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Testing Letestu: What each PTO is up against heading into training camps

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In most cases, an NHL team hands out a PTO to a player for a reason: their services aren’t in very high demand.

Usually, that’s because said player doesn’t really bring a ton to the table. Sometimes the deficit is more on the evaluators, though, as some good players have had to deal with reluctant buyers. Maybe a veteran isn’t done yet. Perhaps a younger player simply didn’t receive fair opportunities. After all, the Golden Knights showed that one team’s player who didn’t need to be protected could turn into another team’s key, difference-making performers.

Heading into training camps this time around, there could be some diamonds in the rough … or at least players who are good enough to help a team in a depth role. Let’s take a look at PTO situations to gauge who has a chance, who should get a look even if they fall short, and so on.

Mark Letestu (pictured), Florida Panthers

Just about every year, there is a player who’s surprisingly needing to accept a PTO. Letestu is that candidate this time around.

Letestu’s a versatile player who can score a bit, keep his head above water in tough assignments, and win faceoffs at a nice clip. He might not be perfect, but it’s hard to imagine him not making sense as, at worst, a 13th forward somewhere.

One cannot help but wonder if Florida might struggle to find a spot for him, though. Cap Friendly lists 15 forwards, and while I’d personally take Letestu instead of Micheal Haley and Troy Brouwer without flinching, those guys have contracts. Owen Tippett could also barge into the argument and take a spot as well.

Again, Letestu should be in the NHL in 2018-19, it just might not be with Florida.

Emerson Etem, Los Angeles Kings

If nothing else, Los Angeles could use Etem’s speed. Etem also ranks as a feel-good story, as landing a tryout with the Kings brings back memories of the California native drawing cheers in L.A. during the 2010 NHL Draft.

Good times:

Despite the Kings’ limited depth talent, there are quite a few obstacles in the way of Etem landing a legitimate spot. If it comes down to Etem or, say, Gabriel Vilardi, the smart money is on Vilardi. Maybe he’d beat out a lower-end forward if all things are equal, but those players have guaranteed contracts. Los Angeles’ cap crunch – The Athletic’s Lisa Dillman notes that the Kings may only carry 13 instead of 14 forwards – doesn’t necessarily help Etem, even if he’d likely come at a low cost.

Perhaps a two-way contract would work for Etem and the Kings if he impresses during his PTO? Etem spent last season between the AHL and Swiss league, anyway, so it might not be such a bad deal. From the Kings’ perspective, they’d have an experienced player who they can call up

Jeff Glass (unofficial), Calgary Flames

Let’s group the feel-good stories together.

At age 32, Jeff Glass finally got a chance to play in the NHL, and ran with that opportunity early on. Now he gets to try out for the team he grew up rooting for, as Sportsnet’s Eric Francis notes, although the Flames haven’t announced the PTO officially yet.

“When I was a kid my dad would get tickets from work once or twice a year so I have fond memories of watching them play at the Saddledome,” Glass said, via Francis. “I grew up idolizing Trevor Kidd. Him and Rick Tabaracci were the Flames goalies when I was young and I got to go to his goalie schools here in town. Kidd was the man. He had the cool gear – I loved everything about him.

“It’s kind of cool wearing the Flames jersey. What a small world.”

The Flames might be bringing Glass in mainly because they’ll want extra goalies available considering their preseason trip to China. He’ll need to defy the odds to hurdle the Flames collection of young backup hopefuls: Jon Gillies, David Rittich, and Tyler Parsons. At least he’s used to being a long shot.

Jason Garrison and Scottie Upshall, Edmonton Oilers

With Andrej Sekera out for the season, it makes some sense for the Oilers to give Garrison a look, although I’d be much more interested in KHL-bound Cody Franson.

Garrison’s already battling with depth defensemen Jakub Jerabek and Kevin Gravel, and don’t count out Evan Bouchard. Garrison’s big shot could be useful on the power play – that might be his primary theoretical use at this point in his career, as he’s a far cry from the nice player he once was – so Bouchard’s offensive skills could make Garrison that much more redundant.

