Courtesy of LitterBoxCats.com
Welcome back to Tuesday’s Prospect Ramblings.
While a handful of teams are enjoying the second round of their battle towards becoming Stanley Cup Champions, the remaining outliers are making moves to try and build their own contender. While trades are suspended until the end of the postseason, there is one transaction that can go on – entry-level deals.
This is the window that we begin to see some of the league’s most intriguing youngsters take that crucial steps towards becoming NHL stars, putting pen to paper on their rights. Some are fresh off of a World Championship showcase, while others have been off for months, prepping for their next step. Here are a few intriguing players to sign away their rights this week that caught my eye.
Anton Lundell, Panthers – Three-year, $925,000
Make no mistake about it, this is big news for the franchise. In fact, I personally consider this to be the trailblazer with regards to recently signed NHL-ready prospects.
If you spent any time watching his game this season; whether it be against men in Liiga action, teenagers at the WJC, or a mix of both at the recent World Championships – you know that his game is ready to transition into the NHL.
He is coming off an extremely hectic, yet, equally fruitful year. The spotlight was shining on him to kick off the 2020-21 season, as many of his draft-eligible peers were unable to participate in gameplay, making him a “must watch” attraction. As if he was not already.
At the ripe age of 18 (he turned 19 in October), Lundell was gifted with an “A” on his chest, a sentiment that shows his maturity as both a player and a human being. Could you imagine having a locker room presence amongst men as a teenager? He began his sophomore season taking on a heavier load, seeing minutes in almost every situation imaginable. He was their go-to guy.
Come draft day, he would end up slipping to the Panthers at the number 12 spot. While many projections had him falling in-and-around this area, hindsight is in full effect, and I can guarantee that there are some GMs tossing and turning watching him develop. All signs point towards him being a major difference-maker.
Since his selection, he has suited up for Team Finland on two occasions, earning hardware in both. It began over the holidays at the WJC, which was his first major opportunity to “stick it to” the hockey world, showcasing all of the reasons why he should have been a shoo-in for a top-10 selection. He contributed a team-leading 10 points as captain, taking home a Bronze Medal in the process.
From there, he returned to HIFK Helsinki, where he ran into some minor injury trouble. To top it off, the league shut down for some time due to Covid-19 complications, stretching out the final weeks of the season by a healthy margin. He would end up playing just four games in the months between January-April. He wrapped up his season with 25 points (16G + 9A) over 26 matches, leading his club in the goal column. He also finished second in U20 scoring, while sitting at the top in points-per-game (0.96), with the exception of one – although, that player skated in just a single game. Finally, he would add an additional three points over an eight-game playoff run, eventually falling short, but earning his second Bronze Medal of his year.
Given his mature, two-way game, many had expected Lundell to cross the pond and join the Panthers for their playoff run. Unfortunately, due to the complicated timeline, that never panned out. Instead, he would head to Latvia, where he would gear up for Team Finland for the second time in five months to take on various Nations at this year’s World Championships. Again, as he has all season long, he looked incredibly poised in the process. Not only did he lead his team in points (again), with seven, but his ability to not only compete but thrive amongst men was on full display – this time, for the world to see. His team would fall short by a one-goal margin, as they lost to Team Canada in a thrilling 3-on-3 overtime period, eventually settling for the Silver Medal.
At this point, there is no reason to doubt his ability to transition into an NHL player. His maturity level is bar-none and his 200-foot game is already considered high-end, even at the top level. While at the same time, thanks to an abundance of points at various levels over the year, he is putting to rest any questions regarding his offensive creativity. He is a swiss-army knife, extremely responsible, and fully ready to take on his next challenge. I am comfortable placing my money down, betting that he not only makes this Panthers club out of camp but plays meaningful middle-six minutes out the gate.
As it currently stands, here is a list of their centerman under contract in which he has to (will) beat out:
- Anton Lundell (C)
- Aleksander Barkov (C)
- Alexander Wennberg (C) – UFA
- Lucas Wallmark (C) – RFA
- Eetu Luostarinen (C)
- Carter Verhaeghe (C/W)
- Noel Acciari (C/W)
- Sam Bennett (C/W) – RFA
- Aleksi Heponiemi (C/RW)
- Juho Lammikko (C/LW) – RFA
It’s no secret that Head Offie loves his game, either. Here is what General Manager, Bill Zito, had to say:
“Anton is a cerebral, skilled, and dynamic young player who continuously established himself in Finland’s top league and played a pivotal role on Finland’s national teams at all levels,”. “Anton’s maturity, compete level and sound two-way ability are exciting qualities to add to our organization. We are thrilled to have signed Anton and look forward to his future with the Florida Panthers for years to come.” Courtesy of NHL.com.
