Tis the season, with September fast approaching and training camps not far off, that NHL teams will start extending tryouts to the remaining unrestricted free agents.
Affectionately known as PTOs — professional tryouts — in the world of hockey lingo.
And there are many leftovers worthy of consideration this year, with only a few signings occurring in August. The so-called second wave of free agency has been quiet to date while general managers enjoy what’s left of their summer holidays — relaxing at their favourite vacation hot-spot and perhaps even turning off their smart phones. You know, going off the grid.
The offseason is almost over now, and that means back to work for GMs, before the coaches and players report for camp.
For the most part, rosters are in good shape around the league and the majority of teams would be content starting the season with their current depth charts. Otherwise, those GMs wouldn’t have been able to kick up their feet or put down their phones for the last month.
However, once they get reconnected and back into the office in the days to come, GMs are bound to take another look at their lineup and envision an addition or two — especially GMs of this year’s non-playoff teams.
Enter the PTO — the easiest way to add competition to training camp, without the commitment of a contract.
Some GMs will bring in veteran players on PTOs for the sole purpose of pushing their younger entry-level talents — essentially making them earn their roster spots, so that nothing is gifted — but other teams will have sincere interest in signing these more proven players to upgrade a certain position, or to allow their prospects more time to develop in the minors.
Finding the right fit is key — for both player and team, both agents and GMs — and that’s what I’ll try to do today in predicting 62 potential PTOs. Yes, two for each of the 31 teams.
At the beginning of August, I published a piece highlighting the amount of free-agent talent still available — enough to fill out three rosters, upwards of 75 in total.
— The Hockey Writers (@TheHockeyWriter) August 7, 2017
Most are still on the sidelines, awaiting the call and likely accepting their fate of a PTO at this point.
With the exception of Jaromir Jagr, Jarome Iginla and Shane Doan. That trio of former All-Stars and future Hall-of-Famers — Jagr for certain a first ballot, the other two will be debatable down the road — shouldn’t have to audition to extend their careers. If those 40-somethings want to keep playing, they will get signed sooner or later and not have to report to camp without contracts, competing against peach-fuzzed faces half their age. The grey beards will get jobs based on their past accomplishments and leadership intangibles, so the PTOs won’t apply to them.
Beyond those three, one would think Thomas Vanek and Drew Stafford are above a tryout as well — both still in their early 30s, with 700-plus games on their resumes. The PTOs are always a last resort for free agents, but those two shouldn’t have to resort to that. Not yet anyway, they can wait it out until closer to October — and presumably get signed without stepping on the ice.
So, scratch Jagr, Iginla, Doan, Vanek and Stafford from that list of 60-plus names. I will still predict their landing spots at the end of this exercise but, for now, let’s focus on the PTOs.
Also no longer available from my three free-agent teams are Francois Beauchemin (Anaheim), Matt Cullen (Minnesota), Stephen Gionta (N.Y. Islanders), R.J. Umberger (Dallas, PTO), Jimmy Hayes (New Jersey, PTO), Bobby Farnham (N.Y. Rangers, PTO), Quinton Howden (KHL, Dinamo Minsk), Borna Rendulic (Finland), Sam Brittain (AHL, San Antonio) and Matt Greene (retired, Los Angeles pro scout). Everybody else remains fair game for PTOs.
For the record, I was totally going to predict Beauchemin back to Anaheim, but maybe that one was too obvious. He signed a one-year, $1-million deal with the Ducks on Monday before I could put the finishing touches on this piece.
Nevertheless, let’s just pretend I’m 1-for-1 and take it from there. Here’s the next 62, in order of likelihood:
1) Chicago Blackhawks — Cody Franson (RD) and Daniel Winnik (C/LW)
ANALYSIS: Franson has been rumoured to Chicago for some time already, but I’ll gladly take that gimme to go 2-for-2! Kidding aside, the best of the rest will be able to pick their PTO landing spots and that’s the case with these two. There will be rare opportunities in Chicago’s camp and Stan Bowman will likely bring in some established vets with hopes of signing them dirt cheap in return for the chance to play for a contender. That’s how this works, though Franson and Winnik are both strong candidates for contracts between now and when camp breaks.
In Chicago, with Brian Campbell retired, Trevor van Riemsdyk traded and Niklas Hjalmarsson downgraded to Connor Murphy, there are a few openings behind Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook on defence. Franson would be competing with Michal Rozsival, Michal Kempny, Gustav Forsling, Jan Ruttu, Erik Gustaffson, Ville Pokka, Viktor Svedberg, Jordan Oesterle and Luc Snuggerud — 10 players battling for three spots, but Franson would be the favourite to round out Chicago’s top four. The only problem is Franson shoots right-handed, the same as Seabrook and Murphy, with Keith the only lefty in that group.
As for Winnik, his addition would allow the Blackhawks to ice a grinding fourth line with Winnik between Lance Bouma and Tommy Wingels, while Tanner Kero and Tomas Jurco would then compete to flank Nick Schmaltz and Ryan Hartman on a young third line. The likes of Laurent Dauphin, John Hayden, Vinnie Hinostroza, Jordin Tootoo, David Kampf, Kyle Baun, Alex DeBrincat and Alexandre Fortin probably wouldn’t crack the top 12 if Winnik entered the picture on a PTO, but the Blackhawks are going to have a very competitive camp with or without PTOs.
