Slapshot Fantasy

Three 2016-17 fantasy hockey breakout candidates

Tampa Bay Lightning left wing Jonathan Drouin (27) during Game 3 of the second round series between the New York Islanders and the Tampa Bay Lightning played at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn,NY. (Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire)
(Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire)

Every year there are players who become breakout fantasy stars that change the landscape of the fantasy hockey season. Oftentimes these are young players who “click” sometime after hitting their stride and adjusting to the professional game or players who reach new heights of production after a change in scenery and the jersey that they wear.

Taking promising young players and players that will likely benefit from moving to a new team after the first few rounds on draft day is a strategy that is almost always worth the risks involved. This time around we’ll be taking a look at three young players who are sure to have breakout fantasy seasons in 2016-17.

Sam Reinhart, Buffalo Sabres

Reinhart and Jack Eichel have Sabres fans very excited about what the next few years hold for Buffalo hockey. The two second overall picks became regular linemates on March 1 and have already shown some signs of being one of the NHL’s most promising dynamic duos.

According to puckalytics.com, Eichel and Reinhart combined for seven even-strength goals in the 214:37 of ice time they shared after being put together in March. Eichel’s point-per-game rate jumped to 0.79 after being paired with the crafty Reinhart who broke the 20-goal plateau as a rookie despite averaging fewer than 17 minutes of ice time per game.

The chemistry that so many Sabres fans are hoping will be the nucleus of the team’s offense will also result in Reinhart and Eichel building off of impressive rookie seasons in their second season in Buffalo. Given how valuable quality wingers are in fantasy hockey, Reinhart is a skater that will be well worth a late round pick given his and his center’s talent and potential.

Aleksander Barkov, Florida Panthers

In just 66 games this season, Barkov scored 59 points, including 28 goals, in his third year in the NHL. That outstanding rate of production helped the young center finish just outside of the top-50 fantasy players. Outside of a certain ageless Czech winger, most of Florida’s star power, including Barkov, is young

Barkov’s power play production and shooting rate both took a big jump in 2015-16 while skating with Jaromir Jagr and Jonathan Huberdeau. The big Finn was Florida’s second overall pick in 2013 and had 60 points in his first 125 games as a Panther prior to his breakout season.

Watching where Barkov goes in mock drafts as draft day approaches will be something to keep an eye on, but there will be at least a dozen centers that go before him. If Barkov can continue the play that earned him 16 points in the last 15 games of the playoffs and regular season he will be taking another step toward becoming one of fantasy’s elite.

Jonathan Drouin, Tampa Bay Lightning

A young career that has been overshadowed with controversy and drama is finally starting to be redefined by the talent and potential that Drouin has displayed since returning to the Lightning’s lineup and shining in the 2016 playoffs. Although he made his mark in the AHL with his goal scoring, the way Drouin handles and moves the puck has analysts anticipating him becoming a dangerous playmaker.

Where Drouin plays next season is still anything but certain, but there are no doubts about just how talented he is given the role he has played getting Tampa to the Eastern Conference Final with both Steven Stamkos and Anton Stralman out of the lineup. Drouin has one more year left on his ELC and after what he has shown in the postseason this spring, it’s clear he belongs in the NHL.

The 21-year-old winger will be one of the biggest gambles that a fantasy manager can take on draft day in the fall, but his offensive ability and raw potential make him well worth a late-round Hail Mary pick.

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