Two years ago, the Colorado Avalanche struck gold when they invited a 6’4” Russian winger to training camp on a Professional Tryout (PTO) contract. One year removed from playing in the KHL and and unrestricted free agent at only 24-years old, Valeri Nichushkin earned a full contract with the Avalanche and has been a very important part of the lineup for the two seasons since.
Now they’re hoping to get just as lucky with Artem Anisimov.
Saddled by a cap hit that far exceeded his worth, the 33-year old is now a veteran who is looking to prolong a decent NHL career. After four years playing in the middle-6 of the Chicago Blackhawks, Anisimov has spent the last two seasons in Ottawa bouncing in and out of the lineup for a Senators team that was in the middle of a full blown re-build.
After appearing in only 19 games last season, Anisimov will arrive at Avalanche training camp looking to prove that he’s still got something in the tank. The opportunity exists for him to earn a contract the same way Nichushkin did a couple years ago.
Unlike Nichushkin, Anisimov is not a high-end defensive forward. Once a regular 20-goal scorer, the veteran will be looking to earn contract by providing secondary scoring that the Avs will be missing after the departures of Brandon Saad and Joonas Donskoi. With the ability to play both center and left wing, Anisimov fits right into the holes that still exist in the Avalanche lineup. If he can prove he still has the speed to keep up and that his hands are still there, it’s easy to see Anisimov providing cheap depth to the lineup this season.
From an Avalanche perspective, Anisimov will be brought to camp as insurance as well as to push some of the young forwards in the organization. Martin Kaut, Shane Bowers and Mikahil Maltsev will now have to outplay the veteran in order crack the lineup at the beginning of the year. The best case scenario for the team is that Anisimov is not extended a contract offer at the end of camp - that would mean that their youngsters have earned their way onto the roster.
While some believe the young members of the Avalanche organization should be playing at the NHL level regardless, the team has proven that they are not willing to gift roster sports to prospects who aren’t worthy of them. As a team that is set to compete for the Stanley Cup, the Avs will ice the best lineup possible and if that means playing Anisimov over some of the younger players, so be it. With the contention window open now, playing unworthy prospects in the NHL is a bad idea - something Joe Sakic appears aware of based on the PTOs to both Anisimov and Jack Johnson.
While Nichushkin’s PTO paid off, the Avalanche have attempted a number of reclamation projects over the last few years that didn’t. That said, inviting Anisimov to camp is a no-risk move that could pay off down the road. The hope is that he turns into a viable depth option that can be on the roster for a league minimum but at the very least, he’s a veteran body to keep around during the preseason to fill out the lineup.