While normally this time of year, NHL clubs would be cracking open their checkbooks to some of their new draftees, the month of July 2020 has been somewhat engaging in the world of prospect contract signings as several teams have made previously rumored deals official. I touched on a few of the significant deals last week after the Canucks inked Jack Rathbone and the Isles locked up Russian netminder Ilya Sorokin for two years. This week we’ve got a few more to dig into.
In a rough order of least interesting to most interesting, the following prospect deals were announced & posted over the course of the last eight days:
Sean Malone – 1 Year @ $750k (2-way), Nashville Predators
This deal is pretty insignificant in terms of it’s relevance to most readers. The 25-year-old Harvard graduate signed in 2016 with the team that drafted him in 2013, the Buffalo Sabres. After one lackluster rookie season in Rochester, he was renewed to an AHL-only deal with the Amerks where he’s made the necessary adjustments to remain valuable and earned praise over the last year as an extremely tough-to-play-against center. He is not a supremely skilled forward and will never make a significant offensive impact at 5-on-5 in the NHL, but there is value in other aspects of his game. His heavyweight reps in the AHL obviously gave David Poile and the Predators pro-scouting group some indication that he may have what it takes to bring that game to the next level, and they’ve taken their shot. There’s a decent chance that Malone sees NHL ice next season, but there’s very little growth potential in this file.
Teemu Kivihalme – 2 Year @ $725k (2-way), Toronto Maple Leafs
Slighty more significant than the Malone contract, Kivihalme is a defenseman who joined the Leafs organization after being unsigned by the team who drafted him, the Nashville Predators. After leaving Colorado College, Kivihalme found offensive success in the Liiga while playing for Karpat. His development overseas garnered significant free-agent attention and he was ultimately brought into the fold in Toronto. Throughout the course of his first season back in North America, the now 25-year-old became recognized as a reliable two-way defender on the Marlies, and by the end of the year found himself promoted to the teams top pairing. The most significant aspect of this signing may be that the Leafs have added Kivihalme to their extended playoff roster, meaning that there is a curious slim possibility of him getting further exposure this post-season. In any case, he certainly has earned the additional committment, and could rise to the status of fringe NHL defenseman by the end of it.
Sean Day – 1 Year @ $700k (2-way), Tampa Bay Lightning
The second chance that Julien Brisbois has blessed Sean Day with is slightly more interesting than the previous two deals for a couple of reasons. The first, being the most obvious is that Day is a former exceptional status player who garnered significant attention in the OHL, only to freefall on draft boards due to a significant lapse in his development, production and essentially, buy-in. After a troubling final few years in the OHL, and little growth in the AHL, Day became a fixture and a project for Riley Armstrong and the Maine Mariners. His pedigree and the glimmer of hope that was shown with the Mariners were enough for the Lightning to take a wild swing, but this is going to be a difficult ship to turn in one year.
Wyatt Kalynuk – 2 Year @ $925k (2-way), Chicago Blackhawks
The Blackhawks announced three new contracts this week, with all three being at least a tier more interesting than either the Malone or Kivihalme deals. Wyatt Kalynuk signed with the Blackhawks as an unrestricted free-agent under very unique circumstances that I can’t recall ever seeing before. The 23-year-old defenseman was drafted by Philadelphia in the seventh round of the 2017 draft. Becasuse he was 20 at the time he was drafted, the Flyers retained his exclusive rights for only three years, as opposed to the traditional four. This allowed Kalynuk to turn pro with the team of his choice before graduating from Wisconsin – as I said, unique. The pupil of Tony Granato is a technically talented defenseman who can be elusive and dangerous thanks to his quick feet and deceptively long reach. He adds another layer of fortitude to the Blackhawks defensive depth and has a decent chance of becoming an NHL player one day, however, not likely over the course of this contract.
Pius Suter – 1 Year @ $925k (2-way), Chicago Blackhawks
The second Blackhawks signing in terms of excitement level goes comes from the NLA in Switzerland where Pius Suter nearly duplicated the production of a prior Blackhawk Euro-signee, Dominik Kubalik. Suter was an offensive star for the Zurich Lions this past season, tallying 30 goals among his 53 total points. He is undoubtedly a shoot-first type of player, but the 24-year-old brings many other aspects to the table that should give him a decent chance at NHL success. While Kubalik was fortunate enough to line up alongside Jonathan Toews for much of his rookie campaign, it’s unlikely that Suter get’s that kind of a golden opportunity. Fortunately, the left-winger has many of the tools that are required in the modern NHL to create his own offense. His ability to find open ice, exploit defensive lapses and outwork many of his opponents should be a key component of success in North America. In addition, the deceptiveness that stems from his crafty stickwork, confidence and second-effort could encourage his goal scoring ability to be nearly as effective in Chicago as it was in Zurich.
Jack Dugan – 2 Year @ $925k (2-way), Vegas Golden Knights
The Jack Dugan entry-level deal brings us into the top-tier of interesting prospect deals. There’s nothing curious about this deal, in fact the only surprise here may be that it didn’t happen last year. The 22-year-old left-winger is an exciting prospect for the Knights because of the total package of skill that he provides. The Providence Friars have benefited immensely over the last two seasons from Dugans’ strength, speed, vision and significantly under-credited shot. Despite a mere 20-goals among his 92 points through two years at Providence, Dugan’s shot matches the quality in terms of both velocity and accuracy as some of the most recognized snipers in the prospect world – now all he needs to do is use it some more. With Lucas Elvenes, and Peyton Krebs both potentially jockeying for roster positions in Sin City next season, Dugan may face some adversity on his way to a full-time NHL role, but there should be little doubt that he will be there before long.
Ian Mitchell – 3 Year @ $925k (2-way), Chicago Blackhawks
Finally, the third and most exciting of this weeks’ Blackhawk prospect signings is their 2017 first-round draft selection, Ian Mitchell. The right-shot defenseman, who has spent the last two seasons developing his game with the University of Denver Pioneers, in addition to a Spengler Cup role with Canada is undoubtedly a core addition for Chicago and could slide directly into the NHL. The selfless, patient defender exudes a pro-like poise at the age of 21, and has both skill and simplicity woven into his game on a shift-by-shift basis. While Makar/Hughes-like offense shouldn’t be expected from Mitchell as a rookie, it would not be at all surprising to see him taking reps on Chicago’s top pair by his 25th birthday.
Grigori Denisenko – 3 Year @ $925k (2-way), Florida Panthers
After a second season of almost exclusive exposure to the KHL, the Panthers 2018 first-round selection is making his way to North America with the goal of not only making the Panthers opening night roster for the 2021 season, but making an immediate impact. Denisenko captained Russia to a silver medal at the 2020 World Junior Championship this past season and did not look one bit out of place in the KHL for Lokomotiv. Although it’s not certain that he will have an immediate impact, or even an immediate opportunity, Denisenko’s style of play is much more suited to fill a role in Florida’s top-six, than be sheltered in their depth. With Owen Tippett having already invested some time in Springfield, he could be the first of the pair to receive Joel Quenville’s benefit of the doubt out of the gate.