Who is the biggest the free agent name on the market that you may have never heard of? That would be Boston Bruins forward Austin Czarnik. Czarnik, 25, signed with the Bruins as an undrafted free agent out of Miami University in 2015 and qualified for Group 6 unrestricted free agency after just three pro seasons. During that time, Czarnik skated in 59 NHL games and recorded 17 points. However, only ten of those games came in 2017-18, as Czarnik was pushed out of the Boston lineup by superior play from young players like Jake DeBrusk, Danton Heinen, and Anders Bjork.
Czarnik spent almost the entire season in the AHL with the Providence Bruins, where his 69 points in 64 games was good enough for third in overall league scoring and second-best among all players with more than 45 games played. In both Boston and Providence, Czarnik has shown ability and versatility. He has elite puck possession skills, high-end skating and quickness, and strong offensive instincts, can play center or wing, plays a smart two-way game, and can contribute on the power play and penalty kill – at least that is what he has displayed in two full AHL seasons and a partial NHL season.
The Bruins obviously kept tabs on Czarnik and value his ability, but couldn’t find room for him on the roster down the stretch to get him over the requisite games to avoid Group 6 free agency. As such, Boston has the same chances as every other team at signing Czarnik and it’s shaping up to be quite a fight. The Providence Journal’s Mark Divver spoke with Czarnik’s agent, Brian Bartlett, who stated that there has been “overwhelming interest” in Czarnik so far and that he has heard from more than two-thirds of the league in regards to his client. Czarnik is largely unproven in the NHL and his smaller stature could be a concern, but his upside and potential to be an offensive asset in a bottom-six role has most teams vying for his consideration. The only real risk in pursuing Czarnik is if this turns into a bidding war, with the winner inking the young forward to an above-market contract for a player who has yet to prove he can produce at a high level in the NHL.
Bartlett has also been busy fielding calls on another unexpectedly popular client, Daniel Carr. The Montreal Canadiens forward was set to be a restricted free agent this summer, but was not made a qualifying offer today ahead of the deadline. As such, Carr is now an unrestricted free agent. According to TVA’s Renaud Lavoie, the Canadiens declined to make a qualifying offer to Carr after he first declined an initial offer worth $700K per year. Bartlett reportedly came armed to negotiations with an offer from the KHL worth far more than the Habs’ offer and they will look for a similar or superior deal in free agency. Lavoie says that Bartlett feels initial talks with other teams indicate that they will easily surpass the Canadiens’ last best offer on the open market.
Carr, like Czarnik, was an undrafted NCAA free agent out of Union College who has played a part-time role for Montreal over the past three seasons. Carr has posted 34 points in 94 games for the Canadiens while usually playing left wing in the bottom six. Carr also spent ample time watching the Habs play from the press box. However, he still managed to suit up for 20 games with the AHL’s Laval Rocket this season and contributed 19 points. Carr’s exposure has been limited, but the hard-working forward has done enough to impress scouts from the KHL and likely scouts from the NHL as well. He will remain an interesting name to watch this off-season.