A new hockey season is a wonderful thing - it provides a blank slate for all players new and old alike. Players like Steve Stamkos of the Tampa Bay Lightning have the opportunity to bounce back after missing 45 games last season with a broken tibia, and Kris Letang, who missed 43 games when he suffered a stroke earlier this year.
The new season also offers an opportunity for young, relatively unnoticed players to break out. Here is a list of five players to watch this season for breakout performances.
1. Nick Holden - Colorado Avalanche
Last season was Holden's first full season in the NHL. The 27-year-old, 6'4" defenseman logged 10 goals and 25 points. This was all after starting the season as a healthy scratch with only a few NHL games under his belt. Once given the opportunity, Holden excelled and proved he was too good to ignore. He finished the season at plus-12, second best for the Avalanche blue liners.
In the playoffs last season Holden scored three goals and totaled four points. He also had a team-high 25 hits against the Minnesota Wild. You can expect Holden to come back this season with more confidence and experience under his belt, making him a tough guy for offenders to play against.
2. Cam Fowler - Anaheim Mighty Ducks
Fowler is only 22 years old and has already made a case for himself over four seasons with the Ducks. He has shown consistent numbers with a career-high plus-15 last season. The 6'1" defenseman has great mobility on the ice which he pairs with his calm head and great anticipation.
3. Gabriel Landeskog - Colorado Avalanche
The 21-year-old Swedish winger has already played two and a half seasons (lockout year) in the NHL. And while there are (more than) a few of you who will argue you can't call a current captain a 'breakout player,' but he is the youngest captain in NHL history and I firmly believe he hasn't even broached his peak yet. He has already managed to average 24 goals and 58 points in his two seasons. Landeskog is a strong two-way forward with a great insight into the game. He finished second in points, goals and assists on the Avalanche team last year and it is a safe bet that he will only continue to get better and stronger this season.
4. Seth Jones - Nashville Predators
Seth Jones hasn't even turned 20 yet and he is already turning heads in Nashville. He played 77 games for the Preds last season and charted 25 points. Jones played in the World Championship tournament last year and was awarded the title of Best Defenseman in the tournament. Director of Operations for the Preds, Brian Poile has reported that Jones has been working out very hard in the offseason to come out the gate even stronger that he has in the past. Jones will be a top defenseman in the league within a few short seasons, barring any injuries.
5. Aleksander Barkov - Florida Panthers
Barkov is the youngest on this list; he is still only 18 years old. The big center man played 54 games for the Panthers last season and buried 8 goals and 16 assists. He was drafted 2nd overall in 2013 and has not let the Panthers down with their expectations for him. He is extremely technical and talented with his stick-work, while harnessing his large size and physical game. Barkov was the youngest NHLer to score a goal since 1942 and I'm willing to bet this is just the first of many records we will see from him.
The season is only seven weeks away and there is no doubt that these young men, along with hundreds of other young players in the league will be eager to earn their spot in their respective starting line-ups.
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