Fantasy hockey draft guide: Forwards ready for breakout seasons

Owen Tippett of the Philadelphia Flyers. Jeanine Leech/Icon Sportswire

Using the age curve for top fantasy contributors worked out fairly well last season when trying to identify potential breakout fantasy assets, and it makes sense. When you look at the curve, you can see a clear mound for the age at which forwards make their way into the top 100.

The chart below shows the season-age of all the forwards that finished in the top 100 fantasy players for each of the last eight seasons. When looking for breakout players, you want to find a spot on the curve where the number of relevant forwards takes a big jump. Then, look at which forwards are coming into those ages that take a leap on the curve.

After all, the only way to make an age-21 player is to have an age-20 player get a year older.

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Some tidbits from the age curve before we dive in:

  • As you can see, the number of forwards decreases at each age after 25, with the exception of the slight boost from age 30 to 31.

  • The only age-38 forward to make the top 100 fantasy plays in the past eight seasons is Joe Pavelski from last season.

  • Additionally, two of the three age-37 forwards to make the top 100 in the past seasons also came last season in the form of Alex Ovechkin and the now-retired Patrice Bergeron. The third member of that club is also Pavelski from the season prior. So, from 2015-16 through to 2020-21, no forward older than their age-36 season made the top 100.

  • Keep in mind as well that the only age-18 forward to make the top 100 from the past eight seasons was Patrik Laine in 2016-17. That will surely change this season with Connor Bedard.

But what we are looking for here is players in the those key age tiers from 21 to 25 who also have a better potential role for the coming season. Let's have a look at some of the forwards that meet that criteria.

Pierre-Luc Dubois, C, Los Angeles Kings: On this same list last year heading into his age-24 season, Dubois didn't quite deliver as hoped. He had a good season with the Winnipeg Jets, no doubt, but it still feels like there is another level to Dubois for fantasy. He's never finished higher than his 76th overall fantasy ranking in 2021-22. The trade to the Kings in the offseason gives us a reason to reset hope. Heading into his age-25 season, Dubois will be in a talented top six as the No. 2 center behind Anze Kopitar. Power-play time on the first unit isn't a sure thing, but is likely if the Kings want to pack the top unit. Could this finally be the season Dubois pushes into the top 50 fantasy plays?

Gabriel Vilardi, C, Winnipeg Jets: Going the other way in the Kings-Jets trade, Vilardi will have a similar opportunity with a similarly talented top six. He should slide into the No. 2 center spot for the Jets after making a name for himself with the Kings early last season -- namely an eight-goal October. He cooled off after that, but this new start with expanded opportunity could be what he needs for an age-24 proper breakout. Time on the first unit for the power-play is a likely scenario and Vilardi has the ability to shift to wing if needed to balance the lines. If nothing else, consistent top-six minutes are going to give him a place to succeed with the Jets.

Owen Tippett and Morgan Frost, F, Philadelphia Flyers: This is as much about opportunity as it is about age -- and there is a chance the entire Flyers top line this season could be included here if it turns out that Frost and Tippett play with Joel Farabee. Tippett and Frost are both heading into their age-24 season, with Farabee into his age-23. The three of them will make up half of the Flyers top six in some form. Sean Couturier should be back and Travis Konecny is still a major factor, which makes this rebuilding Flyers squad decently potent on offense -- on paper, anyway. It may be a stretch to tap all three of the young forwards to take a leap forward, so if forced to pick one, I'd look at Tippett's 27 goals last season as a tiebreaker.

Robert Thomas and Jordan Kyrou, F, St. Louis Blues: Like the Flyers potential breakouts, Thomas and Kyrou are coming into key seasons (Thomas, age-24; Kyrou, age-25) and have expanded opportunity with some of the Blues old guard clearing out of town since this time last season. Kyrou arguably had his breakout last season, finishing 65th among fantasy players in the 2022-23 season (he was 103rd the season prior, too). Thomas, however, despite seasons of 77 and 65 points, still hasn't finished better than 144th for fantasy. With the next era of the Blues ready to kick off with Thomas and Kyrou as the leaders, this is the season for Thomas to push his way to the next level.

Oliver Wahlstrom, W, New York Islanders: We've had some teases from Wahlstrom in recent campaigns, but his role with the Isles has often been very limited. In limited action, however, he has shown a knack for fantasy-friendly production. Coming into this season, Wahlstrom has turned 23 and has a clear shot at earning one of the wing spots on the top two lines.

Lukas Reichel, W, Chicago Blackhawks: While there is the big leap in talent breakouts at 24, there is another decent jump for forwards in their age-21 season. We haven't seen much of Reichel in the NHL, with 34 games over the past two seasons, but he's ripped up the AHL in those same two years. He'll be 21 for the coming campaign and, in case you haven't heard, has some generational talent available to potentially play alongside.

Lucas Raymond, W, Detroit Red Wings: Another Lucas/Lukas coming into their age-21 season, the difference between Raymond and Reichel is clearly NHL experience. Raymond has been a full-time NHLer for two seasons already and even has a 23-goal campaign under his belt. He should remain on top of a depth chart that added Alex DeBrincat to the top line and power play.

Seth Jarvis, C/W, Carolina Hurricanes: Sticking with a potential breakout in the age-21 season, Jarvis, like Raymond, has two seasons of top-six duty already under his belt, but the "breakout" for fantasy hasn't come to bear despite the opportunity alongside Sebastian Aho for the bulk of his career. Jarvis hasn't finished better than 270th for fantasy in either of his seasons. He will, however, need to do some potential jostling as the Hurricanes added Michael Bunting to give themselves five potential scoring-line wingers to choose from, but Teuvo Teravainen will have to battle his way back into the mix after a poor showing in 2022-23.

Luke Evangelista, W, Nashville Predators: Another 21-year-old, Evangelista had a decent showing in 24 games with the Preds last season, but also put up pretty elite playmaker numbers in the AHL regular season and playoffs. If he can find his way onto a line with a finisher like Filip Forsberg, there is a world where he steps into fantasy relevance.

Others on the radar:

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