Islander prospects such as Mathew Barzal might get a shot at several vacancies in the next year or two depending how significantly GM Garth Snow decides to retool his roster.
The in-flux lineup of the New York Islanders solidified this week when Casey Cizikas averted restricted free agency by signing a five-year, $16.75-million contract.
The pact, which comes with a $3.35-million cap hit, is a large hike from his bridge contract and it indicates the Isles have significant plans for the 25-year-old, who is showing some leadership qualities. The dependable two-way former fourth-rounder centered relentless hitters Matt Martin and Cal Clutterbuck on what is generally regarded as the best fourth line in the NHL.
That line specifically and the team’s roster generally faces uncertainty because the Isles might shake up their roster by not re-signing UFAs Martin, who has led the NHL in hits the past five seasons, and versatile Dane Frans Nielsen, who centered the second line before replacing the injured Anders Lee on John Tavares’ left flank for the playoffs.
The Islanders are expected to let top-six RW Kyle Okposo test the UFA waters, meaning there could be vacancies at three forward positions.
GM Garth Snow is likely to be active in what is shaping up as an frenzied off-season NHL trade market starting July 1 because the team’s best forward prospects – led by Mathew Barzal and Michael Dal Colle – are likely to need some AHL seasoning. The Islanders’ window to contend for the Stanley Cup could open wide with some canny additions to a solid core led by Tavares.
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Two Russian Alexanders, one with a promising career in front of him and the other with his best days in the rear-view mirror, signed with Kontinental Hockey League squads recently.
Reportedly unhappy with how he was being used in Boston’s system, skilled center Alex Khokhlachev realized a persistent rumor by agreeing to join SKA St. Petersburg.
The RFA had no points in five games with Boston, averaging 10:15 of ice time. Sixty-eight points in 60 games with Providence of the AHL hinted at his high skill level, but he faced a large challenge with Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci and Ryan Spooner ahead of him as Boston middlemen. The Russian’s size (5-11 and 184) would make a shift to the wing extra difficult, and he didn’t seem interested anyway.
The Bruins are comforted by having well-rounded Swede Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson as their top center prospect.
Meanwhile, sublimely talented yet constantly unmotivated right winger Alex Semin re-signed with Mettalurg Magnitogorsk. He had joined the Russian team six days after the Montreal Canadiens released him unconditionally in December with four underwhelming points in 15 games, followed by a five-game absence with a lower-body injury.
With as dynamic a skill set as anyone in the world (including a devastating wrist shot), Semin continually underachieved after his breakthrough 40-goal, 84-point, plus-36 campaign in 2009-10 with the Washington Capitals. Before he utterly failed to provide the Habs with the scoring they desperately needed, he badly burned the Carolina Hurricanes for three lackluster seasons after signing a fat contract. Good riddance, and good luck, Mettalurg.
The Canadiens hope fellow Russian Nikita Scherbak will develop into a scoring threat from the right side. Montreal’s 26th overall pick in 2014 has been hampered by a recurring ankle injury, which hinders his already-iffy skating. The AHL’s St. John’s IceCaps have also used him at center, but the Habs would likely shift him back to right wing, where they are thin.
Montreal prospect Nikita Scherbak might benefit from the Canadiens' lack of quality scorers at right wing:
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With the recent wave of free-agent signings by GM Jim Rutherford in Pittsburgh, centers Dustin Jeffrey and Dominik Uher as well as defenseman Niclas Andersen saw the writing on the wall and signed with overseas teams.
Jeffrey, a 2007 sixth-round draft pick of the Penguins, committed to Lausanne HC in Switzerland. Although he was a second-team AHL all-star this season, Jeffrey had no realistic future in Pittsburgh, where young centers Jake Guentzel and Oskar Sundqvist have leaped ahead of him. Jeffrey totaled 64 points in as many games for two AHL teams this season, making him attractive to the Swiss club, but he was blocked by other prospects including Daniel Sprong, Dominik Simon, Bryan Rust and Scott Wilson from shifting to a wing position in the suddenly deep Pittsburgh system.
Uher, a 2011 fifth-round pick of the Penguins, agreed to return to his Czech homeland when he agreed to terms with HC Sparta Praha of the Czech Republic Extraliga. He had a mere 13 points in 43 games with Pittsburgh’s Wilkes-Barre/Scranton AHL affiliate.
Andersen, a 2006 fourth-round choice of the L.A. Kings, agreed to play for Avtomobilist Yekaterinburg in the KHL. The Swede finished the season with only 14 points in 69 AHL games.
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Keep revisiting Ramblings as the NHL entry draft June 24 and 25 in Buffalo draws closer, followed by what is expected to be a true free-agent frenzy beginning July 1.