One of the remaining veteran NHL free agents, who curiously was not invited to any training camps this preseason, has nevertheless found a home for this season. Rugged winger Chris Stewart, most recently of the Calgary Flames, is headed overseas, linking up with a KHL club in need of a spark. HC Slovan Bratislava, one of the worst teams in the league last season, has announced a one-year contract with Stewart. The Slovakia-based club hopes that the power forward can help them right the ship in the 2018-19 season.
Stewart, 30, is no stranger to changing locations. The big right wing has played for six different teams in his NHL career, including a hot start to his career with the Colorado Avalanche, a nearly four year stretch with the St. Louis Blues, and two separate stints with the Minnesota Wild. However, this is Stewart’s first foray into international play outside of brief stops in the Czech Republic and Germany during the 2012 lockout. The KHL is a more open game than the close quarters of the NHL, and Stewart may initially struggle with the pace. Yet, the hallmark of his game has always been net front presence and high percentage shots and that is unlikely to change. Bratislava knows what they’re getting in Stewart and if he can adjust to a new style soon enough, his scoring touch and physicality could become a disruptive force in their favor.
Stewart is also not alone in his efforts to turn around the struggling club. Bratislava has brought in several notable names this off-season in an effort to boost scoring and two-way play. Long-time Arizona Coyote Kyle Chipchura, minor league contributor Casey Bailey, most recently of the AHL’s Bridgeport Sound Tigers, former Minnesota Wild prospect Chad Rau, and NHL and European hockey veteran Jeff Taffe have all been added to the mix this summer. NHL journeyman defenseman Eric Gelinas is yet another new face and could form a formidable duo with captain and experienced NHLer Andrej Meszaros. The pressure is not all on Stewart in Bratislava, but he certainly carries the highest NHL pedigree for goal-scoring and the team will need the big winger to bring that ability this season if they are to avoid another disappointing finish.