Which players are set for a big breakout?

Evan Bouchard #2 of the Edmonton Oilers has fantasy value
Evan Bouchard’s draft price might be pricey for a breakout, but he’s worth it. (Photo by Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images) (Andy Devlin via Getty Images)

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Sure, every fantasy manager would love to have Connor McDavid on their roster. Ditto for Leon Draisaitl, Auston Matthews, Cale Makar, Igor Shesterkin and all the other top guys. But it’s those players who have yet to take a major step forward that will be available at a discount on draft day. Those are the types of picks that can carry you to a fantasy championship.

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Here are 10 players who could break out in a big way in 2023-24.

Evan Bouchard (D-EDM): 74.0 ADP

Bouchard is being drafted relatively high and he was very good a season ago (eight goals, 40 points in 82 games), but I fully expect him to take things to another level in 2023-24, hence his position atop this list. The Oilers have the best power play in the NHL by a wide margin. The three highest-scoring players with the man advantage last year — Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins — all play for Edmonton. I see no reason for things to change on that front this year. With Tyson Barrie now in Nashville following the trade that brought in Mattias Ekholm late last season, Bouchard has become the unquestioned quarterback of the No. 1 unit for Edmonton.

That’s the best power-play gig in the league for a defender. Don’t be afraid to pay up on draft day.

Zacha never found his footing over parts of seven years in New Jersey, never topping 36 points in any one campaign, but he found his way in his first year in Boston in 2022-23, finishing with 21 goals and 57 points. The Bruins will almost certainly take a step back as a team in 2023-24, but Zacha’s role is going to increase following the retirements of Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci. Zacha’s much better suited for a top-line offensive role than his main competitor for the gig, Charlie Coyle, making Zacha a clear buy in all formats.

Johnston scored 24 goals for the Stars in his rookie campaign despite playing the duration of the regular season as a 19-year-old. Johnston didn’t miss a single game the entire year, playoffs included. The intriguing thing is he could have had an even bigger season.

Johnston averaged just 1:39 worth of power-play time per game, a low number for a player with his type of offensive abilities. The lone concern here is Dallas has a deep roster that may limit Johnston’s opportunities to an extent, but I’m willing to wager on the combination of talent and youth here all day long.

Cooley’s price tag is probably going to go up following the highlight-reel goal he scored against the Kings in an early exhibition game in Australia on Saturday, but he’d be on this list regardless. As far as I can tell, outside of Connor Bedard, no rookie in the game is in a position to have a better freshman season than Cooley. He’s a lock to receive a massive workload on a Coyotes team that, while still weak, is better than it gets credit for. This may be the only season you can get Cooley at any sort of discount.

Former Rangers coach Gerald Gallant was far from creative. He slotted Chytil in as New York’s No. 3 center last season behind Mika Zibanejad and Vincent Trocheck and left him there pretty much all year. Well, early indications suggest new coach Peter Laviolette may see things differently. Chytil has been working on the second line in camp alongside Artemi Panarin and a rotating cast of characters. Chytil had 22 goals and 45 points in 74 games a season ago in a limited role. With the expectation he’ll have a larger role and be skating alongside better players, Chytil is a prime breakout candidate this year.

This is a tough one. On the surface, McTavish is a guy you want to be in on. He had 17 goals and 43 points in 80 games last season and turned just 20 years old in January. With Trevor Zegras still unsigned, there’s a non-zero chance McTavish could spend the early portion of the year as Anaheim’s No. 1 center. That said, he’s been battling an upper-body injury at the start of training camp after battling a similar ailment at the end of last season. Keep an eye on McTavish leading up to your draft.

Drouin, the No. 3 overall pick in 2013, has been a disappointment over the course of his career. There have been flashes of brilliance, but for the most part, he’s been maddeningly inconsistent. A move to Colorado may be the exact thing Drouin needed to turn things around. He began camp skating on the top line for the Avalanche alongside Mikko Rantanen and former Halifax Mooseheads teammate, Nathan MacKinnon. The odds are against Drouin sticking there all season, but he’s certainly talented enough to do so. He’s a clear late-round buy whom you can easily move on from if things don’t work out.

With the Kings in cost-cutting mode to acquire Pierre-Luc Dubois, Durzi was shipped to Arizona for a second-round pick this summer. Yes, he’s joining a considerably weaker club, but his usage figures to be through the roof this year. Juuso Valimaki managed 22 points in his final 32 games last season while running Arizona’s No. 1 power-play unit and he’s not half as talented as Durzi from an offensive standpoint. Fantasy managers shouldn’t worry about the addition of Matt Dumba, either, as he hasn’t been an impactful offensive producer in quite some time.

Michael Matheson (D-MTL): 170.3 ADP

Matheson is a good NHL player and a legitimate top-four defender, but he’s not a true No.1. guy, which is the role he will fill for Montreal this season. Thankfully for fantasy managers, that second part doesn’t matter. Matheson had a career-high 34 points a season ago in just 48 games. I really doubt the Canadiens want to hand the quarterback role on their top power-play unit to 23-year-old, second-year pro, Jordan Harris, meaning Matheson should be in line to set career-best numbers in 2023-24.

Brown’s brief stop in Washington last season came to an end after four games, at which point he tore his ACL. Clearly not concerned with his medical situation, the Oilers signed Brown to a one-year, $4 million contract on July 1. Expectations should be kept in check considering all the time he’s missed, but we saw what moving to Edmonton has done for Zach Hyman over the past couple of seasons. Brown isn’t too far off in terms of pure talent.

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