The Detroit Red Wings have signed another one of their top prospects, inking Gustav Lindstrom to a three-year entry-level contract. Lindstrom is expected to play this season for Frolunda of the SHL, but could show up at development camp this summer for the Red Wings.
The Vancouver Canucks have signed one of the top prospects in the world, inking Elias Pettersson to a three-year entry-level contract. Pettersson was selected fifth-overall last summer, and led the SHL in scoring en route to a Swedish championship. Pettersson also won a World Junior silver medal earlier this year, and just recently was part of the gold medal-winning Swedish World Championship team.
Though Pettersson had to leave the most recent tournament after suffering a thumb injury, he’s expected to be ready for training camp where he could very well carve out a spot on the Canucks. The 19-year old forward had 56 points in 44 games for Vaxjo and added another 19 in their 13-game playoff run. Though he could certainly afford to fill out a bit and gain some strength, his elusiveness and creativity allows him to succeed almost every time he touches the puck. Pettersson is a type of do-it-all forward that could potentially turn into a superstar in the NHL, scoring highlight reel goals while providing plenty of offensive opportunities for his linemates. Vancouver GM Jim Benning released a statement about his newest player:
Elias is a talented offensive player with tremendous vision and skill. Like most Canucks fans we watched with excitement the incredible season he had in Sweden. This is an important offseason of training and development for Elias and we expect him to be ready to challenge for a roster spot in training camp
Pettersson could stay in Sweden for another season, and the GM recently spoke out about how he believes another year with Vaxjo would do him well. There are still things that he can learn in the SHL, but if the Canucks feel he can compete at the NHL level right away there won’t be anything standing in his way. After winning Rookie of the Year, Best Forward, and MVP of both the regular season and playoffs, it would be understandable if Pettersson wants a new challenge in North America in 2018-19. We’ll have to wait to see if he gets that chance.
Every year on June 1st, teams around the league see rights expire with dozens of draft picks that failed to sign. Many of those players become unrestricted free agents, while others go back into the draft to try and be picked by another team. As always, the best resource for these types of lists is CapFriendly, who provided us with a chart of all unsigned picks this morning. The list is as follows, broken down by team:
F Tyler Soy (7th round, 2016)
F Anton Karlsson (3rd round, 2014)
D David Westlund (6th round, 2014)
D Vojtech Budik (5th round, 2016)
F Brandon Hagel (6th round, 2016)
D Austin Osmanski (7th round, 2016)
D Adam Ollas Mattsson (6th round, 2014)
C Hudson Elynuik (3rd round, 2016)
D Noah Carroll (6th round, 2016)
D Andreas Soderberg (5th round, 2014)
G Maximilian Pajpach (6th round, 2014)
D Miro Karjalainen (5th round, 2014)
Detroit Red Wings:
D Jordan Sambrook (5th round, 2016)
F Julius Vahatalo (6th round, 2014)
G Hugo Fagerblom (7th round, 2014)
C Adam Mascherin (2nd round, 2016)
Los Angeles Kings:
D Jacob Friend (7th round, 2016)
D Pontus Djalin (6th round, 2014)
D Brayden Chizen (7th round, 2016)
New Jersey Devils:
G Evan Cormier (4th round, 2016)
C Anthony Salinitri (6th round, 2016)
D Connor Hall (3rd round, 2016)
San Jose Sharks:
D Mark Shoemaker (6th round, 2016)
Tampa Bay Lightning:
C Christopher Paquette (5th round, 2016)
Toronto Maple Leafs:
D Keaton Middleton (4th rond, 2016)
F J.J. Piccinich (4th round, 2014)
D Nicolas Mattinen (6th round, 2016)
D Cole Candella (5th round, 2016)
F Jakob Stukel (6th round, 2016)
C Brett McKenzie (7th round, 2016)
F Kevin Elgestal (7th round, 2014)
D Dmitri Zaitsev (7th round, 2016)
C Jordan Stallard (5th round, 2016)
Obviously some of these names will sign in the coming week, but there are quite a few interesting players who might not. Adam Mascherin leads that list, as he’s already admitted that he’ll be re-entering the draft. The Florida Panthers apparently haven’t made much of an effort to sign him, and instead were trying to trade his rights to recoup some of the value of their wasted second-round pick.
There are others though, like third-round pick Hudson Elynuik who recorded 86 points in 71 games this season for the Spokane Chiefs, and is a massive 6’5″ center who is just coming into his own. Jordan Sambrook was acquired by the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds during the season and played a big role for them on their way to the OHL Finals.
