Half of the NHL is in the playoffs and focused on little else. The other half of the league has turned their attention to the offseason, but are limited in what they can actually do before the NHL Draft and free agency. However, for nearly every other league in the world, it is a busy time. The KHL, Liiga, and Swiss National League have all wrapped up their seasons and started offseason activities, and the SHL is at most two games from joining them. Closer to home, as CHL seasons come to an end in the playoffs, AHL rosters are being supplemented by assignments and amateur tryouts. NCAA programs are also finalizing their rosters for next season, some in response to pro signings. So while transactions may seem like a non-issue in the NHL right now, there is plenty going on elsewhere:
- Cole Spicer, a member of the USNTDP and the silver medal-winning U.S. entry into the U-18 World Juniors, has finally landed on a new destination for his collegiate career. Spicer had recently decommitted from the University of North Dakota and Matt Wellens of the The Rink Live reports that he will instead play for a NCHC rival. Spicer has committed to the University of Minnesota-Duluth and will join the Bulldogs next season. Spicer will now play alongside USNTDP teammate and presumptive 2022 first-round pick Isaac Howard at UMD, whereas no one from the program’s graduating class is headed to North Dakota now. Though Spicer is a step behind compared to an extraordinarily talented USNTDTP group this year, expected to go in the fourth round or later rather than the first two rounds, he was still a key contributor to the team and a prospect to watch moving forward.
- Niko Huuhtanen, a seventh-round selection of the Tampa Bay Lightning last year, is getting his first taste of the pro level to end the year. The Bolts’ AHL affiliate, the Syracuse Crunch, have announced that Huuhtanen has signed an ATO with the team for the remainder of the season. The Finnish product is having quite the first season in North America; after recording 37 goals and 77 points in 65 games with the WHL’s Everett Silvertips, Huuhtanen is now getting a shot in the AHL less than a year after he nearly went undrafted, taken with the very last pick of the 2021 Draft. The power forward could be yet another late-round find by Tampa. The Crunch have also added undrafted defenseman Tyson Feist on an ATO. The 21-year-old captain of the WHL’s Kelowna Rockets just wrapped up his junior career by scoring more points (39) in 65 games this season than he did in his first four WHL seasons combined. The Lightning want to see if he has what it takes to continue on to the pro level.
- When Helsinki-based club Jokerit backed out of the KHL playoffs and later announced they would be leaving the league altogether, the expectation was that they would be returning to the Finnish Liiga next season. However, no such official decision has been made and with the Liiga now in offseason mode, a pair of notable Jokerit forwards have decided to move elsewhere. SC Rapperswil-Jona has announced that both Nicklas Jensen and Jordan Schroeder have signed two-year deals with the team. Playing on a Jokerit roster filled with former and future NHLers, Jensen and Schroeder ranked first and third respectively in goals and second and third respectively in points. The former Jokers are expected to fill those same top-line roles with the Lakers for the next two years and should be even more productive in the Liiga. Both first-round picks of yesteryear, Jensen and Schroeder combine for less than 200 NHL games between them, but have found their place as top scorers in Europe.
- Usually when the KHL rights of active NHL players are traded, there is information informing the value of those rights. With that in mind, pay attention to Russian netminder Alexei Melnichuk this offseason. HC Sochi and SKA St. Petersburg have made a deal in which the rights to forward Ivan Morozov and goaltender Mikhail Berdin were sent to SKA, while Melnichuk’s rights are headed to Sochi, the club announced. Seeing as Morozov just signed with the Vegas Golden Knights two weeks ago and Berdin is signed through next season with the Winnipeg Jets and to a one-way deal no less, the only player whose rights could reasonably have value in 2022-23 is Melnichuk. An impending restricted free agent, the 23-year-old Melnichuk is not having the season he expected after making his NHL debut with the San Jose Sharks last year. Rather than gain more of a role in the Sharks’ organization, Melnichuk played exclusively in the AHL this year before he was traded to the Tampa Bay Lightning at the deadline, who have kept him in the ECHL ever since. Melnichuk put up stellar numbers in the KHL at a young age before jumping to North America and there could be a strong draw to return given his recent usage and results. On the other side, though Berdin has long been committed to playing in North America and Morozov is an up-and-coming prospect who hopes to have a long NHL career, St. Petersburg certainly added the vastly superior talent in the deal and will be happy to cash in if either player ever return to Russia.