The Most Important Midseason Addition on Each Remaining NHL Playoff Team
While NHL teams make the bulk of their major roster decisions in the offseason, the right midseason adjustment can put a great team over the top. Which was the most important addition made by each of the eight remaining postseason teams this year?
Several clubs made some major last-minute moves at the trade deadline, a couple made only some minor adjustments, and a few essentially stood pat.
I've identified the top midseason addition for each remaining playoff team, including AHL call-ups, early trades and deadline-day pickups. Using a variety of analytics, each player's role was established, including how effectively they've been playing it and the overall impact it has had on their teams.
In the end, the single most important addition was identified for each remaining team, and then ranked based on the overall impact he has had so far and is projected to have the rest of the way.
Whether you agree or disagree, be sure to weigh in on any players that were overlooked or that you may have ranked differently. Let's begin!
All advanced statistics are via Extra Skater or writer's own original research unless otherwise noted.
8. Justin Florek, Boston Bruins
Despite their success picking up Jaromir Jagr at last year's trade deadline, the Boston Bruins decided to largely stick with the roster that won them the President's trophy.
One interesting last minute call-up was 6'4" Justin Florek, who was brought in on an emergency basis right before the playoffs began, his third such trip of the season.
A top penalty-killer for the Providence Bruins with 69 points in 148 career AHL games, Florek was included in Boston's plans as an insurance policy for injured veterans like Daniel Paille and Chris Kelly.
Florek has been used very carefully on a line with Swedes Carl Soderberg and Loui Eriksson, deployed almost exclusively against the depth lines and in the offensive zone.
They have outshot opponents 40-25 at even strength while outscoring them 2-1. One of those goals was a nifty one by Florek against Detroit in game two, his only point so far this postseason.
Florek had two points in four games in two separate regular-season stints with the club.
What to Expect Next
Florek is likely only a depth option whose presence in the lineup will be dependent on injuries or specific tactical plans by coach Claude Julien. Even then his impact for the team will likely remain limited.
Florek was scratched from the lineup for the second and third games of Boston's second round series with the Montreal Canadiens in favor of another midseason AHL call-up, Jordan Caron.
Andrej Meszaros, a wise trade deadline acquisition intended to bolster the blue-line depth, was also added to the lineup for that critical 5-3 victory. He has two points in four games and could definitely be considered for this slide instead.
7. Devante Smith-Pelly, Anaheim Ducks
Devante Smith-Pelly started the season off hot with the Ducks, but was sent down to the AHL's Norfolk Admirals in late November after the team lost six out of eight, ostensibly to make room for Saku Koivu and Francois Beauchemin to come off the injured reserve.
Anaheim finally called him back up April 7 after leading the Admirals with 27 goals in 55 games.
The Ducks have that huge first line and rely on well-selected players to keep the games close while they're catching their breath. The effective play of Smith-Pelly and other fine AHLers like Emerson Etem have been key factors in the team's success.
Smith-Pelly's postseason highlight was a two-goal game against the Dallas Stars, including the equalizer in the series-clinching Game 6 with 24 seconds left.
The 21-year-old youngster also finished the regular season off strong, scoring two goals in the final three games after his call-up. Over his 19 NHL games this year, the Ducks were outshot 113-97 when he was on the ice at even strength, but nevertheless still outscored opponents 11-6.
What to Expect Next
While Smith-Pelly is a natural goal scorer, coach Bruce Boudreau says it's actually his reliable checking and physicality that is keeping him in the lineup over veteran choices, as reported by Lance Pugmire of the Los Angeles Times. He's a very disciplined player who threw 50 hits in 19 regular season games but took only a single minor penalty.
What's next for the youngster? He has 23 points in 75 NHL games, and 76 points in 124 AHL games. He's a big player who could soon mature into a 20-goal NHLer.
6. Kris Versteeg, Chicago Blackhawks
Kris Versteeg, a member of the 2010 Stanley Cup Chicago Blackhawks, was re-acquired from the Florida Panthers on November 15. The trade cost Chicago prospects Jimmy Hayes and Dylan Olsen.
According to an interview with Brian Hedger of NHL.com, general manager Stan Bowman was looking for experience and versatility, not to mention Versteeg's "energy and competitiveness." He also expressed plans to use the 27-year-old to bolster their penalty kill, an idea that never came to fruition.
