We arrive in April of the 2021-22 NHL calendar. This takes us deeper into the extended race to the NHL playoffs. There is plenty to play for the top teams as they jockey for top seed and home ice. Bubble teams are clearly in combat mode, trying to secure wild-card stains.
Many other NHL teams are only playing string out at the moment, especially at the Eastern Conference, where the eight postseason seeds were apparently set by Christmas. In total, 13 NHL teams are currently out of the playoffs with 10 or more points.
This does not mean that they have nothing to play with, of course, especially in each of their players. There are enough runways left in the schedule for certain players with their uncertain futures to determine their long-term fate with their clubs. Who are some of the players to prove a lot in the last month of the season? Consider these names.
Eric Branstrom, D, Ottawa Senator
Branstrom was probably the focal point of the blockbuster 2019 trade where Ottawa star sent right winger Mark Stone to the Vegas Golden Nights. Branstrom, one of three first-round picks used in the opening draft of Vegas, was graded as an elite-level prospect with a ceiling for being the top offensive defender at the NHL level. It hasn’t happened yet. He still hasn’t been in the NHL all season. In her first few years as a professional, she struggled with confidence issues and occasionally struggled with her defensive awareness.
Now 22, he asks, “Is this going to happen?” However, in the last month of the season, he has a great opportunity. Top senator defender Thomas Chabot has been done for years with a broken arm, and Branstrom has been pushed into the chabot chair to the left of the top pair with Artem Jubb. This sets Branstrom on a good track because he and Rugby Jub complement each other. Seven different pairs have played at least 150 minutes together in a 5-on-5 in Ottawa this season, and Brannstrom-Zub has the best results so far, sharing a team-best 56.33 CF% and 52.25% shot-on-goal. They are the only pair with a positive scoring-chance differential.
If Branstrom, a limited free agent, can find his position during this last extended season, it will help him secure a bridge deal at an average annual price that will establish him as a permanent NHLer. Playing with Jub so far, things are trending hopefully. Brannstrom could eventually become a full-time NHLer. It’s worth noting that he won’t be exempt next season, so it will be time to sink or swim – if he does business with a senator or other franchisee.
Phil Kessel, RW, Arizona Coyotes
Ready to grab the Iron Man suit. The Philadelphia Flyers decided over the weekend that they would end defender Keith Yandle’s NHL record streak by playing 989 consecutive games so they could see young Ronnie Atard.
Enter Kessel, who kept her own style alive in a March 8 game by playing a shift before joining her wife for the birth of their child. Kessel’s 969 consecutive games stand as the 2nd Ironman Strick in NHL history. Since Yandle’s streak has been completed, every game Kessel has advanced to is a game acquired in Yandle.
The Coyotes have only 13 games left in their schedule, so Kessel won’t be able to catch Yandle this season, but he could get 982, seven back if he stays in the lineup. It’s definitely something to play with, even in last place clubs.
Travis Konecny, RW, Philadelphia Flyers
Just a few years ago, Konecny established itself as an important element in the long-term origins of emerging young stars and flyers. He landed at then-coach Alain Vignolt’s doghouse last season, though, even ending a healthy scratch, and has struggled to rediscover his scoring touch ever since. From 2017-18 to 2019-20, he has delivered back-to-back 24-goal seasons, the last coming in just 66 games. Since then he has scored 23 goals in 116 appearances in his last two seasons.
Konecny’s performance is difficult to judge when the entire flyers team has achieved less since the start of 2020-21, and he is still too young to be tangible upwards at 25. The question is whether the flyers will try to unlock it or a new team.
The Daily Faceoff’s Frank Seravalli reports at the end of the trade-deadline season that GM Chuck Fletcher had a conversation with Connie. No agreement has been implemented, but the groundwork may be laid. Konecny’s game next week could go a long way in determining his future. He can show the flyers enough to make him hesitate to trade, or he can enter the offseason as Peter is out in need of a change of scenery.
Jack Roslovic, C, Columbus Blue Jacket
Is the fast-moving Roslovic a truthful top-six forward in the NHL? He showed it fluently. He had 28 points in his 33-game spread in his first season as the Columbus Blue Jackets after his business from the Winnipeg Jets. He has alternated between ice-cold stretches and small hot lines this season. Looking at the bigger picture, however, he has fewer points through 68 games than he did in 48 games last season, and his average ice time has dropped to 3:42 games per year. Columbus coaching staff did not give him regular top-line minutes. But that has changed in recent weeks. Roslovic is now getting regular appearances on the top line between Gustav Nikuist and Patrick.
The last month of the Columbus season this summer saw an RFA make a significant stretch for Roslovic to prove he could be a play-driving pivot on a scoring line. If he looks good enough, Blue Jacket will definitely give him a াই 2,206,034 qualifying offer, but will it be a trade pioneer? He landed on the Trade Target Board at Seravalli and moved on to the deadline. Roslovic could also take a page off the line and accept the qualifying offer in hopes of raising its price next season on a proof deal. That strategy paid off nicely for Lane.
Dylan Strom, C, Chicago Blackhawks
Inspired by a career of insanity and dating since the third draft overall in 2015, Storm has quietly delivered one of its more consistent NHL campaigns by its mysterious values. He started 2021-22 with one goal and two points in his first 10 games and has since scored 19 goals and 41 points in 47 games. Strom has been in Fuego since reuniting with Patrick Kane and Alex Debrinkat in early March, scoring 11 goals and 22 points in 16 games. Strom did just that for an offseason where he is an arbitral RFA.
Depending on how he performs for the balance of the season, he can fly in many places. If he continues to show great chemistry with Ken and DeBrinket, Chicago may decide that Storm is part of a longer-term plan and re-sign him to a multi-year deal. If the Blackhawks are out on him, they can decide not to extend his 3.6 million qualification offer and let him continue as an unrestricted free agent. However, how well he played late seems unlikely. If he is not part of the team’s long-term plan, he has shown enough value to be a commercial asset, so it would not make much sense to let him walk in anything.