You build a strong and competitive team by pressing your initial choices and making these become influential players. Some teams may spend significant amounts of money on a significant player in a free agency to help them get there, or do significant work in the commercial marketplace to add a coveted performer to try to put you on top.
What really begins to differentiate the team is finding the value additions, whether at the draft table, through trade, or off the radar through free agency. In this edition of the Friday Four we’ll be highlighting some of the players who were adding value when they were brought in and had the most positive impacts on their teams in these playoffs. For this purpose, we will try to focus on players who have never played in the supplement – and this is happening now.
So, while someone like Jake Guentzel or Johnny Gaudreau were originally value additions when they first arrived, they are now established players who have done so before in the regular season or post-season more than once. We know what it’s all about.
This week we’ll take a look at…
• How the Florida Panthers blasted Carter Verhagé from lightning on the cheap
• Devon Toews’ influence as a dual defender in Colorado
• Kirill Kaprizov appreciates his first big show in the playoffs
• And Frank Vatrano, the owner of the unexpected performance in the playoffs this year.
Carter Verhaghi, Florida Panthers
If you know where to look, you saw Verhaeghe’s potential when he was a free agent in 2020. He’s only been coming off nine goals and 13 points in his rookie season with the Tampa Bay Lightning (and a -9) rating where he spent most of his time as a fourth streak with an average Less than 10 minutes into the game. You haven’t seen much of him below that stacked list (he’s only added assists in eight games during his cup stint), but the basic numbers for his regular season have been solid.
In 5-on-5, Verhaeghe was one of five Lightning players averaging more than one goal per 60 minutes of ice time, joining Nikita Kucherov, Alex Killorn, Steven Stamkos and Brayden Point. Those stats were indicative of potential players in the past, should they get more icy time, including Jacob Vrana (who has scored 21 goals in 37 games since making a deal with Detroit and landed a bigger role) and Jordan Kerro, who We found out about the start of this season Before he had more icy time and finished by scoring 27 goals.
Even way back a year before that, Verhagé led the AHL with 34 goals and 82 points in 2018-19, two years after spending a large part of his season in the Premier League. It was clearly a bullish asset.
The Panthers made a low-risk bet he had hit with them and Verhaeghe signed a two-year deal with AAV worth $1 million. Still on that contract now, he has secured a permanent spot on the left side of Line 1 next to Alexander Barkov, and has 42 goals in 121 regular season games with Florida.
Across two playoff games (and two rounds) with the Panthers, he’s hit as many as seven goals in 11 games now and is a player scoring a goal in every game so far in this playoff. The OT winner scored in this year’s Game 4 against the Capitals to pull the Panthers evenly, and in a stunning Game 5 comeback, Verhaeghe scored Florida’s first goal to gain momentum in their direction and finished off with a five-point night in a critical 5. 3 win. He was credited with winning the game in that game as well.
“That is it,” Panthers coach Andrew Brunot said. “I think that’s why he’s so important to our team. He’s going to be tough on his work ethic and he’ll come back for the pucks and go for the pucks. Just relentlessly. That’s how he plays.”
Verhaeghe is now two points off the scoring lead in the playoffs, with one game less played than Conor McDavid or Brad Marchand in front of him. If the Panthers transcended the capitals, Verhaeghe would be on Conn Smythe’s early lists. He will start a new contract with the Panthers next season, with a three-year extension worth US$4.166 million. This is still a valuable bargain.
The 26-year-old is questionable for Game 6 on Friday night, and that would be a situation to watch for now.
Devon Toy’s, Colorado Avalanche
A first-round nail for Colorado was Cal Makar, who scored three goals and 10 points in four games is downright ridiculous for a defender. Makar himself is a special and unique defensive man and looks set to have many award-winning seasons in his future.
And if you’re not talking about Makar in Colorado, you probably mention Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog, or Mikko Rantanen. Heck, maybe you’re talking about Nazim Qadri who always seems to have an influence (both positive and negative in his past) come match time.
Just don’t forget Devon Toews, who may have been playing his way to Team Canada, as the NHLers went to the Olympics last winter.
In pairing with Makar, Toews was one of the most dependable defenders in the first round, averaging 24:44 icy time and was the only Av to average over 20 minutes per game in equal power minutes. It’s been productive, with three goals and five points in four games, and when the Toews were on the ice, Colorado controlled more than 62 percent of the projected goals—which would be expected in a top team that sweeps away an inferior opponent.
