Predators Possible Breakout Stars
Every year, it seems as if someone different steps up for the Nashville Predators, in order to help push them into the postseason. Two years ago, it was Patric Hornqvist’s impressive 30-goal campaign in his first full NHL season that helped carry the team. It happened again just this past season when Sergei Kostitsyn came to the team from the Montreal Canadiens and went on to lead the Preds in scoring. Who could top the list of breakout players in 2011-12?
Drafted 23rd overall by the New Jersey Devils in 2005, Niclas Bergfors has yet to reach his true potential. He’s a player that has shown offensive skill and the willingness to shoot the puck, two things that are sorely needed on the Nashville's roster.
Having signed a one-year, two-way deal with the Predators at the league-minimum amount, Bergfors comes to the team looking to prove he can play in the NHL. His situation is similar to Kostitsyn's last year, even down to the “attitude problems.” While he has shown he can score in the NHL -- he put up 21 goals and 44 points in 81 games in 2009-10, between the Devils and Thrashers -- he has yet to return to that form and has been inconsistent since. If Bergfors can learn to play a better two-way game and be responsible with the puck, he could have a good year under Barry Trotz.
A former Hobey Baker award winner, Geoffrion is one of the most interesting players to look at for next season. He spent the majority of his games last year in the AHL playing quite well, especially after the first month of the season, where he became a point-per-game player.
With just 17 points in 102 total NHL regular season games, Spaling may not look like a likely candidate to break out this year, but the 22-year-old might be capable of surprising many Preds fans.
He put up decent numbers in the OHL, registering 38 goals and 72 points in 56 games in 07-08, but has never truly produced at the pro level. While splitting time between the NHL and AHL, he was seen as a third liner able to play hard minutes and be a solid penalty killer, just the kind of player Trotz loves. Even Poile has stated that he believes Spaling mature into a top six forward. But some find that hard to believe, seeing as Joel Ward, a similar player, though much older, was able to fill that same role. Trotz has been known to switch up lines and find magic, which could bode well for Spaling, as Trotz trusts him enough to give him more responsibility. Spaling may be able to strike chemistry with someone and start to produce more.
While these aren’t all the players poised for a breakout season, they are ones that seem to be the most likely to excel given the current roster. Then again, anything can happen come training camp, and I don’t think Poile is done yet in terms of adding personnel, so things could change very quickly.
Greg Duley (@G_Duley on twitter)