NHL Free Agency: The Best Power-Play Specialists Available This Summer

Steve Silverman@@profootballboyFeatured ColumnistJuly 13, 2012

NHL Free Agency: The Best Power-Play Specialists Available This Summer

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    Special-teams play is one of the decisive factors in building a winning team in the National Hockey League.

    The Los Angeles Kings ran through the majority of the playoffs despite having a nearly non-existent power play. However, after the Kings dropped two games in a row to the New Jersey Devils and seemed like they were in danger of blowing the series, they used three first-period power play goals in Game 6 to take charge of the game and ultimately win their first Stanley Cup.

    In 2011, the Boston Bruins had to endure similar failures on the power play through much of the first three rounds of the playoffs. However, that unit came alive in the Stanley Cup Finals and that helped them dispatch the Vancouver Canucks in seven games and win their first title in 39 years.

    So even teams that struggle on the power play need that unit to come alive at some point if they are going to win. Here's a look at five of the best power play performers who have been signed as free agents this summer.

Jason Garrison, Vancouver Canucks

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    Defenseman Jason Garrison was not one of the high-powered prizes of the free-agency season.

    However, he just may be a difference maker for the Vancouver Canucks. He is a solid, all-around defenseman who can play effectively in his own zone, but he is also an underrated power-play performer. He has a hard, accurate shot and he scored nine power-play goals for the Florida Panthers while firing away from the point.

    How does this move project for the Canucks? Just imagine Garrison standing at the left point and moving to an open spot. As he begins his move, Henrik Sedin sees him getting open and delivers him the perfect tape-to-tape pass. Garrison, with time and space, unloads a shot to the top corner.

    Garrison, 27, is just coming into his own. He has the size at 6'4" and 220 pounds to punish opponents in the corner and the skills to become one of the better defensemen in the league. He's got a long way to go to join the likes of Ottawa's Erik Karlsson, but he is an underrated player on the rise.

    A great signing for the Canucks and a tough loss for the Panthers.

Ray Whitney, Dallas Stars

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    The Dallas Stars found plenty of success when they signed Michael Ryder from the Boston Bruins during the free-agency signing period last summer.

    Ryder was viewed as a sniper who could put the puck in the net. He exceeded expectations when he scored 35 goals for the Stars last year with his quick hands and devastating wrist shot.

    The Stars have signed another sniper this summer. Ray Whitney turned 40 in May, but he is still a valuable scorer who gets the job done with his superb hands and ability to strike quickly. Whitney had 24 goals and 53 assists for the Phoenix Coyotes, and he is a regular threat on the power play. He had eight goals with the man advantage last season.

    Even though he's older, Whitney uses his anticipation and quick release to fire pucks into the upper reaches of the net. Those top-shelf shots often turn into goals or rebounds that teammates can convert into scores.

Jaromir Jagr, Dallas Stars

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    You can raise questions about the Dallas Stars' choice to go after older veteran players—both Jaromir Jagr and Ray Whitney have passed their 40th birthdays—but there's no doubt about their collective skill level.

    Jagr returned to the NHL last year after playing four years in the Russian KHL. Jagr may have lost a step or more of quickness, but he is still bull strong and able to use his body to screen off defenders and make big plays with the man advantage.

    Jagr is not the big-time scorer he was in his prime with the Pittsburgh Penguins, but he scored 19 goals and 35 assists for the Philadelphia Flyers last year and eight of his scores came on the power play. With veterans like Michael Ryder, Whitney and Jagr, the Stars should have quite a bit of firepower with the man advantage.

Zach Parise, Minnesota Wild

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    It's no surprise that Zach Parise is going to be a boon to the Minnesota Wild. He is a top all-around player who can do everything you want on the ice and that includes score with the man advantage.

    Parise has a high-revving motor that allows him to dominate on the forecheck. That's a factor that may play better on the penalty kill than the power play, but Parise uses his quick stick to pick off errant passes and get the attack going in the opposite direction.

    Parise was the best player on the Devils last season and should fulfill that same role with the Wild. He's bound to a be a key player on the power play where he scored seven goals for New Jersey last season. In addition to being a fast and aggressive skater, Parise can put his shot right on the money and find the top corner in power-play situations.

P.A. Parenteau, Colorado Avalanche

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    A player can get lost when he competes for the New York Islanders. While former No. 1 overall pick John Tavares has gotten better each of his three seasons and regularly makes the highlights, few of his teammates do.

    That was certainly the case for P.A. Parenteau the past two seasons, but it doesn't mean he was not a solid contributor. The Colorado Avalanche noticed his offensive skills and signed him during free agency.

    Parenteau has scored 38 goals the last two seasons, and 15 of them have come on the power play. Parenteau has proven to be a key factor with the man advantage because he knows where the dead spots are in the defense, and he has the fast hands needed to get rid of the shot quickly.

    Opposing defenses that don't pay special attention to him will be shocked by his skills. He should become a fixture on the Colorado power play in the 2012-13 season.