Keep an eye out for some last-minute signings after the Memorial Cup finishes on May 27th, and the junior careers for several players come to an end.
The OHL is one of the best development leagues in the world when it comes to NHL players, with a huge portion of the best players in the league coming from the Ontario ranks. While being the best of the best at the junior ranks doesn’t by any means guarantee success in professional hockey, it is still a nice stepping stone on the way. Today, the OHL released their first, second and third All-Star teams for 2017-18, and they include quite a few interesting NHL prospects.
First Team All-Stars:
LW Boris Katchouk, Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds (Tampa Bay Lightning, 44th overall, 2016)
C Morgan Frost, Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds (Philadelphia Flyers, 27th overall, 2017)
RW Jordan Kyrou, Sarnia Sting (St. Louis Blues, 35th overall, 2016)
D Nicolas Hague, Mississauga Steelheads (Vegas Golden Knights, 34th overall, 2017)
D Evan Bouchard, London Knights (2018 draft eligible)
G Michael DiPietro, Windsor Spitfires (Vancouver Canucks, 64th overall, 2017)
Second Team All-Stars:
LW Sam Miletic, Niagara IceDogs (undrafted, signed with Pittsburgh Penguins)
C Aaron Luchuk, Barrie Colts (undrafted, signed with Ottawa Senators)
RW Taylor Raddysh, Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds (Tampa Bay Lightning, 58th overall, 2016)
D Sean Durzi, Owen Sound Attack (2018 draft eligible)**
D Conor Timmins, Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds (Colorado Avalanche, 32nd overall, 2017)
G Jeremy Helvig, Kingston Frontenacs (Carolina Hurricanes, 134th overall, 2016)
Third Team All-Stars:
LW Adam Mascherin, Kitchener Rangers (Florida Panthers, 38th overall, 2016)*
C Gabriel Vilardi, Kingston Frontenacs (Los Angeles Kings, 11th overall, 2017)
RW Jason Robertson, Kingston Frontenacs (Dallas Stars, 39th overall, 2017)
D Cam Dineen, Sarnia Sting (Arizona Coyotes, 68th overall, 2016)
D Joey Keane, Barrie Colts (2018 draft eligible)**
G Matthew Villalta, Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds (Los Angeles Kings, 72nd overall, 2017)
*Expected to re-enter draft if unsigned by Florida
**Went undrafted in first year of draft eligibility
Though they’re both not expected to get into the lineup at this point, Morgan Frost and Carter Hart will be joining the Lehigh Valley Phantoms during their Eastern Conference Finals matchup against the Toronto Marlies. Sam Carchidi of the Philadelphia Inquirer reports that Frost will join them on the road, while Hart will meet the team when they return for game three.
Frost, 19, was the Flyers’ first-round pick last summer and put up an incredible 112-point season with the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds. His club barely missed out on an opportunity to go to the Memorial Cup, but he’ll get some more high-level experience by just being around the Phantoms during their Calder Cup run. The two-way center has propelled himself into the conversation as one of the best prospects in the entire league with his play this season, especially following his 29-point postseason run. Frost only turned 19 two days ago, and is likely headed back to the CHL next season.
Hart on the other hand has been among the best—if not the best—goaltending prospects in the world for the last few years, and was selected 48th overall in 2016. The 19-year old won his third consecutive Goaltender of the Year award in the WHL, while also taking home league MVP honors after an incredible season with the Everett Silvertips. Hart posted a 31-6-3 record and .947 save percentage this season, and took Everett all the way to the finals before losing to the Swift Current Broncos. Hart will likely enter professional hockey next season, leaving junior hockey as arguably one of the best WHL goaltenders of all-time.
The finale of the 2017-18 major junior season kicks off on Friday with the beginning of the Memorial Cup tournament. Each year, the champions of the three CHL leagues—the OHL, QMJHL, and WHL—and a rotating host team face off in a round-robin tournament with the championship being held on Sunday, May 27. This year’s tourney takes place in Regina, Saskatchewan and features the host Regina Pats of the WHL, the OHL champion Hamilton Bulldogs, the QMJHL champion Acadie-Bathurst Titan, and the WHL champion Swift Current Broncos. Below is a summary of each of the contending squads to help prepare for the upcoming games:
Regina Pats (40-25-7)
The host Pats are not quite on the level of the other three teams, as per usual, but that doesn’t mean they can’t string together enough wins to steal the Memorial Cup away. The Pats finished third in the WHL’s East Division, although their 87 point were good enough for seventh in the league. The team is well acquainted with another Memorial Cup competitor, the Swift Current Broncos, as they finished just behind the eventual champs in the division and fell to them in the first round of the WHL playoffs in seven games. If not for that match-up, Regina had the talent to advance further in the postseason.
