The calendar is about to flip over to October, but there's still hope for players who are hoping to hook on with an NHL team this season. Last fall, 10 free agents found employment after Oct. 1, including Radek Dvorak in Carolina, Jeff Halpern in Phoenix, and Ilya Bryzgalov in Edmonton. Manny Malhotra also landed a deal with the Hurricanes on Oct. 31, but that was after he spent a month in the AHL to prove that he still had what it took.
There are several players who could land a contract after going to camp on a PTO (Bryzgalov in Minnesota, Henrik Tallinder in Toronto, Daniel Carcillo in Pittsburgh), but outside of Dustin Penner and possibly Daniel Alfredsson (if he heals up in time), it's getting tougher to believe that the couch sitters are going to hear the phone ring.
Stick a fork in Spooner?
With Gregory Campbell (core injury) on the sidelines, there's a temporary opening for a fourth line center in Boston. The favorite to claim the job: third-year pro Ryan Spooner. The 22-year-old might be the most talented prospect in the organization. He's a speedy, creative pivot who can push the play and create chances for his linemates.
“The stuff he can do, you can't teach,” one scout told SI.com. “He has those great offensive instincts. He knows what to do with the puck.”
It's when Spooner doesn't have the puck that his problems begin. After a pair of one-way exhibition performances, it's fair to say that if he isn't the most disappointing camper in Boston, he's certainly the most frustrating.
There's no secret about playing for the Bruins: You have to be fully committed to playing defense. Doing that requires two elements: understanding where to be and when to get there under Claude Julien's strict system, and having the will to make it happen.
It's that desire that seems to be lacking in Spooner, who more often than not was more than a step away from his check in his first two games. Sure, he scored a goal against the Canadiens on Tuesday and put in a slightly better performance against the Capitals on Wednesday, but he seems to be taking his opportunity for granted.
“There are all kind of guys with more talent than him who get buried in the AHL, and there dozens of guys with a lot less who stick in the NHL,” the scout said. “He needs to figure out why that is.”
Getting late for Gagne
Here's a report from another source out of Boston on Simon Gagne, who is skating with the Bruins on a professional tryout after missing all of last season: “The wheels don't look too good.”
The 34-year-old was a longshot to make the club with his recent injury history and Boston's lack of cap space, but the team was hoping to catch lightning in bottle with the veteran winger. Gagne still has some time to get his legs under him, but the odds are against him.
Morin on the way at last?
Every time I watch Travis Morin, I think there has to be a place for him in the NHL. The 30-year-old center has the 2013-14 Jack Butterfield Trophy (MVP of the AHL's Calder Cup Playoffs) on his shelf and is a smart, creative player, but he has just seven games on his NHL resumé. A lot of that has to do with being in the wrong place at the wrong time, but with the Dallas Stars still haggling about a new deal with RFA center Cody Eakin, Morin's luck may be about to change. The knock on him has always been that he's ill suited for the defensive responsibilities that come with playing on a depth line, but Stars coach Lindy Ruff is looking for more offense from all four units. The Ginger Ninja has a better rounded game—he scored 16 goals and led the team in offensive zone entry success—but Morin deserves a look to show what he can do while Eakin is stewing.
The waiting game
There's been no movement in contract talks between the Stars and top-four defender Brenden Dillon, either. Dillon is currently skating with the WHL's Vancouver Giants, and while he's clearly one of the best options in the organization, Dallas is in no rush to sign him with prospects John Klingberg, Patrik Nemeth and Jykri Jokipakka knocking at the door. None of those three kids is ready to take on the kind of minutes that Dillon handles, but they give GM Jim Nill just enough leverage that he'll probably get the blueliner down to a number the Stars are comfortable with.
Not so sunny in Philadelphia
The Flyers have a tough call ahead with Jason Akeson. The 24-year-old undrafted forward has paid his dues in the AHL, scoring 172 points in 208 games with the Adirondack Phantoms, including a team-leading 24-40-64 line last season. He's clever, he's creative and he really knows how to maximize his time and space. The only thing that's keeping him from taking the next step is a log jam of talent exacerbated by a cap crunch in Philadelphia. With Jake Voracek, Wayne Simmonds and Matt Read ahead of him, it's hard to see how Akeson could be used effectively. Keeping him around as a 13th forward isn't ideal, but if the Flyer try to send him down to Lehigh Valley, he'll be claimed on waivers. A trade is possible, but all they could take back is a draft pick or a prospect. The kid deserves a chance somewhere. It just doesn't look like it's going to be Philly.
The kid to watch
From the For What It's Worth Department: I asked five hockey people during the past couple days to name the player they were most looking forward to watching this season. Four out of the five said Nathan MacKinnon. "I think he takes a big step forward this year," said one. The other vote went to Winnipeg Jets defender Jacob Trouba.