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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 Panthers and Red Wings had a fight night (Videos)

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The Florida Panthers and Detroit Red Wings seemed to be in a fighting mood on Monday night, dropping the gloves three times in the first two periods of their game in the Motor City.

Things started early in the first period when Red Wings tough-guy Luke Witkowski, playing in his first game back since serving a 10-game suspension, dropped the gloves with Micheal Haley of the Panthers.

Have a look…

The two would square off once again in the second period.

Not long after the Witkowski-Haley rematch, Panthers defenseman Aaron Ekblad and Red Wings forward Luke Glendenning took part in a rather vicious fight that left Glendenning bloodied on his way to the penalty box.

Given Ekblad’s history of concussions the Panthers can’t exactly be thrilled to see him taking part in a fight like that.

Ekblad is not much of a fighter, with Monday’s fight being just the third of his NHL career. It is, oddly enough, his second fight of the season with the first one also coming against the Red Wings.

Back in October he fought Justin Abdelkader.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Wayne Simmonds leaves Flyers game for ‘precautionary reasons’ with lower-body issue

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The Philadelphia Flyers earned a 5-1 win over the Florida Panthers on Tuesday, thanks to a four-goal outburst in the second period.

And Philly forward Wayne Simmonds earned a decision over Micheal Haley in a quick fight during that middle frame, too.

While the Flyers got the win, the news wasn’t all good with respect to Simmonds, however, as he was removed from the game for precautionary reasons because of a lower-body issue, the team announced.

Beyond that, the Flyers said they will know more about his status by either tomorrow or Thursday. That puts a bit of a damper on the win.

Not only is the 29-year-old Simmonds one of the toughest players in the league, unafraid to drop the gloves or throw big hits from time to time, but he’s an important part of Philadelphia’s offensive attack, as well. A productive member of the power play, he’s flirted with the 30-goal mark on three occasions while in Philly and reached that mark in each of the past two seasons.

And he’s done that on a contract that includes an annual cap hit of just under $4 million.

Simmonds was also off to a strong start in 2017-18 with five goals and seven points in six games.

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Cam Tucker is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @CamTucker_Sport.

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Panthers add Harry Zolnierczyk to PTO mix

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The Florida Panthers already handed a PTO offer to Brandon Pirri, and now they’re doing the same with Harry Zolnierczyk.

With Radim Vrbata, Evgeni Dadonov, and Micheal Haley already added to the roster with full contracts this summer, the Panthers will have some work to do in integrating new players (and adjusting to the departure of guys like Jonathan Marchessault, Jussi Jokinen, and Reilly Smith).

Zolniercyzk – called Harry Z by anyone interested in brevity or typo avoidance – last suited up for the Nashville Predators. Harry Z played in 24 regular-season games and 11 playoff contests, averaging less than nine minutes of ice time per contest.

(As you can see, he had enough time for Matt Cullen to put him in a headlock during the 2017 Stanley Cup Final, so there’s that.)

Panthers’ best hope for improvement in 2017: Better health for top players

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This post is part of Panthers Day on PHT…

Whether or not the Florida Panthers made the right moves this offseason is certainly up for some level of debate.

They lost Jaromir Jagr, Jussi Jokinen and Jonathan Marchessault while bringing in Radim Vrbata, Micheal Haley and Evgeni Dadonov. On paper, that may not be a great trade off. Dadonov is a pretty big question mark, Haley isn’t going to provide any offense, and while Vrbata is still a very productive player he’s probably not a clear improvement over what Jagr or Marchessault provided this past season.

But what should make the Panthers better this season is just getting some better luck on the injury front.

It wouldn’t be fair or accurate to put all of the Panthers’ struggles in 2016-17 on injuries, but it certainly played a major role. Just consider that Aleksander Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau, Aaron Ekblad, Nick Bjugstad combined to miss 114 man-games due to injury. That is three top-nine forwards and a top-pairing defenseman all missing close to a quarter of the season (or more). Sometimes at the same time. That is going to put a dent in any team’s potential for success.

Barkov is probably the Panthers’ best all-around player at this point and along with being a strong defensive forward, arguably one of the best in the league, he has scored at a 71-point pace per 82 games over the past two seasons. Losing him for a quarter of the season was a crushing blow.

The same is true for Huberdeau who was limited to just 31 games. When he was healthy and in the lineup he was on pace for what would have been his best offensive season ever while posting dominant possession numbers. Like Barkov, he was also on pace for close to 70 points over 82 games before the injury.

Bjugstad’s season seemed to be a lost season in general, but he has still shown the ability to be a 35-40 point middle-six player.

We don’t know yet if the Panthers’ roster moves make them a better team (an early guess might be no) but just simply getting more games out of the core players that were already in place would go a long way toward getting the team back closer to what it was in 2015-16 when it won the Atlantic Division and seemed to be a team on the rise.