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Fantasy Hockey 2014-15: Breakouts

Continuing on with our Fantasy Hockey Draft Kit, Troy Langefeld provides his top breakouts for the upcoming NHL season.

Big things are in store for second year star Valeri Nichushkin this year - Photo Credit
Big things are in store for second year star Valeri Nichushkin this year - Photo Credit
Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

We have covered a lot of ground so far as we enter the fourth week of our 2014 fantasy hockey draft kit. Week one served as an introduction to the year, outlined our draft kit schedule, league setup details, and a list of important offseason changes. We kicked it up a notch in weeks two and three and provided rankings for each position - center, left wing, right wing, defense, and goalkeeper - as well as a consolidated rankings list for the upcoming season. If you missed anything, you can find it all here:

Fake Teams 2014 Fantasy Hockey Draft Kit

Also, in case you missed it, I'm changing my schedule slightly. In summary, I'm going to do my draft recap and analysis on REAL drafts, not mock drafts. Then, as the year progresses I will base many of my articles on them and provide updates on each league as they will provide a good standard league from which to write on. As a bonus, we may have Yahoo! fantasy expert Scott Pianowski join the auction draft.

If you'd like to participate in either draft or just read about the changes, all the info is here:

Fantasy Hockey 2014-15: Fake Teams Hockey Leagues

What are you waiting for, go sign up! The leagues are back and forth between full and not full as participants look at the draft date and time and have scheduling conflicts, so if you can't get in, keep checking in to see if a spot has since opened up.

Week four will concentrate on the breakouts, sleepers, and busts for the 2014 season. These terms are used liberally throughout fantasy sports, but everyone seems to have a different definition of what each term means. As such, before we start with the lists, I'm going to define how each of the breakouts, sleepers, and busts will be determined in this draft kit.

Breakouts - Many definitions will separate career years from breakouts. A career year would be defined as a player who will obtain the best year of their career and effectively defines their ceiling going forward, the best that player can be. Future years will be valued as if they cannot better that year. Breakout years are typically defined as the year that serves as a stepping stone for that player to develop into a significant asset. Typically these two definitions look the same at the time in question, the differentiating factor becomes what they do after the fact in the coming years. As such, a listed breakout player in this draft kit will not differentiate between the two and will simply be expected to perform at a level substantially better than their career average. Whether it is to be a career year or a breakout will be determined after the fact. And in accordance to the subjective nature of what is a breakout, public perception and recognition plays a part in determining if it is a breakout or not. Breakouts are frequently young, high upside and highly volatile, players where the range of outcomes for the season is significant. The high volatility nature and lack of a career base to compare against makes players in the early stages of their career prime candidates to breakout.

Sleepers - For the purposes of this draft kit, a sleeper will be defined as anyone who is likely to significantly beat their average draft position (ADP). Sleepers are often confused with breakouts as they are both seen as players to target in drafts and many players are both breakouts and sleepers. The differentiating factor is what the comparison is against. A breakout is a comparison of the player against themself and aims to project the career trajectory for that player. A sleeper is a comparison of the player against all others and aims to project value at their relative ranking. As such, it's true that many players bridge the gap and are defined as both breakouts and sleepers while others can be only one or the other. Sleepers aren't distinguished by any one type or factor, however many of my listed sleepers will be veterans as I will have already talked about some of the younger sleepers in the breakout section.

Busts - Despite the relative simplicity of what constitutes a bust player, there are still two predominant definitions. The first is defined as any player who has a poor year. The second, and more complete, definition is defined as any player who has a poor year relative to their ADP. Busts are the inverse of sleepers, instead of outperforming ADP, they underperform relative to ADP. As such, it's possible for a player to score 60 points (a healthy point total for a bench or reserve player) and be considered a bust if they were a first round draft pick and expected to score at least 82 points or a point per game.

With those definitions out of the way, lets get to this years breakout candidates. Full disclosure - I'm not a big fan on drafting breakout candidates due to the fact that they are typically highly volatile. I do like veteran sleepers a bit more due to the fact that I have prior data to base a decision on. But that's neither here nor there right now, these are the top players that I think could have a breakout season this year:

Consensus Breakout Candidates I Agree With:

Jonathan Drouin - Drouin was the third overall pick in the 2013 draft and was one of the favourites to win the Calder Tophy as the leagues best rookie last year before he was sent back to the minors just prior to the start of the season. With comparisons to Mighty Mite, Martin St. Louis, he is now the consensus pick to be the Calder Trophy winner this year. Drouin played on the same team and line as Nathan MacKinnon in the QMJHL two years ago where he, and not MacKinnon, was named the most valuable player and best professional prospect. So ya, he's good. What remains to be seen however, is how he will be used in the Lightning lineup. Will he play with Steven Stamkos on the top line? I think he will for at least half of the season which is enough for me to gamble on his upside, especially in a keeper or dynasty league. The other question is in regards to his size, but the game has changed since the 2004 lockout and I don't think his lack of size will hurt his value.

