With this weeks' Tuesday's Top Ten, I thought I'd look at some of this season's potential breakout candidates:
10. Martin Havlat - Havlat's got all the talent in the world. He could be the modern day Pavel Bure. But he can never stay healthy. If he stay's healthy, and he doesn't shy away from his fearless game, he'll have a breakout year. Simple as that.
9. Ryan Clowe - Big, at times plodding power forward over came a devastating injury and off ice problems to provide a spark in the playoffs. He's a hard worker who will one day be rewarded for his diligence. He could find his way on to a line with Patrick Marleau, a likely rebound candidate himself this year. Many believe this is the year of the Sharks. Clowe could be a big part of that.
8. Rostislav Olesz - Olesz is one of the most underrated players in the NHL, buried in anonymity in Florida. He's a big body with excellent speed and agility, and a real conscientious defensive player. Last year he played 17 minutes a game, and that number could go up with Olli Jokinen's departure. Offensively he's got the tools to break out, though he seriously needs to be less selfish. He's reluctant to use his heavy shot, opting to make plays instead. The problem is that there are not many players in Florida to convert those passes. Thus the need for Olesz to be more assertive. He probably doesn't have the supporting cast for a tremendous breakout season, but mark my words - Rositslav Olesz is a very good player.
7. Steve Bernier - There's a pretty good chance big Steve Bernier will get a lot of power play time with the Sedin Twins in Vancouver. He should push the 30 goal mark. Failing to do that will be a big disappointment.
6. Eric Fehr - Rangy power forward has had potential robbed by serious back injuries. He says he's healthy so he may finally breakout. He's got the skills, most notably a wicked wrist shot. He needs to stay healthy and find his confidence. Fehr needs to be a top six forward to succeed, which honestly is not likely. Picking Fehr in a hockey pool is a HUGE gamble, but there remains some possibility that Fehr can salvage a once-promising career.
5. Andrew Ladd - Former 4th overall draft pick (2004) has had his career derailed by injuries but he impressed upon his arrival in Chicago at the trading deadline last season. He could be a top 6 forward with the Hawks this season. He needs to stay healthy and pick up his sense of urgency with the puck.
4. Wojtek Wolski - There's no doubting Wolski's skill, despite a tough sophomore season. Colorado needs Wolski to emerge with a breakout campaign if they want to make the playoffs. In order for that to happen Wolski needs to mature his game. That means playing to his size and and commiting defensively. Like so many young players, he will realize making these commitments not only results in a stronger offensive game, but more wins.
3. Corey Perry - Perry cashed in with a big contract, but his career best 29 goal-54 point season he had last year is still quite shy of his potential. Watch for the slippery 23 year old to break the 30 goal mark but also push the 70 point plateau. He's a mesmerizing and tricky player, and 54 points will one day look tiny for this growing star.
2. Mikko Koivu - A broken leg derailed what should have been a breakout season last year. He is well established as a top defensive center and faceoff man, earning him big and important minutes. Offensively he's a very clever with both the puck and his speed. He's now Minnesota's number center, which means lots of time playing with Marian Gaborik. Mark my words - he's going to be a big story this year.
1. Ales Hemsky - He's already had seasons of 77 and 71 points, so breakout may not be the best term here. But Hemsky is a real special talent. He's a dazzling puck carrier and a brilliant set up man, though he needs to be more assertive with his shot. If he plays inspired hockey there is a 90+ point season in this wonderfully gifted player. Both he and his talented young teammates are on the verge of maturing and great things. When they breakout, Hemsky will be recognized as one of the league's top stars.