Every season, there are players who we draft in the late rounds with the belief that they could break out. Most of the players on this list were drafted in the middle rounds, except for Jonathan Marchessault and Justin Schultz (late rounds or undrafted) or Victor Hedman and Mark Scheifele, who were taken a bit higher after breaking out last season. I'd be willing to bet that fantasy teams with these players on their roster reside in the top half of their league standings, and this group of players will all get drafted earlier next season based on the results of their breakout year. The list below is comprised of players who really took the next step in elevating their game this season and will be good to great over the next decade.
Viktor Arvidsson, Nashville Predators: As of this writing, Arvidsson leads the NHL in Short-Handed Goals with five so far, and has made a 40-point jump in points from last season to this season, going from 16 to 56 points. Along with the five shortys, Arvidsson has also chipped in four power-play goals and five game winners while skating alongside Ryan Johansen and Filip Forsberg on Nashville’s top line, and top power play unit. This line has been one of the NHL’s most effective, so let's now see how they hold up during the rigours of the playoffs, where Viktor’s many special teams talents will be put to use.
Jonathan Marchessault, Florida Panthers: Plying his trade on Florida’s third line, but first power play crew, Marchessault has gone from a 45-game, 18-point season last year to a 29-goal, 49-point season thus far. Eight of the former Columbus draft pick's goals have come on the power play, and he did show this goal-scoring prowess in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League where he potted 40 goals in his age-20 season. Expect a further progression when drafting Marchessault next season, as he may get the call to skate with Jonathan Huberdeau and Aleksander Barkov, if they can finally stay healthy.
Justin Schultz, Pittsburgh Penguins: This former NCAA standout was drafted by the Anaheim Ducks in 2008, 43rd overall, but didn’t sign with the Ducks, opting to sign with the very young Edmonton Oilers as a free agent in the 2012-13 season. Schultz made the All-Rookie First Team in his first year as a pro, but along with the young Oilers squad had trouble keeping pucks out of the net, and was eventually sent to the Pittsburgh Penguins before last year’s trade deadline. Now on a very successful Pens team, Schultz has already surpassed previous highs in goals, assists and points, while turning that plus/minus around to the tune of +/- plus 27 this year. Often put in the top defensive pair when Kris Letang gets hurt, he has shown Pittsburgh management that he can do this on a nightly basis.
Leon Draisaitl, Edmonton Oilers: In his second full season, my favorite German has also already surpassed previous career highs in goals (27), assists (44) and points (71) with a week left to play in the regular season. A lot of this surge in production is due to Connor McDavid centering his line, and his ability to see the ice so well opens up much space for Draisaitl, in which Leon has capitalized this year. This former third overall pick in the 2014 draft has been one of the better lottery picks by the Oilers over the past eight years, and he and McDavid are proving to be one of the best one-two punches in the NHL now. I can see this lasting for another ten seasons.
Mikael Granlund, Minnesota Wild: Currently tied for 17th in the NHL scoring race with 66 points, Granlund has come out of nowhere and asserted himself as the offensive leader on a Wild team that has been desperate for some scoring. After a 13-goal, 44-point season last year, Granlund has burned right past those numbers with 25 goals and 66 points so far this year. He will be coveted in NHL playoff drafts and DFS playoff pools, and will not be in the bargain basement bin ever again.
David Pastrnak, Boston Bruins: This season, Pastrnak is absolutely destroying previous highs with 32 goals and 65 points, while helping line mate Brad Marchand also set career highs in goals, assists and points. All of that while trying to lead the Bruins back into the playoffs after missing the show each of the last three seasons. I grabbed this young Czech as a waiver wire addition and enjoyed winning my league while he and a few other studs handed the cash envelope over to me this season.
Victor Hedman, Tampa Bay Lightning: The hulking Swedish defenseman signed a seven-year contract at $7.825 million per season earlier this summer, and has repaid the Lightning with utter dominance, jumping from 47 points last year to 65 points so far this season. Currently second on the team in scoring with 15 goals and 50 helpers, Hedman is now in the Brent Burns/Erik Karlsson tier of rearguards. With 14 multi-point games so far, GM Steve Yzerman did the right thing by paying Victor. Defensemen of his DNA do not grow on trees, except in Sweden.
Mark Scheifele, Winnipeg Jets: After breaking out last season with a 61-point campaign, Scheifele has put on the afterburners this year, and is becoming an elite talent for a Jets team that is now loaded up front. He currently sits at 29 goals, which matches last year’s total, and 77 points, 16 points better than last year’s total. The 24-year-old Kitchener, Ontario native is going to be piling up the numbers for another eight years in Winnipeg, and I for one am looking forward to seeing the Jets win the Stanley Cup one day soon. With the current roster construction, an all-around better team defensive effort would certainly help their struggling net minders, or just signing Ben Bishop this summer as a UFA could be the answer.
Honorable Mentions: J.T. Miller, Patrick Maroon, Rickard Rakell
You can reach me @PolkaPat.