Prospects Ramblings: Free Agent Prospects Signed and Some to Watch

by Peter Harling on March 6, 2017
duke vegas

As the hockey season begins to wind down NHL teams have begun the prospect free agent signing season in earnest. Today the Vegas Golden Knights signed their first player in franchise history, but the signing began last week. Let’s have a look at who has signed where, and what is still to come.

Vegas Golden Knights

The answer to future trivia question is Reid Duke, the question is – Who was the first player in the Vegas Golden Knights history? So who is he??

Reid Duke was drafted by the Minnesota Wild in the sixth round of the 2014 draft and was never signed. As a result he was put back into the 2016 draft and went unselected, making him a free agent. He returned to his junior team the Brandon Wheat Kings of the WHL where last season he helped lead them to a Memorial Cup run. This season he is having a career year leading the team in scoring with 67 points in 54 games. It helps that super Star Nolan Patrick missed the first half of the season to allow him the top center option and now he is back plenty of scouts are watching him play on a regular basis. But what really sold him to the Knights was the familiarity with Knights Assistant GM Kelly McCrimmon who was his former Coach in Brandon. Don’t count on Duke making the Knights out of their training camp this coming fall, but he does have the upside to make it much sooner than players they will acquire at the entry draft as he is already 21-years-old.

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The Vancouver Canucks have really done a superb job of upgrading their prospect depth. The trade deadline additions of Jonathan Dahlen and Nikolay Goldobin were brilliant and since then GM Jim Benning signed free agent Zack MacEwen out of Gatineau of the QMJHL. MacEwen is a late bloomer if there ever was one. Last year was his rookie season in the QMJHL and this year he is an overager. He really has come from nowhere, never drafted into major junior let alone the NHL, the 20-year-old is having a breakout season with 65 points in 60 games for the Olympiques.Last summer he was invited to the Anaheim Ducks training camp, but was unsigned. The Toronto Maple Leafs were also very interested in MacEwen and were close to signing him a few weeks prior.

 He has good size at 6-3, skates well has quick hands and a great hockey mullet. He can play a physical game, is an accomplished and willing fighter but it is his puck skills that have really made him relevant. He will play in Utica next season in all likeliness and try to take the next step into pro hockey. SportsNets Elliott Friedman mentioned him in a recent 30 Thoughts post:

26. There isn’t as much action on CHL kids because most get drafted before free agency is reality. One who has captured attention if Zack MacEwen of QMJHL Gatineau. Ottawa, Tampa, Toronto and Vancouver are all believed to be among those interested. He was invited to Anaheim’s camp last September.

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The Chicago Blackhawks in their ongoing search for affordable young players to supplement their ongoing roster turnover in the salary cap era have signed free agent Matthew Highmore. The speedy center is tearing up the QMJHL as a 21-year-old overager on the powerhouse Saint Johns Sea Dogs, leading the team in scoring with 87 points in 60 games; ahead of other top prospects such as Joe Veleno (top pick for 2018 draft), Mathieu Jospeh (Tampa Bay), Julien Gauthier and Spencer Smallman (Carolina). Highmore brings much more than offence as he is a reliable defensive player as well and is above average on faceoffs. With the Hawks moving out AHL veterans such as Spencer Abbott, Sam Carrick, and Mark McNeill which opens a door for players like Highmore to cut his teeth in the AHL next year with Rockford.

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The first player to sign as a NCAA free agent is Mason Mitchell by the Washington Capitals. Mitchell played two seasons with the University of Alaska and the 22-year-old scored 12 goals and had 14 points in 31 games. He is a big bodied center at 6-2 and 209 pounds and will get his first taste of pro hockey in the AHL with Hershey on a tryout contract before his ELC kicks in next year.

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The Edmonton Oilers have signed overage free agent defenceman Ryan Mantha. The 20-year-old defenceman for the Niagara IceDogs was originally drafted by the New York Rangers in 2014 but was not signed and became a free agent. Mantha failed to develop in his first two seasons in the OHL posting consecutive 25 point seasons. As a result he was unsigned by the Rangers and went back into the 2016 draft but was unselected. He was invited to the Buffalo Sabres training camp but not offered a contract.  Now in his overage season with Niagara he is enjoying a breakout season posting 54 points in 61 games as team captain. Mantha is a big 6-5 defenceman and the knock on his game has been skating and mobility. The Oilers can use another right shot defenceman but the question will be is he a late bloomer, or an overager excelling against younger, smaller competition?

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Looking ahead, NHL teams have until June 1st to sign 2015 drafted players, and European drafted players from the 2013 draft. Here is a list of players that remain unsigned.

BUF – Devante Stephens, Giorgio Estephan, Gustav Possler

CGY – Riley Bruce, Rushan Rafikov

CAR – Spencer Smallman, Steve Lorentz

CHI – Roy Radke, Robin Press

COL – J.C. Beaudin, Wihelm Westlund

CBJ – Sam Ruopp, Markus Soberg

DAL – Matej Paulovic

DET – Adam Marsh, Hampus Melen

LAK – Matt Schmalz, Chaz Reddekopp, Dominik Kubalik

MTL – Matt Bradley, Jeremiah Addison

NAS – Evan Smith, Saku Maenalanen, Emil Petterson

NYI – Ryan Pilon, Marcus Crus-Rydberg

NYR – Brad Morrison

OTT – Marcus Hogberg

PHI – Samuel Dove-McFalls

SNS – Fredrik Bergvik, Emil Galimov

STL – Glenn Gawdin, Liam Dunda, Santeri Saari

TBL – Bokondji Imama, Saku Salminen

TOR – Stephen Desrocher, Nikita Korostelev, Fabrice Herzog

VAN – Carl Neill, Tate Olson

WPG – Jansen Harkins, Matteo Gennaro, Marcus Karlstrom

The Colorado Avalanche signed defenceman Nicolas Meloche today, preventing him from being included on this list. Other player who I expect to be signed before the deadline include; Leafs Korostelev and Desrocher, Boko Imama, Hurricanes Lorentz and Smallman and Estephan. One player who would be a huge loss if unsigned is Sens goalie Marcus Hogberg who has been a trending prospect here on DobberProspects as he is playing out of this world in the SHL.