There are two players currently without a regular hockey contract, invited to the Maple Leafs Training Camp on PTOs or Professional Try-Out contracts. One, we know a lot about, and that’s NHL regular Zach Aston-Reese:
The expectation is that Aston-Reese will get a contract with the Leafs, and that the only reason he hasn’t been signed right now is that they may be waiting until the day after the cap-compliant rosters are due. Now that it appears the Maple Leafs will start the season on LTIR, they will have less trouble fitting in a full roster of at least 21 players. They also don’t know what Rasmus Sandin’s cap hit will be, so waiting on Aston-Reese is all about flexibility.
Waivers could cull the SPC number down to a value less frightening to fans, as well. The Leafs currently have 48 SPCs that count against the 50-player limit.
If they sign Aston-Reese on opening day of the regular season, his contract drops right into the LTIR pool. And then the fight will be on for who stays on the roster once those higher-paid players are healthy. Aston-Reese wouldn’t be here if he wasn’t willing to sign for some manageable amount.
The other PTO player the Leafs signed flew under the radar. But now that we know that Joseph Woll will miss camp with a lingering injury, the signing of former Vegas prospect goalie, Dylan Ferguson to a try-out seems necessary.
Ferguson is 24, and was taken by the Stars in the seventh round of the 2017 draft. In a very unusual move, he was traded a few days later to Vegas as part of the Marc Methot trade — one that didn’t work out for Dallas at all.
Ferguson, in the WHL with the Kamloops Blazers at the time, famously ended up in the NHL on emergency recall where he actually appeared in a game when Vegas was having goalie injury woes. He returned to the Blazers, played another season and then joined the Chicago Wolves of the AHL, the Vegas affiliate at the time. He then played last season in Henderson for the new Vegas affiliate. He’s also had 11 games in the ECHL in the interim.
Ferguson, on an ELC since 2017, was without a contract this summer, as the Golden Knights declined to issue a Qualifying Offer.
Ferguson’s record is one of a good, but not spectacular, junior goalie, who has evolved into a good, but not great, AHL goalie. It’s extremely hard to imagine any NHL team offering an NHL contract to him, but he will get AHL offers, and may ultimately sign with the Marlies.
His value on a PTO at training camp is as part of a crowd. The Leafs have six goalies in total at camp, and this has become a trend across teams. More goalies means spreading the practice workload out, and also the seven total preseason games.
The real battle in preseason for the Leafs is not for the starter’s job, but more for the priority in the 1A, 1B tandem the Leafs have pinned their (and our) hopes on. Ferguson is unlikely to figure in this calculation, but he might start a game.