As we now enter the month of September, it means fantasy hockey draft season is inching ever closer. Fantasy managers will be ramping up their draft prep for the 2022–23 season and looking for this year’s next big sleeper.
Nailing your early-round picks is important, but it’s the managers who pick up breakout stars in the later rounds who find themselves in contention for a fantasy title come April. Every year we see players come out of nowhere to go from late round picks to fantasy studs. Picking some of these hidden gems in your draft is a great way to contend for your fantasy title.
Let’s take a look at some players who are primed for breakout years and can likely be targeted later in your drafts unless someone else makes the reach.
Dylan Cozens – C – Buffalo Sabres
Every year it seems like people predict the Buffalo Sabres will finally turn it around, and every year the team falls flat. The Sabres boast too much talent at forward to not at least be an exciting offensive team next year. Right in the middle of that will be 2019 seventh overall pick Dylan Cozens.
In his second NHL season last year, Cozens posted a respectable 13 goals and 38 points in 79 games after posting 13 points in 41 games the year prior. Nothing to write home about, but a decent total considering the Sabres ranked 24th in the league in goals for.
Also of note, Cozens most common wingers last season were Vinne Hinostroza and a mix of Kyle Okposo, Brett Murray, and rookie Peyton Krebs. Outside of the talented Krebs, this isn’t exactly a recipe for success.
This year however the Sabres will have a healthy Alex Tuch to start the year as well as the reigning AHL rookie of the year in Jack Quinn on the wings. Not to mention 2021 first overall pick Owen Power on the blueline. If Cozens can land the second line centre spot over Casey Mittelstadt, he’ll gain exposure to some very talented wingers.
A lock to play on the power play as well, Cozens has a great opportunity to put up a career-high in points next season playing in an improved Sabres offence. He’ll have the most talent around him since coming to Buffalo and should be set for a breakout year. 55+ points is a very realistic possibility.
Bowen Byram – D – Colorado Avalanche
If you watched any of the 2022 playoffs you’ll know why Bowen Byram is listed here. The 2019 fourth overall pick was exceptional during the Colorado Avalanche’s Stanley Cup run, leading all rookies in the playoffs with nine points and 44 shots in 20 games. His point total was third among all Colorado blueliners.
After going through some scary concussion issues during the regular season, Byram finally got healthy for the playoffs and looked like the player everyone knew he could be. Even during his shortened regular season, he posted an impressive 17 points in 30 games which equates to a 46 point pace.
If he can stay healthy this year, Bowen should be in line to smash his point total from last season playing for the high powered Avalanche. His minutes may be a tad limited due to Colorado’s stacked blueline, but he’s undoubtedly the team’s second best offensive defencemen behind Cale Makar and should earn second unit power play time.
Byram offers tremendous value as a later pick with a ton of upside. Had he stayed healthy last season, he would’ve been much more highly regarded going into this season. Around 40 points should be a near lock if he’s healthy and that’s just his floor. If the Avs suffer any injuries in their top-four, Byram will be the first name up to take on a larger role.
Cole Sillinger – C – Columbus Blue Jackets
It’s fair to say whichever centre in Columbus lands on a line with Johnny Gaudreau will experience a massive bump in fantasy value—just ask Elias Lindholm. Cole Sillinger has all the talent to be a fantasy relevant option next season if he gets the opportunity.
The good news for Sillinger is the Blue Jackets don’t have another centre with the same level of skill and potential as him, which should immediately give him the edge for the number one centre role. No offence to the likes of Boone Jenner and Jack Roslovic, but neither of those two are number one centres.
Last season as a rookie on a terrible Blue Jackets team, Sillinger put up 16 goals and 31 points in 79 games. His 16 goals ranked fifth among rookies. He also registered 148 shots, which ranked eighth among rookies. He managed this while playing just 13:42 minutes per game which was the ninth highest total among Blue Jackets forwards with at least 50 games.
If he’s able to earn a promotion to the team’s top centre role out of camp alongside Gaudreau and Patrik Laine, Sillinger will be in line for a massive boost in production. He has the talent to take on the role, it’s just a question of if the coaching staff believes he’s ready. If they do, Sillinger could be one of the breakout players of the season.
Seth Jarvis – LW/RW – Carolina Hurricanes
Seth Jarvis was tremendous in his rookie season for the Hurricanes in 2021–22, posting 40 points in 68 games—a 48-point pace across 82 games. This season he will look to build on those numbers as he undoubtedly takes on a larger role with the team.
Jarvis’ 0.59 points per game ranked seventh among all rookies last season with at least 50 games played. He was able to post these numbers while playing just 13:52 minutes per game, the ninth highest total on the Hurricanes. He followed this up by posting the highest points per game total among all rookies (with at least 10 games played) in the playoffs at 0.57.
Now a year older and going into his second season, Jarvis will likely be given much more responsibility on a stacked Hurricanes team. Add in the fact the newly acquired Max Pacioretty is out for over half the season, and Jarvis finds himself in a great spot going into 2022–23.
If he’s able to claim the top line role alongside Sebastian Aho and Teuvo Teravainen long-term while Pacioretty is out, there’s no reason why he won’t be able to surpass his 40 points from last season by a wide margin.
Future NHL stars in the making
To no one’s surprise, the biggest breakout contenders for the following season are all young, talented players who are well on their way to becoming stars. Whether it was lack of ice time or lack of talent around them, they may not have been fantasy relevant last season however the four names listed above all have a great chance at breaking through and becoming must-own players in fantasy hockey in 2022–23.