Prospect Ramblings: Most of these free-agent signings under radar (July 2)

Mark Allan

2016-07-02

Tampa Bay goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy has a new three-year contract, and a bright future as an NHL goalie.

 

NHL free agency lived up to its billing this year as frenzied NHL GMS awarded 32 contracts totaling $334 million in just the first hour Friday.
Media and fans understandably focused on big-ticket signings this week such as eight years/$68 million for Steven Stamkos, seven years/$42 million for Milan Lucic and seven years/$42 million for Kyle Okposo. Columbus quickly inking third overall pick Pierre-Luc Dubois and Montreal signing ninth overall selection Mikhail Sergachev even got some attention.

However, GMs began earlier to delve into owners’ treasuries by signing admittedly smaller RFA deals for lesser players. Since rosters include more than just stars, here are some lower-profile deals for players who in many cases are still considered prospects.

We’ll include Tampa Bay signing goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy to a three-year, $10.5-million contract extension in this category, although it’s a stretch to call this a low-profile transaction. The 19th overall pick in 2012 emerged in the post-season to the extent that the Lightning are likely to trade No. 1 Ben Bishop, because they can protect only one of the two in an expansion draft – and because Tampa needs all the cap relief it can find. Don’t be surprised if the talented Russian is the Tampa starter within a year.

Buffalo locked up defenseman Jake McCabe for three years with a deal worth $4.8 million. The second-round puck-mover, paired with Zach Bogosian for much of his rookie season, likely has some PP time in his future if not his present.

The Islanders, whose roster has regressed so far this off-season (adding UFAs Andrew Ladd, Jason Chimera and P-A Parenteau) while losing Kyle Okposo, Frans Nielsen and Matt Martin), signed RFA LW Shane Prince to a two-year, $1.6-million pact. Acquired with a seventh-round pick from Ottawa at the trade deadline for a third-round pick, Prince is a useful player who will nonetheless not replace Okposo’s scoring nor Martin’s physicality.

You can’t say Louis Domingue saved the season for the Coyotes because they were never playoff contenders, but he filled in ably while injured starting netminder Mike Smith missed three months. Domingue, who won 15 games in 39 starts for a bad squad, signed a two-year deal as a backup that will take Arizona two-thirds of the way through the rest of Smith’s contract.

In other goaltender signings, Dallas inked unheralded Maxime Lagace to a one-year deal and L.A. secured the services of Jeff Zatkoff for two. Zatkoff, a 29-year-old prospect(?) who has played in just 35 NHL games, was squeezed out of Pittsburgh by Matt Murray’s emergence and the presence of younger, more-promising options. If the Kings don’t re-sign Jhonas Enroth, Zatkoff might be the one to get infrequent starts as Jonathan Quick’s backup.

Former Boston first-round winger Jordan Caron signed a one-year, two-way contract with the Blues. Caron has established himself as a solid AHLer who can fill in at the NHL level. At 25, he’s running out of chances to show he can do more.

 

Michael Bournival will have to maximize any chance he gets with the Lightning to add to his NHL goal total.

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Tampa signed versatile former Montreal forward Michael Bournival to a one-year, two-way UFA contract. He’ll find it tough to crack the Lightning’s deep and talented corps up front.

Chicago thought enough of Dennis Rasmussen to re-sign the Swedish center for one year but not enough to offer him more than a $575,000 contract. The sizable 6-3 two-way player had nine points in 44 games as an NHL rookie and will be ready to again fill in for an injured Blackhawk. His offensive upside remains unknown.

Winger Emerson Etem, one of the lowest-scoring players in the NHL relative to upper-echelon skating ability, signed a one-year extension with the Canucks. The former Anaheim first-rounder had 12 points in 39 games since Vancouver acquired him from the Rangers. If his hands ever convert the chances his feet create, watch out. Do not waste a good fantasy draft pick to find out.

Center Greg McKegg, who scored at way better than a point per game in junior, signed a one-year, two-way contract with the Panthers. Originally a Toronto third-rounder, McKegg is buried at center with Florida.

 

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The above players retain even nominal prospect status to keep their NHL dream alive. On the other side of the ledger are the sad tales of former high draft picks who just haven’t worked out in the big league so far and were not tendered qualifying offers recently.

Unlike RW Brett Connolly (Capitals), D Stuart Percy (Penguins), RW Jeremy Morin (Lightning), LW Quinton Howden (Jets) and D Adam Clendening (Rangers), who have been given new chances by NHL teams, the following former highly regarded prospects face an uncertain future.

They include (with the team that declined to tender an offer and where they were originally drafted by NHL teams): D Brandon Gormley (Avalanche,  13th), RW Zach Boychuk (Hurricanes, 14th), RW Tyler Biggs (Penguins, 22nd), W Landon Ferraro (Bruins, 32nd), D Justin Schultz (Penguins, 43rd), LW Brandon Pirri (Ducks, 59th) and C Linden Vey (Canucks, 96th).

The case of Vey is especially poignant. His father was convicted last month of conspiring to murder his wife, and it’s hard to imagine this has had nothing to with Vey’s poor on-ice performance with Vancouver.

Meanwhile, LW Sergei Plotnikov, signed by Pittsburgh to some fanfare more than a year ago as a mature KHL veteran, has returned to the ‘K’ with SKA St. Petersburg after flopping with the Penguins and Coyotes.

 

Back in the day before Cody Hodgson seemed washed up as an NHL player at age 26:

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Is there a sadder decline than center Cody Hodgson? He went from junior phenom to 10th overall draft pick by the Canucks in 2008 to team pariah and then trade bait (first to Buffalo, then to Nashville). The former Canadian major junior Player of the Year, who has 64 goals and 142 points in 328 NHL games, was waived through the league by Nashville this year.

The Predators did not tender him a qualifying offer and, at 26, he’s reduced to waiting by a telephone that so far has not rung.

 

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Until next weekend – after we've seen what other free-agent signings and trades NHL GMs have in store for us. Can you believe some people think the hockey season ends when the Stanley Cup is hoisted overhead?

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