Judging Player Production in Europe

In my last post I made fun of efforts at translating production from other leagues to the NHL–it’s not that I don’t laud the effort, but I have yet to see a formula that can be applied to basic stats that makes sense.  To illustrate the point, I decided to highlight top North American performers in European leagues using this season to provide some insight (I’ve given their stats from this past season and then their best NA results and career totals; their current age is also in brackets).

Brandon Bochenski (32) 54-28-30-58 (NHL 41-13-11-24 06-07; NHL 156-28-10-68)
Nigel Dawes (29) 54-26-23-49 (NHL 66-14-18-32 09-10; NHL 212-39-45-84)
Kyle Wilson (29) 49-17-27-44 (NHL 32-4-7-11 10-11; AHL 427-149-170-319)
Dustin Boyd (27) 49-18-20-38 (NHL 71-11-11-22 08-09; NHL 220-32-31-63)

None of the players here truly established themselves as NHL regulars (although Dawes and Boyd did get to 200 games); that marginal existence (or in Wilson’s case, strong AHL career) has carried over to being excellent KHL players.  Does Bochenski’s domination of the KHL mean other players who dominate the league are Bochenski’s?  He out produced Ilya Kovalchuk, who was nearly a point-per-game in his last NHL season (12-13), but clearly isn’t anywhere near as talented as the Russian, so how much do their numbers matter?

Brett McLean (35) 50-18-26-44 (NHL 82-9-31-40 05-06; NHL 385-56-106-162)
Robbie Earl (28) 46-20-18-38 (NHL 32-6-0-6 09-10; AHL 313-66-103-169)
Alexandre Giroux (32) 46-20-18-38 (AHL 69-50-53-103 09-10; AHL 771-368-336-704)
Ahren Spylo (30) 47-16-22-38 (AHL 50-25-11-36 04-05; AHL 137-43-25-68)

These players have a less distinctive background in North America, being primarily AHL stars.  Joe Thornton was slightly better than a point-per-game player in the NLA (04-05), but this doesn’t mean Brett McLean is just a notch below him.  Not to beat my point to death, but clearly raw numbers from the league aren’t particularly useful in translating their production at the highest level

Chad Kolarik (28) 53-30-18-48 (AHL 76-31-37-68 12-13; AHL 277-98-111-209)
Ryan Gunderson (28) 54-8-33-41 (AHL 74-5-20-25 09-10; ECHL 156-9-98-107)
Rhett Rakshani (26) 55-13-25-38 (AHL 66-24-38-62 10-11; AHL 120-44-69-113)
Ryan Lasch (27) 54-20-16-36 (AHL 30-6-4-10 12-13; NCAA 161-79-104-183)

These players are quite similar to those above and I won’t bother making the point I’ve already made twice above.

Ben Maxwell (26) 49-16-26-42 (AHL 73-22-36-58 08-09; AHL 296-68-140-208)
Corey Elkins (29) 54-15-25-40 (AHL 76-18-26-44 10-11; AHL 173-43-48-91)
Dan Sexton (27) 39-16-21-37 (NHL 41-9-10-19 09-10; AHL 144-36-64-100)
Aaron Gagnon (28) 48-17-19-36 (AHL 78-27-31-58; AHL 328-74-98-172)

The caliber here is quite Similar to the SHL.

Adam Courchaine (30) 51-29-45-74 (ECHL 42-21-28-49 05-06; ECHL 45-21-30-51)
Kevin Clark (26) 60-32-40-72 (AHL 72-12-19-31 11-12; AHL 160-26-60-56)
Blaine Down (31) 48-26-25-51 (AHL 54-8-13-21 02-03; AHL 134-18-28-46)
Derek Hahn (36) 52-12-34-46 (CHL 64-35-79-114 05-06; CHL 238-124-201-325)

This is a significant fall-off compared to the leagues above, as middling AHL and top ECHL players can make a big impact in the league.

The point of this isn’t to suggest we should give up the effort of understanding how a player’s performance in Europe translates at the next level, but as it stands all we can say with certainty is that big numbers in the top leagues (KHL, NLA, SHL, and Liiga) do translate at the AHL level (as they do in reverse).  Whatever limitations various players from either side of the Atlantic have, it seems like success in those leagues (or the AHL) easily moves back and forth, but that production does not have an obvious ratio at the next level.  I’m not sure what the solution to the conundrum is, but the problem shouldn’t come as a big surprise: massive point totals from junior players rarely translate to the NHL, but sometimes they do–the only certainty is that an absence of production at a lower level guarantees it will continue at the next.

