In 2021-22, Buffalo Sabres forward Tage Thompson increased his career high in goals from eight to 38 and his career high in points from 14 to 68. St. Louis Blues center Robert Thomas scored at better than a point-per-game pace, with 77 points in 72 games — after scoring 12 points in 33 games a season earlier. Islanders defenseman Noah Dobson jumped from 14 points to 51.
Those players made names for themselves, won fantasy pools and earned paydays.
Who will follow in their footsteps in 2022-23?
The Athletic asked its local and national writers for their predictions for one breakout candidate on each team. Here are their answers:
Frank Vatrano: It might seem odd to choose a 28-year-old who’s on his fourth team. But in lieu of Troy Terry breaking out last season, Trevor Zegras kind of already doing so and Mason McTavish just starting up, I think the Massachusetts-bred winger could be a real candidate. Vatrano is starting a three-year contract with the Ducks and will get a big opportunity playing in their top two lines. In camp, Anaheim has had him lined up with Zegras, giving the creative playmaker a first-and-foremost shooter. While he’s hovered around the teens mostly in goal totals so far as an NHLer, Vatrano did score as many as 24 in 2018-19 and could get the kind of ice time and power-play minutes to surpass that. Let’s say he puts 230 shots on net and scores at a 12 percent clip. The Ducks will gladly take those 28 goals.
Barrett Hayton: Hayton hasn’t exactly been an overnight sensation since the Coyotes selected him at No. 5 in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft, but at 22, he settled in as an NHL regular last year, with a career-high 60 games and 24 points. Hayton recently signed a modest two-year contract extension ($1.775 million average annual value). Given the Coyotes’ departures at forward and the dire shortage of NHL-ready centers at their disposal, Hayton will be given every opportunity to earn a spot in the top six and start to show the promise of his draft pedigree.
Jakub Zboril: Zboril was developing well in 2021-22 until he tore the ACL in his right knee. He is healthy now, excited to impress a new coach and the most comfortable he’s been as a pro. The 25-year-old has a chance for early ice time because of Matt Grzelcyk’s recovery from shoulder surgery. Zboril can play both sides, move the puck and assist on the power play if needed. His career high was nine points in 42 games in 2020-21. The 2015 first-rounder has a good chance to set new personal bests.
Dylan Cozens: Dylan Cozens has already proven he’s a reliable defensive player, excellent in transition and a willing playmaker. He had 38 points a year ago with only 13 goals, and the Sabres think both numbers can go up. Cozens played in the World Championship hoping to work on his scoring. He tied for the tournament lead with seven goals in 10 games. If he can raise his shooting percentage from the 8.1 percent it was a year ago, a breakout could be coming.