With NHL training camps getting underway on Wednesday, PTO season is upon us.
Usually, players on Professional Tryout Offers are just another body in camp to raise intensity and increase competition. Sometimes, GMs even invite players to camp as a favor to an agent.
According to CapFriendly.com, 510 players have signed PTOs over the last eight seasons. Only 90 of them ended up signing contracts, either with the team they initially tried out for or another team.
While there’s only a one-in-five chance of a contract being signed, there have been some success stories in recent years.
So without further adieu, let’s take a look at the five best PTOs since the 2015-16 season.
Daniel Sprong, RW, Seattle Kraken (2022-23)
Heading into last season, Daniel Sprong was a poster boy analytical darling — a player with sparkling fancy stats but unable to quite crack a larger role, or even a regular role to begin with, on an NHL club.
Before the 2022-23 season, only 18 NHL players scored more 5-on-5 goals per 60 minutes than Sprong (1.17) over the previous three seasons, according to NaturalStatrick.com (minimum 500 minutes).
Mind you, Sprong was logging just 11:26 minutes at 5-on-5 per game through that span and split those three seasons between the Anaheim Ducks, Washington Capitals and Seattle Kraken organizations. Sprong always had offensive upside, but he was a tweener; not good enough to be in the top-six, and too inconsistent in other areas of the game — namely his 200-foot game – to cement a role in the bottom-six.
Despite scoring six goals in 16 games with Seattle at the tail-end of the 2021-22 season, the Kraken opted not to qualify the then-RFA. However, after not receiving any other offers, Sprong attended Seattle’s training camp on a PTO and after an excellent training camp showing inked a one-year, two-way NHL contract before camp even finished.
🚨 SPRONG BOMB! 🚨
Dunn serves it to Sprong on a platter, and the Dutchman blasts away. 1-0 Kraken.
Sprong, on a PTO, is having a great showing in camp. pic.twitter.com/knMZa3I8fR
— Sound Of Hockey (@sound_hockey) September 28, 2022
Sprong carried that preseason momentum into the regular season, where he quickly carved out a role for himself on Seattle’s fourth line. The Kraken couldn’t have asked for a more productive output from a player that averaged under 10 minutes a night during five-on-five play. In addition to recording the third-most 5-on-5 points (3.10) and seventh-most 5-on-5 goals per 60 minutes (1.45) of any NHL player last year, Sprong posted a career-high 21 goals and 46 points in just 66 games last season.
The 26-year-old right winger signed a one-year, $2,000,000 contract with the Detroit Red Wings this summer.
Jimmy Vesey, LW, New York Rangers (2022-23)
Ahead of the 2022-23 season, Jimmy Vesey’s stock had never been lower.
Vesey, the most highly regarded undrafted free agent NCAA signing of the modern era, never panned out as expected. The 2016 Hobey Baker Award winner was a solid middle-six contributor during his first three seasons with the New York Rangers — recording a career-high 17 goals and 35 points in his final year — but never anywhere close to the player NHL teams anticipated him becoming.
Expectations were nonexistent when Vesey joined the Blueshirts on a PTO last fall, but the Massachusetts native played great in five preseason games with the Rangers — registering three points and posting a 62.86 expected goals-for percentage and a 56.14 Corsi-for percentage during five-on-five play — earning himself a one-year, one-way league minimum contract at the conclusion of training camp.
In 81 games with the Rangers last season, Vesey was an impactful, everyday fourth-line player who provided solid secondary scoring — registering 11 goals and 25 points. He established himself as a valuable penalty killer, ranking sixth in Expected goals-against (6.05) among forwards that played at least 100 minutes on the penalty kill, according to NaturalStatTrick.com. Midway through last season, the Rangers rewarded him with a two-year contract extension that carries a $800,000 cap hit.
Mike Hoffman, LW, St. Louis Blues (2020-21)
Okay, this one wasn’t a traditional scenario but it still technically counts and we’d be remiss not to mention it.
Coming off a 2019-20 campaign where he recorded 29 goals and 59 points, Mike Hoffman had no shortage of offers coming his way — with The Athletic’s Pierre LeBrun reporting at the time that he believed 15 or 16 teams showed interest in Hoffman. But Hoffman wasn’t a big fan of the initial offers he received after the Covid-shortened season.
Once he pivoted towards a shorter-term deal, his sights were set on the St. Louis Blues. But with Alex Steen and Vladimir Tarasenko sidelined for the foreseeable future, it didn’t make sense for the Blues to sign Hoffman ahead of training camp, as that would limit the surplus of cap space they’d receive from placing them on long-term injured reserve. So the team essentially agreed to sign Hoffman to a one-year, $4-million contract offer but didn’t make it official until the start of the regular season. This meant Hoffman played on a PTO for the first week of training camp. Then again, there was still some risk here, as nothing was stopping Hoffman – or the Blues, for that matter — from changing their minds during that PTO period.
Hoffman went on to record 36 points in 52 games with the Blues during the 2020-21 season.
Travis Hamonic, D, Vancouver Canucks (2020-21)
Travis Hamonic’s career was on a downward trajectory before signing a PTO with the Vancouver Canucks ahead of the 2020-21 season.
Once lauded as a defensive defenseman capable of handling difficult matchups while with the New York Islanders, Hamonic regressed during his three-year stint with the Calgary Flames between 2017-18 to 2019-20.
After an opportunity out west, however, Hamonic earned a job at Canucks camp, signing a one-year, $1,250,000 contract with the Canucks one week after agreeing to the tryout. The then-31-year-old carved out a role on Vancouver’s second pairing — averaging 19:22 minutes a night — alongside Quinn Hughes and eventually inked a two-year, $6,000,000 contract with the Canucks the following summer, though he was flipped for a third-round pick at the deadline before the deal kicked in.
In all, the Canucks converted a PTO player into an asset that garnered them a decent draft pick. Not too shabby.
Lee Stempniak, RW, New Jersey Devils (2015-16)
After being traded at consecutive trade deadlines and having a limited output in both playoff runs, it was fair to question how much Lee Stempniak had left in the tank when he inked a PTO with the New Jersey Devils ahead of the 2015-16 season.
But after the then-32-year-old recorded two points in four preseason games — along with a 60 percent Expected goals-for percentage during five-on-five play in those games, according to NaturalStatTrick.com — the Devils inked Stempniak to a one-year, $800,000 contract.
Stempniak flourished in a top-six role with the basement-dwelling Devils and was one of the few players on the team to post positive on-ice metrics during five-on-five play that season. The Devils eventually traded Stempniak — who led the team in scoring at the time with 41 points in 63 games— to the Boston Bruins at the trade deadline for a second and fourth pick. Talk about a pump and dump!