Every Stanley Cup contender shares a similar makeup. They boast a handful of stars, a reliable starting goalie, and a solidified roster thanks to tremendous depth players. While star talent is much-needed, it’s become continually apparent that depth is what wins titles.
The St. Louis Blues made this evident with their 2019 Stanley Cup win, boasting some of the NHL’s best depth players. While players like Jordan Binnington and Ryan O’Reilly were key factors, the true difference makers were the players that made up the Blues bottom-six. Players like Pat Maroon, Ivan Barbashev, and Oskar Sundqvist shaped the Blues play through the post-season.
St. Louis boasted one of the deepest rosters in the league, something that other teams are clearly looking to replicate. Seemingly every player in their bottom-six was perfectly well-rounded, terrifically versatile and providing a great bonus to the team’s special teams. There are plenty of other great role players in the league. Today we’ll break them down, looking at some of the NHL’s best depth players.
The NHL’s Best Depth Players
Pierre-Édouard Bellemare – Colorado Avalanche
Pierre-Édouard Bellemare is often counted out by many. He has never scored more than 20 points in a season but makes up for it with a fairly well-rounded and defensive style of play. Bellemare will be entering his sixth NHL season next year. Upon entering the league, Bellemare quickly established himself as a reliable fourth-line centre with the Philadelphia Flyers. He served as an alternate captain for the Flyers until he was taken by the Vegas Golden Knights in the 2017 NHL Expansion Draft.
Bellemare served as a great fourth-line centre with Vegas as well. The team awarded him with an alternate captaincy prior to the 2018-19 season. Last year, he played in 76 games, taking only three minor penalties the entire season and recording 15 points. He’s become a tremendously reliable player, playing in at least 70 games in each of his five NHL seasons thus far. He’s also proven to be terrific at the little things, recording a career-high faceoff percentage of 54 percent last season. He also netted two shorthanded goals.
Bellemare signed a two-year, $3.6 million contract with the Colorado Avalanche on July 1st, adding much-needed depth down the middle of a team that was incredibly reliant on their top line last season. Bellemare has found his niche in the NHL as a calming, defensive centreman. He now has an opportunity to be an unsung hero on an Avalanche team with a new set of expectations heading into next season.
Corey Perry – Dallas Stars
It seems strange to include a former Hart Memorial Trophy winner and one of the winningest active players in the league on a list of depth players. At 34-years-old, though, Corey Perry will likely take on that role with an improved Dallas Stars team this year.
Perry had a rough 2018-19 season. He was sidelined for a majority of the season following a knee surgery. Amid a full rebuild, the Anaheim Ducks bought out Perry’s contract in June, where he then took a steep pay cut to join the Dallas Stars on a one-year, $3.25 million contract.
Perry’s resume speaks for itself. Last season was the only year he failed to reach double digits in goals (six goals in 31 games). He led the league with 50 goals in 2011-12 and has scored at least 30 goals in a season on six occasions. He has a Stanley Cup, a Memorial Cup, two Olympic golds, five all-star selections, and many other accolades to his credit through 13 NHL seasons.
At this point in his career, Perry is simply looking for another chance to win. He could be slotted anywhere from the top line to the third line on a deep Stars roster, able to play on the powerplay and penalty kill. Not to mention his 118 career playoff games where he has scored 89 points and is noted as one of the best agitators in the league.
If he remains healthy, Perry could be one of the most valuable off-season signings. The Stars are looking to make a big splash in the Western Conference this year. They have a roster comprised of superstars, veterans and young guns throughout. If Perry, as well as other new additions, can make a big splash, the sky is the limit for Dallas.
Colton Sissons – Nashville Predators
The Nashville Predators have become the model franchise for home-grown talent. Their roster is full of players who have flown under the radar, yet play a crucial role. Colton Sissons is a prime example of this. He’s become a consistent, ever-improving, bottom-six option for the team. His reliability earned him a jaw-dropping seven-year, $20 million contract in July. It’s rare to see a term like that given to anyone, let alone a depth player.
