Earlier this week we highlighted a trio of Calgary Flames players who had breakout seasons in 2016-17 and the likelihood of history repeating itself. And, for the Flames to have even more success in the coming season, they’re going to need a few more players to come out of their shell.
So, let’s delve into the three most likely candidates to do just that… curiously with one repeat.
It’s probably more apt to label this a “bounce back” season as opposed to a breakout campaign for Brodie, mainly because you could argue he’s already had one of the latter. However, after a largely frustrating 2016-17 season, I think Brodie is ready to return to the overall and offensive form we saw from him two years ago.
Brodie had to deal with difficult, and rather unfortunate, circumstances for much of last season. When Dougie Hamilton and Mark Giordano combined for one of the NHL’s best defence pairings, it left Brodie in no man’s land as the anchor of a lopsided second duo.
Brodie spent significant time with Dennis Wideman and Deryk Engelland until finally finding some semblance of comfort upon Michael Stone’s acquisition in February. But the overall impact of that rotating door of partners took its toll.
The first two seasons in the above chart saw Brodie spending a vast majority of his time paired with Giordano, which was a really nice fit. Unfortunately, neither Wideman nor Engelland are anywhere near the same caliber of player as Calgary’s captain and it forced Brodie to do most of the heavy lifting. This year has the potential to be different, though.
With the offseason addition of Travis Hamonic, Brodie looks to have a consistent partner right from the start of the season. While Hamonic is coming off a rough year, his career body of work is strong and most evidence would suggest he’s an upgrade on any of Brodie’s partners from last year. That in and of itself should allow Brodie to have an improved 2017-18.
From an offensive perspective, Brodie’s numbers were down across the board last season. He went from 45 points in 70 games to 36 in 82, which is a significant drop. Again, his lack of a consistent/good partner for much of the season was likely a large contributing factor, especially after putting up career numbers the year before (scoring rates courtesy Natural Stat Trick).
As you can see, Brodie’s five-on-five scoring rates were down last year from the career numbers posted a season prior. With Hamonic as a consistent partner this season, though, I think there’s a good chance Brodie sees a boost in productivity. I also think he’ll benefit from the team’s powerplay situation this year, too.
Brodie was a fixture on Calgary’s first PP unit last year, but that unit wasn’t formed until more than a month into the season. This season, Brodie should be established and comfortable as the back end of that 1-3-1 setup right from the get go, and there’s a decent chance that’ll have a positive effect on his point production.
After a rough sophomore campaign, I think Bennett has a good chance of taking an offensive step forward in year three. Over the summer I wrote about Bennett’s realistic expectations for this year and highlighted how a lot of players in similar spots have taken big jumps in their third NHL seasons. From a strict maturity standpoint, I think Bennett is in line for some progression.
For whatever reason, the jump to year three can be a big one for a lot of young forwards. Not everyone can make a big impact right away and players develop at different rates. Bennett spent most of last year adjusting to playing centre at the NHL level and, as such, likely won’t have the same growing pains we saw.
Beyond that, though, I think having Bennett paired with Kris Versteeg to start the season is a promising development. The pair worked well together last season and Versteeg played some of his better even strength hockey with Bennett as his centre. The WOWY numbers below are courtesy Natural Stat Trick.
On the flip side, Versteeg is one of Calgary’s best playmakers and distributes the puck as well as anyone on the team. Last season saw Versteeg finish fifth on the team with an even strength assists-per-60 rate of 1.04. If things play out in a similar fashion this year, a lot of those Versteeg assists could end up on Bennett’s stick.
I’m curious to see how much powerplay time Bennett ends up getting, too. He averaged 1:14 of powerplay time per game during the 2016-17 campaign, which was more than a minute less than what Troy Brouwer saw each night. If Bennett sees a little more time on the man advantage this year, his points are likely to go up at a commensurate rate.
Bennett has looked pretty decent through training camp and the preseason, which is also somewhat encouraging. In saying that, though, Bennett had a really impressive 2016 preseason, too, and it didn’t necessarily translate into regular season play. But, with another year under his belt and at least one good winger with him, I think Bennett’s third NHL season has a good chance of being his best thus far.
Strangely, Ferland is double dipping in my last two articles. Yes, I pinpointed him earlier in the week as a player coming off a career season. At the same time, I’m also spotlighting him as a player poised to have a breakout year in 2017-18. How can that be?
While it’s true Ferland put up career totals last season, much of that was on the back of his 21 games playing with Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau. The second he was placed on that line for a Feb. 20 contest with Nashville, Ferland’s offensive totals started trending upwards, which makes sense playing with Calgary’s two best offensive forwards.
For Ferland this season, there are realistic and unrealistic expectations floating around. Some might suggest Ferland is poised for a 30-goal season based on his scoring rates during his quarter season on the team’s top line. When you factor in Ferland’s sky high shooting percentage (14.2% and 13.0% at even strength), though, those suggestions fall under the “unrealistic” column.
What is realistic, though, is for Ferland to have a productive season with Monahan and Gaudreau. Is he going to produce even strength points at the rates like he did above? No, probably not, mainly due to that shooting percentage, which ramped up to 18.0% in the 21 games he played with those two. However, that doesn’t mean Ferland won’t be a nice fit on the right side of the top line.
To illustrate that, it’s important to point out both Monahan and Gaudreau benefited from the formation of the line, too. What we saw was not just Ferland getting dragged around the ice by Calgary’s dynamic duo. The WOWY numbers below paint a pretty clear picture of how well the line gelled starting in February.
There is absolutely inherent danger in putting too much stock into a small sample size, of which 21 games qualifies. There’s no guarantee Ferland, Gaudreau, and Monahan will click the same way they did last season. But there’s no reason not to be hopefully confident, either, because they did play so well as a trio.
Assuming for the sake of this article it does work out, Ferland could be in line for some nice offensive totals. First off, playing on a top scoring line should mean a boost in shots per game, which should keep Ferland’s goal total in the 15-20 range, even if his shooting range regresses the way it likely will. Additionally, playing with dynamic players like Monahan and Gaudreau could see Ferland’s assist total end up being higher than the 10 he posted last season.
And then there’s the powerplay factor that needs to be taken into account, much like it was earlier with Bennett. For most of training camp, Ferland has been the “net front guy” on the team’s number one unit, although Brouwer started to see more time there on Thursday night. But, assuming Ferland sees more than the 0:27 of powerplay time he averaged last year, his raw point totals should get a decent boost.
So, while 30 goals probably isn’t realistic in Ferland’s case, there’s plenty of reason to believe he can be a fit all season long with Monahan and Gaudreau. If that’s the case, he’ll definitely be in “breakout player” category for a second straight year.