Despite some early reports, it remains unclear whether free agent forward Brandon Pirri is leaving the NHL or not. News out of local sources in Switzerland made it sound as if the young scorer had already come to an agreement with the ZSC Lions of the NLA. However, Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman, one of hockey’s top news-breakers, did some digging today and has doubts about the deal. Friedman believes that Pirri still plans on staying in North America, despite what is likely ample interest from European clubs. Pirri, still just 26 years old, has not been tendered a qualifying offer in back-to-back years, despite racking up 47 points in 121 games with the New York Rangers, Anaheim Ducks, and Florida Panthers over the past two seasons. Before that, Pirri notched a 22-goal season for the Panthers in 2014-15. Yet, often described as a one-dimensional player, Pirri has been unable to find a long-term NHL home. Will he wait out the market or take a minor league deal, as Friedman suggests, or will eventually succumb to the pressure of overseas offers, like that of ZSC, and leave North America?
- One former NHLer who first turned to the ZSC Lions when he could not find a new NHL team was Gilbert Brule. The sixth overall pick of the 2005 NHL Draft by the Columbus Blue Jackets, Brule left for Swtizerland in 2012 after his once-promising career had produced only 95 points in 296 NHL games over seven pro seasons. Brule attempted a comeback the following year, but found a similar lack of success and moved on to the KHL, where he has played ever since. According to a press release from Russian club Traktor Chelyabinsk, Brule is on the move again, but still within the KHL. Traktor has acquired the now 30-year-old forward for cash compensation from Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk. Brule is coming off his best pro season in 2016-17, after posting 42 points in 52 games between Neftekhimik and Medvescak Zagreb. Brule will look to stay hot in the final season of his contract after finishing in the top 25 in points per game last season in the KHL.
- Brule’s former team, Medvescak Zagreb, has now left the KHL and has re-joined the EBEL, a league based mostly out of Austria, but that includes other European clubs like Zagreb, a Croatian team, and others from the Czech Republic, Italy, Hungary, and Slovenia. While league re-alignment has been a major story for the EBEL, another has been the active off-season for Villacher SV, the lowest-placing Austrian team in 2016-17. In the past two days, Villacher has added arguably the two biggest names of any EBEL signings this summer in Rob Flick and Ben Walter. Flick, a fourth-round pick of the Chicago Blackhawks in 2010 and a well-regarded enforcer, had been unable to crack an NHL lineup despite solid defensive play and moderate offense in the AHL and ECHL. The 26-year-old finally found his scoring touch with the ECHL’s South Carolina Stingrays last season, notching 63 points in 60 games and will now look to keep that going with Villacher. Walter, a veteran of lower-level European hockey, was one of the top scorers in the EBEL in 2014-15 with 43 points in 50 games. Walter was a fifth-round selection of the Boston Bruins in 2004, and unlike Flick, saw 24 games of NHL action with the Bruins, New York Islanders, and New Jersey Devils. While Flick and Walter may not be massive names by any means to most North American fans, their relative talent level make them huge acquisitions for Villacher.