The trade deadline isn't the last chance for post-season bound teams to add to their lineup, and these five late-season additions could end up paying dividends in the playoffs.
Though the trade deadline may be the final day teams can bulk up heading into the post-season by swapping roster players, it’s not the last chance those heading to the playoffs have to make an addition or two to their team. With some players overseas or continuing to ply their trade in the NCAA, the season’s final days can see a name or two added to a club as the hunt for the Stanley Cup begins, and this season was no different.
Consider that over the final two and a half weeks of the campaign, there were more than four dozen players signed to contracts, some of those inking with playoff teams while others signed on to see some game action before their respective franchise’s packed up for the summer. In addition to those signings, there were a handful of players who left loans or contracts in European leagues to join their respective NHL clubs in time for the playoffs.
But which of those players who signed or wound up back on NHL rosters in time for the post-season stand to actually make a difference? Here are five players whose names you might become familiar with in the first round and beyond:
Charlie McAvoy, Boston Bruins
A first-round selection of the Bruins in 2016, McAvoy was one of the most heralded prospects in THN’s Future Watch 2017 and Boston faithful were hopeful that he might be coming to the NHL by the time the post-season rolled around. It wasn’t a lock, with the Boston University standout waiting until late-March to sign an amateur tryout with the AHL’s Providence Bruins. In fact, he didn’t ink his entry-level contract with the big club until Monday.
That McAvoy hasn’t seen any NHL action apparently isn’t all that worrisome for the Bruins and he could be thrown right into the fire when the post-season begins. Ahead of the Bruins’ first game of the playoffs, McAvoy was skating on the top pairing with Zdeno Chara. Whether he spends time there come game time is for coach Bruce Cassidy to decide, but McAvoy might be up for the challenge. The last time he was in a high-pressure situation as a top defender on the American world junior squad, McAvoy stepped up with two goals and six points.
If he can fit into the top four right away, he could be one of the more impactful NCAA additions ahead of the post-season.
John Hayden, Chicago Blackhawks
The former Yale captain signed with the Blackhawks in mid-March after having the greatest season of his four-year college career. In 33 games, Hayden scored 21 goals and 34 points. Once he made the jump from the NCAA into the Blackhawks lineup, he was able to win over coach Joel Quenneville and find footing on the fourth-line, where he averaged roughly 12 minutes of ice time per game and netted one goal and four points in 12 games.
Like any coach, Quenneville shortens his bench at this time of year, so the Nashville Predators should get ready to see a lot of Chicago’s top-nine forwards, but that doesn’t mean Hayden won’t see the ice. When he does, though, he’ll have to make the most of his opportunities. Is Hayden going to be a game-breaker for the Blackhawks? Absolutely not. But adding a bit of scoring touch to the bottom line can make all the difference between exiting early or heading deep into the post-season.
Joel Eriksson Ek, Minnesota Wild
Eriksson Ek got the chance to stick with the Wild straight out of training camp, but he failed to latch onto a roster spot. As such, GM Chuck Fletcher loaned the pivot back to his Swedish League club, Farjestad, where Eriksson Ek proceeded to score eight goals and 16 points in 26 games and another three goals and six points in seven post-season games. With Farjestad out of the playoffs, Eriksson Ek came back over by late-March and has since netted a goal and two points in six games.
Chances are that Eriksson Ek won’t see much more than bottom-six minutes to start the playoffs, just as he did to end the season. Over his six games to end the season, he averaged 11:21 per game. The thing is, though, few prospects have as much promise. Eriksson Ek has performed, and performed well, at every level of play throughout his playing career, and it wouldn’t be all that surprising if a deep Wild run also saw him climbing his way up the depth chart as the post-season rolls on. Minnesota already has a deep lineup, and Eriksson Ek only stands to add to that.
Colin White, Ottawa Senators
Let’s take a look at White’s year. With Boston College, he scored a stellar 16 goals and 33 points in 35 games. In seven games at the World Junior Championship, where he was an alternate captain, White found twine seven times and registered eight points en route to a gold medal. When he finally ended up in the Senators organization, after much speculation it was his next destination, White scored once and had three points in three games in the AHL. Then he ended his campaign with two games in the NHL and is now set to get his first taste of post-season action.
It’s no wonder the expectations surrounding White are high given what he’s accomplished, but Senators fans might have to be patient in the post-season. Heading into the start of the series, White didn’t appear to be part of the lineup, so it could take a loss or two for White to see the ice. When he does, it might still only be in a limited role, but that doesn’t mean he can’t contribute at both ends of the ice.
Vladimir Sobotka, St. Louis Blues
No acquisition has had as much drama surrounding it as the Blues’ seemingly never-ending chase to bring Sobotka back into the fold. Every summer since he departed the organization for a KHL gig, it seemed Sobotka was set to return, only to learn that he couldn’t get out of his contract and head back to the NHL. Finally, though, Sobotka has landed in St. Louis again and it stands to reason he’ll be playing some important minutes for the Blues. His first game back in the NHL might be all the indication of his role that we need.
In his first contest in the NHL since 2013-14, Sobotka played nearly 17 minutes, fired two pucks on net, scored a goal and also registered a takeaway. Not a bad way to return.
It shouldn’t come as much surprise that Sobotka can contribute at this level, though. During his final NHL campaign, he scored nine goals and 33 points in 61 games and during his KHL tenure he was a consistent scorer. In 138 games with Avangard Omsk, he scored 37 goals and 102 points, adding another four goals and 14 points in 18 playoff games.
Sobotka might be the one player who has the most obvious impact, giving the Blues additional NHL-ready depth up front in an instant. His ability to play either in the top- or bottom-six makes him an asset at this time of year, and don’t be surprised if a re-energized Sobotka ends up scoring an important goal in the first-round series against the Minnesota Wild.
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