2) New York Rangers — Mike Ribeiro (C) and Brandon Mashinter (LW)
ANALYSIS: The Rangers would like to keep J.T. Miller on the wing, which would mean David Desharnais and/or this year’s top-10 pick Lias Andersson filling the bottom-two centre spots. That is sketchy, but so is signing Ribeiro, who relapsed with his alcohol issues while playing for Nashville last season. That has been well documented, but Ribeiro is still a quality playmaker who could work well with Michael Grabner and one of Miller, Pavel Buchnevich or Jimmy Vesey as a third-line pivot. Ribeiro would seemingly be an upgrade on Desharnais, as long as he’s sober, and the Rangers shouldn’t rush Andersson.
Full disclosure, I had Hayes to the Rangers, thinking it could work well with his brother Kevin already the second-line centre there. Jimmy is a big-bodied right-winger who had a rough season in Boston but could have rebounded on the same team — if not the same line — as his sibling. The Rangers might have an opening down the depth chart, at least temporarily, with Jesper Fast recovering from off-season hip surgery and expected to miss the start of the season. Hayes would have had his work cut out for him to stay in the lineup, but the Rangers had room for him in the press box if he continued to struggle. That said, there should be more opportunity for Hayes with the Devils, so smart choice on his part.
Mashinter was a last-minute replacement, but he’s played for the Rangers in the past and had a solid AHL season (30 points, 15 goals, 70 penalty minutes, tied for team in goals and third in points). Mashinter’s skill-set is somewhat comparable to Edmonton’s Patrick Maroon, and Alain Vigneault may want a physical force as an option up front since the Rangers appear to be parting ways with Tanner Glass. Mashinter could be a Glass replacement, even if he spends more time in the press box than on the ice, though he’d have to beat out fellow PTO Farnham for that role. If not Mashinter, Brett Gallant is another AHL pugilist that had past stints with the rival Islanders.
3) Washington Capitals — Dennis Wideman (RD) and Jiri Hudler (LW/RW)
ANALYSIS: Wideman had his second-best season in a 14-year career with Washington, producing 46 points (11 goals) back in 2011-12 before moving on to Calgary and topping out at 56 points (15 goals) in 2014-15. Then he collided with a linesman and it has been all downhill since for Wideman. A return to Washington could present the perfect bounce-back opportunity, with the Capitals down a couple defenders after Karl Alzner (Montreal) and Kevin Shattenkirk (Rangers) signed elsewhere as free agents this summer. Matt Niskanen and John Carlson anchor the top four on the right side, but Wideman could possibly beat out top prospect Madison Bowey for the third-pairing spot. The other serious roster contenders are all left-handed in Christian Djoos, Taylor Chorney, Aaron Ness and Lucas Johansen, so Washington could become home again for Wideman.
Hudler, if healthy, could be another good fit for Washington, with the Capitals also losing top-six wingers Justin Williams (free agency) and Marcus Johansson (traded for salary-cap reasons). As it stands, Evgeny Kuznetsov will likely be centering two youngsters on the second line in Andre Burakovsky (22) and rookie Jakub Vrana (21). They are both full of promise, but the decade-older Hudler is more proven and would provide depth in the event of injuries. Then again, staying healthy has been Hudler’s biggest weakness in recent years.
Like Chicago, Washington is still viewed as a contender, albeit a depleted one, so some of these top PTO seekers might set their sights on the Capitals.
4) New Jersey Devils — Chris Lee (LD) and Roman Polak (RD)
ANALYSIS: Lee is supposedly holding out for a one-way contract as a 37-year-old rookie — who racked up 65 points (14 goals) in the KHL last season — and New Jersey is likely his best bet. The Devils don’t really have a third pairing right now, nor do they have a real power-play quarterback, so this might be a match. But Ray Shero would presumably be much more interested if Lee was turning 27 in October, not 37. That said, Lee seems to be getting better with age and may be the ultimate late-bloomer with a couple good NHL seasons left in him. Maybe or maybe not, but New Jersey has nothing to lose by inviting Lee to camp on a PTO and, as mentioned, this is his best shot at that elusive one-way deal.
Polak, who is serviceable and still only 31, could partner with Lee and form a third pairing for the Devils. Their skill-sets could complement each other and should be better options than some combination of Steven Santini, Mirco Mueller, Michael Kapla, Dalton Prout, Viktor Loov and Brian Strait. Those six are currently competing for three or four roster spots. Lee and Polak would add to that competition and could crack the lineup. The Devils have plenty of cap space, it just depends if Shero wants to go young on the back end and focus on development or try to get this team trending up in the standings sooner than later.
5) Montreal Canadiens — John-Michael Liles (LD) and Marc-Andre Bergeron (LD)
ANALYSIS: The Habs have a couple openings on the left side of their defence, with the departures of Andrei Markov and Nathan Beaulieu. They could use a puck-mover or two on that side, with Karl Alzner the only roster lock as more of a stay-at-home type. Liles and Bergeron both fit the bill as more offensive types, but Montreal’s camp is already going to be crowded for blueliners. Mark Streit, David Schlemko, Jordie Benn, Brandon Davidson, Joe Morrow, Matt Taormina and Jakub Jerabek are all lefties under contract — seven of them — competing for three or four roster spots. Jerabek is coming from Europe with a fair bit of hype as a puck-mover. That was Streit’s role throughout his career, but he’s well past his prime. The others are also quite capable in that department, so there might not be room for Liles or Bergeron here.
However, Marc Bergevin likes stockpiling defencemen and might invite them anyway. Bergeron hasn’t played in the NHL since 2012-13, but he returned to North America and had a decent season for Columbus’ farm team in 2016-17. Bergeron had his best NHL season, in terms of per-game production, with the Canadiens back in 2009-10 (34 points and 13 goals in 60 games, prorated to 46 points and 18 goals over 82 games). He’s a French Canadian and those guys are always welcome (and welcome back) in Montreal, it seems, but Bergeron will be 37 years old in October.
