As teams frantically worked to trim their rosters to the league-mandated, 23-man limit this week, several interesting players were exposed to waivers, eligible to be picked up by new teams for nothing more than assuming the remaining term of the player’s contract. Occasionally the claiming team lands a talented young player who simply didn’t have an opportunity to crack the lineup of his former employer due to the presence of experienced veterans. Other times it doesn’t work out, but it’s still a worthwhile gamble for clubs that may not have better options already on their roster.
In the last few days, Emerson Etem (Vancouver to Anaheim), P.A. Parenteau (New York Islanders to New Jersey), Teemu Pulkkinen (Detroit to Minnesota) and Martin Frk (Detroit to Carolina) changed clubs via waivers. All, with the exception of Parenteau, are younger players still looking to establish themselves as regular NHL contributors. Obviously, their new teams are hoping their faith in these players will be rewarded. Here are a few examples of younger players who have changed teams via waivers and have gone on to carve solid NHL careers for themselves.
Chris Kunitz – Originally signed in 2003 as an undrafted free agent by Anaheim, Kunitz would appear in 21 games with the Mighty Ducks, as they were known then, during the 2003-04 campaign. Following the lockout which wiped out the entire 2004-05 schedule and just before the 2005-06 season began, Kunitz was picked up by the then Atlanta Thrashers on waivers. He would last just two weeks in Atlanta, seeing action in two games before being placed on waivers again and being claimed by Anaheim.
Kunitz would go on to tally 192 points in 313 regular season games over parts of the next four seasons with the Might Ducks/Ducks as he firmly established himself as a quality middle-six winger. He was later dealt to Pittsburgh where he really blossomed as a top-six scorer. Kunitz has potted 20+plus goals in four of his seven full seasons with the Penguins and has netted 359 points in 498 games during that time.
I once had occasion to speak with a high-ranking member of the Ducks front office who told me that of all the acquisitions he personally had a hand in, both the original signing of Kunitz and bringing him back via waivers qualified as two of his proudest achievements.
Kyle Quincey – Quincey was Detroit’s fourth-round selection in the 2003 draft and would suit up for 13 contests over parts of three seasons. He would be placed on waivers in October of 2008 and was claimed by the L.A. Kings. In his first season in Southern California, Quincey scored 38 points which is still the 11-year veteran’s career best total. In 495 career NHL games, Quincey has tallied 30 goals and 140 points, while averaging better than 20 minutes of ice time.
David Schlemko – While not a household name and maybe not young by today’s standards, Schlemko has proven himself to be at least a quality third-pair defender since the start of the 2015-16 season. An undrafted free agent signing by the Arizona/Phoenix franchise back in 2007, Schlemko would spend parts of seven seasons with the Coyotes before being placed on waivers during the 2014-15 season. The Stars would grab Schlemko and he would spend five games in Dallas before hitting the waiver wire again, with the Calgary Flames winning the claim. He would finish without a point in 19 games with Calgary and became an unrestricted free agent following the season, ultimately joining the Devils on a one-year deal. Schlemko would finish with career-highs in games played, goals, assists and points with the Devils and would parlay that steady play into a four-year deal with San Jose this past summer.
Andrej Nestrasil – Nestrasil was chosen by Detroit in the third-round of the 2009 draft and spent most of his time in the organization playing in the minors with Grand Rapids in the AHL and Toledo in the ECHL. His best minor league campaign came in 2013-14 with Grand Rapids, scoring 36 points in 70 games. He debuted in the NHL with Detroit during the 2014-15 campaign but was placed on waivers after appearing in 13 games and claimed by Carolina. Finally given a regular role, Nestrasil has responded for the Hurricanes, totaling 41 points in 96 games for Carolina. He’s also been an excellent puck possession driver, recording a 55.0% Corsi For % since joining the Hurricanes.
Of course with the possible exception of Kunitz, none of the above mentioned players can be considered stars, either today or at any point in their respective careers. But they’ve each developed into quality NHL players who can fill a regular role and that has value in today’s NHL. Any of the teams who claimed a player this week would be happy if their new acquisition developed into a quality regular.