In preparing for your upcoming fantasy hockey drafts, it is vital to focus in on players who are poised for a breakout season. These are guys who have yet to reach the upper levels of fantasy hockey players, but could get into that territory by season's end. If you draft purely off of last season's stats, you're always going to miss out on some of nice surprises. Here are some names to target as you prepare for your 2010-11 fantasy hockey draft.
Claude Giroux (PHI)
Giroux played his first full NHL season last year and gradually took on a larger role with the club. Come playoff time, he was producing like a pro, totaling 21 points in 23 games. Giroux is clearly ready for a breakout season in the 70 point territory.
Phil Kessel (TOR)
Kessel started last season on the shelf, and then only reached 55 points in his first season in Blue. Make no mistake, he's a true sniper, and Toronto will count on him to deliver the goals. That's where his fantasy value shines. If your league heavily values goals, target him in the 3rd or 4th round. He should have a breakout season in the 40 goal territory.
Ville Leino (PHI)
After recording just 11 points in the regular season, Ville "John Druce" Leino racked up an astounding 21 points in 19 playoff games. For Leino, it all comes down to playing time. He simply could not crack the top lines in Detroit and again in his early days in Philly. Now that he's proven what he can do, expect him to start the season on a scoring line and he'll easily set some career highs.
James Neal (DAL)
Neal has the makings of a big time goal scorer. He could start to realize that potential in his 3rd NHL season. Look for him to pot 30 or more this season and continue to contribute to your team in penalty minutes as well. Could finish in the top 30 this season in terms of total fantasy points.
David Perron (STL)
Perron signed on for 2 more years with the Blues at a reliably modest salary. That could look like a steal in his second year, as he has the potential for a big breakout campaign. He has yet to top 20 goals and 50 points, but should have no problem besting both of those numbers in 2010-11. Flag him as a late-round sleeper, as he probably will not merit much attention at the draft table.
John Tavares (NYI)
Tavares had a terribly erratic rookie season where he went on some crazy runs with a huge, hairy dry spell in the middle. We'll cut him some slack on his first go round, but expectations should be high for Tavares in his 2nd season. He's a natural goal scorer who could push for 40 this time around.
Erik Johnson (STL)
Johnson was the first overall pick in 2006, but is not in the forefront of fantasy defense men due to his missed year in 2008. He came back to post a solid 10 goals and 39 points last season. He will surely blow those numbers away this season. Look for a big breakout year from Johnson in the 50+ point range.
Jack Johnson (LOS)
Johnson is very slowly starting to realize his potential after being drafted 3rd overall in 2005. He capped off the plays with 7 assists in 6 games. The Kings should score plenty this season and Johnson should play a part in that story. He reached 8 goals and 36 points in 2009, but his +/- is still embarrassing. If he wants to log the big minutes, he'll have to do better in his own end. Even so, look for a potential breakout season from Johnson this year.
Kris Letang (PIT)
Kris Letang was all set to breakout last season after a terrific playoff run in 2009. It did not quite play out that way, and he sputtered down to 3 goals, despite getting a significant opportunity in the early months. He'll still quite young and the Pens will be counting on his offensive production, so the chances will come again. If he can evolve into an efficient power play QB, this could be the breakout season for Letang.
PK Subban (MON)
If you missed last year's play run, you might not have Subban on your radar yet. If you have that display, you will not be shocked to see the rookie ranked so high on our charts. He has a few things to learn in his own end, which may limit his playing time, but look for him to extremely lead the potential Montreal power play and put up huge numbers for the Canadians this season.
Corey Crawford (CHI)
While Niemi was the hero of the day, life at the top can be short lived for young goaltenders. If Huet gets buried as expected, Crawford should make it to the big leagues to start as Turco's backup. Crawford has future star potential, and he should get a share of the starts for the Hawks this season. Grab him in the last couple rounds and have the last laugh come spring.
Dan Ellis (TAM)
Ellis had a short run of fame with the Predators before being replaced by Rinne as the go-to guy. He now comes to an improving Tampa Bay roster in need of a solid # 1 goalie. The opportunity is there for him to have a breakout campaign. Mike Smith has not shown enough consistency to demand the majority of the starts. Expect a fair battle and do not be surprised if Ellis finishes the season with 30+ wins.
Josh Harding (MIN)
So far, Harding has served adequately as a backup to Backstrom, and has shown some potential as a future # 1 guy. Backstrom has suffered injuries in the past, so do not be surprised to see Harding's starts continue to rise. The downside is that Minnesota is no longer breeding grounds for great goalie stats with their new attitude towards liability. Even so, if you're looking for a late round pick with breakout potential, he's a fair option.
Pascal Leclaire (OTT)
Most fans have either written off Leclaire or forgotten he exists. He's certainly been on a dismal slide the past two seasons, but most of that was due to injury. He's still young and full of potential on a play caliber team. Elliot has assumed the starter role heading into this season, but it's not a stretch to imagine Leclaire reclaiming the job some time in 2010-11. Worth a late round look for a potential comeback year.
Cory Schneider (VAN)
All that's standing in the way of Schneider being a significant fantasy option is Luongo's health. He'll start the season as the backup and the NHL will get their first look at a potential future star. Add him to your bench and it will pay off at some point in the season.