After the way things started in Montreal for Zack Kassian, it would have been hard to imagine that it was he who would have had the better season following an off-season trade between the Canadiens and Canucks that sent Brandon Prust to Vancouver.
However, after the off-season crash and stint in the NHL/NHLPA substance abuse program, Kassian got his season on track with the Edmonton Oilers and finished the campaign with three goals and eight points in 35 games while averaging nearly 12:30 of ice time per game. Kassian earned himself a $1.5-million contract extension in Edmonton.
As for Prust, well, his season was rough. He dealt with an ankle injury early, was sent down to the AHL by February and finished his campaign on the shelf. Prust notched one goal and seven points with the Canucks, skated roughly 12:45 per game and he’s still looking for work. But the 32-year-old agitating winger said he’s ready to do whatever it takes to earn himself a deal.
“Right now, I would accept a job anywhere,” Prust told TVA Sports. “Everything depends on the team and if they see me in their plans.”
He said the plan is to start next season in the NHL, and added it doesn’t matter if he has a deal to start the season. His intention is to win one. And Prust won’t be alone among the players looking to earn a contract in training camp. Here are five players who could also be looking at securing NHL jobs through tryout contracts:
Tomas Fleischmann, 32, LW
Fleischmann started hot in Montreal, but he flamed out as the season went along. He had seven goals and 15 points in his first 22 games of the year, but finished the campaign with 14 goals and 25 points in 76 games. That’s still pretty good for a winger who had to earn a one-year deal in training camp, and the Montreal Canadiens even landed some assets in return by acquiring Phillip Danault and a 2018 second-round pick for a package of Fleischmann and Dale Weise at the trade deadline.
Of all the remaining free agents, Fleischmann is the highest-scoring player that seems most likely to be left in the position to earn his contract in training camp. But if he finds another landing spot for the 2016-17 campaign on a cheap, one-year deal, whichever team picks him up could really benefit from his ability to provide some bottom-six scoring.
Brad Boyes, 34, RW
Boyes’ best years are far behind him, but the veteran can still provide some scoring punch. That’s why the Toronto Maple Leafs brought him in last season. Boyes was coming off of a 14-goal, 38-point season and had been unexpectedly been bought out by the Florida Panthers, and he provided eight goals and 24 points for the Maple Leafs in 2015-16.
The issue with Boyes is that you can’t really be sure what you’re going to get. It’s clear he’s not the 30-plus goal scorer he was in consecutive seasons while with the St. Louis Blues between 2007 and 2009, but he still has moments where he looks like he could be a 20-goal guy. He’s only two seasons removed from a 21-goal, 36-point season in Florida, so he has that going for him.
Playing such a limited role in Toronto this past season — he averaged less than 12 minutes per game — didn’t give Boyes much time to showcase his game. Training camp might have to be where he shows what he’s capable of.
Mike Santorelli, 30, W
The Anaheim Ducks brought Santorelli aboard in the off-season ahead of the 2015-16 season on a one-year, $875,000 deal. He was a depth signing, and a clever one because he provided speed and his underlying numbers weren’t too shabby. Santorelli did his job well for the Ducks, scoring nine goals and 18 points in 70 games, but he’s found himself nearing the second month of free agency without a deal for next season.
Wherever he goes, Santorelli won’t play often, but as a fourth-line option on a team that needs some cheap talent, you could do much worse than Santorelli. He should be getting a look by training camp.
Dominic Moore, 35, C
The only pivot on this list, Moore is an incredibly sound defensive forward who could provide a boost on the penalty kill. He found a home with the New York Rangers over the past three seasons, but the Blueshirts look as though they want to get younger, faster and cheaper. That means Moore was on the outs.
Moore is the type of player coaches love, and that’s likely to earn him a spot somewhere should he want it come the 2016-17 campaign. He’s also durable and has some offensive skills that could make him a great, cheap, fourth-line center option for a team in need. Moore has only missed 11 games in the past three years, scoring 22 goals and 60 points over that span for the Rangers.
Tyler Kennedy, 30, RW
It took Kennedy a while to catch on in 2015-16 and that could be his fate once again. He was brought into New Jersey on a tryout deal, but the Devils sent Kennedy packing by the end of camp. However, Kennedy got his chance come November when he signed a one year deal with New Jersey, who were led by Kennedy’s former GM in Pittsburgh, Ray Shero.
In the 50 games Kennedy played, he scored three goals and 16 points while skating about 13:30 per game. That’s not too bad.
He’s bounced around the league a lot over the past four campaigns, having stints with the Islanders, Sharks and Devils. Kennedy’s unlikely to find anything long-term, but landing a one-year deal and proving himself isn’t out of the question.
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