NHL free agency is kind to some, and unkind to others.
This summer featured a rather tame free agent market, leaving several NHL regulars out of work deep into August and some even into September. One avenue to break back into the league is through a professional tryout (PTO) agreement, which offers players a non-binding route to attend training camp, see action in preseason games and hopefully perform well enough to earn a spot.
Unrestricted free agent James Sheppard hopes to do exactly that with the Blue Jackets.
“It’s a great spot to be in,” Sheppard told BlueJackets.com. “They’ve got a good squad here. It’s a good facility and I know some of the coaching staff and the management, as well, and I just hope to get better here and hopefully just push the pace a little bit and get an opportunity for myself.”
The 27-year-old forward was a first-round pick (No. 9 overall) of the Minnesota Wild in 2007. He played 78 games during his rookie season, accumulating four goals and 19 points.
After playing two more seasons with the Wild, Sheppard was traded to the San Jose Sharks during the 2011-12 season. Due to a leg injury, he only appeared in four games for the Sharks' AHL affiliate in Worcester, Mass.
Sheppard went on to play three more seasons with the Sharks before a deadline trade to the New York Rangers last season. With 394 NHL games under his belt in three different organizations, it’s safe to say Sheppard has seen his fair share of NHL rinks.
The veteran center said the Blue Jackets’ facilities are some of the nicest he’s seen.
“It’s beautiful," Sheppard said of Nationwide Arena. "I’ve been to most of the rinks (around the NHL), and you see the rinks as you go around, but this is pretty nice. They’ve got everything, and they’ve got the two rinks, too, so it’s really a dream.”
The Halifax, Nova Scotia, native arrived in Columbus over the weekend and has had a couple of days to get settled in. He said he spent most of his summer days golfing and sailing in the Atlantic Ocean.
He was preparing for the season with a group of NHLers back in Halifax, hoping to get a contract offer, when the Blue Jackets invited him to training camp.
“We’ve got a pretty good skate in Halifax,” Sheppard said. “We’ve got some pro guys there with really good talent. But as it gets closer to camp, guys have been here for so long and they start to (return to their teams), so it’s nice to get settled somewhere and skate with a lot of guys and work out, too.”