Any team looking to add some ability and NHL experience to their minor league depth ahead of the trade deadline now has a new option on the market that won’t cost any trade capital. Former Pittsburgh Penguins forward Adam Johnson has unexpectedly left the SHL’s Malmo Redhawks and returned to North America, the team announced. The remainder of Johnson’s contract was terminated, allowing him to sign in the NHL immediately, but judging by the club’s press release the decision hardly seemed “mutual”. Johnson signed with Malmo in December and with 12 points in 21 games, he has been one of their most productive per-game scorers alongside the SHL’s own version of the Sedin twins, brothers Pathrik and Ponthus Westerholm. Now, with the Redhawks battling for a playoff spot in the stretch run, they have lost one of their best forwards. GM Patrik Sylvegard stated that Johnson no longer wanted to be in Malmo and he felt the team deserved to only have those committed to the playoff hunt on the roster, leading to the split despite the negative impact it may have on their on-ice results. This kind of sudden departure could imply that Johnson has interest waiting for him back in North America, but that remains to be seen. As for his viability as an actual asset to an NHL contender this season, Johnson is a big played in 13 games with the Penguins over the past two seasons, recording four points despite very limited minutes, and has been a force in the AHL with 108 points in 185 games in three seasons. Johnson initially signed with Pittsburgh after just two years at the University of Minnesota-Duluth as a highly sought-after college free agent and could still have supporters in front offices across the league. His hometown Minnesota Wild could be a candidate to keep an eye on; the team has a recent history of using local products in depth roles.
- While the impact of Wisconsin’s early exit from the NCAA Tournament has already been felt at the NHL level with the Montreal Canadiens’ speedy signing of top prospect Cole Caufield, it means that the Edmonton Oilers have their own top prospect to make a decision on. However, it may not be so straightforward for 2020 first-rounder Dylan Holloway and his pro club. Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reports that Holloway suffered a broken thumb back in the semifinals of the Big Ten conference tournament and played through the injury for two more games before the Badgers were upset by Bemidji State. Now, the team and the prospect are awaiting the results of X-rays scheduled for Monday before making their next move. If Holloway is unlikely to be able to play again this season, then he will not be signed to an entry-level contract, at least not one that begins with the 2020-21 season. Holloway could still turn pro and begin his career next year, but if he does not sign now and burn his first season then he could be tempted to return for his junior year at Wisconsin. Holloway missed some time out of his NCAA season this year due to his participation with Team Canada at the World Juniors and the preceding training camp, but still managed to produce one of the better stat lines in college hockey with 35 points in 24 games. Edmonton would surely like to have the dynamic winger in their lineup as soon as possible, but Holloway may opt to return to Wisconsin for one last run with a roster that will return much of its talent from this year and will add some elite recruits as well. Of course, if it is determined that Holloway can continue to play this season then he is far more likely to follow Caufield to the NHL as soon as possible.
- Boston Bruins prospect Jack Becker might be heading toward the record amount of time between being drafted and making his pro debut. The 2015 seventh-round pick is leaning towards returning for a fifth NCAA season as a graduate student, reports Mark Divver of the New England Hockey Journal. Becker, who is already 23, has played four full seasons with the Michigan Wolverines, but has been granted a fifth season of eligibility due to the NCAA’s COVID-19 policy. It’s worth wondering what Becker has left to gain from the college game. After being drafted in 2015, the two-way forward spent two more seasons in the USHL with the Sioux Falls Stampede before joining Michigan. He was nothing if not consistent as a bottom-six forward who contributed decent offense and strong defensive play over four seasons, eventually taking over the captainship of the program this past year and leading a decorated Wolverines team. Becker may not have tremendous NHL upside, but has developed a mature, two-way game and leadership abilities and could be a nice minor league asset with the possibility of a fourth-line role in the NHL. Becker is unlikely to magically develop the scoring ability to be a top offensive weapon for Michigan or even if he were to transfer to a program with less NHL talent, so a fifth season seemingly serves no purpose. If Becker returns for another college season, he will be 25 before his potential first full pro season in 2022-23. At that point will Boston – or anyone – really care to commit to an entry-level contract? Should Becker reverse course, the Bruins can offer him the chance to join one of the AHL’s best rosters in Providence, a team that has turned more than its fair share of unheralded prospects into capable NHL depth players over the years.