Every season there is a collection of players who exceed expectations, or finally reach a level of predicted productivity.
For a player to be a breakout, they have to go above and beyond what they’ve accomplished before and do it in a way that would suggest some sustainability. We’re not trying to capture fluky performances here thanks to high shooting percentages or favourable deployment, but instead draw attention to players that stepped up to a level we believe they can somewhat maintain.
For the exercise, rookies are left out — or else all of the Calder candidates would take up most of our positions here. Rather, everyone on this list has played at least one NHL season — and most of them more than that.
This week we rank eight of the best breakout players from 2019-20 so far.
1. Andrei Svechnikov, Carolina Hurricanes
It’s not at all surprising that Svechnikov broke out — he was nearly a goal-per-game player in his draft year with the OHL’s Barrie Colts and became the second overall pick. But not only did he improve his point total by 24 and goal total by four as a sophomore (in 14 fewer games), he also made NHL history by becoming the first player to successfully convert a “lacrosse-style” goal…then he did it a second time.
2. Travis Konecny, Philadelphia Flyers
Turning 23 just before the NHL paused the season, Konecny broke out across the board in his fourth season with the Flyers. Drafted 24th overall in 2015, Konecny had a mini-breakout as a sophomore, when he jumped from 28 to 47 points and more than doubled his goal total. This season, Konecny became Philadelphia’s leading scorer as the team started to click and were starting to emerge as a possible Cup pick. He equalled his career-high in goals (24) and increased his assist- and point-total bests by 12 in just 66 games played.
3. Kevin Fiala, Minnesota Wild
It finally happened, though not with the team it was supposed to be with. The 11th overall pick in the 2014 draft by Nashville, Fiala was the ace up that organization’s sleeve for a while, but early on he wasn’t able to convert strong AHL numbers into NHL success. He got over 20 goals and approached 50 points in 2017-18, then took a step back and struggled the following season, leading to a trade to Minnesota for Mikael Granlund. With Granlund now set for UFA status, Fiala rebounded magnificently, tying a career-high in goals (23) and setting a new personal best in points per game — 0.84, up from the previous high of 0.6. Consider, too, he had a slow October and dealt with an injury, so if you remove that first month, Fiala had 53 points in his other 56 games.
4. Oliver Bjorkstrand, Columbus Blue Jackets
I’ve been on Bjorkstrand watch since he scored 50 goals in the WHL the season after being drafted (just ask my Tape To Tape Podcast co-host Ryan Dixon), and then showed a little something with eight points in his first 12 NHL games in 2015-16. It took a little longer than expected, perhaps, but Bjorkstrand really emerged for an inspiring Blue Jackets team this season and led them in goals at the pause with 21. In fact, Bjorkstrand’s 1.5 goals per 60 minutes of 5-on-5 play ranked sixth in the league, just behind David Pastrnak. His ice time was on the rise, too, with coach John Tortorella showing his faith in the player by giving him at least 20 minutes of ice in eight of the last 15 games he played before sustaining a leg injury in February.
5. Neal Pionk, Winnipeg Jets
When the Jets initially traded Jacob Trouba to the New York Rangers it was seen as a no-doubt loss, and the 20th overall pick they got in return was overall weighed as the better asset at the time. But on a thinned-out blue line, Pionk excelled and solidified himself at least as a top-four defenceman going forward. With 45 points in 71 games, Pionk came close to doubling his career-best in offensive production, was 14th among all defencemen in average even-strength ice time and 20th in power-play ice time. For this season, at least, he was better than Trouba.
6. Tony DeAngelo, New York Rangers
John Carlson and Roman Josi are your Norris Trophy leaders. Rookies Cale Makar and Quinn Hughes have grabbed tons of attention for their quick impacts in the NHL. But did you realize DeAngelo was fourth in scoring at the position? The 24-year-old improved on his previous career-high in points by 23 and jumped from four goals in 2018-19 to 15 this season. If you only account for even-strength points, DeAngelo passes Victor Hedman for third. He’s arbitration-eligible this summer, which should make for an interesting process.
7. Tristan Jarry, Pittsburgh Penguins
Jarry’s performance in his age-25 season has opened up some questions about what the Penguins will look like in goal next campaign and beyond. His start was incredible, to the point that he was beginning to earn more starts and possibly take the No. 1 job from Matt Murray. Granted, his numbers weren’t as good in the 2020 portion of the schedule (just a .905 save percentage), but it was still better than Murray. With both goalies set to become RFAs this summer, and Casey DeSmith a capable netminder in the AHL, Penguins GM Jim Rutherford may have a decision to make between the three.
8. Conor Garland, Arizona Coyotes
Garland is a bit different than some of these players — he’s not likely to ever rise to the levels of production that Svechnikov or Fiala are projected to. But’s he’s also on a relatively low scoring team and doesn’t get the same opportunities — Garland barely averaged more than 14 minutes a game this season. A fifth-round pick from 2015, Garland showed something in limited action last season, scoring 13 goals in 47 games with 11 per cent shooting. He solidified his place this season, with 22 goals in 68 games and was third on the Coyotes with 39 points.