The Oilers … march to the beat of their own drum (yeah, let’s put it that way) when it comes to assessing talent, but even Edmonton will expect better from Garrison than what he did in an admittedly small sample of eight games with Vegas:

Aside from quibbling about who they’re taking a look at, you can’t really fault Edmonton for checking.

You also couldn’t fault Garrison for picking fellow PTO Scottie Upshall’s brain about acing a tryout. After all, as Connor McDavid noted, the dude knows how to earn a spot even if he can’t seem to get a traditional contract offer.

Personally, Upshall seems like a more appealing addition than Garrison. Upshall seems reasonably useful in a fourth-line capacity, even when taking on far from glamorous assignments (St. Louis had him start 30.8-percent of his shifts in the attacking zone last season, and a ludicrously low 22.3-percent in 2016-17). He’s generally regarded as a pretty solid skater.

It wouldn’t be shocking if it came down to Upshall or Kailer Yamamoto, a player who almost feels like the exact opposite of Upshall: he’s an exceedingly young, offense-leaning, small-ish forward who didn’t burn a year off of his rookie deal yet. Upshall vs. Yamamoto/other depth forwards should be interesting to watch, and perhaps an opposing team might scoop up the veteran if Upshall doesn’t make the cut?

Simon Despres, Montreal Canadiens

Somewhat like Etem, Despres is a still-young, former late-first-rounder now trying to claw back into the league.

The 26-year-old defenseman currently stands as a sad “What if?” question, as the concussion he suffered from a Tyson Barrie hit set Despres’ career back:

Can he earn a spot on a sputtering Montreal team? Well, the roster is loaded with defensemen – even if it’s quantity over quality – so that is a pretty tall task. The Habs love hoarding former first-rounders, though, so a two-way contract might not be the worst option for both sides. Training camp/preseason games might not provide sufficient opportunities for Despres to show that he can still be viable at the NHL level.

Mark Fayne and Marcel Noebels, Boston Bruins

Fayne has 389 regular-season games of NHL experience, showing promise at times during his Devils days. Still, he bombed with Edmonton, to the point that his last NHL reps came in 2016-17, when he only suited up for four games. His AHL numbers aren’t going to generate much demand.

Noebels is a 26-year-old forward who hasn’t appeared in an NHL game yet, spending the last few years in Germany playing for the Berlin Polar Bears. He did go in the fourth round (118th overall by Philly) in 2011, for what that’s worth.

Much like the Flames, the Bruins are playing exhibition games in China, so my guess is that is the main reason why Fayne and Noebels received PTOs.

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Of all the players above, I’d wager that Letestu is most capable of making a Lee Stempniak/P.A. Parenteau-type impact as a PTO who accomplishes something beyond the “replacement level.”

He doesn’t distinguish himself from the field as far as opportunities go, however, as it’s a packed field of forwards in Florida.

Who do you think will make the cut, if anyone?

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

The Buzzer: Hedman, Vasilevskiy power Lightning; Nilsson’s night

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Three Stars

1. Victor Hedman, Tampa Bay Lightning: Hedman netted the winning goal with 56.8 seconds left to snap a 2-2 tie and give Tampa a 3-2 victory over the Penguins. The Swedish blue liner now has points in eight of the Lightning’s nine games this season.

2. Anders Nilsson, Ottawa Senators: Nilsson helped extend the Red Wings’ losing streak to six games with a 34-save night during a 5-2 win. Anthony Duclair scored twice, Chris Tierney had a goal and an assist, and Thomas Chabot handed out a pair of helpers as Ottawa ended a four-game slide. The win was Nilsson’s first of the season

3. Tristan Jarry, Pittsburgh Penguins: Jarry had a career night in the loss to Tampa making a career high 45 saves, including 22 in the second period.

