In 2017, multiple players surged onto the scene of superstardom. Before last season Hart Memorial Trophy winner Taylor Hall had only scored more than 65 points one time in his career. Along with Taylor Hall, we got to see the emergence of Nikita Kucherov down in Tampa Bay. Prior to last season, Kucherov had never come close to hitting 100 points, but he managed to hit that milestone last season when he lead the Lightning in points with exactly 100.
The question on every hockey fan’s mind for this year is which player is going to have the huge breakout year in 2018? Countless young players look poised to make their jump into the NHL’s elite, but few players ever actually do it. This season there are a handful of players that have the skill set to be able to do it and their teams and fans are hoping that they can as well.
Rickard Rakell – RW – Anaheim Ducks
Rickard Rakell is quickly becoming a fan favorite in Anaheim because of his scoring ability. Rakell has gifted strength and accuracy on his shots, and it makes him one of the best young goal scorers in the entire NHL.
Each season has been an improvement for Rakell statistically, and now entering year seven Rakell could be ready to make a big splash. Last season Rakell hit career highs in both goals (34) and assists (35), which gave him a team-leading 69 points.
Rakell can expect an even more significant role in the Ducks’ offense this season after proving that he can be the guy for Anaheim. He is coming off back to back 30 goal seasons, and now he will be looking to do more of the same in 2018.
2018 could be a major breakout season for Rakell. Out of all the young players on this list, he is the one most likely to reach Taylor Hall type numbers because of his ability to put pucks in the back of the net. Rakell has increased his point total in all six years of his NHL career, and if he can do it again in year seven, the Ducks and their fans will be very excited. Last season was a disappointment for Anaheim and a big year from Rakell could be just what they need to get over the hump in the postseason.
Mikael Granlund – C/W – Minnesota Wild
Mikael Granlund took a tiny step back in 2017 when compared to 2016, but that does not mean that Granlund won’t be able to show out this upcoming season. Last year the Minnesota Wild had veteran center Eric Staal carry the load for them scoring wise, but due to age they can’t expect the same from him this season.
The next most viable option for the Minnesota Wild is Granlund. Granlund has shown that he can score the puck for the Wild, and if he makes a jump in 2018, the Wild could finally have the breakout year as a team that they have been waiting for.
The main strength of Granlund’s game has been his playmaking ability. He has hit the 30 assist mark in every full season he has played and is currently riding two straight years of having more than 40 assists. Granlund has tremendous vision and decision-making ability that makes him dangerous every time he has the puck on his stick.
The only questionable part of his game is his ability to find the back of the net, but he is slowly putting those concerns to rest. In 2016-17 Granlund managed to net 26 goals which currently stands as his career high. Even though he took a step back in his goal scoring last season, there is not a lot of concerns that he will pick it back up. The only question is how much will he improve?
If Granlund can score goals, there is no doubt that he could turn into one of the best players in the NHL. He already is one of the best playmakers in the league. If he can develop a shot to go with his deadly playmaking ability, he will become a headache for other teams to game plan against. Granlund will be looking to make significant improvements for the Wild this upcoming season.
Sebastian Aho – RW – Carolina Hurricanes
Sebastian Aho is an incredibly gifted young goal scorer that started to come into his own last season with the Hurricanes. Aho lead the Hurricanes in scoring with 65 points, falling just one goal shy of the 30 goal mark. At only 21-years old, the sky seems to be the limit for Aho as he continues to grow and develop as an NHL player.
Carolina had a busy offseason and by trading away Jeff Skinner they may have shown just how much faith they have in Aho to turn into their team leader.
Aho will be heading into his third season this year so he may still be a year or so out of really taking off, but with an increased role on the team, this may be the year he proves just how good he is. He now has a year under his belt as the primary option and could use that experience to have a monster year.
Every time Aho had the puck last season he seemed to find a way into scoring position. For only being a three-year veteran is amazing to see just how good his vision is. As his shot continues to get better and his playmaking abilities increase, he could be a proficient scorer for a long time down in Carolina.
Last season the Hurricanes were a team on the bubble of playoff contention with one of the best defensive units in the entire NHL, so a big year from Aho could be a game changer for Carolina in the Eastern Conference.