5 players due to break out in '15-'16
A handful of NHL players are primed to break through and establish themselves as legitimate stars next season.
Some are looking to justify new contracts, some are coming off long-term injuries, and some are expected to build on strong playoff performances.
Here are five players poised to take the leap in 2015-16:
Alex Galchenyuk, Montreal Canadiens
The 21-year-old scored a career-high 20 goals last season, and the Canadiens rewarded him with a two-year deal last month.
Galchenyuk's offensive production increased in each of his three NHL campaigns, and there's no reason to doubt his ability to take another step in 2015-16.
Well, unless you're concerned about which forward position he plays or whether or not he can stay out of head coach Michel Therrien's doghouse.
The 2012 third overall pick should overcome those issues and post a 25- to 30-goal season in 2015-16.
Evgeny Kuznetsov, Washington Capitals
Kuznetsov didn't make a major impact in his second regular season with the Capitals, but the playoffs were another story.
The 23-year-old center scored five goals in 14 postseason games, including the series winner in Game 7 against the New York Islanders and a pair of markers in Game 5.
Kuznetsov scored more than one third of his regular-season points (13 of 37) on the power play in 2014-15.
He's still behind Nicklas Backstrom and likely Marcus Johansson on the depth chart, but if Kuznetsov can build on his playoff success and continue to carve out a role with the man-advantage, he should take a big step forward.
Jakob Silfverberg, Anaheim Ducks
Silfverberg has never scored more than 13 goals in a season, but he is expected to eclipse that mark in 2015-16 for a few reasons.
Like Kuznetsov, Silfverberg enjoyed a productive playoff run, notching 14 assists and 18 points in 16 games.
The Ottawa Senators' second-round pick in 2009 is arguably the Ducks' second-best right-winger behind Corey Perry, and that should give him plenty of playing time among the club's top-six forwards.
Anaheim signed Silfverberg to a four-year contract extension Friday, showing the 24-year-old that he is a core member of their forward group and a big part of their future.
Sean Couturier, Philadelphia Flyers
Couturier is entering his fifth season with the Flyers, who signed him to a reported six-year, $26-million deal last month.
The 22-year-old scored a career-high 15 goals in 2014-15, but he has only scratched the surface of his talent at the NHL level.
Philadelphia drafted Couturier eighth overall in 2011 after he scored 86 goals and racked up 223 points in three seasons with the QMJHL's Drummondville Voltigeurs.
The 6-foot-3, 197-pound center has since shown flashes of his offensive prowess, but he should rediscover his scoring touch in 2015-16.
Couturier will likely battle Brayden Schenn for top-six minutes, but he'll be motivated by the need to justify his new deal and the sense of urgency that comes with avoiding the draft bust label.
Valeri Nichushkin, Dallas Stars
Nichushkin played only eight games in his sophomore season, a campaign that was derailed by a hip injury.
The 20-year-old scored 14 goals in 79 contests as a rookie two seasons ago, and he could easily surpass those numbers as a healthy member of the revamped Stars.
Nichushkin doesn't have much competition at right wing (soon-to-be 32-year-old Ales Hemsky, Patrick Eaves, and Colton Sceviour), and he could explode if grouped with either Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn or Jason Spezza and Patrick Sharp.
Barring another injury setback, Dallas' 10th overall pick in 2013 is primed for a very productive season.
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