The 2021 COVID shortened NHL season kicks off Wednesday night and there will be a total of 14 former Minnesota Golden Gophers on the 23-man active rosters of the 31 NHL squads to kick off the season. An additional five are on their various team’s taxi-squads while six others have been optioned to their teams AHL affiliates and will await the beginning of the AHL season on February 5th.
Mark Alt-Defenseman-Los Angeles Kings
The former Gopher blue-liner has played just 18 NHL games in his career split between the Philadelphia Flyers and Colorado Avalanche. Alt signed as a free agent with the Kings in October and will hopefully see some playing time this season for LA.
Nick Bjugstad-Forward—Minnesota Wild
Nick Bjugstad has made a homecoming and will look to play a large role for the Minnesota Wild this season. He was traded to Minnesota by the Pittsburgh Penguins after just two injury-riddled seasons in Pittsburgh. Bjugstad previously played seven season with the Florida Panthers. He is currently slated to center the Wild’s top line with Zach Parise and Kiril Kaprizof on his wings.
Alex Goligoski—Defenseman—Arizona Coyotes
The grizzled veteran is ready for his 15th NHL season and fifth in the desert with the Coyotes. Goli is still a stalwart on the blue line and should be an everyday presence in the Coyotes lineup once again.
Erik Haula—Forward—Nashville Predators
Haula begins his 8th season in the NHL with his fifth different NHL team after signing with the Predators earlier in the offseason. Haula split time between the Carolina Hurricanes and Florida Panthers last season after getting traded at the deadline as Florida made a playoff push.
Justin Holl-Defenseman-Toronto Maple Leafs
The 0.6 hero has found a home in Toronto playing in a career high 68 games a season ago for the Leafs. He worked his way up through Toronto’s AHL club and seems to have locked down a blue line spot once again in Toronto.
Erik Johnson—Defenseman—Colorado Avalanche
Johnson will need to wait just a bit longer to start his 13th season in the NHL. While Johnson will be on the final Avalanche roster, he is currently “unfilt to play” according to the Avalanche after missing the last six days of training camp with what is rumored to be COVID-related issues. When he is back and ready Johnson will step back into the Avalanche lineup.
Phil Kessel-Forward-Arizona Coyotes
Phil Kessel joins fellow former Gopher Alex Goligoski in beginning his 15th career NHL season this week on the Coyotes. Kessel Has played in every single regular season game for the past ten seasons and will try and help get Arizona back to the playoffs.
Nick Leddy—Defenseman—New York Islanders
Leddy is set to begin his 11th NHL season and seventh on the island when the Islanders kick off their season this week. Leddy will try and get the Islanders back to and past the Eastern Conference final where the Islanders lost to the Tampa Bay Lightening last season.
Ryan Lindgren—Defenseman—New York Rangers
Lindgren will start his third season in New York with the Rangers after playing in a career high 60 games last season for the Blueshirts.
Kyle Okposo—Forward—Buffalo Sabres
The veteran NHL forward will begin his 14th career NHL season this week for the Sabres. He may not play on opening night after tweaking a leg in practice, but is listed as day-to-day and should return to a regular spot in the Sabres lineup after his injury heals.
Mike Reilly—Defenseman-Ottawa Senators
Reilly begins his seventh season in the NHL in Ottawa where he ended last season after being traded from Montreal early in the season.
Nate Schmidt—Defenseman—Vancouver Canucks
Schmidt will begins his first season in Vancouver after being traded there from Vegas in the off-season. He will start his eighth season in the NHL on his third team but should see plenty of minutes as a veteran anchor defenseman on what is a young and up and coming team.
Brady Skjei—Defenseman-Carolina Hurricanes
Skjei will begin his sixth NHL season but first full season in Carolina after being traded at the deadline from the New York Rangers last season. He scored a career high 8 goals last season.
Blake Wheeler-Forward-Winnipeg Jets
The Jets captain will begin his 14th season in the NHL this week. Wheeler needs just 69 regular season games to reach the 1,000-game sliver stick milestone, but with the abbreviated 56-game regular season schedule this year that will need to wait until the fall.
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Four Five former Gophers are initially on their team’s taxi-squads to start the season. The NHL instituted the taxi squad this season as a way to hopefully avoid needing to postpone games due to COVID roster shortages. Each NHL team gets to select a taxi-squad of 4-6 players after they clear waivers of not being placed on the 23-man roster. Players on taxi squads can be put on the active roster as late as 5 p.m. ET on a a game day, giving clubs a better chance to having four lines, three defensive pairings and two goaltenders even if rosters take a hit because of COVID-19 protocols.
four five former Gophers on their team’s taxi squads are:
Travis Boyd-Forward-Toronto Maple Leafs
Hudson Fasching-Forward-Arizona Coyotes
Casey Middlestadt-Forward- Buffalo Sabres
Kyle Rau- Forward-Minnesota Wild
Vinni Letteri—Forward—Anaheim Ducks
An additional six former Gophers were in the initial NHL training camps but were optioned and are expected to return to their team’s AHL affiliates. They include:
Jake Bischoff-Vegas Golden Knights
Vinni Letteri -Anaheim Ducks
Aaron Ness- Arizona Coyotes
Tommy Novak- Nashville Predators
Rem Pitlick -Nashville Predators
Nick Seeler-Chicago Blackhawks
The road will be a little different for Novak and Pitlick. The Predator’s AHL affiliates, the Milwaukee Admirals have decided to opt out of the 2021 season saying that they could not keep afloat playing the season with no fans in the stands. They were joined by two other AHL teams, the Springfield Thunderbirds and Charlotte Checkers — AHL affiliates of the St. Louis Blues and Florida Panthers, respectively. While the Blue’s AHL players will share the roster of the Canuck’s AHL team’s roster, so far Nashville does not have an agreement and it may mean that the players end up in a lower minor league like the ECHL. For someone like Novak who was one o the top players in the AHL a season ago, that may not be exactly how it was planned.