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Frank Seravalli

TSN Senior Hockey Reporter


Who is about to level up in the National Hockey League this season?

Last preseason, we listed 10 players poised to break out. There were some hits (Filip Hronek), some misses (Kevin Labanc) and some can’t misses (Jakub Vrana).

We called Oliver Bjorkstrand’s coming-out party, completely whiffed on Casey Mittelstadt, got it right on Samuel Girard, and hinted at Jack Campbell’s potential departure from the City of Angels. It also took until August to see Jesperi Kotkaniemi deliver his breakout performance.

With the help of TSN director of scouting Craig Button, we’re back with 10 new breakout stars for the 2020-21 season.

The guideline remains the same. There are too many impact rookies to list (hello, Tim Stuetzle) and many sophomores are already well on their way after solid rookie seasons. See: John Marino, Joel Farabee, Nick Suzuki and Emil Bemstrom, to name a few.

Here are 10 third-year (or later) players ready to take the next step toward stardom in 2020-21, complete with a realistic (pro-rated) projection called the Button Bump:

(Players are listed in alphabetical order)

Anthony Beauvillier, LW, New York Islanders
Age: 23
Last Season: 68 GP, 18 goals, 21 assists, 39 points
2020-21 Button Bump: 20 goals, 35 assists, 55 points (56 games: 14 + 24 = 38)
Scoop: In four seasons on the Island, it’s seemingly been one step forward and two steps back for Beauvillier. Nicknamed ‘Tito,’ Beauvillier showed glimpses in the playoffs – with nine goals and 14 points in 22 games – of what his finished package could look like. Beauvillier’s confidence is on the right track and has proven he can be a critical cog in Barry Trotz’s wheel.

Pavel Buchnevich, RW, New York Rangers
Age: 25
Last Season: 68 GP, 16 goals, 30 assists, 46 points
2020-21 Button Bump: 25 goals, 35 assists, 60 points (56 games: 16 + 24 = 40)
Scoop: It’s been a journey of fits and starts for Buchnevich, now entering his fifth season on Broadway. Whether it’s been a lack of opportunity or Buchnevich’s own doing, something has held him back from a starring role. He’s started training camp on the Rangers’ top line with Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider, and there’s so much talent up and down that lineup that if he doesn’t produce this season, he’ll have no one but himself to blame.

Conor Garland, RW, Arizona Coyotes
Age: 24
Last Season: 68 games, 22 goals, 17 assists, 39 points
2020-21 Button Bump: 30 goals, 20 assists, 50 points (56 games: 21 + 14 = 35)
Scoop: Never, at any level, has there been a feeling that Garland isn’t going to produce – dating back to his time with Jack Eichel and the Boston Jr. Bruins. He always delivers. He’s not the fastest player or biggest player (5-foot-10), but he’s a rink rat with great touch and unbeatable work ethic. Too many have overlooked Garland for what he doesn’t do, instead of focusing on what he does do – score. Garland might provide the best goals per dollar value in the NHL this season.

Vladislav Gavrikov, LD, Columbus Blue Jackets
Age: 25
Last Season: 69 games, 5 goals, 13 assists, 18 points
2020-21 Button Bump: 8 goals, 15 assists, 23 points (and meaningful minutes)
Scoop: Remember him, Maple Leafs fans? Gavrikov was a linchpin in shutting out the Maple Leafs twice in the five-game qualifying round last August. He’s an underrated shutdown defenceman who can play against anyone. He might not get a lot of points, but for a Columbus team where defence drives a lot of the attack, he drives it in a different way by busting the cycle and getting the puck up the ice. He might only be a sophomore, but he fits the spirit of the breakout player after a number of years in the KHL, and completes a top four in Columbus that is as good as any in the NHL.

