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2023/24 NHL season: Top five potential breakout players

October is just around the corner and that means a new NHL season is about to burst into life, as are a bunch of players ready to make their breakthroughs.

Most of the NHL's biggest stars are returning, while other players will be looking to build their reputations.

Here we look at some players who could enjoy a breakout season in 2023-24.

Connor Bedard (Chicago Blackhawks)

Not since Connor McDavid burst onto the scene in 2015 has there been so much buzz about a player who has yet to feature in an NHL game.

But Connor Bedard has made such an impression in his junior career that becoming the number one overall draft pick was never in doubt, and it is expected he will make a huge impact for the Chicago Blackhawks.

The Vancouver native has been an integral part of Canada's World Junior Championship victories in 2022 and 2023, standing out among his peers due to his skating speed and goalscoring ability.

The NHL is a step up from any other form of hockey, but there is little doubt Bedard's game is ready. The 5'10" forward scored 71 goals and provided 72 assists for the Regina Pats in the WHL last season. 

Provided he avoids injury, Bedard should quickly become a star for Chicago. He is +5000 to win the Hart Memorial Trophy and has the shortest odds for the Calder Trophy at -140.

Alexis Lafreniere (New York Rangers)

Not all first overall draft picks are able to make an immediate impact in the NHL, as some take time to settle into the much faster, tougher rhythm of the world's number one league.

Alexis Lafreniere, the number one draft choice of the New York Rangers in 2020, could fit into that category.

Going into his fourth NHL season, Lafreniere has yet to register more than 40 points in a campaign, however his numbers have gone up year on year, and he has scored at least 12 goals each season.

The Quebecois winger has struggled for consistency, and if he can find his A game more regularly his numbers could balloon. 

It is also worth noting that Lafreniere has the third-most even-strength points on the team over the last three years, despite not being given top-line minutes. The Rangers are +1400 to win the Presidents Trophy. 

Kirby Dach (Montreal Canadiens)

Bedard will be hoping to have a better start to his career with the Blackhawks than their 2019 first-round pick Kirby Dach did.

The Fort Saskatchewan centre managed just 19 goals and 40 assists in 152 games for Chicago, but being traded to Montreal before the start of last season seemed to awaken something in Dach.

At 6ft 4in it is perhaps not a surprise that Dach is taking time to grow into his frame, and he delivered a career-high 14 goals and 24 assists for the Canadiens in 58 games last year.

That is a solid base going into a new season where he could be seen as one of the Canadiens' top offensive weapons, and it would be no surprise to see him reach new heights.

Jake Sanderson (Ottawa Senators)

Ottawa are potential dark horses for the new NHL season at +1700 to win the Eastern Conference and one player who could have a career year for them is defenseman Jake Sanderson.

The Montana-born 21-year-old put up 32 points in 77 games for the Sens in his rookie year last season, and management saw enough in that time to sign Sanderson to an eight-year contract extension.

Those numbers alone are impressive, but Sanderson's fancy stats hinted at a greater contribution to the team, who played undeniably better with him on the ice.

A mature player beyond his years, Sanderson made remarkably few mistakes for a rookie defenseman. He is likely to see plenty of minutes as part of a shutdown pairing with Artyom Zub, while he also looks comfortable quarterbacking a power play. 

This could be an exciting year for Sens fans and Sanderson should be a big part of it.

Quinton Byfield (Los Angeles Kings)

Perhaps no LA Kings player prompted more discussion among fans last season than the youngest man on the roster, Quinton Byfield.

The number two overall pick in the 2020 draft hasn't lived up to expectations, but at 21-years-old, the signs are there that he has the potential to develop into a top forward.

The Kings tried a number of players on the left wing of their star center and captain Anze Kopitar, but Byfield had the most impact and it is likely he will start the new season on that line.

And while Byfield managed only three goals, which earned him plenty of criticism, the fact that just 4.1 percent of his shots became goals last season suggests that he didn't get much luck and by all accounts should have had far more goals to his name.

If he can pot a few goals in the early games then Byfield could earn a permanent home on Koptair's wing and enjoy much better numbers this season. 

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