Last year, I did a Top 10 article on breakout players for the 2009/10 season. However, I narrowed it down to just players over 6'2. The article was titled "Big Guy Breakouts."
This year, I've decided to broaden the spectrum of the list. Because of that, I'm doing the Top 10 in two parts. Part 1 (today) will focus on veteran players who could "breakout" during the 2010-2011 season. By veteran, I've set the criteria at 1992, 1991, and 1990 born players. Most of these guys are entering their third or more season in the OHL. At some point, experience, increased ice time and better conditioning can bring out some serious jumps in offensive production from third, fourth and fifth year players.
For breakout players, I realize the criteria is somewhat subjective. If someone like Ottawa's Cody Lindsay goes from 82 points to 100 points this season, would you consider that a breakout? I'm looking for guys who can make some seriously large jumps in their production, not just OHL players who went from stars to superstars.
Let's take a look at what I've come up with...
10. Marc Zanetti - Ottawa 67's
Zanetti made great strides last season, emerging as a legitimate top four defenseman and someone who was able to harness his intensity levels and become a much more disciplined player. Zanetti, at times, has shown an ability to create offensively (particularly on the powerplay). Well this season he's going to get his chance. Julien Demers and Tyler Cuma (extremely likely) are gone. That means he and Travis Gibbons will be the veteran defenders on this team. Along with a maturing Cody Ceci, they will be responsible for creating some offense from the blueline and bringing the puck up the ice. With an increased offensive role, I could see Zanetti hitting the 35+ point plateau on top of continuing to stabilize his physical brand of defense.
9. Brett Flemming - Mississauga St. Michael's Majors
Interestingly enough, Flemming (a Capitals draft pick) saw his offensive numbers dip last season. Make no mistake though, Flemming has offensive talent and can be an effective puck rusher. His decrease in production can probably be correlated to two things; 1) bouncing around roles as Flemming actually played some forward last year and saw decreased powerplay time; and 2) an increased dedication to the defensive side of the ice, where Flemming excelled and was named as one of the top defensive defenseman in the OHL coaches poll. This year, the Majors top two offensive defenseman will be gone; Cameron Gaunce and Blake Parlett. The 2010/11 season could be the year Flemming has the confidence to unleash himself offensively, while still playing top notch defense. With a Memorial Cup season hanging in the balance, the Majors are going to need him to.
8. Alex Aleardi - Belleville Bulls
A trade from Kitchener after the first third of the season saw a huge raise in production from the diminutive Aleardi. Playing on the big ice surface in Belleville, the speedy Aleardi became one of the top scoring options for the Bulls. With the young Bulls likely taking a step forward this season, Aleardi's supporting cast will be more prepared to contribute and he'll be expected to take on a leadership role. A season of 70 points or more could definitely be possible and Aleardi could end up breaking out and getting drafted similar to the way Niagara's Alex Friesen did this season.
7. Scott Wedgewood - Plymouth Whalers
Filling the shoes of Matt Hackett will be no easy task. That's what Scott Wedgewood will attempt to do this season. The Plymouth Whalers could be a little strapped offensively if Tyler Seguin doesn't return, which means they're going to have to rely on their solid defense to help them win games (similar to the Soo Greyhounds last year). However, a good blueline is only as good as their goaltender. Wedgewood only played 18 games last year, but he can expect to more than double his workload this season. He showed glimpses of greatness (in particular during the playoffs after Hackett was suspended) in 2009/10 and he could have a tremendous year in Plymouth. This would make the New Jersey Devils look like geniuses after they took him in the third round of the 2010 NHL Draft.
6. Corey Durocher - Kingston Frontenacs
Durocher had an up and down rookie season in the OHL last year, but showed enough to warrant a draft selection by the Florida Panthers. He's got the potential to be the total package (size, skill, skating), but needed to improve his consistency. Quite often players of his ilk take massive steps forward as they progress through their OHL careers. This is mostly due to the maturation of their size and coordination. The Fronts expect to be even better than they were in 2009/10 when they finished three games above .500 and finished 4th in the East. Durocher could see an increased role and while I wouldn't peg him for leading the team in scoring, he could easily double his point total from last season.