Liles is an American, with a French-sounding name, and three 40-plus point and 10-plus goal seasons on his resume — peaking at 49 points (14 goals) with Colorado back in 2005-06. Liles isn’t the same player more than a decade later, also turning 37 years old in November and coming off a season where he was used sparingly in Boston (five points, no goals, in 36 games). The previous season, split between Carolina and Boston, Liles produced six goals and 21 points in 81 combined games, so he’s not necessarily washed up just yet. However, neither Liles nor Bergeron are better than Streit, who turns 40 in December, so they would probably be redundant in Montreal.
6) Dallas Stars — Scottie Upshall (LW) and Mark Stuart (LD)
ANALYSIS: Could Upshall follow Ken Hitchcock to Dallas? It’s certainly a possibility. Hitchcock had lots of time for Upshall in St. Louis, keeping him in the lineup as a bottom-sixer and penalty-killer. Mattias Janmark is coming off a serious injury and if he’s not up to speed in training camp, that would bump Antoine Roussel up the depth chart, leaving two spots open in the bottom six. Curtis McKenzie would likely claim one, but Upshall would be in the mix for the other. Working in his favour, most the depth wingers in Dallas shoot right — including Tyler Pitlick, Brian Flynn and Adam Cracknell — so there might be an opportunity there for Upshall.
Stuart is still looking for a new team, an established defender with almost 700 games of NHL experience. Dallas, like Montreal, is flooded with bodies on the back end, but experience is a bit of a concern for the Stars. The acquisition of Marc Methot obviously helps — Stuart is somewhat similar in playing style, a poor man’s Methot — and Dan Hamhuis should rebound in his second season with Dallas, playing under Hitchcock’s defensive structure. Stephen Johns is probably a better (and younger) version of Stuart, albeit on the right side. Jamie Oleksiak, Patrik Nemeth and Dillon Heatherington are all lefties who can also play a shutdown style, but Stuart is more of a sure thing as of today. The Stars also have offensive types like John Klingberg, an obvious roster lock on the top pairing, plus Esa Lindell and Julius Honka. Hitchcock might like the idea of Methot, Hamhuis and Stuart down the left side, but that would leave two of Lindell, Oleksiak, Nemeth and Heatherington in the press box, with the other two in the minors. That wouldn’t be great for their development and Lindell looks ready for full-time duty, so Stuart may not make the cut on a PTO.
7) Edmonton Oilers — Brandon Pirri (C/LW) and Jared Cowen (LD)
ANALYSIS: The Oilers would prefer Pirri to be right-handed — they could use another right-handed centre option — but he’s a versatile forward who would add competition to training camp the way Kris Versteeg did on a PTO last year (prior to signing with Calgary). Edmonton has good depth up front, with lots of forwards capable of playing multiple positions, which makes for all kinds of potential line combinations. Pirri would likely be competing with sophomores Drake Caggiula and Anton Slepyshev for a regular role, or Jujhar Khaira, Joseph Gambardella, Joey LaLeggia, Brad Malone and Grayson Downing for a press-box spot. Pirri could be a better option than the latter five, but he would need to be a camp standout like Versteeg was last year to garner a contract offer from Peter Chiarelli.
Cowen had been connected to Edmonton earlier in the offseason, before the Oilers signed the likes of Yohann Auvitu, Ryan Stanton and Keegan Lowe. Those three are all lefties, like Cowen, so that ship might have sailed, but Chiarelli may still want a closer look at Cowen and how he’s recovering from chronic hip problems. The Oilers also have a lot of left-handed defence prospects like Dillon Simpson, Ziyat Paigin and Caleb Jones, so Cowen would be a long-shot to land a contract — more of a long-shot than Pirri in Edmonton.
8) Florida Panthers — P-A Parenteau (RW) and Michael Kostka (RD)
ANALYSIS: Parenteau should welcome a PTO from the Panthers. He’d be competing with Evgeny Dadonov and Denis Malgin for top-nine spots, with Radim Vrbata cemented in one of those three roles. Parenteau could win a job in Florida, perhaps even slotting in on the top line with fellow Francophone Jonathan Huberdeau and playmaking centre Aleksander Barkov. Dadonov is penciled into that spot — as Jagr’s replacement — but Parenteau would definitely make him earn it. Parenteau could also add much-needed depth, be it on the third line over Malgin or as a press-box option.
Kostka would be a depth addition too, with Florida’s top six already set on defence. But the Panthers might prefer a veteran journeyman like Kostka or Nate Guenin to occupy the press box, while allowing prospects Ian McCoshen and MacKenzie Weegar to play top-pairing minutes in the AHL. Linus Hultstrom and Reece Scarlett, both 24 and right-handed, would also be in the running for that No. 7 role. Kostka is turning 32 and Guenin 35 before Christmas, but both have the advantage of NHL experience — 85 and 205 career games, respectively — over McCoshen (3 GP), Weegar (3 GP), Hultstrom and Scarlett, so Dale Tallon and Bob Boughner will have to decide how to round out Florida’s defence corps.
9) Nashville Predators — Brian Gionta (RW) and Chris VandeVelde (C)
ANALYSIS: The Preds appear to have a lot of budding talent up front based on the playoffs — Pontus Aberg, Colton Sissons, Frederick Guadreau and Austin Watson all emerging — but David Poile might want to bring in more experience. Kevin Fiala, a promising left-winger, is recovering ahead of schedule from the broken leg he suffered in the postseason, but that could open up another forward spot if he starts the campaign on the IR. Gionta’s leadership qualities would be welcome in Nashville, helping to replace Mike Fisher’s presence following his retirement. Gionta would be an even better fit here if he were a left-winger, with Colin Wilson also traded in the offseason, but Nashville could make room on the roster for another veteran forward with more than 1,000 games played.
