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Breaking Down Notable 2022 PTO Signings

Let's take a look at the most notable players to sign professional tryout contracts and determine whether any of them can earn an NHL job out of training camp.
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Training camps are achingly close on the horizon, which means that teams across the league are making some last-minute additions to their rosters in an effort to perhaps uncover a diamond in the rough. 

In other words: It's PTO season, baby! 

This past weekend was filled with a flurry of professional tryout offers extended to multiple players still on the open market. So, let's take a look at the most notable ones and determine what each team could be getting in their camp invitee. 

Zach Aston-Reese - Toronto Maple Leafs 
2021-22 Stat Line: 69 GP, 5 goals, 10 assists, 15 points, 13:02 TOI

By far the most likely member of this list to earn a contract for the coming season, Aston-Reese is attending Leafs camp with his eyes set firmly on carving out a spot for on the team's re-vamped fourth line. 

Frankly, it's kind of surprising that the 28-year-old could only muster a training camp invite at all, really. Aston-Reese is undoubtedly an NHL-caliber player -- a defensively-focused forward who drives possession despite being tasked with unfavorable usage and can add an element of speed and forechecking to his team's bottom-six that most similar units around the league lack. 

Will he put up much in the way of offense? No, he won't. Aston-Reese racked up just five goals and 15 points in 69 games last season split between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Anaheim Ducks, managing to earn a positive expected-goal share, however, despite beginning nearly 70 percent of his shifts in the defensive zone. 

By all accounts, Toronto was not the only team to extend Aston-Reese a camp invite this summer. And if he can't find a spot on the Leafs, there's a good chance someone else will scoop him up. 

Jimmy Vesey - New York Rangers 
2021-22 Stat Line: 68 GP, 8 goals, 7 assists, 15 points, 14:25 TOI

I imagine the New York Rangers as Thanos, sitting on their throne and lecturing Jimmy Vesey about how his failure inevitably led him back to them. 

Maybe that's a little harsh. But it always seemed like Vesey would wind up back in the Big Apple eventually, especially after spending the first three seasons of his career there following the frenzy over his signing. 

Vesey never managed to replicate the success he had as a Ranger all those years ago. Since leaving New York in free agency back in 2019, Vesey has topped out at 11 goals in a single season while bouncing around between the Sabres, Maple Leafs, Canucks, and Devils, failing to earn regular NHL minutes at any stop. 

The 2021-22 season was a particularly rough one for Vesey, as the 29-year-old finished with just eight goals and seven assists for 15 points in 68 games while logging just a smidge above 14 minutes in average nightly ice time. 

The good news, though, is that Vesey's underlying numbers don't look too bad if you squint hard enough, with the formerly hyped collegiate product posting positive expected-goal and scoring chance shares at even strength despite beginning just 37.7 percent of his shifts in the offensive zone. 

At this point, Vesey is a very low-event player. He doesn't make anyone around him better, and can't really keep up when placed alongside elite talent. But as a depth forward who can stop the ice from tilting the wrong way during his usage? There are far worse options out there. 

Danny DeKeyser - Vancouver Canucks 
2021-22 Stat Line: 59 GP, 0 goals, 11 assists, 11 points, 18:30 TOI

Oh, what could have been. 

There was a time when Danny DeKeyser was among the better defensive defensemen in the NHL -- a player who never produced much on the offensive side of things but made up for it by effectively neutralizing opposing top lines. 

Injuries have robbed DeKeyser of those glory days, unfortunately. And after being bought out by his hometown Red Wings following a particularly brutal 2021-22 campaign, the 32-year-old is hoping to extend his NHL lifespan with a strong performance in Canucks camp. 

There's no sugar-coating it, though. DeKeyser was brutal last season. 

In 59 games, DeKeyser went goalless with just 11 assists as his body continued to fail him, failing to drive possession in any conceivable form while also appearing to be a step behind the pace of the big-league game. At even-strength, DeKeyser got caved in by his opponents to the tune of generating just 41.67 percent of the available scoring chances, and finished with a dismal 42.53 percent expected-goal share. 

Perhaps a healthy summer and a fresh start in a new organization can help turn DeKeyser into an NHL defender once again. But even then, as he creeps into his mid-30s, it's a tall task to expect. 

