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2021 Fantasy Hockey Breakouts: Who could be the next Cale Makar?

Yahoo Sports Fantasy Staff
·6-min read

By Jordan Mazzara, RotoWire

Special to Yahoo Sports

Most fantasy players can sift through the first few rounds of the draft and establish a solid base for their team, but finding the next Andrei Svechnikov or Cale Makar can differentiate you from your competitors.

The players in this article have all failed to produce more than 40 points in a season. Of course, 40 points won't be the metric to judge these players in a 56-game season this year, so 30 points is a fair milestone for a breakout.

FORWARDS

Barrett Hayton, Coyotes

Hayton posted a point in four of his first six NHL games last year. Unfortunately, his rookie season was derailed by a shoulder injury at the IIHF World Junior Championship, a tournament in which he finished third in scoring. The 20-year-old will start fresh this year, and the Coyotes already signaled their confidence in the center position by trading Derek Stepan to the Senators last month. Hayton — the No. 5 overall pick in 2018 — may not start on the second line, but he'll be a constant scoring threat on the third line until he receives a promotion, which seems almost inevitable with only Derick Brassard standing in the way.

Alexandre Texier, Blue Jackets

Texier had a few cups of coffee in the top six last season and failed to produce anything notable. Still, the Blue Jackets may need him to contribute consistently at the position immediately with Gustav Nyquist (shoulder) out long term. In fact, the 21-year-old started training camp on the first line. The 2017 second-round pick has the speed and puck-handling skills, along with a bit of an edge, to skate next to Pierre-Luc Dubois. It’s just a matter of time.

Roope Hintz, Stars

A big-bodied center (6-foot-3, 220 pounds), Hintz is a commanding presence in front of the net and has learned a thing or two from Joe Pavelski's School of Redirections. But he has plenty of finesse for his size, highlighted by a sneaky wrist shot that often catches goalies off guard. Hintz steadily improved in his second NHL season, too, ringing up 19 goals, 14 assists, and 120 shots across 60 games. While we shouldn't count on Hintz to shoot at a 15.8 percent clip again, he should counteract any regression with an increase in volume. Plus, there’s an open spot in the top six with Tyler Seguin (hip) out until April.

Ryan Donato, Sharks

Donato is now on his third team in three years, a curious journey for a player who dominated at Harvard and the Olympics. The 24-year-old flashed his potential with the Wild last year, scoring 14 goals and adding nine helpers over 62 games, but he never got his footing in the top six, averaging just 10:38 of ice time. The Sharks sent a third-round pick to acquire Donato, and this may be the change of scenery he needs. The lack of depth in San Jose all but guarantees that he’ll begin on the second line.

Martin Necas, Hurricanes

Necas features elite speed, but his acceleration specifically is what catches defenders flat-footed and drives the offense. The 12th overall pick in 2017, Necas is a better playmaker than scorer, but he's not afraid to drive the net despite his slender build. So, what's the problem? His defensive game is a liability. If Necas can show progress in that area, then there's nothing holding him back from top-six minutes. If he makes that leap, look out.

Luke Kunin, Predators

In an intra-division trade, Kunin was shipped from Minnesota to Nashville in October. The 2016 first-round pick capped off his stint with the Wild by registering 15 goals and 16 assists over 63 games last year, adding another four points in the playoffs. A two-way player with a cannon of a shot, Kunin enters an intriguing situation in Nashville where he realistically fits in on any of the top three lines — with the added benefit of playing both center and wing. It's worth noting that he's still unsigned, but there's enough cap flexibility in Nashville to reach a deal before the season commences.

Jack Hughes, Devils

Hughes simply didn't live up to the hype in his rookie season, but the American-born center needs to be cut some slack. He entered the league as an undersized 18-year-old on a team in the midst of a fire-sale, so it’s understandable that he struggled. Hughes is the same player that hockey fans raved about before his first overall selection in 2019. When he's at his best, he combines elite hockey IQ with a wicked shot, lightning quickness, and a high motor. Now 19 years old, Hughes has 61 NHL games under his belt, and he reportedly added 14 pounds of muscle in the offseason. The Devils still have their issues, but Hughes will look more like a true NHLer this year.

New Jersey Devils Left Wing Jack Hughes (86)
Jack Hughes could put it all together in Year 2. (Photo by Rob Curtis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Oskar Lindblom, Flyers

Lindblom was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer last season, but he has fortunately recovered and is looking forward to a fourth NHL season. His diagnosis halted an encouraging start to the 2019-20 season (18 points over 30 games), as the 24-year-old was just scratching the surface of his potential. Lindblom will have a full training camp under his belt when Opening Night hits, and he should pick up right where he left off last year.

DEFENSEMEN

John Marino, Penguins

Seemingly out of nowhere, Marino won a spot with the big club in training camp and ended up averaging 20:15 of ice time as a 22-year-old, showcasing impressive hockey sense at both ends of the ice and recording 26 points through 56 games. He was subsequently rewarded with a six-year, $26.4 million contract by the Pens, making him a staple in Pittsburgh until Sidney Crosby's contract expires in 2025. With fellow blueliner Justin Schultz off to Washington, Marino is locked into a top-four role this year, and more importantly, he should be a fixture on the power play, where he only played occasionally last year.

Matt Grzelcyk, Bruins

Grzelcyk mostly played on the third pairing on Boston's crowded blue line last year, but he was promoted a few times, particularly when Torey Krug was injured. In 10 games without Krug, Grzelcyk rang up three goals and six points, including three with the man advantage. Krug and Zdeno Chara are both out of the picture, so Grzelcyk is a surefire top-four defenseman with an opportunity to quarterback a power play that features Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak. Grzelcyk has been unselected in the majority of fantasy drafts in a pattern that could be a head-scratcher by midseason.

Filip Hronek, Red Wings

I can understand if the "Detroit Red Wings" affiliation is a dealbreaker, fantasy-wise, and pointing to Hronek's minus-38 rating last season is a fair point. But he averaged nearly 24 minutes of ice time, finishing with nine goals and 31 points — 10 on the power play — through 65 games. The Czech blueliner just turned 23 years old, too, so his best days are ahead of him. If you can endure the risk of rolling with a Red Wing, Hronek is capable of 15 goals and 25 assists even in a shortened season as the likely quarterback of the team’s No. 1 power-play unit.