VandeVelde is a 30-year-old late-bloomer coming off his third full NHL season with Philadelphia. He’d be battling Gaudreau and Sissons for that fourth-line centre role, or Cody McLeod, Miikka Salomaki, Emil Pettersson and Vladislav Kamenev for one or two press-box spots. An uphill battle for VandeVelde to stay in the big league, but he’d challenge those younger options.
10) St. Louis Blues — Chris Kelly (C) and Brandon Gormley (LD)
ANALYSIS: With Patrik Berglund undergoing another shoulder surgery and sidelined until December again, Kelly becomes an attractive option to fill that void as a bottom-six swingman. St. Louis still has Kyle Brodziak as a veteran capable of playing centre, plus younger pivots like Ivan Barbashev, Oskar Sundqvist and Wade Megan looking to crack the roster. Kelly wouldn’t be a lock here, but he’d have a decent chance.
Gormley wouldn’t have much of a chance at all, now considered a bust or at least a reclamation project. Doug Armstrong may want to take a look at Gormley, but he’d be way down the depth chart entering training camp — behind most, if not all of Carl Gunnarsson, Robert Bortuzzo, Nate Prosser, Petteri Lindbohm, Chris Butler, Jordan Schmaltz, Jake Walman, Vince Dunn and Thomas Vannelli. That’s 10 defenders, counting Gormley, for three or maybe four roster spots. Gormley may still be better off going to Europe and trying to crack Canada’s Olympic team, but Armstrong has some pull there and could put in a good word if he had a decent camp showing with St. Louis.
11) Tampa Bay Lightning — Chris Neil (RW) and Teddy Purcell (RW)
ANALYSIS: The Lightning might be one of the teams looking to add more toughness this offseason and Neil might be the toughest guy available who can actually play a little. Steve Yzerman could see value in Neil and give him a PTO, competing against J.T. Brown and Erik Condra, plus a bunch of prospects, for a fourth-line role.
Throw Purcell into that mix too. His return to Los Angeles, his first NHL team, didn’t work out at all last season and he was demoted to the minors where he was a point-per-game player in the AHL. Perhaps Purcell would have better luck in a return to Tampa Bay, his second NHL team and where he had his most success — enjoying a career year in 2011-12 (65 points, 24 goals). Purcell might have better luck in training camp on a PTO with the Lightning than Neil, but they would both be intriguing additions for Jon Cooper to consider.
12) Minnesota Wild — Jack Skille (RW) and Matt Hendricks (LW/C)
ANALYSIS: Gionta could land here too, as an insurance policy considering how injury-prone Tyler Ennis has been in recent years. Skille obviously isn’t as proven as Gionta, but he’s got NHL talent and offensive skill, which could be a good fit for Bruce Boudreau’s system in Minnesota. Skille would be competing with Landon Ferraro and Kurtis Gabriel for a fourth-line role, though top prospect Luke Kunin could shift to the right wing from his natural centre position as well if he forces his way onto the opening-night roster.
Hendricks is from Minnesota and would likely embrace playing for his hometown team, even if means serving as a healthy scratch for much of the season. He was already relegated to that role in Edmonton, but Hendricks is as versatile as he is tough, so Boudreau might take a liking to him and perhaps even play Hendricks over another top prospect, Joel Eriksson Ek, as Minnesota’s fourth-line centre at times. Having Hendricks and Skille in the press box as injury fill-ins would give the Wild great depth if Chuck Fletcher can squeeze them in under the cap.
13) New York Islanders — Vern Fiddler (C) and Ryan Carter (C)
ANALYSIS: With Jason Chimera and Shane Prince being hurt to start the season and Matt Barzal not yet a roster lock, the Islanders may want to bring in a couple veteran centres for added competition. If Barzal isn’t ready in Doug Weight’s eyes, Brock Nelson and Casey Cizikas would move up to the depth chart and leave a hole at fourth-line centre. In that event, Fiddler and Carter could battle Alan Quine and Connor Jones for that role until Chimera and Prince are healthy.
Carter has a history with Stephen Gionta, who recently re-signed with the Islanders, but Fiddler is likely the more talented option. Fiddler could work well with Nikolay Kulemin and Cal Clutterbuck, but turning these PTOs into contracts would depend largely on Barzal.
14) Philadelphia Flyers — Fedor Tyutin (LD) and Jakub Kindl (LD)
ANALYSIS: The Flyers will probably go young on the blue line this season, but Ron Hextall won’t want to hand over roster spots to two of Travis Sanheim, Sam Morin and Robert Hagg. He’ll want to make them earn those roles, perhaps by beating out a couple veterans on PTOs like Tyutin and Kindl. Two different defenders, but either of them (or possibly both) could carve out roles in Philadelphia if they proved more competent than the kids during the preseason.
Shayne Gostisbehere, Ivan Provorov and Radko Gudas are roster locks there, with Andrew MacDonald likely in the top six too. T.J. Brennan could get a legit NHL chance this season too, or at least ride pine in the press box. There is a bit of internal competition, but not as much as most teams heading into training camp, so the Flyers could take a look at Tyutin, Kindl or any number of other blueliners still searching for PTOs.
15) Toronto Maple Leafs — Jyrki Jokipakka (LD) and Drew Miller (LW)
ANALYSIS: With Alexey Marchenko heading to the KHL, the Leafs might have room for another depth defender with upside like Jokipakka. He’s almost a clone of Marchenko — similar in age, size and skill-set — so Toronto could take a liking to Jokipakka. In saying that, the Leafs still have Martin Marincin pencilled into the third pairing, with Swedish free-agent signings Calle Rosen and Andreas Borgman and top prospect Travis Dermott also pushing to round out the left side of the roster. Jokipakka may have a better chance of making the cut on other teams — like New Jersey — but there might be mutual interest with Toronto in terms of a PTO.
