By Doug Harrison – CBC Sports
Rangers’ Kevin Hayes, J.T. Miller, others poised for breakout seasons
They are not baby-faced teenagers, hot-shot rookies or high first-round draft picks.
In some cases, they weren’t drafted by an NHL team and took a couple of seasons to find their way to regular playing time.
While Winnipeg’s Patrik Laine (league-leading 12 goals) and Toronto’s Auston Matthews (four-goal NHL debut) have stolen the spotlight in Canada, five players south of the border are making noise and poised for breakout seasons. We profile them here.
Kevin Hayes, N.Y. Rangers
The third-year centre has come a long way since he was benched twice in New York’s first-round playoff exit against Pittsburgh last spring. Hayes, 24, arrived at training camp in peak condition and has regained the trust of Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault. The six-foot-five, 227-pounder has eight goals and 16 points in 17 games after a 14-goal, 36-point campaign in 2015-16. Hayes has also improved on the draw, winning 47.6 per cent of faceoffs, compared to 36 per cent over his first two season
Jonathan Marchessault, Florida
He’s one of the best bargains on the young season after signing a two-year, $1.5-million US deal with Florida on July 1. Marchessault, who had seven goals and 18 points last season with Tampa Bay, has topped the goal output with eight and already has 14 points in 16 games in his second full campaign. Undrafted after leading the Quebec Remparts of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League in the 2010-11 season with 40 goals and 95 points, Marchessault has filled in admirably for the injured Jonathan Huberdeau on the Panthers top line, playing the left side with centre Aleksander Barkov and Jaromir Jagr.
J.T. Miller, NY Rangers
The good news continues for Miller, who signed a two-year, $5.5-million contract extension in July and got married later in the month. The 23-year-old emerging power winger entered play Wednesday 11th in NHL scoring with 17 points in as many games after finishing fifth in Rangers’ scoring last season with 43 points. Miller, who bounced from line to line last season, is entrenched on New York’s second unit with centre Mika Zibanejad and right winger Mats Zuccarello. At plus-16, Miller is tied for the league lead with teammate Michael Grabner and Montreal’s Shea Weber.
David Pastrnak, Boston
Coming off a 15-goal season, Pastrnak is on track to become the first Bruin since Cam Neely in 1993-94 to score 50, and the only NHL player not named Alex Ovechkin to do so in the past four years. The 20-year-old Czech winger collected at least one point in all but four of his first 14 games (14 points) and boasts a team-leading 10 goals. Skating alongside centre Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron on Boston’s top line, Pastrnak is averaging 16 minutes 22 seconds of ice time, up nearly three minutes from last season.
Alexander Wennberg, Columbus
A year ago, Wennberg doubled his output from a 20-point rookie season and appears headed for a repeat, having performed at better than a point-a-game pace through his first 14 starts. With 13 assists, the Swede is well on his way to surpassing the 32 from last season when he became the youngest player in Blue Jackets’ history at 21 to lead the team in assists. Expect Wennberg to establish career highs in many offensive categories should he continue centring the No. 1 line with Brandon Saad and Nick Foligno after beginning the season on the third unit.