Calvin de Haan - Carolina Hurricanes
2021-22 Stat Line: 69 GP, 4 goals, 4 assists, 8 points, 18:57 TOI

Look, de Haan is far from the jack of all trades he was during his six-year reign as a legit top-four defender for the Islanders in the mid-2010s. But for a budding contender like the Hurricanes looking to add some extra veteran stability to their third pair, there are certainly worse options available. 

That de Haan has already played in Carolina, and is familiar with the organization, will only help his cause. 

On a bad Blackhawks roster last season, de Haan struggled to produce much of anything at even-strength, with opponents caving him in to the tune of a 45.48 percent expected goal share and scant 45.21 percent share of the available scoring chances, too.

But, let's be real. The Blackhawks were a disaster -- both on and off the ice last season, with practically no one in their beleaguered ranks walking away with career-best numbers.

Amidst that chaos, de Haan continued to log nearly 19 minutes per night in roughly 70 games while demonstrating he could still move the puck quite well. In a better environment with less responsibility on his shoulders, perhaps de Haan returns to being the versatile depth anchor he's always been. And if there's any place that can coax it back out of him, it's Carolina. 

James Neal - Columbus Blue Jackets
2021-22 Stat Line: 19 GP, 2 goals, 2 assists, 4 points, 11:58 TOI

It's been a tough ride for James Neal since helping guide the Vegas Golden Knights to the Stanley Cup final in their inaugural season. 

After leaving in free agency that summer back in 2018, Neal has failed to ever carve out a fit in any of the three organizations he's bounced around to -- a path which ultimately landed him in the AHL last season after 19 uneventful games for the St. Louis Blues. 

All is not lost, however. Taking his demotion in stride, Neal proceeded to rack up some serious numbers down in the American League, finishing the year with 14 goals and 12 assists for 26 points in 28 games with the Springfield Thunderbirds that was soon followed up by an impressive playoff run, too. 

Neal is getting up there in age, having just celebrated his 35th birthday earlier this month. His time in the NHL is rapidly coming to an end, and, by all accounts, he knows it. But an invitation to Blue Jackets' camp is a good (perhaps final) opportunity to perhaps show what he has left. And even if it doesn't result in a big-league deal, Neal could always stick around in the Blue Jackets organization as an AHL veteran mentor for the club's young prospects. 

Eric Staal - Florida Panthers 
2021-22 Stat Line: N/A

Eric Staal is one in a long list of free agents who thought their participation in the Beijing Winter Olympics last season would translate into an NHL contract. 

That, of course, did not happen, as the Staal-captained Team Canada failed to earn a medal while producing few, if any, noteworthy performances. 

That hasn't stopped the distinguished veteran from still trying, though. 

Joining his brother Marc, who actually already has a contract, Staal with be attending Panthers training camp in the hopes of earning the coveted "super depth old guy" roster spot occupied by Joe Thornton in 2021-22. It wouldn't be a massive shock if he pulled it off, either. 

In a four-game, pre-Olympic tune-up with the AHL's Iowa Wild in early 2022, Staal looked like a man among boys, turning heads with an impressive two goals and three assists that got the hockey world talking. He may not be an NHL regular anymore, as his most recent big-league stint in Montreal demonstrated, but as a respected leader who can set a good off-ice example while perhaps drawing into the lineup on the fourth-line whenever the injury bug strikes, Staal might very well be a solid add. 

Derek Stepan - Carolina Hurricanes
2021-22 Stat Line: 58 GP, 8 goals, 10 assists, 19 points, 10:48 TOI

Another former Hurricane hoping to earn a second tour of duty with the club -- he played for them last season, in fact -- Stepan will be in tough to earn a spot in a forward corps filled with a deep collection of talent. 

It's not all hopeless for him, though. Stepan is obviously familiar with the Hurricanes coaching staff, systems, and roster while also having been a decent bottom-six forward for them last season by driving possession in extremely limited minutes. 

For a team with the championship aspirations of Carolina, GM Don Waddell and his staff might simply opt for the known commodity of Stepan over the still-raw prospect when it comes to filling in the margins of their roster. 

Hockey Men love things that are familiar to them. Stepan undoubtedly fits that bill and could turn that familiarity into one more kick at the can. 

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