Miller has a history with Mike Babcock from Detroit, so the Leafs could take a look at him too. Toronto is even deeper up front than on the back end, with several prospects on the cusp of making the jump from the AHL, but Miller is a versatile veteran who could swap in and out with Matt Martin between the fourth line and the press box. The Leafs might prefer somebody like Miller in the press box rather than a prospect like Kasperi Kapanen or even Kerby Rychel. Josh Leivo is probably going to be the 13th forward, but if the Leafs go with 14, then Miller could be that guy. If they go with eight defencemen instead, Jokipakka could be that guy.
16) Los Angeles Kings — Milan Michalek (LW) and Zbynek Michalek (RD)
ANALYSIS: Could the Michalek brothers be looking to play together before calling it quits on their NHL careers? It’s possible, but it seems they are both on their last legs after spending most of last season in the minors. Then again, Milan is only turning 33 and Zbynek 35, both in December, so they could potentially rebound in the right situation.
In Los Angeles, with Marian Gaborik not expected to be ready for the start of the season, Milan could take his spot on the second line with Anze Kopitar and Mike Cammalleri. Adrian Kempe will likely get a look there as he embarks on his first full NHL season, but Michalek could enjoy a resurgence in returning to California where he had his best years playing for San Jose.
Zbynek has played the majority of his career in nearby Arizona, so he might prefer to stay in the Pacific Division as well. He’d have to beat out Christian Folin and Paul LaDue to crack L.A.’s roster, which would be easier said than done, but Rob Blake may give Zbynek that opportunity — especially if he also sees a need for Milan.
17) Carolina Hurricanes — Lauri Korpikoski (LW) and Mackenzie Skapski (G)
ANALYSIS: These two aren’t related (obviously), but their names do kind of rhyme. Starting with Skapski, it should be noted that if teams are still shopping for goaltending depth, they will be S-O-L. Skapski is arguably the best of the remaining bunch, with all of the options being AHL-ECHL tweeners — that list also including Michael Garteig, Matt Hackett, Stephon Williams, Mantas Armalis, Mac Carruth and Daniel Altshuller. Who, who and who? Yeah, it is slim pickings for goalies. Fortunately for Carolina, this would strictly be a depth move since Scott Darling and Cam Ward will form the NHL tandem, with top prospect Alex Nedeljkovic and Jeremy Smith partnering in the AHL. However, Ward will enter the season as a pending free agent and could be moved at the trade deadline. In that case, assuming Darling is going strong as the new Hurricanes’ starter, either Nedeljkovic and Smith would be recalled to serve as his backup. That would leave an opening in the AHL, which could be filled by Skapski as an ECHL call-up.
Korpikoski is probably the better bet here, with Ron Francis and the Hurricanes really liking their Scandinavian forwards. Korpikoski, from Finland, could be a nice fit on the fourth line with a pair of Swedes in Marcus Kruger and Joakim Nordstrom. That would bump Brock McGinn from the lineup, joining Josh Jooris in the press box, while keeping the likes of Phil Di Giuseppe, Andrew Miller, Andrew Poturalski, Lucas Wallmark, Aleksi Saarela, Valentin Zykov and Sergey Tolchinsky in the minors to start the season.
Carolina has tons of cap space, so Francis could also look to bring in some bigger names on PTOs — any of Hudler, Parenteau, Gionta or Michalek — but Korpikoski may still be the favourite here.
18) Detroit Red Wings — Nick Schultz (LD) and Mike Weber (LD)
ANALYSIS: There are a lot of question marks on Detroit’s defence, with Mike Green likely becoming trade bait as a pending free agent next summer, while Niklas Kronwall and Jonathan Ericsson are coming back from serious injuries and may never be the same. Not that Schultz and Weber would necessarily be the answer for the Red Wings — maybe if their first names were Justin and Shea instead of Nick and Mike — but they would add depth if Green is moved or if Kronwall and Ericsson get hurt again. They are serviceable at the NHL level, but nothing special. And if nothing else, Schultz and Weber would add competition to training camp, battling with Xavier Ouellet, Robbie Russo, Dylan McIlrath and Libor Sulak for a roster spot or two.
Detroit might instead target some younger defencemen on PTOs, perhaps Jokipakka and Gormley or several of the names still to come — or even names that didn’t make my top 62 like Patrick McNally (LD), Dalton Thrower (RD) and Dylan Blujus (RD).
19) Columbus Blue Jackets — John Mitchell (C) and Adam Pardy (LD)
ANALYSIS: The Blue Jackets appear pretty set, but Mitchell could challenge Lukas Sedlak for the fourth-line centre role. Top prospects Pierre-Luc Dubois and Sonny Milano will be in the mix for top-nine spots, but Mitchell would be a better fit on a checking-type line and might also have a better chance of gaining John Tortorella’s trust for defensive assignments. It helps Mitchell’s cause that he can kill penalties too, perhaps being more well-rounded than Sedlak.
Pardy isn’t flashy, but he’s a solid depth defender who could fill in alongside Ryan Murray if Markus Nutivaara hasn’t recovered from offseason surgery in time for the season opener. Nutivaara could be ready to go, and the Blue Jackets also have prospects Gabriel Carlsson and Scott Harrington competing for that spot, along with minor-league veterans like Dean Kukan, Andre Benoit, Cameron Gaunce and John Ramage. It’s tough to say how Pardy would stack up with that group, but a PTO audition couldn’t hurt for Columbus.