Alexandar Georgiev, G, New York Rangers
Age: 24
Last Season: 34 games, 17-14-2 record, .910 save percentage, 3.04 goals against-average
2020-21 Button Bump: To break out, Georgiev needs to break out of New York
Scoop: As Igor Shesterkin takes his rightful place as heir to King Henrik Lundqvist’s throne, Georgiev will take a back seat in one of New York’s famous yellow cabs. He will see plenty of action in a shortened season that will place a premium on teams that can turn to either netminder in a tandem. But Georgiev has shown little to suggest he isn’t ready for a full-time starting job, which makes him either an incredible trade chip for GM Jeff Gorton, or fodder for the Seattle Kraken in the Expansion Draft.

Alex Iafallo, LW, Los Angeles Kings
Age: 27
Last Season: 70 games, 17 goals, 26 assists, 43 points
2020-21 Button Bump: 22 goals, 33 assists, 55 points (56 games: 15 + 23 = 38)
Scoop: Want a clue on where Iafallo is heading? Take a look at his college resume at Minnesota-Duluth. He collected 22, 25 and 23 points in each of his first three seasons under Scott Sandelin. In his senior year, he busted out for 51 points, one less than Hobey Baker winner Adam Gaudette tallied at Northeastern. After a steady progression of 25, 33 and 43 points in his first three NHL seasons, he’s ready to bust out and go to the next level in LA.

Oskar Lindblom, LW, Philadelphia Flyers
Age: 24
Last Season: 30 games, 11 goals, 7 assists, 18 points
2020-21 Button Bump: 25 goals, 25 assists, 50 points (56 games: 17 + 17 = 34)
Scoop: Lindblom was one of hockey’s many tear-jerker stories last season, managing to make it back into the Flyers’ lineup for two playoff games in August after only ending his chemotherapy treatments for Ewing’s sarcoma (bone cancer) on July 2. Lindblom is reportedly back to full strength now and making an impression in training camp. He’s more than just a great story, he’s a great hockey player. He led the Flyers in goals (11) at the time of his shocking diagnosis last December. Bet against Lindblom bouncing back to that level at your own peril.

Robert Thomas, C, St. Louis Blues
Age: 21
Last Season: 66 games, 10 goals, 32 assists, 42 points
2020-21 Button Bump: 20 goals, 50 assists, 70 points (56 games: 14 + 34 = 48)
Scoop: Thomas is a certified Craig’s Crush™. (Full disclosure: Thomas nearly made Button’s Top 50 players ballot for 2020-21.) Thomas is an outstanding skater, with an outstanding brain that swivels on an outstanding competitor’s body. He is ready to take on the challenge, and the Blues are well positioned with Ryan O’Reilly and Thomas as the Arch City’s one-two punch down the middle.

Devon Toews, LD, Colorado Avalanche
Age: 26
Last Season: 68 games, 6 goals, 22 assists, 28 points
2020-21 Button Bump: 12 goals, 33 assists, 45 points (56 games: 8 + 23 = 31)
Scoop: This will be Toews’ fifth professional season, but this late-blooming fourth-round pick is going to take full advantage of more opportunity given in Colorado. Simply put: the Islanders knew they couldn’t afford to keep Toews, who signed a $16.4 million deal with the Avs after his off-season trade for two second-round picks. He will only gain confidence from here. Book him for 45 points in a typical season. All he’s got to do is make a simple pass to Nathan MacKinnon and away they go.

Sean Walker, RD, Los Angeles Kings
Age: 26
Last Season: 70 games, 5 goals, 19 assists, 24 points
2020-21 Button Bump: 10 goals, 30 assists, 40 points (56 games: 7 + 21 = 28)
Scoop: Walker and Iafallo are two of the better undrafted free agents plucked from the NCAA over the past decade. The 5-foot-11 defender Walker has the Kings’ front office buzzing with his strides over the last calendar year and they’re expecting him to be a big part of their blueline this season. With a little more power-play time under Todd McLellan, expect to see Walker’s minutes and point production climb.

Contact Frank Seravalli on Twitter: @frank_seravalli