Prospect Ramblings: Free Agent Frenzy (July 4 2018)

by Jokke Nevalainen on July 4, 2018
2018-07-04 Free Agent Frenzy

The big news on Sunday was obviously Tavares taking his talents to Toronto but because we care about prospects here, I’m going to write about some moves that affected them. First, let’s start with the big trade that happened on Sunday night.

 

St. Louis Blues acquire Ryan O’Reilly

 

The Sabres finally found a deal they were willing to accept. Trading away O’Reilly opens up the door for Casey Mittelstadt to take over the second-line center position, and he is very likely to be featured on the top power play unit as well. At this point, I think the Rookie of the Year race comes down to Mittelstadt and Andrei Svechnikov. They’re both super talented and will play a big role for their team. There are obviously plenty of other great options but these two are my favorites right now.

 

The Sabres did add an additional forward to their lineup in this deal because they acquired Sobotka and Berglund while only sending out one forward in O’Reilly. They also acquired Sheary a few days earlier. That means there’s less room for Evan Rodrigues and Daniel O’Regan now. There’s likely to be just one top-nine spot available, so one of them might end up playing on the fourth line or in the AHL.

 

The only prospect involved in the actual trade was Tage Thompson. He goes from a stacked forward group in St. Louis to the Sabres where there aren’t that many long-term options ahead of him. Even though he spent most of last season in the NHL, I think he would benefit from more time in the AHL. He has upside to become a strong middle-six forward. It remains to be seen if he ends up being a center or a winger but there’s always a demand for huge (6-5, 201) forwards who can skate and handle the puck. He’s just 20 years old, so give him some time.

 

Free agent signings

 

The Calgary Flames signed Austin Czarnik to a two-year contract with $1.25M cap hit. This deal likely solidifies his spot on the NHL roster. Czarnik is small (5-9, 161) but he’s been an offensive force everywhere he’s played: 46 goals and 169 points in 159 NCAA games, and then 51 goals and 155 points in 157 AHL games. This is a player who needs a real opportunity, and it looked like the Flames would provide that – but then they signed James Neal, and that opportunity may be gone now. Czarnik turns 26 in December and became a free agent as Group VI UFA which means the Bruins didn’t give him enough games in the NHL to retain his rights.

 

Another player who’s had great success everywhere he’s played is 26-year-old Kenny Agostino who was signed by the Montreal Canadiens. It’s only a two-way deal for one year but Agostino’s track record is sort of similar to Crarnik’s: 56 goals and 132 points in 134 NCAA games, and then 78 goals and 236 points in 261 AHL games. Agostino is worth a gamble in ultra-deep leagues.

 

The Canadiens also signed Matthew Peca to a two-year contract with $1.3M cap hit. Peca is small (5-9, 175) but his playing style fits nicely to a bottom-six role – sort of similar to current Montreal player Paul Byron. He’s unlikely to offer a lot of points but could be a cheap option for deep multi-cat leagues. Peca is 25 years old and was a Group VI UFA. It’s not a big loss for Tampa Bay but a nice addition for the Canadiens – although they needed top-six centers more than bottom-six centers but you take what’s available when it’s available.

 

The Dallas Stars signed former Kings’ prospect Michael Mersch to a two-way contract for two years. Mersch is another Group VI UFA who turns 26 in October, and he also has a good track record from lower levels, especially the AHL where he has scored 85 goals and 173 points in 248 games. Mersch is a big (6-2, 214) and strong power forward but the thing holding him back is his skating. If he can make improvements over the summer, he could challenge for an NHL spot – but that’s a big if.

 

The Winnipeg Jets signed goaltender Laurent Brossoit to a one-year contract. The Jets traded away Mason and allowed Hutschinson to walk away which means Brossoit has a real chance to be on the NHL roster when the season begins. The 25-year-old Brossoit was yet another Group VI UFA which is a common theme among these free agent signees. He was sort of pushed out of Edmonton when they signed Mikko Koskinen from the KHL.

 

The Golden Knights signed goaltender Zach Fucale very early in the free agent period. The contract is just for one year, so there’s no risk for the team. Fucale was considered a stud goalie prospect when he was drafted early in the second round in 2013 but the Canadiens decided to let him walk away after his entry level contract expired because his track record at the pro level has been abysmal. Fucale is 23 years old now which is not that old for a goalie. He still needs plenty of development time but he’s a few years away from his prime anyways.

 

The Golden Knights seem to target goalie prospects who haven’t been able to live up to their draft pedigree. They grabbed Malcolm Subban from waivers and signed Oscar Dansk from free agency a year ago. Subban was drafted in the first round in 2012 whereas Dansk was taken just a few spots behind him in that same draft. It’s an interesting approach and might be a successful strategy because goalies are voodoo as we all know.

 

Prospects going to Europe

 

The big name here is obviously the former first-overall selection from the 2012 NHL Entry Draft Nail Yakupov who signed a one-year contract with SKA St. Petersburg, the richest team in the KHL. As many of you surely remember, Yakupov had a good rookie season in the NHL. It was a lockout-shortened season but he scored 17 goals and 31 points in 48 games. Yes, his production was unsustainable the way he was playing and he was a one-dimensional player who needed a ton of development before becoming a real NHL player who can be trusted to play significant minutes. But then the Oilers decided to start changing coaches more often than some people change their socks, and Yakupov was somewhat lost in all of that. It also didn’t help that the Oilers had two young wingers in Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle who were much better than him in all aspects of the game. Everything went downhill from there and here we are now – his NHL career might be over before his 25th birthday.

 

Another Russian winger from the Edmonton system, Anton Slepyshev, has signed a two-year contract with CSKA Moscow, one of the richest teams in the KHL. It might be difficult to get him back to the NHL because CSKA likes to keep their players in Russia. Slepyshev is a talented winger but never received a proper opportunity in Edmonton. Slepyshev is also just 24 years old, just like Yakupov, and his time in the NHL might be over as well.

 

Defenseman Viktor Antipin is also going to the KHL after signing a three-year contract with Metallurg Magnitogorsk. Antipin played for the Sabres last season but they didn’t tender him a qualifying offer. Antipin took a look at free agency but didn’t find a deal to his liking, so he decided to return to Russia after just one year in North America.

 

Other players heading to the KHL are Yohann Auvitu (Oilers), David Desharnais (Rangers), Iiro Pakarinen (Oilers), Patrice Cormier (Jets), Marek Hrivik (Flames), Miro Aaltonen (Leafs), Sergei Zborovsky (Rangers) and Sergei Tolchinsky (Hurricanes). If you were still holding on to these players in fantasy hockey leagues, it’s time to let go.

 

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And that’s all for now. Feel free to add comments below. Follow me on Twitter @JokkeNevalainen.

 

Images used on the main collage courtesy of NHL.com