Each March, NHL front offices scramble to optimize their teams before the league closes.
Teams not in the playoffs are looking to shed expiring contracts in exchange for long-term assets, while teams still in search of the playoffs have their eyes on the immediate future as they seek stars and role-players alike for short-term deals hopes of stringing together a long Stanley Cup playoff run.
Some of these moves are hits, some are misses. Four loan players have stood out from the rest this year:
Nick Paul, F (Tampa Bay)
Say it with me: “Nick Paul does everything!” After being traded from the Senators, Nick Paul was a perfect Swiss Army Knife player for the Bolts. The 27-year-old has taken on a big role in the playoffs as his minutes on the ice have increased from 14:06 per game in the regular season to 18:55 in the playoffs. He was instrumental in Tampa’s strong penalty-kill efforts against two of the league’s best offenses and has devoured the second-most minutes while shorthanded. Recently, Paul centered Tampa’s top line to replace the injured Brayden Point between Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos. Most importantly, Paul scored both goals in the Lightnings’ thrilling 2-1 Game 7 triumph over the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Tampa’s acquisition of Paul is just further proof that Lightning’s roster management is unparalleled. The Lightning’s ability to fill their roster with key role players has contributed to their back-to-back Cup wins and could lead them to the coveted ‘Three peat’.
Claude Giroux, F (Florida)
It’s easy to overlook Claude Giroux’s contributions after the Panthers were swept out of the second round. Still, even in the Tampa series, Giroux contributed 33 percent of the team’s points (remains impressive as long as you disregard the fact that Florida only scored three goals against Tampa — but after all, he was there, right?).
Jokes aside, Giroux was instrumental in helping the Panthers get through the first round against the Capitals. The veteran accumulated seven points in sux games and made the difference even as most of Florida’s top talent underperformed. Giroux’s eight points in 10 games was good for second place on the team. Despite still missing a trophy, the former Flyer seemed to be one of Florida’s few bright spots this postseason.
Evander Kane, F. (Edmonton)
We’re taking some liberties here because he wasn’t technically a deadline acquisition, but he was signed with the clear intention of helping the team score in the postseason. He’s had more time with his team than most loan players, which could be part of the reason he’s scored 12 league goals in 12 playoff games.
Kane’s influence is hard to deny. He leads the team with two crucial goals, and the Oilers have won every game in which Kane has scored. Oddly enough, he scored a lot of goals. Kane’s 12 goals have come in just five games, and each of those five games has been a multi-goal attempt (two of which have been hat-tricks). Even as Kane scored in spurts, he added extra firepower to an Oilers team that has long relied on the offense of Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl.
Andrew Copp, F (New York)
Copp started the postseason strong, playing at a points-a-game pace in Rangers’ first-round win over the Penguins. Then, in his first three games against the suffocating Hurricanes, Copp was kept off the scoring charts. Luckily for Rangers, the versatile forward came back to life on Tuesday, scoring three points as league leaders in a crucial 4-1 win that tied the series 2-2.
Copp’s performance on Tuesday shows exactly why he was great for Rangers. In the first half he connected the power play and set up a Frank Vatrano goal with a nice cross-ice pass. Two minutes later, Copp set up the Rangers’ second goal after beating Vincent Trochek by a puck in Carolina’s zone. Then, with just under 9 minutes to go, Copp finished off a pass from Ryan Strome to give Rangers a 4-1 lead. He did all of that while tucking away a team-leading 2:41 on penalties.
Like Nick Paul, Copp is a player who has worn many different hats in the postseason. He’s been a key factor on both special teams, leading all Rangers up front when it comes to defensive zone starts and averaging just over 20 minutes a game. To make matters worse, Copp is third on the team with 10 points in 12 games. The former Jet has spent this postseason showing his versatility and helping Rangers with a little bit of everything.