Versteeg started off hot for Chicago, scoring four points in his first four games, and 15 in his first 21. Things cooled off considerably after that, and he managed just 14 points in the remaining 42 games.
In the playoffs he started off hot once again with points in the first two games, but then cooled off, was demoted first to the fourth line, and then out of the lineup altogether. He has thrown only one hit but taken two minor penalties and the team has been outshot 38-23 when he's been on the ice.
Versteeg was a healthy scratch for Joakim Nordstrom for Game 6 against St. Louis and for the series opener with Minnesota due to illness, as reported by Scott Powers of ESPN Chicago. He was back in the lineup Tuesday night but was assigned less than eight minutes of ice time.
What to Expect Next
Being on a great team is a double-edged sword. Your talented teammates can help unleash your full potential, but they can also take your job when you're struggling.
Versteeg is certainly capable of making an offensive splash similar to his 23-goal, 54-point performance for Florida in 2011-12, but he would need to fight his way back up the lineup and in to the top six.
He definitely had an impact in his previous trips to the postseason. Versteeg scored 26 points in 39 games during his first two playoff appearances with Chicago, followed by a combined 11 points in 18 games with Philadelphia and Florida.
Looking forward, Versteeg has four 20-goal seasons under his belt, and the soon-to-be 28-year-old can return to that level again. He's signed for $4.4 million per season for two more years, but Florida retained a portion of that cost.
5. Lee Stempniak, Pittsburgh Penguins
Well-known for their use of hockey analytics, Pittsburgh plucked two of the top three players listed in the set of trade deadline value players we published here on Bleacher Report, Marcel Goc and Lee Stempniak.
Goc was acquired from Florida for a third- and a fifth-round selection, while Stempniak was obtained from Calgary for a third-round pick.
While the veteran UFAs were primarily picked up for some two-way depth in their bottom six, Stempniak also has the tools to replace someone like Pascal Dupuis on Sidney Crosby's top line.
In the 21 games down the stretch, the Penguins were outshot 147-118 at even strength with Stempniak on the ice, but outscored their opponents, 16-11. He was in on 11 of those goals.
In the postseason, Stempniak has continued to enjoy some opportunities on the top line with Crosby at even strength, but has mostly been plugged in on a variety of different lines with Beau Bennett, Brandon Sutter, Jussi Jokinen and Goc.
He has three points in nine games so far this postseason while playing responsible two-way hockey.
What to Expect Next
Stempniak is a highly versatile player whom coach Dan Bylsma will continue to use wherever he's needed most. More opportunities on the top line with Crosby could result in more scoring, while additional ice time on the checking lines with secondary players like Sutter could reduce opposition scoring.
The 31-year-old veteran doesn't actually have a great deal of prior postseason experience on which to draw. Stempniak has two points in 11 career games in two prior playoff appearances with the Phoenix Coyotes.
His long history of consistent regular-season play suggests that he'll have no difficulty continuing to remain effective in whatever role the Penguins need most.
4. Darcy Kuemper, Minnesota Wild
It's been an up-and-down season for Darcy Kuemper, who was called up from the AHL's Iowa Wild for a few days in October and November before joining the Wild for good two days into the new year.
The Wild could be the remaining playoff team that made the most midseason additions, having also added Matt Moulson and Kuemper's goaltending partner Ilya Bryzgalov at the trade deadline, and calling up other AHL players like key youngster Erik Haula.
Though his numbers were solid overall, the 24-year-old goalie was not always consistent.
Kuemper posted 13 quality starts in 25 attempts and had four very poor games in which he was pulled three times. In fact, 11 times in 26 regular season games Kuemper failed to stop at least 90 percent of the shots, including in three of his last four games and five of his last eight.
Kuemper was, however, excellent in Minnesota's first round upset over Colorado, posting a 3-1 record and a .913 save percentage to go with a sparkling 2.03 goals against average.
What to Expect Next
Kuemper has missed the first three games of Minnesota's second-round series with Chicago after getting injured colliding with Matt Duchene behind the net in the first round. Ilya Bryzgalov took over and allowed seven goals on 42 shots in the first two games before posting a 19-shot shutout in Game 3.
While Bryzgalov's bounce-back performance at home is promising, Kuemper's healthy and effective return might be the Wild's better bet to pull off an upset.