20) Vegas Golden Knights — Alex Chiasson (RW) and Scott Kosmachuk (RW)
ANALYSIS: The Golden Knights are going to have the league’s most competitive camp as an expansion team with essentially every roster spot up for grabs and no set line combinations as of today. Gerard Gallant and his coaching staff will have all kinds of decisions to make, and George McPhee will likely extend several PTO offers to ensure those decisions are difficult. Vegas will probably look at inviting younger players and borderline busts with the possibility of untapped potential, such as Chiasson and Kosmachuk. No risk, but perhaps a fairly high reward.
Chiasson and Kosmachuk would be battling Teemu Pulkkinen and top prospect Alex Tuch for a couple roster spots, presumably on the fourth line and in the press box. Chiasson would have a better chance of sticking in Vegas out of training camp, but Kosmachuk could earn a two-way contract to start the campaign with the AHL’s Chicago Wolves.
21) Pittsburgh Penguins — Andrew Desjardins (C) and Harry Zolnierczyk (LW)
ANALYSIS: Like Chicago and Washington, Pittsburgh may wind up with some more notable PTOs as the league’s two-time defending champion. Desjardins and Zolnierczyk don’t have much name value, but they could exceed expectations in bottom-six roles — perhaps as linemates with Ryan Reaves on the fourth unit. Scott Wilson, Carter Rowney, Greg McKegg, Tom Kuhnhackl and Josh Archibald would be competing for those spots as of today, while promising prospects Zach Aston-Reese and Daniel Sprong will be looking to land top-nine spots by bumping somebody else down the depth chart into those holes.
Desjardins would have a good chance as a centre — only needing to outperform Rowney or McKegg — but most expect Jim Rutherford to acquire a better third-line pivot before camp breaks. There are some names on the trade market, but Ribeiro might of interest to Pittsburgh as well.
Zolnierczyk was fairly impressive, if overshadowed, in Nashville’s run to the Stanley Cup Final. Pittsburgh would have scouted him first-hand in that series — the last games of the season — so Rutherford may want to snag Zolnierczyk for the Penguins the way the Predators stole Nick Bonino as a free agent.
I had Farnham going back to Pittsburgh on a PTO — the return of the Wild Thing who was a big hit with the Baby Pens a few years ago — but the Rangers spoiled that prediction.
22) Ottawa Senators — Rene Bourque (RW) and Eric Gelinas (LD)
ANALYSIS: The Sens, under Pierre Dorion and Guy Boucher, seem to like French Canadians and local products, so these two fit the bill. Gelinas is from Vanier, Ont., an Ottawa suburb, while Bourque is from a French town in Alberta. Bourque would be battling with Tom Pyatt, Chris DiDomenico, Ben Sexton (another local newcomer), Nick Paul and Max Reinhart for a couple forward spots. Gelinas would be competing with Johnny Oduya, Fredrik Claesson, Mark Borowiecki and top prospect Thomas Chabot for three or four defence spots on the left side.
23) Buffalo Sabres — Jeremy Morin (LW/RW) and Tim Erixon (LD)
ANALYSIS: The Sabres, under new GM Jason Botterill, might be looking to bolster AHL Rochester more than Buffalo’s roster when it comes to their PTOs. Morin would challenge for an NHL spot, up against Nicolas Deslauriers, Jacob Josefson, Seth Griffith, Evan Rodrigues, Sean Malone, C.J. Smith, Nic Baptiste, Justin Bailey and Hudson Fasching. Morin would be one of 10 players trying to land three or four jobs — two on the fourth line and one or two in the press box. An uphill battle, but not necessarily impossible.
Erixon, on the other hand, would almost certainly be destined for Rochester since he’d be competing with Victor Antipin, Josh Gorges, Taylor Fedun, Matt Tennyson, Justin Falk, Casey Nelson and top prospect Brendan Guhle for two or three spots in Buffalo. As you can see, Rochester’s blue line stands to be much improved regardless of whether Erixon could earn a two-way or AHL-only contract out of Buffalo’s training camp.
24) Winnipeg Jets — Ryan White (RW/C) and Joseph Cramarossa (LW/C)
ANALYSIS: The Jets are already deep up front, but they don’t have a ton of grit in their projected lineup — not even on the fourth line. That might be by design, to roll with four scoring lines this season, but Kevin Cheveldayoff might want to bring in some sandpaper for the preseason.
White and Cramarossa are capable of playing a regular shift and both would likely be upgrades on Thorburn’s role from last season. However, Shawn Matthias and Joel Armia seem to have dibs on the fourth-line wings, with Andrew Copp, Brandon Tanev and Michael Sgarbossa among those competing for press-box duty. White and Cramarossa could factor in there somewhere, but the Jets may instead look at a couple defencemen on PTOs to compete with Ben Chiarot, Julian Melchiori, Nelson Nogier, Tucker Poolman and Sami Niku for one or two spots.
25) Colorado Avalanche — Simon Despres (LD) and Jordan Caron (RW/C)
ANALYSIS: Here are a couple interesting ones, with Despres’ ability to attend any training camp dependent on passing a physical and a base-line test for his history of concussions. If healthy, Despres could be the perfect addition for the Avs and should be signed almost immediately. With Nikita Zadorov not yet signed, the left side is wide open in Colorado. Mark Barberio has the other top-four role as of now, with Anton Lindholm, Andrei Mironov and David Warsofsky also in the mix for one or two more jobs. From that group, only Zadorov should be playing ahead of a healthy Despres and even that’s debatable.