Since coming into the league in 2013-14, Sissons has shown steady improvements as a shutdown centre. He posted a career-high 15 goals and 15 assists last year, suiting up in 75 games for Nashville. He only had 23 penalty minutes all year and is a valued penalty killer on a team that had the sixth-best percentage in the league at 82.1 percent. Sissons has also managed to record at least one shorthanded goal in each of his past three seasons. He is also reliable on faceoffs, posting a career average of 53 percent. He showed his potential during the Predators Cup-run in 2017, scoring six goals and six assists in 22 post-season games.
Nashville saw the value in having Sissons on their team, locking him up for seven years, showing that he knows his place in a league that is always searching for depth down the middle.
In a league that’s constantly demanding depth at centre, the Predators have locked up Sissons for the foreseeable future. He has plenty of potential to blossom into a top-six player eventually but for now, he’s one of the NHL’s best depth players.
Casey Cizikas – New York Islanders
While the New York Islanders have had their struggles over the years, they have always had a solid bottom-six centre in Casey Cizikas. He has spent eight years with the Islanders, after being drafted by them in the fourth round of the 2009 NHL Draft.
Cizikas is as pure of a checking centre as they come, often one of the first options on the penalty kill for the Isles. While scoring has never been his strong suit for most of his career, Cizikas exploded for a career-high 20 goals last season. He manned the middle of one of the top fourth lines in the league, alongside Cal Clutterbuck and Matt Martin. The 28-year-old Cizikas had an outrageous shooting percentage of 18 percent last season, also recording two shorthanded goals. The Islanders tremendous defence last season allowed the defensively-minded Cizikas to contribute more on offence. He has a career average of an even 50 in faceoffs and boasts an affordable contract, earning $3.35 million this year.
Cizikas has done his time in the trenches in Long Island on some less-than-spectacular teams. Now that the Islanders have more depth up front, with rising star Mathew Barzal and established pros like Brock Nelson, Anders Lee, and Josh Bailey, Cizikas is able to fall back on the fourth line where he is clearly more comfortable. He will be a valuable player come playoffs for an Islanders team that will look to bounce back from a disappointing playoff exit last season.
Alex Killorn – Tampa Bay Lightning
Alex Killorn has maintained his role as one of the NHL’s best depth players despite being on one of the deepest teams in the league. The Tampa Bay Lightning winger has bounced around the Lightning lineup over the years, occasionally playing top-line minutes alongside Steven Stamkos or Tyler Johnson. Now that Tampa has one of the most potent offences in the league, Killorn will likely reside back to his usual third-line role.
Killorn is a model of consistency in the league, playing at least 80 games in five of his seven NHL seasons. He has reached double-digits in goals every year since his rookie season, posting a career-high 19 in 2016-17. The 29-year-old is extremely versatile. He elevates his game in the postseason, scoring 41 points (21g, 20a) in 68 playoff contests. Killorn tallied nine goals and nine assists in Tampa’s post-season run in 2015.
The former Harvard player will likely play on Tampa’s third line alongside rising shutdown centre, Anthony Cirelli, on a Lightning team who will be all sorts of motivated in 2019-20 after a crushing end to their season.
Andrew Copp – Winnipeg Jets
It’s been easy for Andrew Copp to fly under the radar. He’s a promising name on a Winnipeg Jets team with tremendous depth. Entering his fifth full season, Copp has shown steady improvements in his game as a bottom-six centre for the Winnipeg Jets.
Copp posted a career-high 11 goals last season. He was also three points shy of his career-high point total of 28. He posted the 28 points during the 2017-18 season, where he played in 13 more games. While the increase in production is likely to continue as he gets more experience, perhaps the most impressive thing about Copp’s game is his discipline. He only had three minor penalties in 69 games last season. He is also reliable on faceoffs, posting a career-high faceoff percentage of 55 percent last season. This brought his career average just over 50 percent.
Copp is also a tenacious penalty killer. He’s recorded a shorthanded goal in each of the past three seasons. The Jets 2013 fourth-round pick was University of Michigan’s captain during his four years there. He also represented Team USA at the World Championship in 2017.
Copp just signed a two year, $4.56 million contract in late July. This solidifies his role on a Jets team that is looking to make a deep playoff run.