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Senators' Stutzle, Canadiens' Caufield among NHLers set for breakout seasons

Ottawa Senators left wing Tim Stützle (18) scores while Toronto Maple Leafs defenceman Mark Giordano (55) defends, during first period NHL pre-season action in Toronto on Saturday, September 24, 2022. Having just signed a mega eight-year, US$66.8-million deal with the Senators, now Stutzle needs to prove he's worth the money. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Christopher Katsarov

Whether they're looking for a new contract or trying to emerge from a sophomore slump, every season there are young players who shine across the NHL.

Here's a look at seven athletes poised for breakout seasons.


Heading into last season, Caufield was a favourite to win the Calder Trophy as the league's top rookie. But, his campaign got off to a disastrous start with just one goal in his first 30 games and the right-winger was demoted to the American Hockey League's Laval Rocket. Caufield got a second chance with the NHL club after Montreal fired head coach Dominique Ducharme and replaced him with Martin St. Louis. The 21-year-old found his game under the Hall of Famer and finished the year with 23 goals and 20 assists in 67 games. A full year under the head coach could help him smash those numbers.


Drysdale has already cemented his place in the Ducks' lineup. The 20-year-old defenceman from Toronto had four goals and 28 assists, and averaged 19:53 minutes per game in his sophomore campaign last season. Now, he'll look to grow his defensive game and make a case for why his second contract should be a big one. Ducks general manager Pat Verbeek has said the team won't discuss new deals with young stars like Drysdale during the season because they don't want talks to be a distraction, so the young blue liner has several months to make his case on the ice.


A standout post-season performance came to an abrupt end for Jarvis last season when he suffered a concussion in Game 7 against the New York Rangers. The 20-year-old centre has said it took two or three weeks before he fully recovered from the head injury and could get started on his off-season work. Now, the five-foot-10, 175-pound forward from Winnipeg is looking to build on a rookie campaign that saw him post 17 goals and 23 assists in the regular season and another eight points (five goals, three assists) in 13 playoff appearances. 


The first overall pick from the 2020 draft heads into his third season having shown that he can be a physical presence on the ice. Lafreniere, 21, used his six-foot-one, 195-pound frame effectively in his second NHL season, tallying 19 goals and 12 assists, plus 37 penalty minutes in the regular season and another nine points (two goals, seven assists) in 20 playoff appearances. The left-winger from St-Eustache, Que., is on the last year of his entry-level deal and boosting those totals would go a long way toward some extra cash. 


At 21 years old, Newhook already has a Stanley Cup to his name. The five-foot-10, 190-pound forward from St. John's, N.L., had 13 goals and 20 assists in his rookie campaign last year, and added four helpers in 12 playoff appearances before hoisting the Cup with his Avs teammates. Newhook appears poised to take on the role of second-line centre in Colorado this season, potentially lining up with Evan Rodrigues and Valeri Nichushkin — a spot that could see him take a big leap in his sophomore outing.


Perfetti spent much of last season with the Manitoba Moose in the AHL before getting called up to the NHL club in January. He played just 18 games, notching two goals and five assists, though, before a shoulder injury ended his run in mid-February. The 20-year-old centre from Whitby, Ont., is now healthy and looking not only to secure a place in the lineup, but make a big impact this season.


Having just signed a mega eight-year, US$66.8-million deal with the Senators, now Stutzle needs to prove he's worth the money. The 20-year-old German forward's new contract doesn't kick in until next season but the pressure will still be high as Ottawa looks to clinch a playoff spot for the first time since 2017. Stutzle, the third overall pick in 2020, was second on the team in scoring with 22 goals and 36 assists last year. Look for those numbers to pop this season if he continues to centre a line with Alex DeBrincat and Claude Giroux as he has through much of the pre-season.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 6, 2022. 

Gemma Karstens-Smith, The Canadian Press