NHL Players Poised for Breakout Seasons in 2014-15
Simply put, there are two paths for NHL teams to bolster their lineups from year to year: through youth or experience.
The experience can be added through veteran players acquired through trade or free agency. The youth needs to be drafted, then carefully developed at the junior, minor league and big league levels.
Last week, I shined the spotlight on some of the rookies who are ready to step up this fall. Here, I'll look at the players at the next phase of development—past their rookie years and ready to start proving they'll be impact players for years to come.
No rookies allowed. Expect to hear these players' names bandied about as the NHL's breakout stars of 2014-15.
Tyson Barrie: Colorado Avalanche
What He's Done: In his third pro season, Tyson Barrie became a powerful force on the Colorado Avalanche blue line with 13 goals in 64 games, tying him for ninth among all defensemen, per NHL.com.
Though Barrie's undersized at 5'10", he also took care of the defensive side of his game, posting a plus-17 rating.
What's Holding Him Back: Now that his entry-level deal has expired, Barrie is a man without a contract as a restricted free agent, per CapGeek.com. After a difficult negotiation with forward Ryan O'Reilly, Colorado VP of hockey operations Joe Sakic said, "I'm very confident we'll get something done with Tyson," per Adrian Dater of the Denver Post.
Barrie's future was also in question after a torn MCL suffered during the Avalanche's playoff series against the Minnesota Wild. At a July alumni golf tournament for his junior team, the Kelowna Rockets, Larry Fisher of the Kelowna Daily Courier reports that Barrie is "equal parts happy and relieved to reveal he’s fully recovered from a knee injury that brought an early end to his — and, consequently, Colorado’s — playoff run this spring."
What to Expect in 2014-15: Barrie's season got better as it went along in 2013-14. He was assigned to the AHL Lake Erie Monsters for six games in November but made the most of his opportunity once he was recalled by Colorado.
He's one of many Avs who thrived under first-year coach Patrick Roy. Barrie should take another step forward to becoming one of the league's best offensive defensemen.
Boone Jenner: Columbus Blue Jackets
What He's Done: Boone Jenner's first NHL season was an unabashed success in 2013-14. The 2011 second-round pick scored 16 goals and 29 points in 72 games, per NHL.com. Jenner was a force in the Columbus Blue Jackets' first-round playoff series against the Pittsburgh Penguins with five points in six games.
What's Holding Him Back: Not much. Jackets 2014 first-rounder Alexander Wennberg told Craig Merz of NHL.com at the Jackets' development camp that Jenner's ascent to full-time NHL player provides motivation for him:
He wasn't a name for sure that was going to play in the NHL, but he showed that by working hard and doing your best you can get there and he earned a spot...I can watch and learn from him and do it the same way he did.
What to Expect in 2014-15: Lots of highlights showing Boone Jenner parking his 6'2" body on the edge of opponents' goal creases. Jenner plays a power forward's game and loves to go to the net.
Tomas Jurco: Detroit Red Wings
What He's Done: Tomas Jurco was one of many members of the AHL Grand Rapids Griffins who were summoned to help out the Detroit Red Wings during their injury-riddled 2013-14 season.
The 6'2", 193-pounder picked up eight goals and 15 points in 36 games with the Red Wings, per NHL.com.
What's Holding Him Back: The competition. Detroit has plenty of young talent in the pipeline at right wing, including Quebec League star Anthony Mantha, who will make his pro debut in 2014-15. Though he knows he'll probably start in the minors, Mantha told Brendan Savage of MLive.com that he thinks he's ready to jump straight to the big club.
'If you ask me, I think I am,' Mantha said during the Wings' development camp in Traverse City. 'At the end of the summer, I'll be a few pounds heavier. I think I can play there.'
Jurco will have to fend off the challenge from Mantha and others if he hope to get a chance to show his stuff.
What to Expect in 2014-15: The Hockey News says Jurco "possesses tremendous speed and acceleration, especially when he gets to the outside of defenders. Knows how to score goals and owns a very good shot."
After a summer of training to follow up his NHL cup of coffee, expect to see that speed and skill on display on Detroit's top line this fall.
Aleksander Barkov: Florida Panthers
What He's Done: One of the youngest players selected in the 2013 NHL draft, Aleksander Barkov had no trouble stepping directly into the Florida Panthers' lineup less than four months later. Just two weeks into the 2013-14 season, Ryan Porth of Sportsnet.ca was touting him as a front-runner for the Calder Trophy.
Barkov finished the season with eight goals and 16 points in 54 games, per NHL.com.
What's Holding Him Back: Barkov sustained a knee injury at the Olympics in February that caused him to miss the rest of the NHL season.
According to Ryan Dadoun of NBCSports.com, the big center skated at the Panthers' development camp in July but skipped he last two days of activity, focusing on being 100 percent for training camp in September.
"He has nothing to prove to me," Panthers GM Dale Tallon said. "We brought him in just to look at him, evaluate him. He looks good."
What to Expect in 2014-15: If Barkov's fully recovered by the beginning of the season, he should have a dominant year on an improved Panthers team. He could form a dyamic tandem with fellow Finn Jussi Jokinen on Florida's first line.
Tyler Toffoli: Los Angeles Kings
What He's Done: Tyler Toffoli only won a Stanley Cup in his first season as a regular member of the Los Angeles Kings—no big deal. Toffoli was a key part of the Kings' postseason, posting 14 points in 26 games while working with Jeff Carter and Tanner Pearson on a line that was dynamic enough to earn a nickname—That '70s Line (per Harrison Mooney of Yahoo! Sports).
Toffoli had 12 goals and 29 points in 62 regular-season games in 2013-14, per NHL.com.
What's Holding Him Back: After his playoff success, it's easy to forget that Toffoli didn't make the 2013-14 Kings out of training camp. He started the season with the Manchester Monarchs, according to The Hockey News, before being called up to the Kings in November, then was sent back to the minors for two more short stints in January and February.
Consistency could be an issue. It remains to be seen if the magic that Toffoli brought to the Kings during the playoffs will be an everyday occurrence during a long regular season.
What to Expect in 2014-15: Joe Yerdon of NBCSports.com says:
Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson stepped up big in the playoffs themselves and Toffoli in particular has the offensive touch that has many thinking he’ll be a goal-scoring stud for them for years to come.
If Darryl Sutter gives Toffoli more ice time in 2014-15, his offensive numbers should grow accordingly.
Brock Nelson: New York Islanders
What He's Done: Chosen 30th overall in the 2010 draft, Brock Nelson played 72 NHL games in his rookie season in 2013-14. According to Brian Compton of NHL.com, Nelson got better as the season went on, finishing with 14 goals and 26 points while displaying a strong two-way game.
What's Holding Him Back: After the additions of free agents Mikhail Grabovski and Nikolai Kulemin in July, the New York Islanders' top six just got a lot more crowded. The competition for jobs between veterans and young players could limit Nelson's opportunity to gain additional ice time.
What to Expect in 2014-15: Compton thinks Nelson has the inside track on the left-wing spot on the Islanders' top line.
The Islanders have a vacancy on the top line alongside center John Tavares and right wing Kyle Okposo after Thomas Vanek declined to sign a long-term contract with New York. Islanders coach Jack Capuano won't decide who will fill that void until the end of training camp, but Nelson's size (6-foot-3, 196 pounds) and soft hands could make him a fit.
If Nelson scores that plum assignment with the Islanders' two top forwards, expect to see him put up plenty of points next season.