5. Gregg Sutch - Mississauga St. Michael's Majors
Sutch was number three on my "big guy breakouts" list from last year, but 2009/10 ended up being an injury riddled disaster for Sutch. The hearing impaired Sabres draft pick ended up having a worse offensive season than his 16 year old one. But he started to show glimpses of turning things around in the playoffs, where he looked like the budding power forward many in Sarnia thought he'd become. With 2009/10 considered a write off, 2010/2011 presents Sutch with the opportunity to start anew and show Majors fans what he's really capable of. If he can avoid the injury bug, he could become a quality power forward capable of close to a point per game. But then again, I said that last year!
4. Michael Zador - Oshawa Generals
The Gennies have added some serious talent to their roster for the upcoming season. With new talent mixing with likely improving young talent, Oshawa could really surprise this season. However, the Generals goaltending last season did not perform well and was a large reason they missed the playoffs (in combination with Calvin de Haan's injury). If Oshawa does intend to improve, starting goaltender Michael Zador is going to be expected to be right in the thick of increased expectations. The Lightning draft pick was once a highly touted OHL draft selection but hasn't yet delivered. This is his year to do that. And I think he can do it.
3. Tim Campbell - Guelph Storm
After putting up a dominating performance in the 2009 OHL preseason, Campbell had a disappointing offensive season in 2009/10. His numbers didn't really jump forward and the Storm got little offense from their backend (save Adam Comrie). This year, the Storm's offensive leader on defense (Comrie), and their captain (Corey Syvret) are gone, which paves the way for Campbell to step up and show what he's capable of. He has a chance to pair with Sam Lofquist on the team's top pairing and he could have a really strong season behind a very strong forward unit.
2. Brandon Foote - Guelph Storm
Speaking of the Storm, Guelph was a different team once Foote returned from hip surgery at mideason. Foote ended up finishing the season very strongly and posted a .913 Sv%. This season, the Storm's defense is a HUGE question mark, which means Foote is going to have to have his best season in the league if Guelph wants to finish among the best in the West. Considering Foote has always shown glimpses of greatness in this league, I don't think it's a stretch to say he's capable of it.
1. Austin Watson - Peterborough Petes
Funny enough, Watson was number one on my list of big guy breakouts last season and appears number one again. Watson doubled his production from 2008/09 to 2009/10 and it earned him a first round draft selection by Nashville in the 2010 Draft. This season with Peterborough, Watson could see his production jump big time yet again. After a trade from Windsor, Watson had 20 points in 10 games for the Petes. This season, he'll be with Peterborough all season long and will no doubt be playing with some talented forwards like Ryan Spooner and Matt Puempel. I'd actually be surprised if Watson wasn't in the top 15 scorers in the league by season's end.
Dalton Prout - Barrie Colts
Prout would have likely cracked this list had he not have been drafted into the NHL recently. A draft pick of the Columbus Blue Jackets, Prout will likely be given every chance to make the team's AHL squad. If he does return to Barrie (or an OHL team who acquires him), I think he could have a breakout offensive season from the blueline. Last year was his breakout defensively as he became one of the elite shutdown defenders in the OHL. But he's not terrible offensively and actually had 7 goals last season. With an increased offensive role and powerplay time (which often goes hand in hand for OA blueliners), Prout could could easily have a 10 + goal, 25 + assist type season.
Shawn Szydlowski - Erie Otters
The Otters could have some serious firepower offensively this season and overage power forward Shawn Szydlowski could be right in the thick of things. Big guys with good hands like Syzdlowski often have big jumps in production during their overage season, so it's not unforeseeable to believe that he could pot over 30 goals this season and be over a point per game player.
Colin Martin - London Knights
The Knights don't have a ton of size at forward going into this season, which makes Martin a candidate for a much larger offensive role. If his playoff performance last year is any indication, he's probably capable of it. Martin could have a really big year and is a candidate to double his goal production from last season.
Andrew Agozzino - Niagara IceDogs
Agozzino has improved every season he's played in the OHL, finishing last year with 37 goals (good for 14th in the league). He has the potential to lead the OHL in goal scoring by the time his OHL career is up and I'd harbour to guess he could give it a run for his money this season if Niagara can get some secondary scoring to take a bit of the heat off him.
Bryce O'Hagan - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Last year, the Hounds were successful because they played world class defense in front of a world class goaltender (Robin Lehner). This season, Jacob Muzzin, and Michael Quesnele are gone from the defense and Lehner, himself, has graduated. That means the pressure is on Bryce O'Hagan to finally take the reigns as an OHL starting netminder for a potentially good team (discounting his year as a starter for the terrible 08/09 Hounds).
Stay tuned next week for Part 2 of the breakout series, which will focus on second year (1993's) players who could really step forward.