By Ryan Dadoun, RotoWire
Special to Yahoo Sports
Young players develop at different speeds. Some make their mark in the NHL right away, but most need time to reach their potential. Drafting a player in the mid-to-late rounds with upside is a great way to get added value, and every player listed below has a shot at taking a serious step forward in 2022-23.
Bowen Byram, D, Colorado
Byram may have already had a breakout season in 2021-22 if it weren't for his injury issues. He missed a big chunk of the campaign due to a head injury, but he was effective when healthy, recording five goals and 17 points through 30 regular-season contests before adding another nine assists in 20 playoff games. Byram is a talented offensive defenseman, and while the Avalanche's embarrassment of riches on the blue line will limit his role, he could threaten the 40-point mark this year if he's able to avoid the injury bug.
Alexandar Georgiev, G, Colorado
The opportunity for Georgiev in 2022-23 is going to be fantastic. He's had some struggles along with some decent showings as the Rangers' backup goaltender over the past four years, but between Henrik Lundqvist and Igor Shesterkin, there was never much hope of Georgiev emerging as New York's long-term starter. Georgiev will, however, have a chance to establish himself as Colorado's No. 1 option in goal this year.
While he's coming off a rough season during which he posted a 2.92 GAA and an .898 save percentage through 33 contests, he'll have the defending Stanley Cup champions supporting him this campaign. Georgiev's current career high in wins is 17, but if he's able to hold on to the starting gig in Colorado, he should be able to more than double that this year.
Seth Jarvis, C, Carolina
Jarvis enjoyed a solid rookie season with 17 goals and 40 points through 68 contests in 2021-22, and he has the potential for so much more. First off, it's important to keep in mind that he logged a modest 13:53 of ice time per game last campaign. To put that into context, he tied Corey Perry for the scoring title among players who averaged under 14 minutes of ice time. Unlike Perry, Jarvis should see his role increase meaningfully this year. We already saw some of that toward the end of the 2021-22 campaign, and he took full advantage of the opportunity. Averaging 15:03 of ice time over his final 22 games, Jarvis racked up nine goals and 20 points. Still just 20 years old, there's plenty of reason to be excited about Jarvis' future.
Kirby Dach, C, Montreal
Dach never developed as the Blackhawks had hoped after they took him with the third overall pick in the 2019 Entry Draft. Chicago leaned on him somewhat heavily, so perhaps part of his problem is that he was given too much responsibility too quickly. While Dach is a big, talented young center, he comes with some significant warning signs. He doesn't deliver many hits despite his size, and he's been awful on the draw, so if your league includes either of those categories, then Dach's value takes a major hit. Then there's his offensive production, which hasn't really come to the surface yet. His nine goals and 26 points in 70 contests last season represented career highs for him. That said, the change of scenery he'll get after being acquired by Montreal over the summer should do him some good. The Canadiens' forwards shined once Martin St. Louis took over as head coach in February, and now he'll have the opportunity to help Dach. Like Montreal, any fantasy manager picking up Dach will be taking a risk, but it's not a bad risk to take given his upside.
Wahlstrom represents one of the riskiest options on this list. His 13 goals and 24 points through 73 games last season left plenty to be desired, but then again, he averaged just 12:04 of ice time per contest, so it's not as if he was given a lot of opportunities. It gets even more dreary than that, as his average ice time declined to just 10:27 over his last 33 appearances. The hope here is that new head coach Lane Lambert will give the Islanders' young prospects more leeway than Barry Trotz did. Wahlstrom is also entering the final year of his entry-level contract, so he'll presumably enter the season with extra motivation. All that said, Wahlstrom still has a lot to prove, and while the potential is there, there's a lot of uncertainty, too.
Cole Caufield, RW, Montreal
Caufield is an easy breakout candidate to recommend. He entered the 2021-22 campaign with plenty of promise and finished with a respectable 23 goals and 43 points in 67 games. Anyone who paid attention to the Canadiens last season knows those numbers don't tell the whole story. Caufield struggled under head coach Dominique Ducharme, but interim coach St. Louis seemed to know exactly how to get the most out of the diminutive winger after he took over as the team's bench boss. Under St. Louis, Caufield racked up 22 goals and 35 points in 37 contests. A full season with St. Louis at the helm should be a recipe for success for Caufield.
Cole Sillinger, C, Columbus
Sillinger's 16 goals and 31 points through 79 games last season weren't anything special for a rookie, but those numbers look a lot more impressive when you consider he was jumping straight to the NHL at the age of 18 and was limited to just 13:42 of ice time per contest. With a year's worth of NHL experience now under his belt, he should have a larger role in 2022-23. One thing to keep a close eye on over the coming weeks will be how the Blue Jackets' top line shakes out. The plan right now is for Johnny Gaudreau and Patrik Laine to play together on the team's first line, but it remains to be seen who will serve as that pair's center. Boone Jenner is an obvious candidate, but Sillinger will probably get a look in that spot during preseason action. Sillinger is a candidate to take a step forward regardless of how this situation plays out, but his value will increase significantly if he meshes with Gaudreau and Laine.
With 31 goals and 52 points through 135 career games during his first two campaigns, it's fair to say Lafreniere hasn't produced the way you'd hope from a first overall pick. However, keep in mind the Rangers' depth up front has often resulted in Lafreniere playing in a supporting role. He averaged 13:59 of ice time per contest last season, which was nearly unchanged from 2020-21, and he lacked consistent linemates. There should be an opportunity for him to assume a top-six role immediately in 2022-23, but it may be contingent on him shifting from the left to the ring wing. If he can pull off that transition, this could be a big season for Lafreniere.
Kaapo Kakko, RW, New York Rangers
Speaking of the Rangers' lack of established scoring right-wingers, the team's depth deficiency at that position makes it extremely likely that Kakko will start the season on one of the team's top-two lines, even if Lafreniere also serves on the right side. That might be a surprise to some given Kakko was a healthy scratch for Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals, but Frank Vatrano and Andrew Copp's departure in free agency has opened the door for Kakko to slide into a full-time, top-six role. That's not to say the Rangers have dug themselves into a hole by having faith in Kakko. It's true he hasn't measured up to the high expectations thrust on him over his first three seasons — he was limited to just seven goals and 18 points through 43 games in 2021-22 — but he was also battered by injuries last year. Plus, he's still just 21 years old and the tools are still there for him to be an offensive force. Betting on him is a risk, but the pieces are in place for Kakko to succeed in 2022-23.