Every season, a team and their fans fantasize about championship runs and breakout seasons. Sometimes players contribute out of nowhere, and some are a little more obvious. Entering this training camp, the Coyotes have a wide variety of breakout players and players expected to put up a level of production. The style of play the Coyotes play stresses the need for a spread of production. Last year Lauri Korpikoski took a huge step, and unexpectedly was atop the scoring charts. And last year at this time, no one would have expected the amount of games played for David Schlemko. So who will break out this year for the 2011-12 Phoenix Coyotes?
Three players come to mind for breakout seasons, Raffi Torres, Mikkel Boedker, and Oliver Ekman-Larsson. Raffi Torres is an NHL veteran, but has not had the opportunity to play top line minutes. There is no doubt that Torres can play physical and provide a spark plug for any team. But this is a player that was drafted in the first round, and has enough skill to put up some goals. I think with the fact that the Coyotes are a team with interchangeable parts, Torres will get some time to play with top line players and even power play opportunities. It is not crazy to think that Torres can score 20 goals and more this season.
Mikkel Boedker is another former first round pick that showed consistency last season. It is no secret that Boedker has NHL speed, but up until last year Boedker had not proven his overall talent. It takes consistency to earn more playing time with Dave Tippett, and Boedker earned more and more playing time in a playoff race. Boedker filled out physically and was able to hang in on the forecheck, while using his speed to contribute offensively. After signing a new contract this off-season, Boedker is primed for a solid spot with the forward core. Boedker would be a perfect compliment to Taylor Pyatt on the opposite wing. Now the Coyotes just need to sign a center that needs to come down from some wild demands!
Oliver Ekman-Larsson may seem to be an obvious choice, but without a major step, the Coyotes may be in big trouble. Ekman-Larsson has all the skills to be a solid offensive defenseman, but needs to become smarter with the puck in the defensive zone. With consistent playing time, and a veteran defenseman pairing, the sky is the limit. He will have a shot to play some big time power play minutes and that will up his offensive totals alone. With confidence Ekman-Larsson will thrive and earn the trust of the coaching staff.