Caron to Colorado seemed like a good idea, prior to the Avs signing college free agent Alex Kerfoot on Wednesday. Caron could still end up at Colorado’s camp on a PTO, but he’d likely be destined for AHL San Antonio since Kerfoot, Matt Nieto, Joe Colborne, Gabriel Bourque, Rocco Grimaldi, A.J. Greer and Andrew Agozzino are already competing for the final three forward spots on the roster. Two left-handed defencemen on PTOs probably makes more sense in hindsight.
26) Arizona Coyotes — Cody Goloubef (RD) and Mac Carruth (G)
ANALYSIS: With Jakob Chychrun’s injury and uncertain timetable, the Coyotes might bring in another right-handed defenceman like Goloubef on a PTO. Adam Clendening and Kyle Wood will get the longest looks for that opening, but Goloubef could ink a two-way contract out of training camp and be high on the call-up list if he didn’t start the season in Arizona’s press box.
The Coyotes are one of those teams that could still use a bit more depth between the pipes, with Carruth a possibility here. As was the case with Carolina, Arizona’s top four spots are spoken for with Antti Raanta and Louis Domingue in the NHL and Marek Langhamer and Adin Hill backstopping AHL Tuscon. Carruth, a product of the WHL’s Portland Winterhawks like Hill, would likely end up in the ECHL as a result. But he’d give the Coyotes an extra target at camp.
27) Anaheim Ducks — Spencer Abbott (RW/C) and Stuart Percy (LD)
ANALYSIS: Abbott finished last season with Anaheim’s AHL affiliate, the San Diego Gulls, and was very productive there (14 points in 16 regular-season games and six more points in eight playoff games). Abbott is probably a career minor-leaguer, already being 29 years old, but he may have earned an audition with Anaheim.
Percy was a first-round pick back in 2011 and looked decent in a call-up with Toronto, but has otherwise been a bust thus far. The Ducks may need more depth on defence, with Sami Vatanen and Hampus Lindholm both recovering from shoulder surgeries and unlikely to be ready for Anaheim’s season opener. Percy wouldn’t be filling either of those spots — Beauchemin was signed for that reason — but Percy could find a role with San Diego, alongside the likes of Steve Oleksy, Jacob Larsson, Jaycob Megna and Andy Welinski. The Ducks might invite some sexier names to camp on PTOs, but these two could still be options.
28) Boston Bruins — Tanner Glass (LW) and Victor Bartley (LD)
ANALYSIS: The big, bad Bruins don’t have a whole lot of toughness in their current depth chart, so Don Sweeney might bring in a guy like Glass or even former division rival Neil. Boston’s bottom-six forwards are very much in the air heading into camp, with a dozen players expected to compete for a half-dozen spots on the NHL roster. Glass, with his unique-but-archaic skill-set, could be added to that mix.
Bartley would be a depth move on defence too, the type of blueliner who will probably always be a No. 7-9 wherever he lands. In Boston, Bartley would be battling with Paul Postma, Matt Grzelcyk, Rob O’Gara, Tommy Cross and possibly prospect Jakub Zboril for one or two spots.
29) San Jose Sharks — Brooks Laich (LW/C) and Michael Garteig (G)
ANALYSIS: Tough to say who could be of potential interest to San Jose on PTOs, but Laich is a former linemate of Joel Ward in Washington and a good character veteran who got buried in the minors in Toronto last season. The Sharks seem to have three open forward spots, with plenty of internal competition between Marcus Sorensen, Kevin Labanc, Ryan Carpenter, Danny O’Regan, Barclay Goodrow and Brandon Bollig. Laich offers a different skill-set than most of those options — with Goodrow probably the closest comparable — so that could work in Laich’s favour, depending what Peter DeBoer is looking for to round out his roster.
San Jose may be in the market for one more goalie too, a fifth-string ECHLer behind Martin Jones, Aaron Dell, Troy Grosenick and Antoine Bibeau, in that order. Garteig could be a fit, but that’s just throwing a random dart. Any of those aforementioned netminders could be invited by the Sharks, but none of them would be receiving a two-way NHL contract.
30) Calgary Flames — Jay McClement (C) and Boyd Gordon (C)
ANALYSIS: The Flames were another difficult team to project PTOs. They might still sign a top-six right-winger, but that would be one of the big five (no spoiler here). Otherwise, Calgary’s roster looks complete, but the Flames don’t have a ton of depth down the middle and might consider inviting an experienced centre or two — like McClement and/or Gordon, though neither would stand much chance of earning a contract. They would help Calgary meet the minimum veteran rule for preseason games and give the Flames an extra left- and right-shot pivot, respectively. But Sean Monahan, Mikael Backlund, Sam Bennett, Matt Stajan, Curtis Lazar and Mark Jankowski will almost certainly serve as Calgary’s centres this season.
The Flames are even deeper on the wings, especially if Lazar and Jankowski slot in there, but maybe they would offer PTOs to the likes of Christian Thomas, Henrik Samuelsson and Casey Bailey (or the next two names). However, Calgary could also be one of several teams that don’t extend any PTOs, while other clubs like Vegas may be handing out a handful or more.
31) Vancouver Canucks — Mark MacMillan (C/LW) and Joel Lowry (LW)
ANALYSIS: Vancouver is in the same boat as Calgary on that front, with so many one-way contracts already coming to training camp — both forwards and defencemen. If the Canucks offer any PTOs, they might be to local B.C. products like MacMillan, who is from Penticton — where Vancouver hosts its Young Stars prospect tournament in a couple weeks, though he might be too old for that showcase at 25. MacMillan wouldn’t be a candidate to crack the Canucks’ roster either, but could earn an AHL contract with their farm team, the Utica Comets.