3. Thomas Vanek, Montreal Canadiens
Montreal made excellent use of the trade deadline to add an offensive weapon in Thomas Vanek and a defensive one in Mike Weaver.
The New York Islanders required prospect Sebastien Collberg and a second-round selection to part with their high-scoring pending UFA.
Vanek joined Max Pacioretty to give Montreal a great double threat on the top scoring line. The Canadiens were badly outshot at even strength when he was on the ice, 254-220, but outscored opponents, 17-8. Vanek himself accounted for 15 points in the season's final 18 games.
So far in the postseason the 30-year-old Austrian has continued to produce, with three goals and six points in seven games, half of which came with the man advantage.
Despite Tomas Plekanec's line taking on all the tough minutes, Vanek's line has managed only three goals at even strength. Vanek was, however, on the ice for four of Montreal's six power-play goals, scoring or assisting all but one of them.
What to Expect Next
Will Vanek remain on the top line with Pacioretty and David Desharnais?
Frustrated by their lack of production, coach Michel Therrien briefly separated them, and even called out Vanek specifically for a lackluster effort, as reported by Dave Stubbs of the National Post. He responded with two goals in Game 2 and assisted the first goal in Game 3.
Vanek is a truly talented sniper and one of the few NHLers capable of scoring a goal one game out of every two. He is motivated not only by a chance to play for the Stanley Cup, but also to improve his negotiating position come July 1.
He's already producing on the power play, and all that remains is some renewed success at even strength.
2. Martin St. Louis, New York Rangers
Rumored to want off general manager Steve Yzerman's team after being overlooked on Team Canada's initial Olympic roster (source: NHL), Tampa Bay's captain and leading scorer Martin St. Louis was traded to the New York Rangers at the trade deadline.
The Rangers sent their own captain, Ryan Callahan, a pending unrestricted free agent, in exchange, along with potentially two first-round selections if the Rangers advance to the conference final.
St. Louis took some time to adjust, scoring just eight points in the final 19 games of the regular season, half of which occurred in the final two games against Carolina and Buffalo.
The 38-year-old started off strong in the postseason, but has just one point in his last seven games. He is nevertheless still second on the Rangers with six points in 10 games and leads the team's forwards with almost 20 minutes of ice time per game.
St. Louis is on the top line taking on the top opposing players and even taking some turns on the penalty kill (though without much success).
What to Expect Next
The Rangers are in tight against the Penguins, and St. Louis is one of several players who is going to have to come back alive in order to make a return to the conference final after only a one-year absence. Coach Alain Vigneault said so himself, as reported by Denis Gorman of Metro.
Can he do it? St. Louis won the NHL scoring race last year with 60 points in 48 games, and had 68 points in 63 career playoff games going into this season. If the six-time all-star can't help re-ignite New York's offense, then perhaps nobody can.
1. Marian Gaborik, Los Angeles Kings
Marian Gaborik is a high-priced unrestricted free agent who was acquired from the Columbus Blue Jackets at the trade deadline March 5 for Matt Frattin and two draft choices.
Ultimately finishing 25th in goals scored, lowest among playoff teams, the Kings were in desperate need of some scoring. They also had great success the last time they acquired a high-priced sniper from Columbus, which was Jeff Carter at the 2012 trade deadline.
Gaborik's job is simply to score. The talented Slovakian closed out the season with 16 points in 19 games for the Kings.
He worked with Anze Kopitar on the top line at even strength and on the power play, and the Kings outscored their opponents 23-9 when he was on the ice down the stretch. Though his role is purely offensive in nature, it has been against top opposing lines.
His tremendous scoring success has continued into the postseason, where he currently has five goals and eight points, and has been shut out only once in the past six games. Mike Brophy of CBC called Gaborik the "king of all trade deadline pickups" this year.
What to Expect Next
Despite Gaborik having been one of the league's few roughly point-a-game players since the 2005 lockout, you never really know what you're going to get.
The oft-injured 32-year-old had only 31 points in 69 games over the past season and a half prior to his arrival in Los Angeles. That's quite a slide for his third-place finish in the goal scoring race with the Rangers in 2011-12.
He's nevertheless finding the back of the twine now, and the Kings should keep winning as long as that continues.
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