With half the 2017-18 NHL season in the books, we’ve looked at the top lines, pairings, and goaltenders so far in terms of on-ice performance, but what about the players who have done all the right things and not seen results?
Hot streaks and cold streaks always happen in hockey, and during the second half of the season, there are players who break out and tear up the second half of the NHL season. Last season one of those players was Nikita Kucherov, and while he wasn’t bad in the first half, he was nuclear hot in the second half.
In order to pick our breakout candidates, they need to be doing more than just creating some offence that’s gone unrewarded at even strength, they need to get good time on ice, both at even strength and on the power play. Without power-play time, it’s tough to produce big numbers.
So with that in mind, here are three players I think could be in for big second halves.
Artturi Lehkonen is stuck playing for a team that can’t figure out how to put things together offensively, and he’s dealt with an injury that kept him out for a huge chunk of the season so far, but he’s top-five in the NHL in high-danger scoring chances and top-10 in scoring chances overall.
He’s currently shooting at just 3.3%, despite an expected shooting percentage of around 14%, and every line he’s on tends to dominate possession as well. Lehkonen is a strong player all around, playing 1:23 per game shorthanded, 2:28 per game on the power play, and just under 16 minutes per game overall.
While his playmaking won’t blow you away, Lehkonen is primed to be a high level finisher in the NHL at some point, I think he’ll be a 30-goal scorer, and he certainly should score a heck of a lot more in the second half than he did in the first half.
Brandon Saad hasn’t had the ideal return to Chicago that he probably imagined, scoring just 23 points in 43 games so far, while the guy he was traded for in Artemi Panarin has 36 points in 44 games in Columbus while shooting just 8.7%.
Saad is also among the league leaders in scoring chances, and while he’s not scoring at much below his career average rate, shooting 10% so far, he’s been very unlucky from a playmaking perspective.
Creating 7.3 scoring chances per 20 minutes played at even strength is first line production, but Saad hasn’t been rewarded with assists so far. Part of the reason for that is his passing game has been pretty messy, completing just 28.6% of his passes to the slot, but he’s a strong enough playmaker that more of his passes should find their target as the year goes on, creating more points at even strength and on the power play, where he plays almost three minutes per game.
Finally, the tantalizing young Travis Konecny oozes with talent, but he’s somewhat sidelined in Philadelphia where most of the team’s offence comes from their incredible top line of Sean Couturier between Jakub Voracek and Claude Giroux.
Konecny doesn’t get the power play time, just 1:31 per game, or individual scoring chances of the other two breakout candidates, but his passing game is obscene. The problem for Konecny isn’t one of talent or drive, but consistent opportunity.
In 496 minutes at even strength this season, Konecny’s most consistent line has a whopping 77 minutes together, followed by another three lines of 73 minutes, 70 minutes, and 58 minutes. That’s too much fluctuation for most players to produce consistently, especially a young player.
Konecny’s most common linemate is Valtteri Filppula, who frankly isn’t at the top of his game despite scoring on 19.1% of his shots on goal this year. A little stability in line combinations and a linemate that can score goals from the slot, like say Wayne Simmonds, and you’re going to see a big improvement in Konecny’s numbers.