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Photo Credit: Candice Ward/USA Today Sports

Dillon Dube leads the list of breakout season candidates

Mixed in with all the negativity during Calgary’s 2021 season, there were a few promising individual performances. We have a ton of questions looking forward to next year, most of them based on the frustrating results of this past season. Flames fans are hoping for significant bounce back years from key players, and for good reason. At the same time, there’s a trio of players knocking on the door to significant breakout years.

Dillon Dube

There was a lot to like about Dube’s first season spent entirely in the NHL. He played top nine minutes all year and set career highs across the board with 11 goals, 11 assists, and 22 points. But what really jumps out in Dube’s 51 games is how productive he was compared to his five-on-five ice time. Dube averaged 12:19 at even strength, which was eighth among forwards. He got a lot done with those minutes, though. All underlying metrics courtesy Natural Stat Trick.

G/60 Rank P/60 Rank
0.88 4th 1.96 5th

Dube ranked behind only Andrew Mangiapane, Josh Leivo, and Elias Lindholm in five-on-five goals-per-60. Similarly, only Mangiapane, Lindholm, Johnny Gaudreau, and Matthew Tkachuk finished with higher points-per-60 rates than Dube’s 1.96. Simply put, Dube was one of the team’s most most productive even strength players compared to his minutes.

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It’s not a stretch to think Dube will continue producing at similar rates next season. That’s promising and even more so if Dube’s ice time goes up. There’s still some winning of trust with Darryl Sutter that needs to happen, but knowing Dube’s attitude and work ethic, I’m confident that’ll happen. If that leads to increased ice time, Dube’s numbers are poised for a big step forward.

Noah Hanifin

Noah Hanifin

In a lot of ways, Hanifin is already coming off a breakout season knowing how well he played prior to sustaining a shoulder injury in late April. 2021 was unquestionably Hanifin’s best NHL campaign to date and, at just 24, there’s still a few more steps to take. Perhaps the biggest area where Hanifin shows potential for significant growth is his offensive totals. Let’s take last season as a base.

CF% HDCF% xGF% OZS%
53.0 57.1 55.2 49.2

Hanifin’s high danger scoring chance and expected goal ratios were the highest of his career, while his shot rate was his second-best output. Promisingly, Hanifin did all that without being sheltered and while playing tough competition every night. As he becomes more comfortable in that role, there’s a decent chance increased offence follows.

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There were already promising signs this past season, too. Hanifin finished the year averaging 5.71 shots-per-60 and 13.27 attempts-per-60, both the highest totals he’s ever posted. With a little more on-ice luck, Hanifin’s point totals would have been higher; his 0.992 PDO was one of the lowest on the Flames.

Hanifin has taken steps in each of his six NHL seasons. Coming off the most significant one yet, there’s no reason to think he won’t take another in 2021-22. If that translates to increased offensive totals, we’ll be talking about a second straight breakout season for Hanifin.

Juuso Valimaki

The biggest positive for Valimaki last season is the fact he played 68 games split between Finland and the NHL. That was a huge step forward after Valimaki played just 46 pro games in 2018-19 and then missed the entire following season, pandemic extension and all. In a lot of ways, 2021 was about getting a career back on track for the former first round pick. But there were other things to like, too. Ranks below among Calgary D-men.

S/60 Rank iCF/60 Rank P/60 Rank
5.95 3rd 12.44 4th 0.90 2nd

In what was mostly a third pairing role at five-on-five, averaging 13:56 per game, Valimaki was a top four defenceman in shots, attempts, and points-per-60. Yes, there were healthy scratch dramas down the stretch and, like Dube, Valimaki will have to win some trust with Sutter. That said, next season’s outlook seems positive.

Sutter has challenged his young defenceman for the offseason and it would be a surprise if Valimaki doesn’t respond positively. With an injury-free run to fall back on, I’m expecting a motivated and confident player come training camp. Valimaki did some good things in 2021 and he’s in a spot to take a big step forward over 82-games starting in October.

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