Every NHL season we see old stars fall and new stars emerge, and 2013-14 should be a ripe with players looking to establish themselves as forces to be reckoned with.
Last season in the West, players like Oilers young gun Taylor Hall, Kings blue-liner Slava Voynov and Vezina Trophy winner Sergei Bobrovsky of the Blue Jackets took their games to the next level, and a new crop of players will do the same this season.
With that, here’s a look at some players on Western Conference teams primed to have breakout seasons.
NHL breakout players in 2013-14: Eastern Conference
Jamie Benn, Dallas Stars
Surprisingly, Benn was left off Team Canada’s Olympic orientation camp roster, and you can expect him to enter the season with a chip on his shoulder.
Benn’s supporting cast in Dallas isn’t the greatest, but new additions Tyler Seguin, Rich Peverley and Shawn Horcoff primed to produce, Benn has point-per-game potential with the added elements of solid physical play and willingness to back-check.
His hand-eye coordination is terrific, especially for a big guy, and his strong leadership qualities resulted in him being named the team’s new captain.
The 24-year-old is already a great young player, but 2013-14 will see him blossom into a star.
Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Phoenix Coyotes
The native of Tingsryd, Sweden, will be one of the best defencemen in the NHL for the next decade, and you can expect him to emerge as a potential Norris Trophy candidate this season.
Ekman-Larsson had 24 points in 48 games last season and was a plus-5 despite his team allowing more goals than they scored, and he logged more than 25 minutes of ice time per game.
He has poise from the point on the power play; he’s not afraid the take the body in open ice or along the boards; he seems to skate backward better than most players skate forward.
The 22-year-old is a beast and he should be the brightest spot on a Phoenix team that could very well struggle again this year.
David Perron, Edmonton Oilers
In one of the best off-season acquisitions by a Canadian team, Perron should fit in swimmingly with a youthful, skilled Oilers squad.
When he’s healthy, the winger has some of the best hands and playmaking ability in the league. And being surrounded with the likes of Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Nail Yakupov, Perron’s skills should result in his name hitting the score sheet often.
Jay Bouwmeester, St. Louis Blues
You may be thinking Jay Bouwmeester? Really? Isn’t he already an established NHL defenceman? Well, he absolutely is, but the smooth-skating blue-liner has never been in a situation as good as the one he’s in with the Blues.
Bouwmeester fit in well with the team after being traded by the Calgary Flames this past spring. He signed a five-year extension in the off-season, so while there will be pressure on him to perform, he can just relax and play hockey in a relatively small market.
Don’t be surprised if Bouwmeester gets over the 40-point mark, like he has three times in the past, while still providing a steady back-end presence. In all likelihood he’ll play a lot with Alex Pietrangelo, and they could end up being one of the best pairs in the league.
At just 29, the veteran could end up having a career year.
Gabriel Landeskog, Colorado Avalanche
He’s one of the best young leaders in the league, and the Avs named him the youngest captain in NHL history last September. He’s also one of the better two-way wingers.
With an ability to shut down opposing forwards as well as put up solid offensive numbers, his play is one of the biggest keys to the Avalanche rebounding from a season where they finished last in the West.
The Swede missed time last season due to a concussion but is healthy now and hopes to live up to the seven-year, $39-million extension he signed in the off-season.
Matt Frattin, Los Angeles Kings
When the Toronto Maple Leafs acquired goalie Jonathan Bernier in the summer, the move garnered tons of attention. But what the Kings got in return flew under the radar.
Frattin, 25, needs to work on his defensive play, but if coach Darryl Sutter feels Frattin isn’t a liability, don’t be surprised if he finds himself in a top-six role on the Kings.
The Edmonton native had bursts of success in Toronto, and if he can stay healthy and find consistency in L.A., he has the potential to be a 20-goal scorer since he’s got one of the better releases in the league.
Zach Bogosian, Winnipeg Jets – The former third-overall pick missed the start of last season recovering from wrist surgery but finished the campaign on a serious hot streak.
Zach Kassian, Vancouver Canucks – As long as he stays out of the penalty box, the physical winger could flourish under the tutelage of John Tortorella.
Sven Baertschi, Calgary Flames – Expectations aren’t high for the Flames this season, but a relatively thin roster should result in Baertschi getting a lot of ice time. He has the potential to be a breakout star in Western Canada.
Colin Wilson, Nashville Predators – He came into his own last year with 19 points in 25 games and will build off that momentum.
Andrew Shaw, Chicago Blackhawks ¬ With the likes of David Bolland and Viktor Stalberg gone, Shaw will be relied upon to provide a gritty, physical presence in addition to secondary scoring for the likes of Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane.
Kyle Palmieri, Anaheim Ducks – Like last season, the American will likely spend time playing beside Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry, which should result in a career high for goals and points.
Jason Zucker, Minnesota Wild – The Newport Beach, Calif., native was great in the team’s short playoff run and could emerge as a valuable asset for the much-improved Wild. He won’t put up big numbers, but he’ll be great in a checking role.
Matt Irwin, San Jose Sharks – The undrafted defenceman showed lots of potential in his rookie year and will likely find himself in a situation where he plays every night.