Former Minnesota Wild winger Justin Fontaine has landed a professional tryout (PTO) with the Florida Panthers, the team announced Thursday. They also announced that they’ve added former Winnipeg Jets defenseman Adam Pardy to their training camp roster on a PTO.
The 28-year-old Fontaine played a depth role for the Minnesota Wild since signing as an undrafted free agent out of the University of Minnesota Duluth. He just finished up a two-year contract with an AAV of $1 million and bounced between the team’s third and fourth lines over those two seasons.
Coming out of a four-year college career where he averaged over a point per game, he spent two full seasons with the Wild’s then AHL affiliate, the Houston Aeros. After scoring 23 goals and 56 points through 64 contests in the 2012-13 season, he graduated to full-time NHL duty.
Two seasons back, Fontaine posted strong possession numbers even though he saw time as a healthy scratch under the Wild’s former head coach Mike Yeo. Fontaine posted nine goals and 31 points in 72 games, with a -0.18% adjusted CF%Rel while taking significantly more defensive zone starts than the rest of the forward group. He also posted solid WOWY numbers, with almost every forward on the team showing improved possession while on the ice with Fontaine.
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Last season wasn’t quite as nice for the Bonnyville native. Injuries and lower offensive production saw his role reduced, even though his average ice time of 11:51 was basically the same as last year. He finished the year with a -4.15% adjusted CF%Rel while getting similar zone starts to the prior season. Fontaine scored only five goals and 16 points through 60 games. There were moments when injuries thinned the team’s forward corps, creating the opportunity for Fontaine to step up into a larger role with more offensive responsibility, but he never made it stick.
Only three years into his NHL career, Fontaine has the ability to play a depth role as a defensively-minded winger. He also took on penalty kill responsibilities last season for the first time, making him more valuable as a depth addition. That could be useful for the Panthers if they want to shift some penalty kill responsibility away from the team’s top scorers.
Jussi Jokinen, Jonathan Huberdeau, Aleksander Barkov, Vincent Trocheck and Reilly Smith were five of the six forwards with the most penalty kill ice time last season. Those five forwards ranked second, third, fourth, fifth and sixth on the team in overall scoring, respectively. Fontaine could provide another option for the team to free up some minutes and all-around responsibility from the players who are providing the team with the bulk of their offense.
With a handful of young players on the cusp in Florida, Fontaine might be a safe addition should he earn a spot coming out of camp. He’s capable of slotting into a depth role on a line with Derek Mackenzie and contributing a little secondary offense. Should a player like Kyle Rau, Dryden Hunt or Jayce Hawryluk perform well during the season and surpasses Fontaine on the depth chart, he could be waived without serious repercussions to the team’s depth. His addition wouldn’t block the way for the team’s best forward prospects.
However, he may just be competition at camp with recent acquisitions like Colton Sceviour, Jared McCann and Jonathan Marchessault likely to provide more versatile options with higher upside on depth lines.
Like all players signing PTOs, Fontaine remains eligible to sign with any NHL club. Of all the high-profile players agreeing to tryouts over the last few weeks, Fontaine is one who is likely to land a deal with a team. He could be a nice addition for a club looking to get a cap-friendly one-year deal to round out their offensive group.