image courtesy of NHL.com
When the salary cap came into effect, smart teams realized the importance of having prospects with upside on cheap deals composing a certain percentage of their roster. Every year, teams search for cheap “tweener” players – not too high of a pedigree, not yet in the NHL full-time, but strong enough AHL performers that they get looks and could turn into sneaky good depth signings. And now that the league has leaned toward a speed-over-size style of play, even more scoring AHLers are looking like worthy gambles.
The UFA period has only just begun, so this article will require a follow-up next week, but already there are a couple examples of part-time AHL/NHLers slotting into bigger roles that might be sneaky picks for you next season:
Case 1: Formerly buried in the AHL:
Austin Czarnik, CGY
AHL: 155 points in 157 games
NHL: 17 points in 59 games
Most of his NHL appearances came in 2016-17, swinging between center and the wing, but not being taken seriously because he is 5’9″. But now, after tearing up the AHL since day 1 in the minors, Calgary is giving him a shot as an NHL depth player they want to have there, rather than just an AHL call-up. He’s been over a point-per-game for two years with Providence, and is absolutely fast enough for the big league. On a cheap deal, he is a low-risk, high-reward play by the Flames.
Case 2: Developed as planned into a real player:
Valentin Zykov, CAR
AHL: 102 points in 174 games
NHL: 8 points in 12 games
This is a different situation, because Zykov is just following the normal development cycle – play in the AHL until you’re good enough, then graduate to the NHL. He looks like he’s seen the lst of the AHL at this point, as his brand new 2-year deal pays him the same whether he’s NHL or AHL, and giving what we know about the new owner and spending money, this indicates they’re serious about him playing NHL minutes.
Case 3: Buried NHLer getting a better chance:
Joel Armia, MTL
NHL: 58 points in 180 games played
AHL: it’s been awhile
Once again, this is a different scenario than the above examples. Armia hasn’t played in the AHL for a long time, but he also wasn’t a full-time NHLer before 2017-18 (lots of press box duty from 2015-17), and even then he played on 10 different line-combos at even-strength over the course of the year. He’s always had moderate scoring upside (he got close to 30 points with the Jets last year), but never had a hope of getting more than 4th-line TOI thanks to Winnipeg’s plethora of offensive talent. Montreal will take away the glass ceiling.
Thanks for reading, and feel free to poke me about all of today’s player movement on twitter!