NHL teams have been hard at work in advance of upcoming arbitration cases, looking to find the sort of common ground on new contracts that leads to signings and avoids the arbitration process. Just as those top teams have been working to sign players for next season (the Vegas Golden Knights worked especially hard today, signing two players) professional hockey clubs around the world are also signing players and tweaking the teams they’ll bring into the next campaign. Here, we’ll keep track of notable moves that are made.
- The Coachella Valley Firebirds, the AHL affiliate of the Seattle Kraken, have re-signed forward Ian McKinnon for the 2023-24 campaign. Although the Firebirds as a team ended the season heartbroken (they lost the Calder Cup championship in overtime of Game Seven at home) McKinnon personally had his strongest season as a professional. The six-foot-two bruiser only scored three points, to be sure, but he played in a career-high 36 AHL games and didn’t play a single game in the ECHL for the first time in his pro career. Now, he’s earned another year with the Firebirds where he’ll add some muscle to the bottom of their lineup and be a contender to rack up triple-digit penalty minutes once again.
- Hayden Verbeek, a former Montreal Canadiens prospect and the nephew of Anaheim Ducks GM Pat Verbeek, has signed with the Crimmitschau Ice Pirates of Germany’s second-tier DEL2. Verbeek, 25, was a top-six forward for the Soo Greyhounds late in his OHL career and has become quite the journeyman recently. He has 26 points in 31 career ECHL games for three different teams and has also skated in AHL games for both the Laval Rocket and Grand Rapids Griffins. He spent last season in the Slovak league, where he scored 33 points in 44 games for HK Spisska Nova Ves. A capable all-around player, Verbeek led the Slovak league in short-handed goals and now moves to Germany to make a push for promotion to the DEL.
- Although former San Jose Sharks prospect Marcus Vela played a helpful role in getting MoDo Hockey Ornskoldsvik promoted to the SHL in the spring, he won’t be joining the club for their return season in Sweden’s top league. Although Vela’s contract was automatically extended when the team defeated Djurgarden and won promotion, the player and club mutually agreed on a contract termination. 2022-23 was the 26-year-old Canadian’s first campaign overseas, and he played well across two HockeyAllsvenskan teams, totaling 29 points in 46 games. He could now opt to return to the ECHL, where he has in the past been productive for the Toledo Walleye, or could continue playing overseas.
- 29-year-old minor league netminder Adam Carlson is retiring from playing the game, according to an announcement from his club, the ECHL’s Rapid City Rush. Carlson is leaving to take up goalie coaching roles in his home state of Minnesota, and ends his career having played nearly 200 games in the ECHL and eight in the AHL. Carlson was a member of the Rush organization for a combined four years, four of the strongest of his professional career. Carlson’s best year came in 2018-19, when he played in 45 games and posted a .916 save percentage, and he has started for other clubs including the Hershey Bears and Manitoba Moose.
- Former ECHL All-Star Jalen Smereck has signed a contract extension to remain with the ECHL’s Cincinnati Cyclones. Smereck is coming off of an exceptional two-season run playing in both Germany and Cincinnati. He scored 34 points in 46 games for the Bietigheim Steelers in the DEL in 2021-22, and without him this season the Steelers won just 14 games out of 56 and were relegated to the DEL2. This past season, Smereck scored 50 points in 53 games, the highest points-per-game scoring rate of any ECHL defenseman playing on a full-time basis. An elite defenseman in the ECHL, Smereck will now play a second season in Cincinnati and hope to earn an AHL call-up.
- Nolan Volcan, the former captain of the WHL’s Seattle Thunderbirds, is beginning his professional career after three seasons at the University of Alberta. He’s signed an ECHL deal with the Fort Wayne Komets. The five-foot-nine 25-year-old forward scored 58 points in 76 games in Alberta and tallied 231 points in 321 WHL games. Volcan won a WHL championship with the Thunderbirds and now joins an ECHL club hoping to make some noise in the playoffs after a first-round exit last year.
- The ECHL’s Maine Mariners have poached one of the league’s top young scorers from the Wheeling Nailers: Brooklyn Kalmikov. A QMJHL champion in 2020-21, the 22-year-old finished his junior career by scoring 34 goals and 72 points in 62 games. He turned pro this past season and skated in 66 games for the Nailers. He ranked second on the team in scoring, potting 23 goals and 52 points. Kalmikov even earned an AHL call-up to the Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins, and though he went scoreless in three games he’ll likely get another chance if he can produce as well in Maine as he did in West Virginia.
- Former Detroit Red Wing Jan Mursak signed with Klagenfurt in the ICEHL, according to a team announcement. The 2006 sixth-round pick was just the second Slovenian-born player to skate in the NHL (behind Los Angeles Kings captain Anze Kopitar) and ended up playing 45 games for the Red Wings across three seasons. Mursak was at one point Slovenia’s captain for international competitions, including the 2018 Winter Olympics, and has spent the last three seasons with Frolunda in the SHL. Now, he heads to Austria hoping to help Klagenfurt return to the Champions Hockey League and top of the ICEHL.
- 2018-19 ECHL First-Team All-Star Matt Petgrave and 185-game Liiga veteran Niklas Nevalainen have both re-signed with their club of last season, the EIHL’s Sheffield Steelers. Petgrave excelled in his first season in England, scoring 48 points in 54 games and showcasing all-situations value on the powerplay and penalty kill. Although he only managed two points in four playoff games, he’ll likely be among the Steelers’ top scorers next season. Nevalainen, 30, is a former everyday defenseman in the top league of his native Finland, though he hasn’t played there since 2020-21. He spent 2021-22 playing in Norway and now seems to have found a home in England, where he scored 23 points last season.