Do not be shocked to see him play, thrive, and eventually win next year’s Calder Trophy.
Vladimir Tkachyov, Kings – One-year, $925,000
As if the Hollywood Kings needed any more young gunners. The club recently announced the signing of 25-year-old KHL star, Vladimir Tkachyov. For those with a lightbulb going off in your head; no, you are not crazy, his name has been kicked around the league in the past.
While he grew up in Russia, he spent his Junior eligibility in the QMJHL, splitting two seasons between the Moncton Wildcats and Quebec Rampart – enjoying a Memorial Cup run with the Rampart. During his time, he fired at a 1.20 point-per-game clip, compiling 70 points through 66 regular-season games, with an additional 25 in 27 in the playoffs. Despite strong numbers, he failed to see the podium at the NHL entry-draft, largely due to his undersized (at the time) 5-foot-8 frame, combined with what some like to call the “Russian effect”.
As an undrafted free agent, the Edmonton Oilers invited him to training camp in 2015 and even dressed him in a few pre-season matches. Of course, they liked what they saw and eventually signed him to a three-year ELC. However, just hours after the signing, the league cracked down and vetoed the transaction, as he was considered ineligible to play until the following season. Despite his strong showing the year prior, the Oilers elected to walk away from his talents altogether. Many reports have indicated that the club was hesitant to take a second chance at him as they failed to properly follow/understand the CBA rules the first time. Overall, it was not the best look.
With teams already wary of drafting/signing Russian players due to the additional risk involved down the road, he was unable to gain interest around the remaining organizations, despite being a top-notch talent. This resulted in his decision to take the KHL route.
Fast forward a few seasons, and he’s been on a successful run overseas, splitting his time between Admiral Vladivostok, Salavat UFA, and more recently, SKA St.Petersburg. He has been a strong force in the league and has led SKA in scoring two years running, while consistently finishing at the top in his previous years.
So, this begs the obvious million-dollar question: What sort of value does this guy bring to the NHL?
Simply put, assuming he makes the team, the offensive ceiling is quite high. The deal is a one-year term, but it’s expected that if he is to fall short of a roster spot out of camp, he’s heading right back to Russia. It’s a real boom/bust situation.
Regardless, he brings a high level of talent. He’s a slippery, slightly undersized playmaker, with his main weapon being his vision. It’s all offensive output with him. He’s posted a total of 185 points over 254 KHL games, with 123 of those piled in the assist column. Of course, as is the case with all skill forwards, don’t sleep on his shot either. He displays terrific skating ability and is incredibly fluid with the puck on his stick. In all honesty, he’s just an entertaining player to watch.
The big issue, aside from hoping that he translates, is usage. Although the club is going through an obvious retooling stage, many of their young guns are well on their way to becoming full-time employees. Not to mention, they still boast a strong older core, who are not going anywhere. Tkachyov makes things a little easier, in that he can play at both wings, but you just better be ready to play him in a top-six role. Otherwise, his skillset and defensive capacity are just not where it needs to be to play shutdown roles. Basically, if you are going to bother to keep him, you must give him minutes. Plain and simple.
Of course, given the value and term of his contract, any risk taken on comes at a very low cost. Therefore, why not give it a try? He has the gusto to bring an added element to the club’s powerplay, whether it’s on PP1 with the big boys, or setting the tone as a leader on the second unit. There are certainly some intriguing options to explore.
In terms of translation, it’s tough to gauge. Over the last few seasons, we have been greeted by many cases of this exact scenario. This stretches from the worst-case scenario, that being Vadim Shipachyov, to the middle ground in Nikita Gusev and of course, the hero of the pack, Kirill Kaprizov. While I certainly would not be getting my hopes up and expecting Kirill numbers, I think it’s safe to bet that his value lies somewhere within the Gusev range. They both come in with similar skillsets, both entered into similar scenarios with regards to their surrounding cast and I believe that gives fantasy owners a realistic bar to set for themselves.
All-in-all, make sure to remember his name and place him within your queue come draft-day. If you are looking for a boom/bust flyer, he is one heck of a sleepy option.
Pontus Holmberg, Leafs – Two-year, $827,500
Finally, to wrap things up, we have a leafs signing. I am not going to go into too much detail with this one, as he does not instill any immediate fantasy value. Holmberg, 22, is fresh off winning an SHL championship and is set to return to his Vaxjo Lakers for at least another season – this time on loan. During this run, he actually took home the MVP award, a nice bonus piece to entice an NHL team to hand you a deal.
Overall, he is not expected to translate into anything more than a middle-six piece – tops. However, he boasts some nice offensive tools and acts as a great two-way depth piece down the road. Nothing to drool over for fantasy owners, but something to bring up nonetheless.
Thanks for joining me. Catch me on Twitter @hall1289 for prospect updates.