The problem with the method I use to determine the age group in which a player is historically inclined to breakout to create fantasy is that it relies on the theory that crowd results can represent an individual.
To say that 24-year-old forwards (using their ages through January 31 of the current season) score more imaginary points than any other age is correct. It is also true to say that the largest single increase in output between age groups occurs between ages 22 and 23, followed by a gap between 23 and 24 years.
These conclusions seem important until you get back to the individual aspect of what we are trying to achieve here. There can be any number of scenarios that play out for each individual player when it comes to achieving those best breakout years. Many, like young superstars like Connor McDavid and Auston Matthews, can’t “break through” in the sense that they’ve been in elite business for a long time before falling into these key age groups. Others may not experience the dramatic growth seen by the team as they just get a little better every season.
They try to guess which players follow the collective curve the most: who will make the big jump from 22 to 23, and then another big jump from 23 to 24 when they reach their prime?
Like the quarterbacks, in order to get a curve for ages, I reduced the dataset to “fantasy-relevant” for each individual season from 2015-16 to 2021-2022. So we only count the seasons of players who were in the top 144 in each of those seven years. This gives us a pool of 1008 game seasons to count and analyze.
Just like defensive players, the average fantasy scores in each age group are essentially a flat line. And again, this is because we only look at the best of the best; fantasy is real. So when a player has a season worthy of the top 144 forwards, it’s always a good result, no matter his age.
In this sample of seven seasons, we have two 18-year-olds who fall into the teen end of the spectrum (one in 2018-19 and the other in 2016-17; make your guesses now). And at the old end, we have one season from the 39-year-old who made the cut, and one outlier from the 43-year-old (both were in 2015-16, by the way; and I know you can guess one of them with ease. ). For reference: since the 2017/18 season, there has not been a single striker over 37 years old who could play a season relevant to fantasy.
Compared to our fantasy defenders from the same seven seasons, you’ll see the forwards are younger to peak and manage to stay at that peak for longer before becoming less and less relevant as they age. So when we look for breakthrough players, we want to target players aged 23 and 24 first.
Pierre-Luc Dubois, DW, Winnipeg Jets: With offseason disputes quickly settled over his long-term future during the offseason, Dubois is now ready to start his 24-year season with a new head coach and one of the most talented top-six teams in the NHL. The new coaching aspect, in particular, is intriguing, as Rick Bowness didn’t mind breaking the team’s hierarchy by saying the Jets would not have a captain this season. It’s a pretty clear signal that this is a fresh start for the Jets. Does this mean Dubois could replace Mark Scheifel as the team’s main center? May be. But he shouldn’t get that role either. The Jets, with Kyle Connor, Nikolai Ehlers, Blake Wheeler and Cole Perfetti, go deep on the flanks, making any conceivable combination of trajectories a good one for Dubois. It could be the season he is promoting to the club with 2.0 points per game (FPPG).
Elias Pettersson, defenseman, Vancouver Canucks: After Pettersson burst into the league as a 20-year-old in 2018/19, Pettersson had a dry spell that lasted until the middle of last season. Considering this is his campaign at the age of 24, the upward trajectory should continue. The Canucks have everything they need for a dangerous offense with Pettersson at the forefront and hopefully a rejuvenated Brock Bozer by his side. A good target could be the 2.18 FPPG threshold he reached in 2019-2020, which would see him enter the top 50 in the fantasy rankings.
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Patrick Laine, defenseman, Columbus Blue Jackets: There were flashes of 60-goal potential that occurred in Lane’s rookie and sophomore seasons. Now at 24 years old and adding another dynamic winger to the top of the Blue Jackets offense should garner most of the stars needed for a career season. One big question remains: find a center who can tie Lane and Johnny Gaudreau together—if not equally, then at least in most.
Jordan Kiru, F, St. Louis Blues: Maybe it’s a 16:35 average on the ice and a third-line role for most of last season, but even with 75 points to his credit in 2021/22, it doesn’t feel like Kiro hasn’t broken out yet. With a big contract in hand, expect Kyrou to lift the roster and possibly fill the void left by David Perron in the Blues’ top spot and powerplay. It’s the season of his 24th birthday, so if we’re going to see more from him, now is the time.
Nick Suzuki, defenseman, Montreal Canadiens: Turning 23 last summer, Suzuki was named the new Habs captain, the youngest in the storied history of the Original Six franchise. It’s clear that the Canadiens have a lot of success ahead of them, and if it continues to grow, fantasy managers should do the same. His FPPG trajectory continues to grow and his baseline target is 1.95 FPPG this season.
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Josh Norris, F, Ottawa Senators: Talk about the influx of weapons at the right time. Not only is Norris entering this heyday of development, which turned 23 in May, but 23-year-old Brady Tkachuk and 24-year-old Drake Batterson are by his side. Now Alex DeBrinkat, who turns 25 in December, will have a chance to join that age group in the powerplay. It really looks like offense will be the least of the problems for Sens this season.
Martin Necas, defenseman, Carolina Hurricanes: After scoring 41 points in 53 games in the 2020/21 campaign at the age of 22, Necas scored just 40 points in 78 games last season. But he has a lot to take in: past flashes of high potential combined with a solid spot on the depth chart ahead of his best seasons. Necas is likely to be the top six’s castle and will likely start by sharing the ice with veteran center Paul Shtastny and growing Andrey Svechnikov. Although this is his 24-year-old campaign, Nekas has a late birthday (because January 31st is a cutoff), so the real breakthrough could be about to begin.
Egor Sharangovich, defenseman, New Jersey Devils: Sometimes the output can be about who you click with. Jack Hughes scored 35 goals on the ice with a tied Sharangovich last season, and the next highest total for any other Devil paired with Hughes was just 19. Hughes this season.
Brandon Hagel, defenseman, Tampa Bay Lightning: Hagel can be forgiven for not finding a true niche in offense, not having much time to grapple with the Bolts before the rubber hits the road for a playoff-tested club. But the 21 goals he scored for the Blackhawks before he was traded hint at some potential. Give Hagel a proper off-season to break into this talented but dwindling top six and we might see a breakthrough for the 24-year-old. Of course, the place of Ondrej Palat, which includes a power play, can be played.
Kyler Yamamoto and Jesse Pulujärvi, defenseman, Edmonton Oilers: Yamamoto will join Pulujärvi at 24 before the start of the season. Both of these wingers have a history of development that suggests the bar should be set higher and despite not hitting the mark for several seasons, both still have the opportunity to earn game time with arguably the best centers on the planet. .
Eli Tolvanen, defenseman, Nashville Predators: I’m still wondering if the NHL is ever going to flip Tolvanen and see the player who set the mark for the best 18-year-old season in the KHL in 2017-18. His 23-year season will mark the first time Tolvanen enters an NHL campaign with a nearly locked-in scorer role. His lane mates can also be upgraded with the addition of Nino Niederreiter. Perhaps the confidence allowed will help him bring back a scoring game.
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