Prospects Rambling: Hockey season never truly over (July 16)

Mark Allan

2016-07-16

The Sabres can't wait for 2016 first-round pick Alexander Nylander to show up at their training camp.

 

Another NHL season is in the rearview mirror, the entry draft has come and gone, and free agents have been getting signed, or not, for more than two weeks.

Hockey season is over – except for general managers inking contracts and dedicated puck hounds who remain interested year-round even in the dog days when the Boys of Summer are playing smallball on diamonds all over North America.

As such, here comes our weekly Saturday roundup of NHL free-agent signings throughout the league. It’s been a busy week for teams (a) securing veterans with extensions, (b) awarding first contracts to fuzzy-cheeked newbies and (c) proffering short-term, show-me bridge deals to prospects who might still be revealed as suspects.

By far the biggest news of the week involved Dallas all-star LW Jamie Benn, who signed a mammoth eight-year, $76-million extension about the same time he had successful surgery to repair a core muscle, which will need about six weeks to recover. The Stars paid the price you have to pay for a top-10-scoring power forward.

After an initial wave of UFA signings, veterans who include Sam Gagner, Jiri Hudler, James Wisniewski and Kris Versteeg are still waiting for their phones to ring. Now that some teams have filled their needs with other vets (RW Kyle Okposo to Buffalo, for example), unsigned UFAs are losing the hammer in negotiations with GMs who will seek, and likely find, some bargains.

Prospects signing significant entry-level NHL contracts this week include:

Buffalo

RW Alexander Nylander, three-year, entry-level. The highly skilled Swede could challenge for, and earn, an NHL job right away with the help of genes he and his brother William inherited from their father Michael, a former NHL puck wizard.

Chicago

C Mark McNeill, one-year RFA extension. McNeill is increasingly looking like an AHL lifer.

Dallas

D Jamie Oleksiak, one-year, one-way RFA extension. Although Dallas has a full cast of NHL-hopeful defensemen, this blueline behemoth has an opportunity to translate his second consecutive one-year contract into regular employment as a punishing defender – if he can keep up with the big-league pace.

Detroit

Footage: Luke Glendening is a testament to what can be accomplished with determination and hard work.

 

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RW/C Luke Glendening, four-year, $7.2M RFA extension). The speedy agitator cashed in after making the most of getting into the Detroit system as an undrafted free agent. He is an unlikely prospect at 27 but nonetheless coming off a career-high 21-point NHL season that will help to keep him employed as a bottom-six, penalty-killing pest.

RW Teemu Pulkkinen, one-year, one-way RFA extension. Unable so far to translate AHL sniping into NHL marksmanship, the Finn has a one-season window to earn regular NHL employment, and a much more lucrative contract.

D Filip Hronek, three-year, entry-level. Detroit’s 2016 second-round pick is expected to join the OHL’s Saginaw Spirit for the coming season.

Edmonton

RW Jesse Puljujarvi, three-year, entry level. To no one’s surprise, the highly talented Finn and fourth overall pick signed with the Oilers, for whom he has a good shot to play with this season.

NY Islanders

LW Alan Quine, two-year RFA extension. Parlaying 10 games of playoff experience and the OT winner in Game Five against Florida into a contract does not guarantee NHL ice time for the former sixth-round pick.

NY Rangers

LW Robin Kovacs, three-year, entry-level. The skilled winger is on loan to Rogle HK of the Swedish Hockey League for 2016-17, although the Rangers are reportedly wooing him aggressively.

Ottawa

LW/RW Matt Puempel, one-year, two-way. The once-promising winger was forced to accept a deal that will pay him only $75,000 in the AHL. Unless he impresses new Ottawa coach Guy Boucher, this could be Puempel’s last hurrah with the Senators.

Philadelphia

C Nick Cousins, one-year, two-way RFA extension. A point-per-game performer and one of the AHL’s better players before an NHL callup,  Cousins gained the trust of Flyer coaches as he totaled 11 points in 36 games and gained invaluable first-round playoff experience against Washington.

RW Pascal Laberge, three-year, entry-level. A 2016 second-rounder whom some pundits believe has first-round talent, is expected to keep developing in the QMJHL, for now.

St. Louis

RW Ty Rattie, one-year, one-way RFA extension. It’s time for Rattie to take advantage of the Blues losing David Backes, Troy Brouwer and Steve Ott to free agency by proving he can be a reliable NHL scoring winger.

G Pheonix Copley, one-year, two-way extension. Copley and Jordan Binnington might well be the goalie tandem for the Blues’ AHL affiliate the Chicago Wolves in 2016-17. St. Louis signed both netminders hours apart to similar contracts.

Winnipeg

RW Joel Armia, two-year, one-way RFA extension. Armia’s development has stalled, and he will have to prove himself to earn ice time on a Winnipeg roster that is steadily getting younger and better. Buffalo’s one-time first-round draft pick must come to camp with his A game.

* * *

Here and there:

The Islanders, near the cap maximum, are still negotiating with RFA RW/C Ryan Strome. After a promising 50-point season, the brother of Arizona phenom Dylan Strome hurt his bargaining leverage by badly regressing in his contract year.

 

* * *

 

NHL activity is bound to tail off as we continue into the summer, but check back in a week to learn the latest.

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