Top candidates for a PTO to attend an NHL training camp

NHL PTO candidates
Apr 5, 2021; St. Louis, Missouri, USA; St. Louis Blues center Tyler Bozak (21) is congratulated by teammates after scoring a goal against the Vegas Golden Knights during the first period at Enterprise Center. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

As we get closer to the opening of training camps across the NHL, these unsigned players are candidates for a PTO (professional tryout).

What is a PTO? It’s basically a contract that teams can offer unsigned free agents in order to invite them to training camp. This will give the club a closer look at a potential free agent they may want to sign.

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Below is a list of the top UFA’s broken down into two tiers. First, unsigned players that should absolutely be given a try out leading up to a contract. Second, noteworthy gambles that could pay big rewards.

PTO candidates: Definitely worth a look

Tyler Bozak (C): The 35 year-old scored 17 points in 31 games last season playing bottom six minutes. There’s no doubt he can still be a productive contributor. There was some thought he might return to the Blues earlier this summer, but that appears less likely.

James Neal (F): The 34 year-old had just five goals and five assists (10 points) in 29 games during his season with the Oilers. Overall, he has 294 goals and 261 assists (555 points) in 13 NHL seasons. To date there’s been little interest from teams in adding him. He is a prime candidate for a PTO.

what NHL free agents are left
Dec 31, 2019; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers left winger James Neal (18) looks for the puck in front of New York Rangers goalie Alexandar Georgiev (40) during the second period at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Walter Tychnowicz-USA TODAY Sports

Sami Vatanen (D): I am always shocked that a solid right-handed defender like Vatanen continues to be available. He certainly doesn’t put up the offensive numbers as he used to, but he can still help a defense out. He’s only 30 years-old so he should at least get a PTO. The Oilers are rumored to possibly give him one.

Jason Demers (D): He’s a right-handed defenseman that can still play third pair minutes. In 41 games, the 33 year-old veteran picked up just 4 helpers for the Coyotes. He’s a prime candidate for an invite to a training camp on a PTO.

Nikita Gusev (F): At 29 years of age, Gusev is already a reclamation project. Highly touted coming out of the KHL, the disappointed Devils terminated his contract. The Panthers signed him mid season, where he finished with 10 points in 31 games split between the two clubs. He could be worth a cheap flyer or at least an invite to camp on a PTO.

PTO candidates: Take a chance on these guys

Ryan Donato (F): Another rare 25 year-old UFA, the Sharks opted to not give him a qualifying offer. This was the same issue with both Nick Ritchie and Ondrej Kase in Boston. Donato scored 20 points in 50 games last season and should be picked up before the season starts.

Alex Galchenyuk (F): He’s just 27 years-old but has struggled to live up to being the third overall selection in the 2012. Last season, he scored 13 points in 34 games split between the Senators and Maple Leafs. Galchenyuk would be great as a reclamation project.

nhl pto
May 24, 2021; Montreal, Quebec, CAN;Toronto Maple Leafs forward Alex Galchenyuk (12) waits for a face off against the Montreal Canadiens during the third period in game three of the first round of the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs at the Bell Centre. Mandatory Credit: Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports

Eric Staal (C): Last season, the 36 year-old pivot split time between the Sabres and Canadiens but only managed a career low 13 points in 53 games. To make matters worse, he set a career high with a -30 plus/minus rating. Of course, Staal could bring value to a team’s fourth line next season at a bargain price. His leadership and experience would be worth the money alone.

Travis Zajac (C): The Islanders acquired Zajac at the trade deadline along with Kyle Palmieri for additional center depth heading into the playoffs. At 36, he score 20 points in 46 games and added another 2 points in 14 playoff contests.

Zdeno Chara (D): The 44 year-old defender isn’t even sure if he will play next season or retire. “I think it’s not always a decision I can make myself,” he said at season’s end. “I have to have a conversation with my wife and children and see where we want to be in the next few days or weeks. After those conversations, I’m going to probably let the emotions settle in and see where I’m at.” If he does play, he’d be a great value add to shore up a team’s bottom pair.