Top 10 NHL training camp invitees
It’s hard for NHL teams to find a useful player out of a training camp invitee, and even harder for a fantasy owner.
That doesn’t mean it’s impossible. Mason Raymond turned a training camp invite into a 19-goal, 45-point bounce back season, and parlayed that into a $9.5 million three-year deal with the Flames this offseason.
But that is the exception. Most of the time, the tryouts are for teams to have more playerss to dress in preseason games without having their regular players worn down before the regular season even starts. New Jersey, who already has 14 forwards and seven defencemen under contract, has invited at least six players to training camp.
That doesn’t mean there isn’t some value in these tryouts. As Raymond proved, there’s always a chance for a player to turn his career around. Here are the top 10 training camp invitees.
10. Jamie McBain, Arizona
He’s has a longer shots of making his team than anyone else on this list, but if he does play for Arizona, it’s a perfect good landing spot. Once a 30-point defenceman, McBain has seen his stock plummet since the last lockout. But in Arizona, he could slot in as a second unit power play guy, especially lucky for a team that finished fourth in power play conversion last season.
9. Raphael Diaz, Calgary
If Diaz makes the Flames, it will be as a seventh defenceman, as there is no way he is usurping Dennis Wideman, Mark Giordano, Ladislav Smid, Deryk Engelland, Kris Russell and T.J. Brodie for a spot (all making at least $2.1 million). But between Diaz and Corey Potter for the seventh spot? Easily achievable for Diaz. And if the Flames does decide to put Engelland up forward for a few games —as the Penguins did with him last season — that opens up another spot on the defence and another chance for Diaz to play a few games.
8. Matt Kassian, Arizona
While there may be no replacing BizNasty’s reputation on the ice, Kassian will be given every opportunity to replace his penalty minutes. No slouch in the fighting department, Kassian found himself in nine fights in just 33 games last season. In fact, he’s gotten into 23 tilts in just 76 career games (almost one fight in every three games). With the Coyotes going through a bit of an upheaval this past summer (gone are Paul Bissonnette, Mike Ribeiro, and Radim Vrbata), there’s plenty of room for a fourth-line guy who can fight.
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7. Ville Leino, Boston
It may be surprising that an overpaid player with zero goals in a year can be a top 10 fantasy pick in this category — with all due respect to fellow training camp tryout Scott Gomez — but Leino would have a good chance of succeeding if he actually makes the Bruins. Remember, with the Flyers he was a 50-point guy. It wasn’t until he went to Buffalo, where fantasy hockey goes to die, that he set his career back. On a team surrounded by depth, Leino would have a good shot of getting 40 points if he can be a third or second-line tweener.
6. Simon Gagne, Boston
Much like Leino, Gagne can thank Jarome Iginla for his opportunity to play for the
Bruins. If Gagne makes the team, he’ll probably sign for $1 million or less. And the still-over-the-cap Bruins need cheap players, especially those that can play a top-nine role. Of course, with Gagne, there’s no guarantee he’ll leave training camp without spending some time on the injured reserve list first.
5. David Steckel, Anaheim
Steckel, whose claim to fame is blindsiding Sidney Crosby at the Winter Classic three years ago, can slide in on the Ducks third or fourth line for one simple reason: faceoffs. While Steckel isn’t scared to throw a hit or two, he main fantasy relevance is in the dot. Here are his faceoff numbers the last five seasons:
2013-14: Six games, 68 faceoffs taken, 44 won, 64.7 per cent
2012-13: 34 games, 321 faceoffs taken, 175 won, 54.5 per cent
2011-12: 76 games, 1,108 faceoffs taken, 643 won, 58 per cent
2010-11: 75 games, 820 faceoffs taken, 511 won, 62.3 per cent
2009-10: 79 games played, 1,076 faceoffs taken, 637 won, 59.2 per cent
By the way, did you know Anaheim was ranked 20th in the league last season in faceoffs at 49.2 per cent? And 26th the year before at 47.5 per cent? And 28th the year before that at 47.4 per cent? The team has never been good at faceoffs since coach Bruce Boudreau has been there. Granted, the Ducks had the rights to Steckel last season and didn’t use him, but that could change with an open slot at centre with Saku Koivu retiring.
4. Francis Bouillon, Montreal
Bouillon actually has a good chance of making the Habs for a number of reasons: He played for Montreal last year and knows the team and its system, plus he scored a couple of big goals for the club. Most importantly, he can be a seventh defenceman and play sparingly. That would allow the Habs to send Jarred Tinordi to the minors and let Tinordi get a bunch of games and ice time there instead of being used once in a while with Montreal.
3. Daniel Carcillo, Pittsburgh
If you’re drafting Carcillo, you’re really only doing it to fill the penalty minutes (and hits if your league counts that), and even then, he’s not as proficient in that category as he used to be. However, that may change if he signs on in Pittsburgh and ends up playing six games against the Flyers (not to mention games against the Bruins). His job will be to protect the superstars, and if that involves a fight or two, so be it.
2. Tomas Kaberle, New Jersey
Kaberle has one good thing going for him in New Jersey. Even though he’s been out of the NHL for a while, he should still be better than almost every other Devil defender there is. Right now, the Devils have seven defencemen signed: Bryce Salvador, Andy Greene, Marek Zidlicky, Adam Larsson, Jon Merrill, Eric Gelinas and Peter Harrold. You tell me Kaberle couldn’t step right into that lineup and take over the top power play unit and be the team’s top offensive defenseman? Even during his lacklustre half-season in Montreal (his last real NHL season), Kaberle had 22 points in 43 games, a 42-point pace.
1. Ilya Bryzgalov, Minnesota
Bryz already has the inside track, as he was the Wild’s top goalie for a while last season, and was key for a few owners winning their fantasy championships. This year, there’s a good chance that happens again. With Josh Harding breaking his foot and Niklas Backstrom struggling more every season, there’s going to be a two-horse race for the number one between Bryzgalov and Darcy Kuemper. And last season, Bryz had the better goals against average and win-loss percentage, plus more shutouts, between the two.
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