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Five players on PTOs who could make the cut out of training camp

Training camps are underway and there are nearly three-dozen players attending on tryout agreements. Most won’t find work in the NHL next season, but these five players have the best chance.

Calling it a lock wouldn’t be quite accurate, but when Scottie Upshall joined the Edmonton Oilers on a professional tryout agreement in late-August, he seemed a safe bet to come into camp and earn himself a spot on the roster.

Working in Upshall’s favor was that he has proven to be a quality depth option for teams in need. Case in point, he has spent the past three campaigns skating on the St. Louis Blues’ fourth line, where he averaged about seven goals and 16 points per season in limited work. While that doesn’t by any means make Upshall a game-breaker, he’s a consistent bottom-six hand who can chip in on the penalty kill and make an impact by throwing his weight around. Upshall was also an odds-on favorite to earn a spot with the Oilers off of his PTO given his history of doing just that: turning a tryout into work. His first stint with the Blues in 2015-16 came on the heels of Upshall earning a job out of training camp, and he turned that into three consecutive one-year deals.

Despite all that, Upshall may no longer be one of the best bets to turn his PTO into a job next season. Reason being is Upshall, on the eve of training camp, failed his physical in Edmonton because of a knee injury. And while that hasn’t necessarily ended his hopes of making the Oilers, it's less likely Upshall makes the team now than it was a few weeks back.

So, with Upshall a maybe at best, which players entering camp on PTOs stand the best shot at making an NHL lineup next season?

Brandon Davidson, Chicago Blackhawks
The news of Connor Murphy’s injury opens up a spot on the backend that’s going to be up for grabs for nearly two months. It’s also the second such opening given Gustav Forsling, who skated in 41 games with Chicago last season, is on the shelf to start the campaign. The projection is that rookie and 2017 first-round pick Henri Jokiharju glides into one opening, but Davidson, 27, seems as good a bet as any to take the second. In fact, he could realistically force someone currently on the depth chart further down.

Davidson’s not necessarily lacking for experience. He skated in 51 games last season, and he was seen as valuable enough for three teams — the Canadiens, Oilers and Islanders — to insert him into their lineup. His shot is what will give him the most value, potentially as a second-unit power play triggerman on the backend, but he’s also consistent enough to be a third-pairing fill-in with the Blackhawks clearly in a pinch.

Simon Despres, Montreal Canadiens
Despres was the first player to ink a PTO this summer, signing on for an opportunity with the home-province Canadiens less than two weeks into free agency. That doesn’t make him a lock, per se, but it does make it awfully evident how much interest there was in Despres out of Montreal, interest which was certainly mutual given Despres has now foregone the start of the KHL campaign after skating in a top-four role with Slovan Bratislava last season.

It’d be easy to sleep on Despres, 27, as a player with much to offer given he was skipped over by an NHL-less Team Canada at the 2018 Olympics, but Despres had proven himself as a middle-of-the-lineup blueliner with the Pittsburgh Penguins and was getting third-defenseman minutes with the Anaheim Ducks before a season lost to concussion symptoms put his career in jeopardy.

No one expects Despres to slot into the Canadiens’ first pairing this season. He probably isn’t even a lock for the second pairing. But given the state of that blueline, particularly with Shea Weber out of commission into November, Despres’ has a great opportunity in front of him.

Mark Letestu, Florida Panthers
It wouldn’t have been all that shocking if Letestu was a late-summer signing with a team in need of additional depth scoring. He’s not going to stuff the scoresheet, sure, but the 33-year-old had nine goals and 23 points last season and managed a career-best 16 goals and 35 points the season prior. All of this while skating fourth-line minutes, too, so you know he can produce in limited minutes. But instead of a sure thing, Letestu is going into camp with the Panthers and eying a job down the lineup.

At the time he signed his PTO, Letestu’s odds were likely about 50-50 to crack the Cats’ lineup. Overnight, though, those seem to have improved with the news that Jamie McGinn will be sidelined indefinitely following back surgery.

Maybe it’s not ideal for the Panthers to put Letestu into the lineup ahead of some of their young guns — Maxim Mamin, Denis Malgin, Henrik Borgstrom, Dryden Hunt and Sebastian Repo will be among those fighting for work — but he’s a proven commodity who can skate bottom-six minutes. Plus, he’s an asset for a second power play unit. Letestu has 14 power play goals in the past two seasons, including an outstanding 11 goals on the man advantage in 2016-17.

Jussi Jokinen, Detroit Red Wings
Jokinen’s precipitous decline has been somewhat shocking. An 18-goal, 60-point player with the Panthers in 2015-16, Jokinen has since posted seasons of 28 and 17 points and had a career’s worth of NHL movement during the 2017-18campaign. After beginning the season with the Edmonton Oilers, Jokinen skated with the Los Angeles Kings, Columbus Blue Jackets and Vancouver Canucks before the season was through. However, he only saw more than 14 games with the Kings, with whom he played 18.

So, while Jokinen's five goals and 17 points last season aren’t going to inspire any sort of supreme confidence that the 35-year-old can still be an effective top-six player at a high level, it’s still somewhat commendable given he was living out of a suitcase and playing not just with new linemates but with a whole new organization every couple months.

Can he find some sort of form with the Red Wings? Maybe, maybe not, but if there’s any organization that might be willing to give him a shot right now, it’s Detroit. The Red Wings will need some fill-in talent that can play down the lineup. Jokinen can be that guy.

Alex Chiasson, Edmonton Oilers
Fresh off of a run to a Stanley Cup victory with the Washington Capitals, Chiasson found himself out of a job. Granted, he wasn’t a key contributor, chipping in one goal and two points in 16 games with a sub-10 minute average ice time, but the 27-year-old did play his part in the playoff run. On top of that, his campaign wasn’t half bad: nine goals and 18 points in 11:46 in 61 games. Yet, here Chiasson is, fighting for his spot on an NHL club the summer after celebrating reaching the league’s pinnacle.

Chiasson should be able to earn himself a spot in Edmonton, though, particularly if he’s slotting into the same role he played last season as a fourth-line scoring option. He has size and skill, though the once-believed-to-be untapped scoring potential has likely been tapped to its fullest extent. Given his age, we've likely seen the heights of his production. That said, he’s only one season removed from a 12-goal, 24-point campaign with the Calgary Flames. If he can contribute at that rate, he’s more than worth the league-minimum salary he’ll likely be seeking on a one-year pact.

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