The team finished fifth in the league in goals against behind a stout defense featuring three highly regarded NHL prospects: Libor Hajek (NYR), Cale Fleury (MTL), and Josh Mahura (ANA). The offense is led by another standout Ducks prospect, first-rounder Sam Steel (ANA), and has scoring depth in the form of Jake Leschyshyn (VGK), Matthew Bradley (MTL), and draft-eligible Emil Oskanen. The hosts will be far from a pushover in this tournament.
Swift Current Broncos (48-17-7)
The Broncos have the benefit of staying nearby in Saskatchewan and facing a team that they handled all year long in Regina. The team is also on a bit of a hot streak having beaten two division champs, the Moose Jaw Warriors and the Everett Silvertips, en route to their WHL title. Swift Current is a well-rounded squad who finished second in goals against and third in goals for this season. Star center Glen Gawdin (CGY) contributed to both of those marks with both an outstanding 125 points and checking game that earned him over 100 penalty minutes and a +61 rating. Gawdin and partner-in-crime Aleksi Heponiemi (FLA) finished second and third respectively in WHL scoring and form a formidable duo on the team’s top line.
Offensive defenseman Colby Sissons (NJD) and his under-rated pair mate Artyom Minulin are a force themselves on the blue line. However, the key to the Broncos success in the tournament will lie with goaltender Stuart Skinner (EDM). Skinner’s play was incredible in the postseason, as he posted a .932 save percentage and 2.20 GAA in 26 starts. If that level of play continues, Swift Current will be hard to beat.
Hamilton Bulldogs (43-18-7)
The OHL champs were also East Division regular season champs and held the third-best record in the league. They were also third-best in goals against and fifth-best in goals for. Hamilton took their game to the next level in the playoffs though, dropping just five games in four series, including taking down arguably the best team in junior hockey this year, the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, in a six-game final series.
The Bulldogs are led by a forward corps that is unrivaled in depth in this tournament: Robert Thomas (STL), Matthew Strome (PHI), Will Bitten (MTL), MacKenzie Entwhistle (ARI), and overage phenom Brandon Saigeon. The only question is whether or not Hamilton has the difference-makers elsewhere in their lineup to keep up in the tournament.
Acadie-Bathurst Titan (43-15-10)
The Titan finished with the second best record and goal differential in the QMJHL and with the Maritimes Division title, but were clearly the best team in the league come playoff time, when they completed two sweeps and lost only four games on their way to a relatively easy championship. Keeper Evan Fitzpatrick (STL) was the star of the show in the postseason, continuing his strong play from the regular season. Forward Antoine Morand (ANA) and potential top-ten pick defenseman Noah Dobson led their respective units, but watch out for Flyers first-rounder German Rubtsov (PHI) to be the key to the Titan’s success in the tournament.
It was another strong regular season for the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2017-18. The team had its second-best finish with 97 points behind the strong efforts of all-world goalie Sergei Bobrovsky, blossoming young defensemen like Seth Jones and Zach Werenski, rookie forward Pierre-Luc Dubois and game-changing acquisition Artemi Panarin. Yet, the Jackets were again ousted in the first round and still have yet to advance past that stage of the postseason in their 17-year history. In evaluating what area Columbus needs to improve in next season, some will point to poor special teams or a lack of shots on net. However, the major issue this season was the center position, where everyone not named Dubois had a disappointing campaign. The scoring depth, defensive ability, and face-off success of the group was all lacking this year. Entering the off-season with more than $13MM in salary cap space, many think the Blue Jackets should make a competitive offer to John Tavares or even Paul Stastny or Tyler Bozak in an effort to solve their problems down the middle. As The Columbus Dispatch’s Steve Gorten describes, that is unlikely to be the case.
