Whether it was the piece that could make a team a Cup contender or just a signing that added some much-needed depth, some fresh faces are already making their mark.
It’s still early in the season, but fans are starting to get a feel for which free agent pick-ups and off-season trades have worked in their favor. For some, it was a blockbuster deal that could change the future of the franchise. For others, it was a smart, below-the-radar deal that has given them the piece they need to build one block at a time.
Below you can find the top five off-season moves that are making waves in the early season. What is your top five?
5. Daniel Winnik (Toronto Maple Leafs)
While he certainly wasn’t the sexiest of signings in the off-season, Daniel Winnik has been just what the Toronto Maple Leafs needed. There has been no shortage of talk about the Leafs defensive woes. After a summer dedicated to shifting the focus of the front office, headlined by bringing in assistant GM Kyle Dubas, the Leafs went out and got the 29-year-old Winnik.
Though he’s unlikely to make any highlight reels, Winnik is the kind of player that helps teams win. Already this season he has shown just how defensively sound he is. Coming off a career-high 30 points in 2013-14 as a member of the Anaheim Ducks. Plus, he’s from Toronto. That’s sure to make one notable Leafs’ fan happy.
4. Mikhail Grabovski (New York Islanders)
A new Leaf followed by a former one.
Mikhail Grabovski’s abilities have rarely been questioned, but his true value was discovered in his skill when it comes to driving puck possession. An absolute gem no matter where he would have landed, Grabovski has made an already good off-season for the Islanders look even better.
Before he was sidelined by a big hit, Grabovski had already tallied two goals and an assist in three games playing alongside Ryan Strome and the surprising Brock Nelson.
3. Paul Stastny (St. Louis Blues)
The rich got richer when the Blues landed this off-season’s top prize, Paul Stastny.
A deft distributer and consistent scorer, Stastny is the piece that replaced since-jettisoned Blues Derek Roy and Brendan Morrow. With one fell swoop, the Blues plugged the hole at center by bringing in a player that will improve the team defensively and certainly won’t hurt them their opponent’s zone.
A long-time member of the Colorado Avalanche, Stastny gets a fresh start in St. Louis and could possibly find his squad on top of the Central Division again when playoff time rolls around.
2. Johnny Boychuk (New York Islanders)
The man they call Johnny Rockets was a salary cap casualty in Boston, but you won’t find Islanders fans complaining.
Boychuk was beloved in Beantown for his blistering slap shot, steady play, and ability to throw a big check here and there. The trade of Boychuk to the Islanders nearly broke social media channels. In just four games, he’s shown that and more for New York. The 30-year-old defenseman has already potted two goals and added four assists, good for second among defensemen.
It’s too bad the excitement he and the Isles have helped bring to Long Island didn’t come sooner, but fans in Brooklyn have got to be excited.
1. Radim Vrbata (Vancouver Canucks)
There was a time when Radim Vrbata left the NHL to take some personal time after a less than stellar first season in Tampa Bay. His career got back on track, and now, several years later, he’s found himself on a line with the Sedins.
A journeyman before he finally put down some roots in Arizona, Vrbata has suited up for Colorado, Carolina, Chicago, and the aforementioned Tampa Bay in his career. The past five seasons in Phoenix, he was asked to provide the offense for a team that, historically, didn’t have much of one. During his years in Phoenix, Vrbata tallied 135 goals and 286 points in 427 games.
Already, in just three games alongside the Henrik and Daniel, Vrbata has scored three goals and tallied a pair of helpers. While his scoring is sure to slow, he might be looking at career highs before the year is through.