In tonight’s “Insider Trading” segment on TSN, Darren Dreger reported that one free agent race is already heating up more than three months before unrestricted free agency opens in the NHL. Joakim Nygard, who is currently playing for the top-seeded Farjestad BK in Swedish Hockey League postseason, is looking to make the jump to the NHL this off-season and there is already considerable interest. Among the teams rumored to be leading the pack in the pursuit of Nygard are two Canadian clubs on opposite ends of the spectrum, the Calgary Flames and Ottawa Senators.
It comes as little surprise that Nygard has been attracting attention this season. The 26-year-old forward is enjoying a career year in the SHL, skating on a line with Boston Bruins prospect Oskar Steen, the only Farjestad forward who has outscored him this season. Nygard played in all 52 regular season games this season, recording a career-high 21 goals and 35 points. Nygard finished second in the league goal-scoring race and helped to fuel his team to a top finish. Now he has to finish the job in the playoffs.
After that, he will be free to leave and it looks certain that he is headed to the NHL. In fact, Dreger states that Nygard’s camp has been receiving interest for months now and the move across the Atlantic has been a long time coming. He reports that several GM’s have checked in on Nygard over in Sweden this season, but says that the Flames and Senators specifically are “in hard”. Dreger also offers an NHL comparison for Nygard in Carl Hagelin, stating that Nygard’s skating ability is elite and he can “flat out fly”. The book on Nygard had been that he has the physical and technical tools down, but was still raw in his hockey sense and execution. It seems that he has improved in that area over the past few years and is now ready to show his complete game at the next level.
The battle to sign Nygard will be especially interesting because money won’t be the main bargaining chip. At 26, Nygard will still be forced to sign a one-year entry-level contract, meaning his immediate NHL earnings are capped no matter where he goes. More likely than not, opportunity will be the defining factor in the Swede’s decision. If that is the case, one would think Ottawa would have a major leg up as a team needing to replace several top-nine forwards before next season. Could the Senators start the off-season off early by adding Nygard? Keep an eye out once Farjestad’s season ends in the next month or so.