The past few days have been a busy stretch for fringe NHL free agents deciding whether to hold out for a big league deal or look elsewhere. Significant names such as Torrey Mitchell and Teemu Pulkkinen have signed overseas, while other players have settled for minor league employment. Similar deals have continued throughout the day:
- Count Michael Latta as a player making the jump across the Atlantic. Or would it be the Pacific? Latta has signed with the Kunlun Red Star, the sole Chinese member of the KHL. He announced the deal himself today, while European insider Aivis Kalnins adds that it is a one-year contract. Latta, who is most well known for his days as a serviceable bottom-six regular with the Washington Capitals, has actually not played in an NHL game since 2015-16 in D.C. Latta has landed NHL contracts in each of the past two off-seasons with the Los Angeles Kings and Arizona Coyotes respectively and has even been a sought-after trade acquisition in both years, but nevertheless has played only in the AHL. Latta’s numbers in the minors are not all that impressive either, so perhaps his move to the KHL presents an opportunity for his two-way game to be better appreciated.
- Veteran forward Mike Blunden is making a similar move but to a lesser-known team and league. The long-time depth forward has made an NHL appearance in all but one season since turning pro in 2006, including multiple seasons where more than half of his time was spent at the top level, but saw only three games with the Ottawa Senators over the course of his recently-expired two-year contract. A proven scorer in the AHL, Blunden is likely in pursuit of a new opportunity and higher compensation outside of North America. Per a team release, Blunden has signed a contract with HC Bolzano of the Austria-based EBEL. However, the “Foxes” are actually located in Italy and are the premiere pro team of the country. Bolzano is the reigning EBEL champion and has been loading up this off-season to defend their title, adding Blunden and fellow AHLers Leland Irving, Brett Findlay, and Matt MacKenzie. Blunden could turn out to be a top scorer for the team this season.
- Experienced goaltender Tom McCollum is not quite ready to leave North America or even the Great Lakes region. The Buffalo-area native has spent all but one season of his nine-year pro career in the Detroit Red Wings system, appearing in over 250 games with the AHL’s Grand Rapids Griffins. However, without an offer from the Red Wings or presumably an AHL offer from the Griffins this summer, McCollum has decided to take his talents to their arch rival. The Milwaukee Admirals have announced that they have signed the veteran netminder to a one-year minor league deal. The team’s release calls McCollum a “proverbial thorn in the Admirals’ side” for years, but he has now joined them in their pursuit of a Calder Cup. Milwaukee’s parent club, the Nashville Predators, could also come calling if injuries strike; the team has just three goalies signed who have pro experience in North America.
- Forward Tyler Randell is sticking around in the AHL as well. The 27-year-old enforcer has been unable to land a two-way NHL contract, but will settle for a minor league deal. The Rochester Americans have announced that they have signed Randell to a one-year AHL contract. Randell, a 2009 sixth-round draft pick of the Boston Bruins, is an impressive physical force and a smart defensive player. He even earned himself 27 NHL games with the Bruins in 2015-16 and a nice $700K free agent contract from the Ottawa Senators last summer. However, his offensive game is severely limited at all levels and it’s no surprise that his NHL market was lacking this off-season after an eight-point campaign with the Belleville Senators last season. Randell brings energy and grit to Rochester, but if his scoring doesn’t improve in consistency and frequency, he’s unlikely to end up back in the NHL.