The 2020-21 NHL season will look a bit different than past campaigns, especially with the COVID-19 pandemic forcing the league to not only shorten the slate of games but also realign the divisions.
But a few less games and new divisions won’t stop certain players from having a breakout season, especially for a few members of the Boston Bruins.
Here are six players who could be poised take a step up:
McAvoy has made a nice name for himself pairing with the 6-foot-9 Chara, and hasn’t been afraid to throw his weight around, averaging 1.9 hits per game over the course of his young career.
Boston will need more of that, though, as well as some sustained offense that McAvoy struggled with last season with five goals 27 assists. The defenseman certainly can up those numbers this season, while also maintaining his level of physicality.
It’s also quite possible we see the Boston University product on the first power play unit with Patrice Bergeron, David Pastrnak and Brad Marchand (especially once Pastrnak and Marchand return from injury).
All the makings are there for McAvoy to break out this season.
Jake DeBrusk (Boston Bruins)
DeBrusk just signed a two-year deal to remain in Boston. The contract is a win for both sides, as the Bruins lock up a top-six forward and DeBrusk has two years to work on becoming a consistent player and grow his game.
The forward had a “down” 2019-20 with 19 goals and 16 assists, but the upcoming season will give the 24-year-old a chance to showcase what he’s got.
Nick Suzuki (Montreal Canadiens)
Suzuki came to Montreal in the trade that sent Max Pacioretty to the Vegas Golden Knights and showed his potential right away with the Habs.
The forward’s 41 points ranked sixth among NHL rookies and he stepped up big time during the Canadiens’ upset of the Pittsburgh Penguins in this summer’s NHL Playoffs. Suzuki also was his team’s top goal scorer during the postseason.
If the 21-year-old can become the No. 1 center on a line with Tyler Toffoli (24 goals, 20 assists in 2019-20), Suzuki certainly could be a danger to opponents if he picks up where he left off last season.
Ilya Samsonov (Washington Capitals)
Samsonov didn’t appear during the latest Stanley Cup Playoffs due to injury, but his workload should pick up this season with Braden Holtby signing with the Vancouver Canucks and Henrik Lundqvist announcing he’ll be unable to play this season due to a heart condition.
Before going down to injury, Samsonov impressed with a 16-6-2 record and .913 save percentage in 26 games, numbers he easily could replicate or even improve upon. Of course, there always is the chance of a sophomore slump.
But with new head coach Peter LaViollette, this could be Samsonov’s year to shine.
Devon Toews (Colorado Avalanche)
Toews was traded from by the New York Islanders to Colorado, a team he certainly could thrive with.
The defenseman potted six goals and amassed 22 assists in 68 games last season. Toews also racked up 10 points in 22 postseason games that helped New York reach the Eastern Conference Final for the first time since 1993.
His skillset certainly should be a good fit with the Avalanche. Toews averaged roughly 20 minutes of ice time per game, and also can move the puck. The 26-year-old’s future is bright with Colorado and has had some time to develop as a bonafide defenseman in the NHL. He’s fast, is a smart puck-rusher and adds a boost to an already impressive defensive core that includes Cale Makar, Samuel Girard, Erik Johnson, Ian Cole and Ryan Graves.
Kailer Yamamoto (Edmonton Oilers)
Yamamoto made an impact on Edmonton after he was recalled from Bakersfield, and has a ton of potential to do even more when the 2020-21 season begins.
The 22-year-old will have (close to) a full season playing alongside Leon Draisaitl and will be able to pick up where he left off with last season’s success in the regular season. Even though Yamamoto did not record a point in Edmonton’s four postseason games, that could change in the upcoming campaign with more games to get under his belt.