The NHL regular season puck drop is slated for October 12th, less than eight weeks away, which means that we’re just six to seven weeks out from Fantasy Hockey. Obviously, my fantasy fanatics, all of you will need to put the proper time in to map out your draft, but let me wet your whistle with five potential breakout players.
There’s no particular order to this, but I guarantee that all five of these names will build off last year’s shortened season.
Joel Farabee, LW/RW, Philadelphia
NHL.com ranking: 221
In just his sophomore season, Farabee was already the Philadelphia Flyers’ top goal scorer last season. His 20 goals and 18 points came off an average of just 16:01 in time on ice (TOI) per game, while primarily skating on the third line.
Now entering the final year of his rookie contract, Farabee is really in line to cash in. With Jakub Voracek‘s departure, he’s projected to play opposite of Cam Atkinson with Kevin Hayes down the middle on the second line. It remains to be seen if he’ll play on the first or second powerplay, but either way, he’ll see plenty of ice time this season.
— NHL (@NHL) November 11, 2019
Philadelphia’s biggest need was defense, so the team went out and acquired two strong two-way defensemen, Ryan Ellis and Rasmus Ristolainen, and a powerplay specialist, Keith Yandle. So long as Carter Hart has a bounce-back season, expect the Flyers to improve as a whole and Farabee to produce.
Vince Dunn, D, Seattle
NHL.com ranking: 185
Finally, Vince Dunn is out of St. Louis. Dunn has been in and out of the Blues’ doghouse over the last four years. It finally got to the point that the Blues opted to not protect him during the Seattle Expansion Draft; Granted, Justin Faulk, Torey Krug, and Colton Parayko are far more established in the organization.
Some speculated it was his hockey sense or his work effort, but for whatever reason, St. Louis wasn’t the fit. No one denied his talent level. Offensively, his numbers are more than solid.
Looking at the right side of the table above, Dunn’s average TOI is what stands out most. Dunn was able to put up quality offensive output averaging third-pair minutes. That to me says it all. He’ll be a top-four, maybe even top-two defenseman with the Kraken, and could legitimately double his scoring.
That alone makes Dunn worth a mid-round draft pick.
Sam Bennett, C/LW/RW, Florida
Much like Dunn, Bennett is finally in a place to not only make a career for himself but make a lot of heads turn.
Bennett is one of only four or five guys in the NHL who can legitimately play up and down a lineup, lines one through four. He is the most versatile player in the NHL. He plays powerplay, kills penalties, fights, scores, assists, and takes faceoffs. He’s a fantasy hockey jackpot.
15 points in 10 games as a Panther for Sam Bennett. 🔥 pic.twitter.com/WOvLsZ8VJU
— Florida Panthers (@FlaPanthers) May 9, 2021
Yes, his sample size with Florida is small, but there’s not a guy with a bigger chip on his shoulder than Bennett. To say the Calgary Flames mismanaged the former fourth-overall pick would be the understatement of the year. Geoff Ward was the worst thing to happen to Bennett’s young career.
Enter the Panthers. Bennett will be a top-20 fantasy player by the end of the year. His advanced metrics are outstanding and whether he plays on a wing with Barkov, centers the second unit, or is in the bottom six, Bennett will save your fantasy team this season.
Cole Caufield, RW, Montréal
I don’t like where NHL.com has Caufield ranked. 101 is too high for me. I expect Caufield to have a really strong start to the 2021-22 season, but I think a full 82 game season, something the rookie has yet to endure, will slow down his production.
The reason that Caufield is on the list is that the Montréal Canadiens have already given him the keys to the car. He’ll start on the first line, he’ll see top powerplay minutes, and he’ll have all the resources to be the Kirill Kaprizov of Montréal at his disposal.
Mon doux seigneur.
— Canadiens Montréal (@CanadiensMTL) June 19, 2021
The city, the fans, and the franchise are all behind him. He showed how dynamic a player he could be during the Playoffs and so long as he continues to produce, the city is his. My prediction – 20 goals, lower 40s in total points, with plenty of shots, powerplay points, and the Calder Trophy.
Kaapo Kakko, RW, New York Rangers
The Rangers moved on from Pavel Buchnevich and opened the doors for a few younger Blueshirts to solidify their place on the roster. Vitali Kravtsov and Alexis Lafrenière are sure to see more ice than before, but Kaapo Kakko, now entering his junior year, will have first dibs on Buchnevich’s linemates.
Whether on the first or second line, Kakko will be in a better position than before. Either he’s on a line with Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider (maybe Lafrenière) or with Ryan Strome and Artemi Panarin. No offense to Filip Chytil and the third line, but that’s a bit of an upgrade, especially considering former coach David Quinn only handed him 14 minutes of ice each night.
With that said, a lot is riding on this season for Kakko. The 2019 second-overall pick needs to start living up to the selection. Defensively, he is statistically one of the best wingers in the entire league, but his offensive numbers need to show up.
Here is our ranking of the best defensive wingers for 2021 season: pic.twitter.com/jYS6TGi9XE
— Andy & Rono 📊 (@HockeyStatsCZ) July 19, 2021
Advanced stats don’t help in Fantasy Hockey and with just 40 points in 114 games, Kakko has to get on the score sheet early and often for him to be a notable fantasy player. He’s clearly been in the gym and taken amazing steps in his development, but the 20-year-old has to now deliver — which this writer thinks he will.
Follow for more fantasy hockey talk on Twitter @dcblanda.
Featured Image via NHL.com