Every year there’s a crop of players across European leagues, the NCAA, and Canadian major junior who, having gone undrafted multiple times, are eligible to sign with any team. This year, for example, the Panthers signed Moose Jaw Warriors left wing Dryden Hunt, and the Maple Leafs signed CSKA Moscow defenseman Nikita Zaitsev. In the past, undrafted free agents to garner attention included Artemi Panarin, Tyler Bozak, Ben Bishop, Jonas Gustavsson, Jiri Sekac, and Danny DeKeyser. While they garnered less attention at the time, Dan Boyle, Martin St. Louis, and Tim Thomas all had successful NHL careers after signing out of college or Europe, though Thomas was drafted and merely unwanted for a decade before he hit the NHL.
So, what players would be eligible to sign contracts next year, and could intrigue teams? Many will be heavily based on a strong season in 2016-17, but here are a few to start keeping your eye on. Spelling of names may be off due to varied sources in translating from different alphabets.
Vadim Shipachev (Center, St. Petersburg SKA, KHL) – This may be cheating a little, since he’s already garnered so much attention, and has been heavily linked to the Montreal Canadiens. Still, he has one year left on his KHL deal, and may, similarly to Zaitsev this past season, play out his contract and sign in Montreal next year. He’ll be thirty next year, but he’s coming off consecutive seasons of over a point per game, and has topped that mark three of the last five seasons.
Jan Kovar (Forward, Magnitogorsk Metallburg, KHL) – Kovar play on a line with two elite KHL scorers in Sergei Mozyakin and Denis Zarapov, both off this list mostly due to their age, both having turned 35 in March. Still, Kovar has finished third, first, and second on Magnitigorsk in scoring since joining them, and being much younger, at 26, it’s worth taking a chance that he’s the one driving the bus. He has 188 points in 172 KHL games, and was very successful earlier in his career, playing in the Czech Republic.
Igor Averin (Left Wing, Yaroslavl Lokomotiv, KHL) – Averin, 26, has steadily improved as a goal scorer his entire career, with a variety of different linemates, finishing in the top ten in KHL goals this year with 21 in 49 games. His problem, should he seek a contract in the NHL, is that he’s 5’10”, and doesn’t project to be an elite scorer. Many teams prefer size and defense among their depth players, rather than having additional skill players.
Daniil Apalikov (Forward, Yaroslavl Lokomotiv, KHL) – Another steadily improving player, albeit younger at 24, Apalikov had a breakout year for Lokomotiv, scoring 43 points in 59 games, including 16 goals. That’s not world beating at first glance, but KHL players put up more similar points per game ratios when joining the NHL than many think, and he played for a lower scoring team. He’s put up similar numbers to former teammate Sergei Plotnikov, who became a useful player for the Penguins and Coyotes this year, after signing in Pittsburgh in 2015, though almost entirely in a defensive sense.
Nicholas Schilkey (Forward, Ohio State University, NCAA) – Schilkey is going into his senior year for the Buckeyes, and put up an impressive 41 points in 36 games last year. It was his first big season in college, meaning he’s going to have to prove himself this year, but his numbers this year were better than a comparatively aged Tyler Bozak put up in college in 2008.
Justin Kloos (Center, University of Minnesota, NCAA) – Kloos put up a strong 2016 season, at 22, he scored 43 points in 37 games, albeit with two teammates, Sabres’ prospect Hudson Faschinghttp://www.hockey-reference.com/players/f/faschhu01.html and the also undrafted Leon Birstedt, tied for third in Big Ten goals with 20.. Still, Kloos put up 16 goals himself, and led the team in points. He’s another smaller player, but given the history of undrafted free agents, like Martin St. Louis, it’s worth taking a chance on a smaller player who you can develop in the AHL for a year.