The Top 15 Fantasy Breakthrough Players

By Curtis Allen

Everybody in the fantasy hockey world knows whom to draft in the early rounds: your Jaromir Jagrs, Pavel Bures and Paul Kariyas are guaranteed to go quickly. But what makes any fantasy team successful is scoring balance, and that means scoring some gems in the later rounds of your draft. So here are some players who are poised to take the next step, and round out your roster. Chances are they were on your team last year, but can be expected to increase their scoring totals this year and could prove to be keepers for years to come, making you look awfully good for nabbing them.

15. Patrick Stefan, LW, Atlanta

Has suffered under the burden of being the #1 pick on an expansion franchise, and has been plagued by concussions. But has slowly improved as he adjusts to the NHL game, and a late-season shift to wing saw him produce 11 points in the Thrashers last 15 games. Huge leap in scoring may be a year away, but could sneak up on a lot of people this year, and could prove to be a keeper. And just think what he could do once Dany Heatly and Ilya Kovalchuk develop.

2000/01 stats: 66GP, 10G21A=31PTS Projected 2001/02 stats: (23G29A=52PTS)

14. John Madden, LW, New Jersey

You’ve got to love the Devils’ depth. This guy scored 23 goals while playing mostly on their fourth line. Now that takes talent. One of the league’s most dangerous shorthanded threats, Madden will be called upon to help replace Mogilny’s 43 goals. A high scorer at Albany of the AHL, Madden is proving he can do it at the NHL level.

2000/01 stats: 80GP, 23G15A=38PTS Projected 2001/02 stats: (29G25A=54PTS)

13. J.P. Dumont, LW, Buffalo

The former Quebec League scoring ace has finally found a home in Buffalo, settling in on the Sabres’ second line. Has worked hard to improve his skating, but his talent cannot be questioned, he has scored at every level he’s played. Had a great start to the season, and then disappeared for almost a month, so consistency is a concern. Must learn to handle the rigors of NHL physical play, and the regular attention of top defensemen. Could be a late-round gem.

2000/01 stats: 79GP, 23G28A=51PTS Projected 2001/02 stats: (29G32A=61PTS)

12. Viktor Kozlov, C, Florida

This could be the year the enormously talented Russian puts it all together. Yes, he benefits from being Pavel Bure’s dish man, but don’t think he can’t get it done by himself. And with a talented second line to balance the scoring load, big Viktor will get even more room to operate. Needs to shoot more. Injuries are a concern, is he fully recovered from a shoulder injury? If so, you can take a 75 point season to the bank.

2000/01 stats: 51GP, 14G23A=37PTS Projected 2001/02 stats: (22G50A=72PTS)

11. Frederick Modin, LW, Tampa Bay

Very quietly put together a great year. Finally developed some consistency, and began doing what most big wingers must do to score: go to the net. Owns perhaps the best slapshot in the NHL, and knows what to do with it. Has blossomed into the player the Leafs thought he would be when they were developing him. Will be integral part of the Lightning’s offense this year. Nagging abdominal injury holds him back from being higher on the list. May start slowly because of it, but when he gets going, watch out. All you need to know: the player he’s most often compared to is John Leclair. A keeper who can be a fixture at LW for years.

2000/01 stats: 76GP, 32G24A=56PTS Projected 2001/02 stats: (38G36A=74PTS)

10. Maxim Afinogenov, RW, Buffalo

Most players experience The Breakout in their 3rd NHL season. This is Afinogenov’s 3rd NHL season. Has highlight-reel moves and agility, but must develop some kind of defensive conscience in order to avoid being a liability, thus cutting into his ice time. It’s no secret that the Sabres desperately need him to develop into an offensive force. Has all the skills to join the likes of the Bure brothers and Alexander Mogilny as a top-flight scoring threat. May start the year as your #4 Right Winger, and end as your #1.

2000/01 stats: 78GP, 14G22A=36PTS Projected 2001/02 stats: (31G28A=59PTS)

9. Derek Morris, D, Calgary

Missing time in a messy contract dispute last year stalled his progress. Everyone who tries to talk trade with Calgary asks about him first. At age 23, he is already in his fifth season and is poised for a breakout. With the development of other youngsters on defense, Morris can stop trying to cover for everyone else and concentrate on the transition and power play, areas where the Flames need all the help they can get. Can be a 50-60 point defensemen for years. Phil Housley’s presence on the power play eats into his time, but Morris is the unquestioned leader of the Flames defense.