But while he can add insult to injury (and has already given 57 career points in 66 games this season) Toews’ added value is in the defensive side of the disc, which isn’t the most notable aspect of the game.
Toews was a fourth-round pick for the Islanders in 2014 after his freshman year at Quinnipiac, and so he came off the radar farther. He gave them two solid seasons as well, scoring 28 points in his last regular season with New York and adding another 10 points in 22 playoffs. But he placed fifth in average ice time among the islanders’ trick-ball players in that round to third round. He was starting to fall out of being under the radar, and then Lou Lamorillo distributed him to Colorado for a few picks in the second round.
Kirill Kaprizov, Minnesota Wild
This is a little different because Kaprizov has not changed the NHL and . teams Feel Like a player with superhuman potential forever. It must have been a first-round pick, right?
Try the fifth round. Kaprizov was falling behind in the rankings in his enlistment season, after which it was not a guarantee that he would ever join the Wild. In the two years following his draft, Kaprizov blasted off in the KHL and the first window of hope opened that he had come to North America in 2017, but then Kaprizov re-signed a three-year agreement with CSKA Moscow that secured further delays in his NHL career.
For his part, Kaprizov spoke in 2017 and said there wasn’t a lot of communication coming in from the then-Wild front office led by Chuck Fletcher. Kaprizov went on to become one of the top scorers in the KHL and starred in the 2018 Olympics. It was then clear that he had superhuman potential, but the wild was far away, and there was no guarantee that he would join them.
Bill Guerin was the GM who finally managed to convince him to sign with Wild, and once Kaprizov arrived, he was a game changer for the franchise. He had a goal and assists in his first National Hockey League game and finished with 27 goals in 55 games as a rookie last season, escaping with Calder Trophy. He scored twice in a seven-game first-round loss to Vegas, and last year’s playoff bid was a comprehensive introduction.
Kaprizov has taken another step this season, becoming Minnesota’s first 100-point player and moving up more in the playoffs, too. Although Wild did drop their chain to St. Louis in six matches, however Kaprizov was a beast who scored seven times, including a hat-trick and two winners. Minnesota scored 16 goals as a team. He was the most influential player in the Wild with his scores and when he was on the ice at 5-on-5, they controlled over 56% of shot attempts and predicted goals.
We knew going into these qualifiers that Kaprizov was a stud, and in that sense it didn’t surprise us at all. but she was hem A breakthrough for him and a good sign for the future that he can excel at this time of year. Wild will now face a few years of self-cover crisis, which will make improving the roster very difficult. Players in their mid-20s who signed terms through them, including Kaprizov and Joel Erickson-Eck (who was also excellent against the Blues), will be required to be excellent for Wild to continue growing as a competitor.
Frank Vatrano, New York Rangers
When the Panthers had to clear part of the roster and payroll space for their priority moves on the deadline, the Rangers became beneficiaries. Frank Vatrano was cheap, with Florida only taking fourth. Now, you wouldn’t expect a player like Vatrano to replay more in the trade – he’s more than a six down with a 35-40 finish potential, but his suitability for Rangers was something more. Vatrano scored eight goals and 13 points in 22 regular season games with Rangers after a mid-March trade, being one of the best pick-ups along the way.
In the qualifiers, Vatrano is sixth among the Rangers attackers in the equal ice time, and he carved out a place for himself in the first streak with Mika Zibanijad and Chris Kreider. He can really move all over this lineup.
When we identified Rangers as one of the “winners” in the trading deadlines, it was because they added a few “strong” players, who can add muscle, depth and flexibility to the lines. But also some offensive punches. Andrew Cobb was another key part of this, and the former Winnipeg Jet was also excellent with three goals in his five games against Pittsburgh this round. Around Manitoba at least, Cope’s contributions have been appreciated for a few years.
Vatrano, an unexplained signature by Bruins in 2015, is now getting full attention as it peaks at 28 in a major market. Not only can it be annoying, but it can also trigger an attack at any time. Vatrano is tied for sixth in the entire NHL with 18 shots on target in 5-on-5 so far in this playoff and has scored two goals in this setup.