The NHL season is underway in Europe while teams in North America finalize their rosters. Clubs are sending prospects to junior or the AHL, and they're waiving veterans for reassignment. Another group of veteran NHLers are in a different situation after leaving professional tryout agreements without a contract.
For these free agents, the options become less clear. Some will take a ‘wait and see’ approach – which could end in retirement – while others will look to sign AHL or European contracts to stay sharp and earn another chance.
For example, Riley Nash, a veteran of 627 NHL games, signed a two-year deal with the AHL's Charlotte Checkers while others continue to search for a team.
Here is a look at five recently released NHL veterans looking for work following unsuccessful PTOs.
Danny DeKeyser, D
After 10 NHL seasons and 547 regular season games, all with the Detroit Red Wings, DeKeyser went through unrestricted free agency this off-season without finding a home but was given the opportunity to try out for the Vancouver Canucks. A variety of injuries, including a season-ruining back injury in 2019-20 slowed the once-valuable blueliner. Still an effective penalty killer, DeKeyser struggled in the pre-season going pointless in three appearances while averaging just under 17 minutes per game. At 32, age is not the concern. However, DeKeyser’s ability to keep up and remain healthy could mark the end of his career.
James Neal, LW
Perhaps the biggest name in the PTO field was former NHL first-team all-star James Neal. With 559 points in 869 career games, Neal has a proven track record as a scorer. If recency is a determinant, however, Neal only managed four points in 19 games last season with the St. Louis Blues before being assigned to AHL Springfield where he scored at nearly a point-per-game pace.
In camp with the Columbus Blue Jackets, who retooled their offense with the signing of Johnny Gaudreau this off-season, Neal managed a goal and averaged over 20 minutes per game in two appearances. At 35, Neal could still provide veteran depth to a playoff-bound club, and perhaps early season injuries will provide that opportunity.
Sonny Milano, LW
Considered by many to be the best unrestricted free agent who went unsigned this summer, Milano was released following a PTO with the Calgary Flames alongside another NHL veteran (701 games), Cody Eakin.
Only 26-years-old, Milano had a career season last year scoring 14 goals and 34 points in 66 games with the Anaheim Ducks. The former first round pick has the ability to move up and down the lineup and will be a likely early season target for teams, specifically following the return of rookies following their nine-game window in the NHL.
Nate Thompson, C
Skating with the Los Angeles Kings on a PTO, Thompson is almost certainly at the end of his 844-game NHL career. The 38-year-old appeared in only 33 games last season with the Philadelphia Flyers registering three points. Over his 16-season NHL career, Thompson served as an assistant captain for the Montreal Canadiens and Tampa Bay Lightning with whom he had the most success spending five seasons in Tampa.
Victor Rask, C
Another invitee to Blue Jackets' camp, Rask has been a consistent secondary scorer over eight seasons and 506 games in the NHL. Last season, Rask played 47 games in the NHL split between the Minnesota Wild and Seattle Kraken – he scored nine goals and 21 points in that span. The 29-year-old also played 10 games in AHL Iowa, his first minor league stint since 2014, scoring a point per game.
Rask could be a candidate to return to Europe this season playing in his native Sweden unless an NHL offer presents itself in the coming weeks.