Highlights of the Night

Andrei Vasilevskiy made this save at the buzzer to preserve the Lightning win following a long review:

• The Lightning honored 46 of the 70 living recipients of the Congressional Medal of Honor during a pre-game ceremony Wednesday night.

• It’s been a while, but always watch where Jean-Gabriel Pageau is on the ice when the Senators are shorthanded:

Factoids

• With his assist Wednesday night, Sidney Crosby is now in 40th place on the NHL’s all-time points list (450-780—1,230 in 954 GP), passing Norm Ullman (490-739—1,229 in 1,410 GP).

Scores
Senators 5, Red Wings 2
Lightning 3, Penguins 2

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Vasilevskiy’s last-second save helps Lightning top Penguins

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Andrei Vasilevskiy saved his best for the final seconds.

Kris Letang raised his left fist believing he notched the game-tying goal, but Vasilevskiy got just enough to propel Tampa Bay to a 3-2 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins Wednesday.

Victor Hedman scored a go-ahead power-play goal with less than a minute remaining in the final period when his slap shot whizzed past Tristan Jarry as Tampa captured its fifth win of the season.

Alex Killorn and Cedric Paquette each recorded his first goal of the season as the Bolts won for the third time in the previous four games.

Brandon Tanev and Sidney Crosby scored as Pittsburgh dropped its third consecutive game. Jarry made 45 saves in his third start of the season.

Here are a few quick observations from Tampa Bay’s 3-2 win against Pittsburgh:

Penguins take one too many penalties

The Lightning are as dangerous as any team in the NHL and the Penguins learned a hard lesson in the final minutes of play on Wednesday.

Jake Guentzel tried to eliminate a potential odd-man rush opportunity but was whistled for hooking Anthony Cirelli at 17:55 of the third period.

Having just killed off Zach Aston-Reese’s stick throwing penalty less than a minute earlier, the Penguins were playing with fire and eventually got burned.

The Lightning struggled to establish possession in the offensive zone for the first half of the man-advantage but a slick backhanded-touch pass from Tyler Johnson allowed Tampa to set up.

With multiple options to cover, the Penguins focused on Steven Stamkos at the left circle, which allowed Hedman to hammer a one-timer from the point.

The Lightning have not looked like the well-oiled machine that they were last season, but are showing signs of returning to the powerhouse they are expected to be.

[RELATED: Lightning honor Congressional Medal of Honor recipients]

Tanev shows upside

The Penguins signed Brandon Tanev to a six-year contract this offseason with hopes the gritty forward has far more offensive potential than he has shown in the first few years of his NHL career.

The 27-year-old tallied a nifty backhander in the second period of play to even the score at 1-1. After collecting his own rebound, and circling the net, Tanev took advantage of a small opening above the glove of Vasilevskiy.

Depth has become one of the most important ingredients needed to ensure a successful playoff run. While most NHL teams fill these roles with one-year contracts or cheap deadline acquisitions, Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford went a different route this past offseason.

NOTE:

Sidney Crosby picked up his 1,230th NHL point, moving him past Norm Ullman for 40th in NHL history.

MORE: Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV Schedule

Scott Charles is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottMCharles.

Lightning honor Congressional Medal of Honor recipients

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On Wednesday night, the Tampa Bay Lightning honored recipients of the Congressional Medal of Honor during a pre-game ceremony.

Tampa Bay is currently hosting the 2019 Medal of Honor Convention and had the Lightning invited 46 of the 70 living recipients to attend a special event including a ceremonial puck drop with Steven Stamkos and Sidney Crosby.

The Medal of Honor was created in 1861 by President Abraham Lincoln. It is the nation’s highest, and rarest, military decoration. The medal is bestowed by the President of the United States, in the name of Congress, upon members of the United States Armed Forces who distinguish themselves through “conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his or her life above and beyond the call of duty while engaged in an action against the enemy of the United States.” Fewer than 3,500 individuals have received the medal, half of which have been posthumously. There are currently only 70 living recipients, one of the lowest numbers in history.