While on surface level Columbus seems to be in fine shape regarding the salary cap, Gorten feels that GM Jarmo Kekalainen needs to tread carefully when contemplating adding salary to the current roster. In the short term, the team already faces several free agency dilemmas. Restricted free agents Boone Jenner, Oliver Bjorkstrand, and Ryan Murray are in need of new contracts and the team is surely to be interested in retaining several impending unrestricted free agents such as Ian Cole, Matt Calvert, and possibly Thomas Vanek. The team’s long-term considerations are more pressing though; Columbus will need to pay Panarin, Werenski, and Bobrovsky after next season, all of whom will command significant contracts in both term and salary.
Given these spending limitations, both this year and in the future, signing a top free agent center is unlikely to be the right move for the Blue Jackets. Instead, Gorten suggests that Columbus stand pat and wait for their current centers to rebound from down seasons. 23-year-old Alexander Wennberg showed 60+ point potential last season, but injuries and long stretches of poor play kept him to just 35 points in 66 games this year, the first season of a six-year, $29.4MM deal. Health may be all it takes to get Wennberg back into that true #1 center range and the 2013 first-rounder may still make his contract look like a bargain and could even end up being a superior player to Dubois. For his part, Kekalainen has trust in the young forward, telling Gorten “I’m 100 percent confident with Wennberg that he’s going to have a great year next year.” What Kekalainen may be more focused on is improvement in the bottom-six, where the Jackets need a return to form from veteran Brandon Dubinsky. The 32-year-old is midway through a six-year, $35.MM deal but did not play to that level this season. Dubinsky was held to just 16 points in what was easily the worst season of his career. A buyout at this point in the contract would be very costly to Columbus, who are left to hope that he can bounce back. Gorten also suggests that the depth down the middle could be substantially bolstered by a prospects like Lukas Sedlak, Alexandre Texier, or Jonathan Davisson taking a step forward in their development, while there is also the off chance that the Jackets could land a potentially pro-ready pivot like Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Isac Lundestrom, or Barrett Hayton at pick #18 in the first round.
Even if all of that doesn’t work out, Columbus will also have options like Jenner and captain Nick Foligno, who they have hesitated to leave at center full-time, but are more than capable of playing the position if necessary. Rather than handcuff themselves with a free agent contract that could cause problems down the road, Gorten seems right in his take that hoping for the in-house options to step up their game seems to better suit the Blue Jackets this off-season.
After a league-worst ninth straight season without making the playoffs, changes were always going to be coming to the Carolina Hurricanes this off-season. Already, big moves have been made by new owner Tom Dundon, as he replaced Ron Francis as GM with Don Waddell and Bill Peters as head coach with Rod Brind’Amour. The team also brought in Rick Dudley as Sr. VP of Hockey Operations. Now, this realigned front office must decide how to proceed with structuring the roster in a way that can end their postseason drought.
Early on, the one name that has been floated around is homegrown winger Jeff Skinner. Skinner, 25, is one of the longest tenured and most consistently productive players on the Hurricanes. A supremely skilled forward, the former Calder Trophy winner has a knack for finding the back of the net and is a lethal weapon on the power play. Skinner has cracked 50 points four times in his career and has been improving in his defensive play and possession ability as his career has progressed. The fact that Skinner has been so successful on a team that has not once made the playoffs in his eight-year career tends to show that he could be even better surrounded by superior talent as well. The Los Angeles Kings were rumored to be looking into Skinner earlier this month, but now it appears that he has quite a few more suitors. In his latest “31 Thoughts” column, Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman says that the number of teams making calls on Skinner is growing. There seems to be ample interest in the skilled scorer and the Hurricanes will certainly entertain offers for the impending 2019 free agent.
However, is this really the right move for the new Carolina administration to make to begin their reconstruction? Skinner undoubtedly is one of their most valuable players, but one has to question the purpose of trading him at this point in time. The Hurricanes have one of the best young defensive corps in all of hockey are are almost overflowing with talented blue liners. Meanwhile, their offense is composed of mostly complementary players, many of whom are playing higher up in the lineup than they would on most other NHL teams. What the ’Canes need more than anything is a star forward, preferably a center, to lead the offense and bring the forward group together in a cohesive unit. A top center like this is almost certainly not going to be the return on a deal for Skinner’s expiring contract. Where they may land such a player is in dealing away one of their top defenseman. Skinner may be more valuable to the Hurricanes this season, and may even consider an extension, if the Hurricanes are able to add that top player that the team is greatly in need of. They could always trade Skinner in-season if they are unable to make a deal this off-season. If instead they choose to move Skinner right now for what would most likely be picks and prospects, it could only further impair their offense and would likely lead to a tenth-straight season without playoff hockey. For the Hurricanes’ sake, let’s hope Waddell and company carefully consider any deal related to Skinner this summer.
