When the calendar flips to September it usually means training camp is weeks away and professional tryouts become the new focus.
The Avalanche signed their first PTO of the offseason, giving veteran defenseman Jack Johnson an opportunity to earn a contract at training camp.
Johnson, 34, spent last season with the New York Rangers, appearing in just 13 games and recorded a single goal after an injury cut his season short in March. Johnson had core muscle repair surgery and fully recovered from the procedure in July.
Before that, Johnson spent two years with the Pittsburgh Penguins before getting bought out of the last three seasons of a five-year deal signed in 2018.
The 16-year NHL veteran spent the majority of his career with Columbus and L.A. and won a silver medal in the 2010 Winter Olympics for Team USA.
Johnson has played 950 NHL games, recording 303 points since being drafted third overall in 2005 by Carolina.
The blueliner may be the only PTO the Avs sign this offseason. But they certainly have options if they choose to invite more players to training camp.
Veteran centermen are always a valuable addition — even if they don’t see much playing time. Bozak, who lives in Colorado in the offseason, is arguably the best player available on the open market.
The 35-year-old spent last season with St. Louis and had a respectable 17 points in just 31 games. I’m a little surprised he hasn’t signed yet but he could be one of the casualties of a flat cap. So a PTO may be the best option for him.
As I was saying, there’s always value in a veteran centerman that can also win draws seemingly at will.
Zajac spent 17 years in the New Jersey Devils organization before getting traded to the New York Islanders in April. His best seasons are behind him but the 36-year-old has yet to win a Stanley Cup and may look to try and earn a roster spot with a Cup contender after getting so close with the Islanders last season
How about a young forward that may just need an opportunity? Donata, 25, spent the past season with San Jose after scoring 14 goals in 61 games with Minnesota in the COVID shortened 2019-20 season.
Donato is a free agent because the Sharks chose to not give him a qualifying offer. The kid could be used as depth if or when the Avs run into injuries. So perhaps an opportunity is all he needs.
It’s easy to look at the many teams Galchenyuk has played for the past three years, (six, he’s played for six teams) and say he’s got no place in today’s game.
But the work he put in to make it back to the NHL after being acquired by the Toronto Maple Leafs proved that the 27-year-old is still yearning for another contract. Galchenyuk is a safer bet than Donato as a skilled player that could be used when injuries arise. And he’s also just three years removed from five straight seasons of recording at least 40 points.
I sensed the Avalanche would look into inviting a veteran blueliner to training camp. I just always felt it would be Vatanen simply because he was more relevant than Johnson in past years.
Vatanen is coming off a tumultuous 2021 season, scoring two goals and recording six points in 39 games split between New Jersey and Dallas. What was once considered a young offensive threat from the blueline has seen his role and play diminish to the point where he’s left without a contract in September.
Now 30, Vatanen can likely still offer a team some bit of help. I doubt it’ll be much, but we are talking about PTO’s after all.
Aarif Deen is our Colorado Avalanche beat reporter. He covers Avs games live from Ball Arena and attends practices, media availabilities and other events pertaining to the Avs on the daily beat. He is also a co-host of Hockey Mountain High: Your go-to Avalanche podcast. Deen joined Mile High Sports upon completion of his bachelor’s degree in journalism and master’s in business administration from the University of Michigan – Dearborn. Before Mile High Sports, Deen worked for the Michigan Wolverines Athletics Department as the assistant sports information director.
Follow him on Twitter @runwriteAarif