2000/01 stats: 51GP, 5G23A=28PTS Projected 2001/02 stats: (12G33A=45PTS)

8. Adam Deadmarsh, RW/LW, Los Angeles

Stunned by his trade to the Kings in the Rob Blake deal, Deadmarsh proved to be a great leader, and was a factor in their first round upset of the Red Wings. A classic lunchpail-type player, he will likely never score 40 goals in a season, but he is slated at LW for the King’s top line. Palffy and Stumpel should appreciate all his hard work to clear room for them to operate and reciprocate by feeding him the puck.

2000/01 stats: 57GP, 17G15A=32PTS Projected 2001/02 stats: (30G33A=63PTS)

7. Brent Johnson, G, St. Louis

Had a spectacular rookie campaign, and had basically supplanted Roman Turek as the Blues’ #1 goalie. Helped carry the team through some tough stretches with all the injuries they sustained last year. Now Turek is gone, and Johnson has his eye on the starters’ job. He’ll have to compete with Fred Braithwaite, but it says here that Johnson will emerge as the man. Look for him to put up some gaudy numbers, as much a result of the Blues’s defensive system as his talent.

2000/01 stats: 31GP, 19W, 4SO, .907SV, 2.17GAA Projected 2001/02 stats: (33W, 7SO, 2.12GAA)

6. Vincent Lecavalier, C, Tampa Bay

An obvious choice as everyone expects the #1 overall pick to do great things. Don’t let an off year hinder you from taking him; he’s the real deal. Thanks to the emergence of other talented players, will not be expected to carry the entire offensive load for Tampa. This gifted skater and playmaker will put his stamp on the NHL this season-and he’s only 21. Don’t wait too long before drafting him.

2000/01 stats: 68GP, 23G28A=51PTS Projected 2001/02 stats: (33G46A=79PTS)

5. Martin Skoula, D, Colorado

The fact that Skoula will take the retired Ray Bourque’s spot on the vaunted Colorado power play will be enough incentive for somebody in your league to draft him this year. But you should draft him for another reason: he’s a burner who makes things happen. Was a good scorer in junior, and now that he has served his NHL apprenticeship, it’s time for him to kick it up a notch and show everybody why the Avs are still the favorite to win the Cup. Was drafted the same year as teammate Alex Tanguay, and should have a similar impact on the Avs this year.

2000/01 stats: 82GP, 8G17A=25PTS Projected 2001/02 stats: (15G32A=47PTS)

4. Mariusz Czerkawski, RW, New York Islanders

Czerkawski has played a role for the Islanders similar to what Ziggy Palffy played when he skated for them: the lone talented player, working without a good setup man at center, and constantly the focus of opponents’ top defensemen. It drove him to distraction, and he wanted out of Long Island. Then along came Alexei Yashin and his world-class talent. Czerkawski subsequently changed his tune. These two could provide some awesome fireworks displays in the NHL this year.

2000/01 stats: 82GP, 30G32A=62PTS Projected 2001/02 stats: (42G40A=82PTS)

3. Jeff Friesen, W, Anaheim

You have to give Friesen credit for his positive attitude about being traded from playoff-bound San Jose to dumper-bound Anaheim. He was able to form an immediate chemistry with Paul Kariya, and will benefit from being turned loose on a team starved for offense. Will get all the power play time he can handle. A career year could be in the making.

2000/01 stats: 79GP, 14G34A=48PTS Projected 2001/02 stats: (34G39A=73PTS)

2. Brendan Morrow, LW, Dallas

His invitation to try out for the Canadian Olympic team confirmed what many Stars watchers already knew: Morrow is maturing into a fine power forward prospect. Dallas sorely needs some young horses to turn loose, and Morrow heads the list. Slotted to keep his spot on the second line with Joe Nieuwendyk, but may end up playing with Turgeon when (not if) Nieuwendyk gets hurt. Hard worker who may put up 30-35 goals this season.

2000/01 stats: 82GP, 20G24A=44PTS Projected 2001/02 stats: (31G38A=69PTS)

1. Patrick Marleau, C, San Jose

Has all the tools, all that was ever missing was NHL experience. Now entering his fifth NHL season, expect Marleau to take the next step to the tier of star players. Has earned his offensive freedom by learning Coach Sutter’s defensive requirements. Will benefit greatly from having Teemu Selanne skate on his wing, and with top defensive pairs’ attention focused on stopping the Damphousse/Nolan line, Marleau will be free to use his size and excellent skating ability to its full advantage. At age 22, he could become your #1 Center for the next 10 years.

2000/01 stats: 81GP, 25G27A=52PTS Projected 2001/02 stats: (32G42A=74 PTS)

Honorable Mentions: C Mike Comrie (Edmonton), LW Todd Bertuzzi (Vancouver), LW Slava Kozlov (Buffalo), RW Martin Havlat (Ottawa), C Tim Connolly (Buffalo)

This is my first feature for Hockey’s Future, and if you have any comments feel free to e-mail me!