Many have felt for some time now that the San Jose Sharks could be a team to watch in the upcoming off-season. It’s not often that a team can have the depth and talent of a contender with almost all of their key players locked up and also have an immense amount of cap space, but that is the exact situation that the Sharks are facing this summer. Joe Pavelski, Logan Couture, Brent Burns, and Marc-Edouard Vlasic are all elite players under contract, while reliable pieces like Mikkel Boedker, Justin Braun, and Brenden Dillon have term remaining as well. Yet, the Sharks will still enter the off-season with nearly $15MM in cap space and few holes to fill. For that reason, some have speculated that John Tavares or John Carlson could be headed for San Jose or that the team could load up on other second-tier top free agents.
However, the Sharks are actually somewhat limited in what they can do this summer. A side effect of having so many players locked up is that San Jose actually has little flexibility in terms of straightforward roster management on the free agent market. The Sharks have just nine free agents total, unrestricted and restricted, far and away the fewest in the league as most teams generally have about twenty. Entering the off-season, they will already have 38 of their 50 maximum contracts already in place for next season. Assuming that key restricted free agents like Tomas Hertl, Chris Tierney, and Dylan DeMelo return, that number is already up to 41. It is almost fortunate that top prospects Josh Norris, Scott Reedy, and Mario Ferraro all chose to return to their college teams or that number would be even higher.
Regardless, the Sharks will be left with less than ten slots to add new players unless they start to trade away or buyout existing contracts. If long-time leader and fan favorite Joe Thornton re-signs, there is one less. If deadline addition Evander Kane, who has fit in very well in San Jose, decides to stay put, there’s another one. If the Sharks land a player worth immediate ice time at #21 in the first round of the NHL Draft, that’s yet another spot filled up. No team wants to enter the season with so few contract slots that their hands are tied when the opportunity to make a trade to improve the roster comes around. San Jose also doesn’t want to sign too many multi-year deals with players like Couture, Pavelski, Timo Meier, and Joakim Ryan in need of extensions next season as well.
As such, the Sharks actually seem likely to make only one or two free agent additions this summer – as they did last summer – unless major trades open up some more space in the organization. Could one of those additions be a Tavares or a Carlson? Sure, but if those players choose to go elsewhere, San Jose instead seems far likely to stick with what they have and go into next season with flexibility. Don’t expect the drastically different Sharks roster that some have predicted – it may only lead to a letdown of expectations this summer.
The Edmonton Oilers are picking in the top-10 again this year. That was not the expected outcome after their 103-point 2016-17, and especially not with a healthy Connor McDavid. The team finished 36-40-6 this year, and wasted the last season of McDavid’s relatively inexpensive entry-level contract. The captain will start his eight-year $100MM extension in 2018-19, and immediately put a strain on the team’s finances.
So, what do you do this summer? Do you select another high-upside player and hope that he and other young prospects like Jesse Puljujarvi can quickly ascend the ranks to dominate at the NHL level? Or do you pick up the phone and try to make a move to improve the club immediately?
As we wrote yesterday, Peter Chiarelli is apparently considering both options carefully. The Oilers’ GM is open to the idea of trading the 10th-overall pick, and Jim Matheson of the Edmonton Journal even called the odds “high” that it is moved at some point between now and June 25th. As Chiarelli put it:
A player at No. 9 or No. 10 isn’t going to play next year. We’ll certainly listen to offers, and if there is a trade, it would probably be on the draft floor.
The question is, should there really be a rush to compete? Now that McDavid is already into his expensive extension, and Leon Draisaitl is already on year two of his eight-year $68MM deal, it’s not like there is a closing window. In fact, with their best two players both 22-and-under, there could still be an argument to be made that the window will be widest after two or three more years. That’s incidentally when some of the expensive contracts for underperforming defensemen will come off the books, giving the team more flexibility to go after free agents or lock up internal options.
By then, the 10th-overall pick could be ready to be an impact player in the league, while whoever they trade for could be headed for the open market.
On the other hand, Cam Talbot is signed for just one more season and is now on the wrong side of 30, while Milan Lucic is already showing drastic signs of slowing down. Waiting could open up other holes on the roster, that can’t be filled without trading other valuable assets.
So should the Oilers make a move? Does it make sense to hold onto the pick? Cast your vote and leave your thoughts in the comment section below.
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