Evgeny Kuznetsov - I ranked Kuznetsov pretty low in my rankings when it looked as if he'd be playing on the second line. Now that camp has opened, it looks like he might be playing with Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin on the top line of the Capitals. That will change his value and my perception of him. He'll be in line for a bump in rank come the final preseason rankings. He put up 9 points in 17 games last year and could score 60 on the top line this year. I was giving him mid-thirties on the second line, so this change in opportunity is quite the difference maker. I don't expect him to stay on the top line all year however and the impact of having Barry Trotz as the new head coach remains to be seen, so try to temper expectations. Nevertheless, a breakout year is certainly in play if he can stay on the top line.

Valeri Nichushkin - Nichushkin played most of last year on the top line with Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn, putting up 34 points in 79 games. That's not too bad, but the tenth overall pick in the 2013 draft for the Stars will be expected to take another step forward in his second year. As the young line continues to mature together, the increased familiarity and comfort  with each other could allow Nichushkin to potentially more than double his point total of a year ago. That's a fairly optimistic scenario, but not out of the realm of possibilities. 55-60 points may be more reasonable and could start the breakout of this young talented player.

My Breakout Candidates - Digging a Little Deeper:

Gustav Nyquist - Nyquist jumped on the scene last year with 48 points in 57 games after being called up mid-season.  His late season contributions led many fantasy teams to the playoffs and possibly to championships last year, so he's already pretty high on draft boards and might not necessarily be considered a breakout anymore. However, I still think he has more to show and a followup breakout season in the making. He was receiving some time with Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg last year, both even strength and powerplay, and I expect that to continue, albeit inconsistently as the Red Wings enjoy changing lines frequently. Nyquist,a fourth round draft pick, might be the next Red Wings draft steal to become a superstar.

Brandon Saad - This will be Saad's third season and second full time season in the league and he will see consistent time on the first or second line of the Blackhawks this year. Enough said. Jonathan Toews. Patrick Kane. Patrick Sharp. Marian Hossa. Brad Richards. Brandon Saad. I want as many pieces of these top two lines as possible as they are sure to be dynamite. I think Saad is a lock to build off of his 47 points last year and his performance through the playoffs last year supports that. 16 points in 19 games during the playoffs would put him on pace for 65-70 points through a full year which is what I'm hoping to see this year playing on the elite talents on his team.

Derek Stepan - Stepan had 44 points in 48 games during the lockout and 57 points last year, so you could say he already experienced his breakout, but he has been relatively unrecognized for his achievements and perception helps dictate a breakout. Projected to play on the top line with the Rangers this year, I expect him to continue to progress. Enough so, that I expect him to be better than Rick Nash for the second consecutive year. If he can increase his production by just 10-15 points over last year, he should get the recognition he deserved before and really highlight his breakout.

Jaden Schwartz - Coming into his third full time season, Schwartz will be a staple on the second line for the Blues this year and could breakout in a similar way to how TJ Oshie did a couple years ago. People tend to shy away from Blues' players due to their spread the wealth system. I agree for the top line, but after that it becomes a buy situation for me as these players have a pretty high floor as well. Schwartz was unrecognized for his 56 points last year and I think he has 65 in him this year as he continues to grow. I also think that the top line for the Blues is as stable as it has been in years, barring injury, and they won't shuffle the lines as much as they have in years past. This should hopefully lead to more time with his linemates and a greater familiarity this year. It may not seem like a breakout, but I think Schwartz gets the recognition that he deserves this year and breaks out for good.

Brayden Schenn - Wayne Simmonds broke out last year for 60 points and I think Schenn has the opportunity this year to do similar. His 41 points last year should increase to the high fifty's if he can gel with the second line. He's a big, physical player who was a highly touted prospect for the Kings and came over in the Mike Richards trade, so I have every reason to believe that the Flyers will give him every opportunity to succeed in the next couple years.

Tyler Toffoli - Toffoli may have been part of the reason the Kings were fine with trading Schenn away for Richards. It's hard to argue with a couple of Stanley Cups and an emerging player in Toffoli. After 29 points in 62 games last year, Toffoli was placed on a line with Jeff Carter and Tanner Pearson in the playoffs and responded with 14 points in 26 games on the way to the Stanley Cup. This should mark his first full year with the Kings and I expect him to get second line minutes on That 70's Line for the majority of the season. He'll have some growing pains, but I wouldn't be surprised by a mid-fifty's point total and a potential promotion to the top line for Toffoli at some point in the coming future.

Frederick Anderson and John Gibson - It remains to be seen who will win the starting role out of training camp, but I expect there to be a 60/40 split and for Boudreau to ride the hot hand in Anaheim this year. That said, they both have the opportunity to break out similar to how Brian Elliott did with the Blues a few years ago. If one of them can run with the job and take the better side of a 70/30 split, look for that keeper to wind up  in the top 10-15 in the position with good peripheral numbers due to a strong Ducks team. Anderson should be considered the favourite for the starting role, but Gibson is the higher skill goalie and more likely of a real breakout in my opinion. Handcuffing them will be important.

I'm new to the twitterverse, but I'd love to hear your feedback and questions. Follow me on Twitter @HockeyGauntlet for more of my thoughts and all of your fantasy hockey needs. And don't forget to sign up for the Fake Teams hockey leagues! #IsItOctoberYet