take another step forward in 2017-18 with a good chance he lines up on one of Anaheim’s top-two scoring lines while also getting an opportunity to show what he can do on the powerplay. The Ducks need their young players to step up and provide more support for an aging veteran core this season. Ritchie could be a smart sleeper pick to consider drafting to your fantasy team.
LW: Matthew Tkachuk, Calgary Flames
Tkachuk isn’t the first second-generation NHL player on this list but like Domi, he has the potential to surprise this coming year. Tkachuk made an immediate impact in Calgary last season when he scored 13 goals with 48 points and 105 penalty minutes in 76 games. The 19 year old is only starting to tap in to his immense potential. If he takes another step forward in year two, then he could reach 60 points and top 100 penalty minutes in 2017-18. A lot of NHL fantasy general managers have him on their radar heading into the season. This is a young Calgary Flames team that should get better as a unit and that will only elevate the fantasy production of guys like Tkachuk.
C/W: Nick Schmaltz, Chicago Blackhawks
Schmaltz had a slow start to last season but picked up his production towards the end of the year when he recorded 20 points over the final two months. Schmaltz finished his rookie season with six goals and 28 points in 61 games. However, the majority of his points came late in the season. With Artemi Panarin moving to the Columbus Blue Jackets in the offseason, the Blackhawks will lean on Schmaltz even more at the offensive end of the ice this coming year. If he can continue his development as a top-six forward in Chicago, Schmaltz could be a sleeper pick to watch out for this season.
RW: Mikko Rantanen, Colorado Avalanche
The Avalanche is coming off an absolutely brutal season. The good news is that they can only get better this year. One potential bright spot to keep an eye on is the 2015 first round pick Rantanen. The 6’4’’, 211-pound power forward scored 20 goals and recorded 38 points in 75 games for Colorado last season. He is a lock to skate on the top line for the Avalanche alongside Nathan Mackinnon next year and he could be primed for a breakout performance. It wouldn’t be a surprise if Rantanen reached the 30-goal mark while contributing 50 points in his second NHL season. Keep an eye on the Avalanche sophomore as a potential sleeper pick for this coming season. The Avs are a team that is short on talent. However, that often opens the door for fantasy production. Rantanen could be one of the guys who benefits.
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