Breakout Candidates to Watch This Year in the NHL

The NHL is back for the 2019-2020 season. One of the biggest questions leading into the season is what new players will emerge as a force in the NHL. In a league that sees new stars created every year, there are three players in particular who look like they’re on the cusp of breakout years.  

Carter Hart, Philadelphia Flyers 

At the beginning of the 2018 season, Carter Hart found himself about as far away from the bright lights of the NHL as one can get: tending goal for the AHL’s Lehigh Valley Phantoms, the Philadelphia Flyers’ minor league affiliate.

But as the Flyers struggled in a tailspin that ultimately cost them their coach’s job, the team decided to make a drastic move. They called the young Hart up, and he played 31 games last year. He finished with a record of 16-13-1, 895 saves, and a .917 save percentage. 

Now, the 21-year-old 2016 NHL Draft pick starts the season in Philly, where all eyes will be on him. Broad Street Hockey provided an overview of how impactful Hart was to a Flyers team in chaos last season: 

“The sixth of eight goaltenders in total to make an appearance for the Flyers last season, Hart finished with the best raw save percentage of the group…Hart, on the other hand, looks to have played his best hockey while the team was shorthanded, posting the twelfth-best goals saved above average and the second-best delta save percentage (actual save percentage minus expected save percentage) in penalty kill situations league-wide per Corsica.”

The Carter Hart era is here, and the team is likely to stick with him. He’ll have the opportunity to prove himself this year.

Tom Wilson, Washington Capitals

Prior to last year, Tom Wilson was known primarily as being the Washington Capitals’ main enforcer. That reputation bled into last season when he was suspended by the NHL for the first 20 games (later reduced to 14) due to his rough style of play before the first regular-season puck even dropped.

But a funny thing happened during Wilson’s abbreviated year: he put up career highs in goals (22) and assists (18). Wilson had never scored 40 points in a season before – his previous high was 35, the previous season. 

In 2019, Wilson starts with a full slate of games and only looks to improve on last year’s solid numbers. The Capitals are right back where they were last year as one of the top contenders for the Stanley Cup. That means plenty of offensive opportunities to go around. Expect Wilson to continue his upward offensive trajectory. 

Dylan Strome, Chicago Blackhawks 

Getting traded to one of the league’s most visible franchises can cause some players to fold. Others bloom in the spotlight, growing into their potential. 

Luckily for the Chicago Blackhawks, Dylan Strome turned out to be one of those bloomers. 

The Blackhawks acquired Strome via trade with the Arizona Coyotes in November of last year. They got him at just the right time, too, as he was in the midst of a breakout year. He garnered career highs in goals (20) and assists (37) for 57 total points. It was a big leap up for the forward, who in his previous two seasons had played in 21 and seven games. 

How excited are the Hawks to see what Strome can do over a full season, now that he’s fully acclimated to the NHL game? Check out this quote from Chicago GM Stan Bowman: 

“He comes in in the middle of the year, there’s not a lot of time to really think, you just get thrown into it…So now things start working, they start clicking and he starts getting some offense going and his confidence takes off. From that side of it, you hope this is just the beginning of something great.”

The Hawks will look for Strome’s development to continue with the advantage of a complete year in town.