As NHL training camps officially open, the professional hockey season is finally getting started in North America. While there’s still a way to go before the regular season begins in the NHL, AHL, or ECHL, we can finally see puck drop on the horizon.
In Europe, the pro hockey season is fully underway, and today’s slate of games featured numerous notable moments. Philadelphia Flyers top prospect Matvei Michkov scored an electric game-winning goal for Sochi in the KHL, while historic Finnish club Jokerit earned a long-awaited victory on the back of an overtime goal from Leevi Lemberg. It was Jokerit’s first victory in the Finnish hockey system (they play in the second division, Mestis) since 2014, before the club left Liiga for the KHL.
Teams in Europe and North America are still completing transactions to add players or otherwise modify their rosters, and as always we’ll keep track of those moves here:
- The potential number-one pick in the 2025 NHL draft, James Hagens, announced his college commitment on social media. He and his brother, Michael, have committed to play NCAA hockey at Boston College. The Eagles already boast a wealth of highly-drafted prospects on their roster, such as 2023 fourth-overall pick Will Smith and 2022 fifth-overall pick Cutter Gauthier. While both of those names are likely to be in the NHL by the time Hagens arrives on campus, Hagens’ commitment ensures that Boston College’s pipeline of elite NHL prospects will remain intact.
- Former Chicago Blackhawk Buddy Robinson signed a one-year contract with Traktor Chelyabinsk in the KHL. For Robinson, 31, this will be his first opportunity to play for an overseas club in his pro career. The six-foot-six physical winger played in 52 games for the AHL’s Rockford IceHogs last season, scoring 20 points. He also played in nine NHL games, and has 62 total NHL games on his resume. In the late 2010’s Robinson was a productive AHL scorer, potting 25 goals and 53 points in 74 games for the Manitoba Moose in 2017-18. But that scoring has dried up as he’s reached his late twenties and early thirties, and that could have contributed as to why Robinson has elected to sign in the KHL rather than continue in North America.
- Saku Mäenalanen, who played 64 games for the Winnipeg Jets last season, was supposed to be spending training camp with the Colorado Avalanche on a PTO. But he reportedly failed his physical and was released from that deal. So instead of in Colorado, Mäenalanen will hit the ice in Switzerland, where he’s signed a three-year contract with the SCL Tigers of the National League. Mäenalanen has yet to play in the Swiss NL, but he has extensive experience overseas in both Liiga and the KHL. Mäenalanen has won a Liiga championship, a IIHF Men’s World Championship gold medal, and an Olympic gold medal, and now he’ll join his former Charlotte Checkers teammate Aleksi Saarela in Switzerland.
- Fans of the Florida Panthers or Springfield Thunderbirds might recognize the name of Finnish winger Henrik Haapala from the 25 games he played in North America for those clubs in 2017-18. While Hapaala didn’t last long in the NHL or AHL, he went on to have a productive career in Europe. This past season, Hapaala scored at a point-per-game rate for Ilves Tampere in Liiga, and now he’s headed to Switzerland to continue his career. The 29-year-old has signed a one-month tryout contract with HC Genève-Servette, the reigning Swiss champions.
- HPK Hämeenlinna of the Finnish Liiga have signed two defenders to contracts: veteran Juuso Pulli and 26-year-old Elias Ulander. Pulli spent last season with Vaasan Sport in Liiga, skating in 52 games and scoring seven points. He’s collected three Liiga bronze medals in his career and was once an alternate captain for Ilves Tampere. Ulander spent last season with HK Spisska Nova Ves in the Slovak league, and has had success in Finland before, such as in 2016-17 when he was named the U20 SM-Liiga’s best defenseman. Pulli’s contract is a one-year deal with a tryout option through November, while Ulander is on a tryout deal.
- 2017 Anaheim Ducks fourth-round pick Kyle Olson has signed a one-year contract with the ECHL’s Reading Royals. Despite scoring at above a point-per-game rate in his final two WHL campaigns, Olson did not receive an entry-level deal from the Ducks and instead signed an AHL contract with the Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins in 2020. Olson has spent the last three seasons in Pennsylvania and managed 12 goals and 21 points in 71 games in 2021-22. This past year, Olson’s production tanked, and he only managed six points in 55 games. He’s now signed with the Royals in the ECHL, likely with the hope that he’ll have a productive season in North America’s third-tier league and work his way back into the AHL.
- The ECHL’s Greenville Swamp Rabbits have signed a one-year contract extension with 23-year-old Brett Kemp, ensuring one of the league’s more productive young talents will remain with the only ECHL franchise he’s ever known. Kemp, who once scored 77 points in 62 WHL games for the Medicine Hat Tigers has compiled 82 points in 76 career ECHL games. He’ll now be able to return to Greenville and will likely remain one of the team’s top scorers as he looks to earn more AHL call-ups to the Ontario Reign.
- Former Baie-Comeau Drakkar scorer Jordan Martel was one of the ECHL’s breakout players last season, scoring 18 goals and 44 points in just 45 games for the Utah Grizzlies. The team confirmed he’d be returning for the 2023-24 season today, signing Martel to a one-year ECHL deal. Martel hadn’t found much success in pro hockey until he arrived in Utah, and now he’ll have the chance to build some continuity and momentum in Utah as the team chases its fifth consecutive playoff berth.
- The ECHL’s Toledo Walleye have signed Chase Gresock to a one-year contract, according to an official announcement. The 25-year-old forward dipped his toes into the waters of pro hockey last season, skating in two games for the AHL’s San Jose Barracuda at the conclusion of his collegiate career. Gresock was an effective NCAA player, captaining Merrimack College and scoring 31 points in 36 games for Bowling Green State in his final collegiate campaign.
- Fiery Wheeling Nailers winger Cam Hausinger has re-signed with the only ECHL team he’s ever played for. The 24-year-old will play a third season in West Virginia and is coming off a solid 2022-23 season. He didn’t play in as many ECHL games as the year before, but he still scored 19 points in 23 games for the Nailers to go alongside his 70 penalty minutes. Hausinger also earned AHL call-ups with two franchises, the Iowa Wild and Milwaukee Admirals. It was with Milwaukee where Hausinger scored his first AHL goal, and his hope will be to get some more AHL contests under his belt in 2023-24.
- Star scorer Johnny Curran has transferred to the most dominant club in the EIHL, signing a one-year contract with the Belfast Giants. The 28-year-old forward, who represents the United Kingdom internationally, has scored 126 career points in 155 EIHL games. He’s thus far only suited up for the Coventry Blaze, but now will get to join a Champions Hockey League-caliber team that took home the EIHL title last season.
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