Lowry is from Calgary, the son of former NHLer Dave, who had been coaching junior in Victoria, B.C., for the past five seasons before ironically joining the staff of the team that drafted but didn’t retain Joel (Los Angeles). Joel, whose younger brother Adam is a centre for Winnipeg, played tier-II junior in Victoria before going the college route, but it looks like he’ll be a career minor-leaguer at this point since he’s turning 26 in November. Maybe another body for Utica, but nothing more. Like the Flames, the Canucks seem less likely than most teams to be offering PTOs this year.
Last But Not Least: The Big 5
1) Jagr — Calgary Flames
ANALYSIS: Strangely, all five are right-shooting right-wingers, but Jagr has most recently been connected to Calgary and it certainly makes sense on paper. Without Jagr, or one of these top-five free agents, the Flames would be pencilling Micheal Ferland into their first line with Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau. Michael Frolik, Kris Versteeg, Troy Brouwer, Freddie Hamilton, college free-agent signing Spencer Foo, Garnet Hathaway and Daniel Pribyl would comprise the rest of Calgary’s depth on right wing. That’s not a bad group per se, but it is below average by league standards. Signing Jagr would bump the Flames up to average, or perhaps slightly above. Don’t expect Jagr to show up for a PTO, though. He’d rather play back at home in the Czech Republic until another team suffers an injury and needs a top-six replacement.
2) Iginla — Edmonton Oilers
ANALYSIS: Iginla is from Edmonton and he played one season for Peter Chiarelli in Boston, producing 30 goals and 61 points in 2013-14. Iginla struggled for much of last season in Colorado, but had a late surge after getting traded to Los Angeles at the deadline. He was arguably the Kings’ best player down the stretch and nearly led them to a playoff berth. Iginla’s best game of the season came against his former club in Calgary where he looked to be in his power-forward prime, scoring and fighting.
The question is where would Iginla fit in the Oilers’ lineup? Perhaps on the second line, with his former Boston teammate Milan Lucic on left wing and either Ryan Nugent-Hopkins or Leon Draisaitl at centre. Edmonton has endless possibilities up front — with Jesse Puljujarvi and Slepyshev among the others competing for that spot — but that’s a good problem to have and Iginla would be a team player in accepting whatever role Todd McLellan assigned to him. He’d love to go out on top, winning his first Stanley Cup with his hometown team.
If Iginla were to sign with Edmonton, that would definitely add fuel to this season’s Battle of Alberta. Of course, if Calgary doesn’t land Jagr, the Flames could circle back on Iginla too.
3) Doan — Washington Capitals
ANALYSIS: Of these five, Doan is the most likely to opt for retirement. There wasn’t a suitor for him at the trade deadline and the market doesn’t appear to be much (if any) warmer in free agency this summer. I had Doan to Washington in my trade-deadline predictions piece and I’m still thinking there could be a fit with the Capitals — especially since he could replace Williams’ leadership intangibles, if not his goal-scoring ability.
Washington’s depth chart on right wing features T.J. Oshie, Burakovsky, Tom Wilson and Devante Smith-Pelly, in that order, with Riley Barber and Travis Boyd as projected call-ups. Doan could outduel Smith-Pelly in training camp to avoid the press box, but does he really want to go out as a fourth-liner? Or would he rather call it quits now, hanging them up having spent his entire career with one franchise (Winnipeg-Arizona) and having the opportunity to step right into a front-office job with the Coyotes? It didn’t end on the best of terms there — with the Coyotes essentially pulling the plug on Doan — but that still has to be tempting for his next chapter in life.
4) Vanek — Buffalo Sabres
ANALYSIS: This would be a homecoming for Vanek, who had his best years in Buffalo — topping out at 84 points, with 43 goals, a decade ago in 2006-07. Vanek still speaks highly of the Sabres and sounds like he would to welcome a return now that they appear to be trending up again.
If Phil Housley wants Sam Reinhart to shift back to his natural centre position — rather than flank Jack Eichel — that could open up another right-wing spot in the top nine for Vanek. The Sabres already brought back Jason Pominville (in a trade with Minnesota) to fill one of those holes, so everything old could be new again in Buffalo. Vanek and Pominville were teammates there for eight seasons, and Botterill could be getting the band back together for this season.
If not Buffalo, Edmonton could express interest in Vanek over Iginla too. That could also be mutual, since Vanek seems to have a soft spot for Alberta after spending his first foray into North America playing in the province as a teenager. He almost joined the Oilers once before, signing an offer sheet with Edmonton that Buffalo matched back in 2007 — a seven-year, $50-million contract that was massive money at the time. Vanek would have to sign for a discount to become an Oiler this time around — likely less than $3 million on a one-year deal — but it might be his best chance at winning a Cup.
5) Stafford — Boston Bruins
ANALYSIS: Stafford has been tied to Boston and Minnesota throughout the summer, so expect him to sign with one of those teams before the start of training camps. He finished last season with Boston, but the Bruins still have to sign David Pastrnak and that cost has consistently been going up based on other extensions around the league, so it remains to be seen whether Boston’s budget will have room left for Stafford.
If not, Minnesota might be able to afford him, with the Wild already extending Mikael Granlund and Nino Niederreiter to reasonable contracts. Minnesota is tight to the cap, though, so Stafford would probably have to accept a $1-million deal with performance bonuses. Either way, he’ll be settling for a one-year contract by the looks of things.
Larry Fisher is a senior writer and head scout for The Hockey Writers, having been an at-large contributor for THW since August 2014. Fisher covers both the NHL and the WHL, specializing in prospects and NHL draft content, including his annual mock drafts that date back to 2012. Fisher has also been a beat writer for the WHL’s Kelowna Rockets since 2008, formerly working as a sports reporter/editor for The Daily Courier in Kelowna, British Columbia, Canada from 2008-2019. Follow him on Twitter: @LarryFisher_KDC.