Sometimes a fresh start is all a skater needs to get himself back into hockey’s good graces.
Here’s a look at five NHL players who could be set up for a successful bounce-back year with their new club.
The three-time 20-goal scorer with the Sabres saw his young career derailed by injuries, including concussions, resulting in him playing just 74 games over the course of two seasons between 2015 and 2017.
A healthy Ennis was expected to rebound last year after being acquired by the Wild, but never really hit his stride with his new club, falling down the roster, playing less than 12 minutes a game and eventually being a healthy scratch before ultimately having the final season of his five-year, $23-million contract bought out by Minnesota.
With the Maple Leafs’ new-found depth at centre, there’s no pressure for the versatile Ennis to fit into one position up front, and plenty of potential for him to find his scoring stride once again with a capable crew of playmakers surrounding him.
“I’m confident in my talent and my abilities and I feel like I haven’t been able to show that recently,” Ennis told the Toronto Sun’s Terry Koshun after signing with the Maple Leafs. “I felt restricted and I am ready to get my swagger back and show people what I can do.”
He’s only 22, but Duclair is already on his fourth NHL team. The third-round pick (2013) put together an impressive 44-point rookie campaign in Arizona after being dealt to the desert by the Rangers but struggled to match that magic in the two seasons that followed. A short stint in Chicago ended when the Blackhawks didn’t extend a qualifying offer his way.
Duclair has the talent to get back on track on the scoresheet but questions surrounding his work ethic are reportedly what held teams back from signing him. Still, reports indicated there were several offers for Duclair’s services, and some were left scratching their heads at the one-year, $650,000 deal he ultimately signed. As disappointing as his season was, surely he could earn more than the league minimum on the open market.
Hockey’s intangibles are tough to teach, but John Tortorella is a coach that rewards his grinders and won’t hesitate to tell players when they need to step it up. Tortorella’s tutelage, as well as the Blue Jackets’ depth on the wing (and uncertainty surrounding Artemi Panarin’s future there), will make for healthy competition in the lineup — and a real test for Duclair.
After 49 starts last season the 33-year-old will resume backup duties in Boston behind Tuukka Rask — and behind a far superior blue line than the one in New York, which ranked last in shots allowed. (The Islanders were also last in goals against.)
His presence in Boston will give the club a bit more confidence in its goaltending depth after struggling in that department with Anton Khudobin as the No. 2.
“I think we have two guys that have carried the ball for their teams, that will push each other, that will complement each other, and we feel good that now, going in every night, that that’s an area we aren’t going to be concerned about, hopefully,” Bruins GM Don Sweeney told reporters upon signing Halak.
Halak will also be reunited with former Islanders goalie coach Mike Dunham, under whose guidance he played well for three seasons in New York — including his biggest workload in 2014-15 when he earned a career-high 38 wins and six shutouts.
He has never suited up as an Oiler, but the one-year deal signed with Edmonton brings a homecoming of sorts for Rieder, who was drafted by the Oilers back in 2011 but left unsigned before having his rights traded to the Coyotes in 2013. Bringing Rieder in on an affordable, low-commitment contract could turn out to be one of the biggest bargains of the off-season if he can rediscover his offence with the Oilers. The speedy German forward had two impressive seasons with the Coyotes (37 points in 2015-16 and 34 in 2016-17) but didn’t quite find his place with the Kings after being dealt to L.A. at the 2017-18 trade deadline.
Now the versatile 25-year-old, who’s capable of playing all three forward positions, should have plenty of opportunity in Edmonton. He’s had success playing alongside fellow countryman Leon Draisaitl on the international stage, filling a need for the Oilers after a season of line-shuffling, and if he finds chemistry alongside Connor McDavid? Safe to say, he’ll be earning a little more next off-season.
“It just seemed like a perfect fit in every which way,” Johnson told reporters upon signing with Pittsburgh. “I’ve been really wanting to be part of a winning culture and a place where the expectations to win are as high as they could be.”
Those comments ruffled a few feathers over in Columbus, prompting some strong words from Tortorella.
Clearly a fresh start was needed for the talented defenceman who kind of flew under the free agency radar amid all the #TavaresWatch drama and (still ongoing) Karlsson trade rumours.
Johnson, 31, tied career-lows in goals (3) and points (11) in 77 games last season, was scratched near the end of the campaign and watched all six of his team’s playoff games from the press box — not what you’d expect from one of the top American rearguards in the league. Now, he looks like a logical fit to complete the Penguins’ blue-line puzzle, adding versatility, good movement and special teams know-how to an already-strong squad run by the man who drafted him third overall in 2005 (Rutherford was the Hurricanes’ GM back then). Sounds like a recipe for a rebound.