The esteemed group featured nine honorees from the War on Terrorism, 34 from the Vietnam War, two from the Korean War and one from World War II.

MORE: Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV Schedule

Scott Charles is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottMCharles.

Learn more about John Carlson’s league-leading start

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As talented as Washington Capitals defenseman John Carlson is, it’s still pretty mind-blowing that he’s leading all NHL scorers – not just fellow blueliners – with 20 points in 11 games.

It’s a pretty comfortable lead, too, at least considering how early we still are in the 2019-20 season. David Pastrnak and Connor McDavid are tied for second place with 17 points, making Carlson’s five goals and 15 assists that much more impressive.

This post aims to dig a little deeper on this red-hot start.

Before we delve into the esoteric, let’s take a moment to ruminate on just how special this start really is. A factoid like this helps it sink in a bit:

[Tuesday’s Buzzer has a lot of other Carlson factoids.]

Luck and skill

Carlson’s five goals come on 23 shots on goal, which translates to a 21.7 shooting percentage. That would be too high of a shooting percentage for most non-Mario Lemieux forwards to maintain, let alone a defenseman. Carlson’s career shooting percentage is 6.1, although he’s been higher the past two seasons (7 percent in 2018-19, and 6.3 in 2017-18).

Even Carlson was laughing at some of his luck lately, including after an empty-netter, one of his two goals from Tuesday’s 5-3 Caps win against the Flames:

With 15 of his 20 points being assists, his very high 18.5 on-ice shooting percentage is just as relevant. Carlson’s career average is 10.1, so you’d expect fewer goals to come from Carlson’s passes going forward.

Still, one cannot ignore that Carlson’s shown plenty of scoring ability over the years. Carlson scored 15 goals and 68 points in 2017-18 and 13 goals and 70 points in 2018-19, so he’s obviously been able to fill up the scoresheet as his role has become more and more prominent with Washington. He finished just short of being a Norris Trophy finalist in 2018-19, as he finished fourth in voting.

If healthy, Carlson seems like a strong candidate to win his first Norris if he plays the rest of the season at “only” a 70-ish point pace. That’s especially true since he’s improved as an all-around player with better possession stats since 2017-18.

Gunslinger

So, yeah, Carlson will cool down … but there are elements of his game, and the system around him, that could help him be a dangerous defensive scorer for an extended period of time.

For one thing, he’s not afraid to shoot. Carlson’s 445 SOG in 173 games since 2017-18 ranks eighth among NHL defensemen.

Not only might that result in goals, but also the sort of rebounds and chaos that can help generate assists. As J.J. Regan notes for NBC Sports Washington, the Capitals have been more focused on shot volume from defensemen under Todd Reirden, and it only makes sense that such a mentality would benefit a gifted scorer like Carlson.

“We’re switching more to shooting the puck whenever you have a chance or a lane,” Jonas Siegenthaler said. “A couple years ago, you were always looking for the next play or a green shot.”

Fast starts

Chalk it up to being fresher earlier in the season, the Capitals typically being comfortably placed atop the standings late in seasons, or some combination of such factors, but either way, Carlson’s career split stats indicate that he’s generally been a strong starter.

His best months tend to be in October, November, and December. If you believe that “recency bias” creeps into awards voting, than it’s something to think about for Carlson’s Norris push if he once again winds down a bit toward the end of the season.

***

Carlson’s 20 points stand as a considerable lead among NHL defensemen, as Nashville’s Ryan Ellis is a distant second with 12. For all we know, Carlson might break the Capitals’ single-season points record for a defenseman, which Larry Murphy set with 81 in 1986-87.

Even if Carlson slows down close to that 70-point range (or gets injured), it’s been really impressive to watch, to the point that sometimes you watch his numbers go up and start laughing to yourself just like Carlson after his empty-net goal.

MORE:
• Pro Hockey Talk’s Stanley Cup picks.
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.