Blueliner Mirco Mueller, now with the New Jersey Devils, fits this week's profile of a former high draft pick whose NHL career could go either way, although he's still got time at 22.
Under the general heading of this week’s signings, our theme today is disappointing former high draft picks still in their 20s whose careers could go either way.
- LW Phil Di Giuseppe signs a one-year, two-way extension.
The Hurricanes saw something in the husky winger when they drafted him 38th overall in 2012 that he hasn’t yet delivered for them after they signed the U of Michigan junior to an NHL contract in 2014. He’s coming off an unimpressive 36-game, seven-point NHL sample in which he was minus-12. Worse, he had only 28 points in the AHL. At 23, he’s still worth putting on a long watch list but, judging by his two-way RFA deal, he’s settling into the role of a yo-yo between the NHL and AHL.
- RW/C Rocco Grimaldi signs a one-year extension.
Yet another former second-rounder who has yet to establish himself as an NHL regular, the short but stocky winger will have to beat out Nail Yakupov or Blake Comeau for a bottom-six role in the Rockies. While that’s not inconceivable, the 24-year-old must translate a promising 31-goal, 55-point AHL campaign into NHL production. Feisty and constantly hustling, he is absolutely worth watching and maybe even worth a late-round pick. He’s got to earn more than 11 minutes per NHL game.
- LW/RW/C Austin Watson signs a three-year extension.
Drafted by Nashville 18th overall in 2010 as a relatively high-scoring junior, the 6-4, 204-pounder has emerged as an aggressive, two-way bottom-sixer with the versatility to play all three forward positions. As such, the 25-year-old has carved out a role with the Stanley Cup finalists. He could do the same on your fantasy squad as long as your pool counts PIMs, hits and even +/-.
New Jersey Devils
- D Mirco Mueller signs a two-year contract.
Instead of losing the Swiss defender in the expansion draft, the Sharks (who picked him 18th overall in 2013, dealt Mueller to the Devils in an exchange of draft picks. If the 6-3, 210-pounder had capitalized on his size and puck-moving ability, he’d still be with San Jose, but he managed just six points in 54 NHL games and was minus-10. Even in 134 AHL outings, he totaled just 34 points and was minus-3. A restart with New Jersey will likely begin with him on a third pairing, perhaps with Steve Santini, a promising young hardrock. If Santini’s enthusiasm rubs off on Mueller, the 22-year-old could carve out a thriving career in Jersey. Definitely put him on your watch list.
- RW Stefan Noesen signs a one-year, two-way extension.
After disappointing the Senators, who took him 21st overall in 2011, the would-be sniper suffered the embarrassment of inking a two-way deal that will pay him less when he plays in the AHL. The good news for him is that, while the Devils are stockpiling offensive talent, they’re still relatively shallow on the right side, which means Noesen could easily slot in on the third line behind Kyle Palmieri and Marcus Johansson with a young sensation like Pavel Zacha or Nico Hischier in the middle. The 24-year-old Noesen could emerge with a solid campaign – if he can play more responsible defensively, reduce bad penalties and stay healthy.
- G Scott Wedgewood signs a one-year, two-way extension.
Overplaying his athleticism and not maximizing his decent (6-2, 195) size, the former third-rounder is losing his way and losing ground against young rival Mackenzie Blackwood. Admittedly, surgery to repair a torn labrum in his right shoulder wasn’t his fault, and it did put the brakes on a promising 10-game start in which he had a 2.18 GAA and .912 save percentage in the AHL. The 24-year-old bears monitoring as he battles back from missing most of a season.
- G Connor Hellebuyck signs a one-year extension.
Connor Hellebuyck will have to play like this more often to emerge on top of another three-headed goaltender situation in Winnipeg.
Goaltending was the major reason why the talent-laden Jets missed the playoffs and, fairly or not, the young fifth-round pick they counted on so much between the pipes at the tender age of 23 didn’t play well enough for them to qualify. Now, instead of a solid bridge deal or a long-term contract as a cornerstone of the team, Hellebuyck is back with a $2.25-million cap hit in a three-way shemozzle with Michael Hutchinson and Steve Mason. The former Flyer netminder is being paid like the starter ($4.1-million cap hit) for two seasons. Will he mentor the youngster, take the No. 1 job or both? Nobody knows how this will go, which means you can draft Hellebuyck on the cheap. You might get a great bargain, or just what you paid for.
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For great advice about how to draft prospects, read Peter Harling’s sage tips.
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Don’t miss Hayden Soboleski’s Ramblings tomorrow.
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