In hockey, sometimes it takes a player a few seasons before they are able to bring their game to a higher level. Calling a first round pick a “bust” because they didn’t net 40 goals in their rookie year is not a way to evaluate young talent. The NHL has a lot of promising young players who can potentially become stars. Here are five NHL players that I think will have a breakout season in 2020-2021.
Nico Hischier - New Jersey Devils
Hischier is just 21-years-old and has already played three seasons for the New Jersey Devils. The Swiss centre has tons of potential and recently signed a seven-year, $50 million extension with New Jersey. The 2017 first-overall pick put up 52 points in his rookie season in 82 games. Hischier doesn’t have the goal scoring ability of Auston Matthews, who was drafted first-overall one year before him. But, he can play in both ends of the ice which makes him an extremely valuable two-way centre. In his second season, Hischier only played 69 games, where he tallied 47 points. This year in 58 games he put up 36 points. Hischier may not put up as many points as Nathan Mackinnon or Leon Draisaitl but I think Hischier will thrive as a playmaking two-way centre. I believe later on in his career Hischier will play a similar type of game to Anze Kopitar and Aleksander Barkov, two extremely skillful two-way centres. Hischier is already an alternate captain for the Devils and with the departure of their former captain Andy Greene, I can see Hischier getting the Captaincy as early as next year. Next season, I can see Hischier taking his game to another level. I mentioned Barkov as a player who may be similar to Hischier. It took a few seasons for Barkov to truly blossom into the franchise player he has become. Watch out for Hischier in the upcoming season.
Timo Meier - San Jose Sharks
Two players in and we already have our second Swiss player. There is no bias because of my roots to Switzerland, however, I do see Timo Meier as one of the top young wingers in the league. In the 2018-2019 season, Meier had scored 66 points in 78 games with the Sharks. This season the entire San Jose team had a down year, Meier included. He only picked up 49 points in 70 games, yet this was still enough to make him the highest scoring player on San Jose. By the time next season starts, Meier will have just turned 23. I think San Jose will have a bounce back year in 2020-2021 and Meier will be a big part of that. He has tons of speed and can fly down the wing. Meier can score, pass and be relied upon in the defensive zone. Meier has a big frame, clocking in at 6 foot and 216 pounds. He can play a physical game but still show his offensive skill. He put up 30 goals last season and had 22 with 12 games remaining before the season was postponed. I wouldn’t be shocked if Meier had over 30 goals and 75 points next year.
Andrei Svechnikov - Carolina Hurricanes
Svechnikov was selected second-overall by Carolina in 2018. He has scored a combined 44 goals in his two NHL seasons. In his sophomore season, the Russian winger accumulated 61 points in 66 games. Svechnikov scored two of the nicest goals this year when he pulled off the Michigan move twice. Svechnikov was taken with the second pick in the draft because of his scoring ability and if he played a full 82 games this year he most likely would have scored at least 30 goals. Svechnikov is extremely strong on the puck and it's hard to stop him once he gets going. He is 6’2 and has a missile of a shot. He seems to always be in the right place and the puck finds his stick. If you give him any space, that puck is going to the top corner of the net. Coming into next season, the Hurricanes will have one of the top lines in the NHL with Sebastian Aho centering Teuvo Teravainen and Svechnikov. Carolina has a really talented forward unit, especially after picking up Vincent Trocheck from Florida at the trade deadline this year. Svechnikov will have plenty of talented players to feed him the puck whether that is on the powerplay or even strength. Don’t be surprised if the next great Russian sniper can find the back of the net 40 times in his third NHL season. Andrei Svechnikov will dominate next year and Carolina fans are going to have a front row seat to the Svechnikov show.
Thomas Chabot - Ottawa Senators
Chabot is the first defenseman on the list. He had a good sophomore season in 2018 with Ottawa. The Senators have been in a rebuild mode ever since Chabot got to the team. Luckily, the future's looking bright. With upcoming stars like Chabot and Tkachuck and two potential top five picks in the 2020 draft, Ottawa will be a team to watch for in the next few years. Currently I see Chabot as the most valuable piece on the young Senators team. He is just 23-years-old but is already seen as a number one defensemen in the NHL. Chabot seems composed on the blue line and is a very steady skater. The Erik Karlsson era in Ottawa is over, it’s the Thomas Chabot era now. I believe Ottawa will be better next year, especially if they can land a few top picks in this upcoming draft. Chabot will be entering his fourth season with the Sens and will be looked upon once again to play big time minutes down the stretch as the team's top d-man. Some of the top young players in the league are fast skating defenseman and Chabot fits that mold perfectly. He made the NHL All-Star game in 2018-2019. Ottawa got themselves a potential franchise defenseman and I can see Chabot elevate his game to an even higher level in 2021. Ottawa probably won’t be making a playoff appearance any time soon, but Thomas Chabot may be hearing his name in talks for a Norris Trophy a few years down the line. Keep an eye on Chabot next season.
Miro Heiskanen - Dallas Stars
Like I said earlier, defense is so valuable in today’s NHL and the young guns are leading the way on the blueline. When I first saw Miro Heiskanen play in his rookie season, I was blown away by the speed and confidence he had with the puck. As a defenseman, he shouldn’t be walking past NHL players like they were a pile of traffic cones, especially when you are 20-years-old. He had an extremely impressive rookie year, he was runner-up for the Calder, losing to Rasmus Dahlin of the Buffalo Sabres. Heiskanen has a quick wrist-shot and a silky set of hands, which allows him to make one quick move and rifle the puck towards the net. He is also defensively sound, making him a really good two-way defender. Everytime i see Heiskanen skate I am blown away with how good he is. With so many great young defenseman in the NHL now, it will be exciting to see who can be called the top guy. It could be Heiskanen, Chabot, Dahlin, Makar or Hughes. I expect Heiskanen to be even better next year than the previous two. Defensemen usually take longer to develop than forwards, but Heiskanen seems to have already proven that he is going to be a great player for many years to come. He has already been an NHL All-Star and I can definitely see him becoming one again very soon. Miro Heiskanen is a very talented player and everyone needs to watch him next year.