This article is written by Peter Levi (@eyeonthesens)

European Free Agents of Interest

I’ve cast my eye on Europe the previous two years (2012 and 2013), and with the recent signing of DEL star David Wolf (Calgary) I thought I’d look again across the Atlantic and see what free agents might be worth pursuing.  The focus here isn’t aging veterans or former NHL players–I’m looking at lesser known, undrafted players who might make the jump.

Jan Kovar (LW/C), 24, 5’11 KHL Metellurg 54-23-45-68 (signed KHL; a player I highlighted in 2012)
The Czech player was second in league scoring, playing on a line with Sergei Mozyakin and Denis Zarpiov; he makes a lot of money in Russia and may not want to take the pay cut to get his shot in the NHL, but at some point he’ll pull a Roman Cervenka and take a year off to try it out

Sakari Salminen (RW/LW), 25, 5’11 KHL Torpedo 54-18-29-47 (signed KHL; player I identified in 2012)
Like most players who dominate in their domestic leagues, Salminen has made the transition to the KHL and enjoyed a great deal of success; leading Torpedo in scoring by nearly ten points (ahead of former NHLer Wojtek Wolski); I think there’s a good chance he’ll give the NHL a shot at some point

Dennis Rasmussen (C/LW), 23, 6’3, SHL Vaxjo 52-16-24-40 (signed SHL)
Enjoyed a career year leading Vaxjo in scoring; has good size which always makes GM’s happy; may not have an opt-out clause, but unless he goes for the money in the KHL he should land a deal with someone across the Atlantic [June 10th: Chicago signed him]

Michael Keranen (C/RW), 24, 6’1, Liiga Ilves 52-17-35-52 (signed, Liiga)
Nearly doubled his previous career high as he finished tied for the scoring lead in the Liiga; was nearly 20 points ahead of his nearest teammate–like Rasmussen above he’ll have to make the choice between the KHL and NHL, but undoubtedly he’s received calls from both [June 5th: Minnesota signed him]

Tommi Huhtala (LW), 26, 6’0, Liiga Blues 60-23-20-43 (signed KHL)
Locked into a KHL deal for the upcoming season; he lead the Blues in scoring while enjoying a career year; if he has a good season with Jokerit he might make the jump to the NHL, although at his age he may be beyond the point of wanting to play in the AHL

Julius Junttila (LW/RW), 22, 5’10, Liiga Karpat 56-19-15-34 (signed Liiga; a player I identified in 2012)
Set career highs with Karpat, where he finished fifth in team scoring; his numbers aren’t overwhelming, but he’s trending upwards and still very young

Borna Rendulic (RW), 22, 6’1, Liiga HPK 57-11-21-32 (FA)
Croatian national worked his way up through the Finnish junior system to establish himself as a Liiga-regular; he lead HPK in scoring

Ville Kolppanen (G), 21, 6’1, Liiga Ilves 2.18 .927
I believe he’s still eligible for the draft as an overage European, but I’ll include him here anyway; put up good numbers as Ilves’ starting goaltender

Players Signed from Previous Lists

Just a quick look back on those mentioned that appeared in previous versions of this list.  It’s worth noting the majority of players identified have not been signed.  There are far fewer European players who come over as compared to college, even though the dividends can be much higher (as you can see here).

Damien Brunner (RW) - signed with Detroit two years ago and after a strong rookie campaign struggled with New Jersey
Simon Moser (LW/RW) – signed an ELC with Nashville last season and spent most of the year in the AHL (48-8-18-26); he’s an RFA (I highlighted him in 2012)
Ronalds Kenins (LW) – signed by Vancouver last season to an ELC (I identified him in 2012), but was loaned back to Switzerland and enjoyed a career year (39-8-17-25); he should be in the AHL next season
Joel Vermin (C/W) – signed an ELC with Tampa last season (I highlighted him in 2013), but was loaned back to Switzerland where he struggled (49-6-12-18); his fate the following season is up in the air
David Wolf (LW) – signed by Calgary this week to an ELC (I identified him in 2012); DEL players tend not to translate well at the next level, although Marcel Muller was a decent AHL player

This article is written by Peter Levi (@eyeonthesens)

Undrafted Success Stories in the Post-Lockout NHL

Back in September I re-visited my look at undrafted players who made their way into the NHL.  There remains a wide variety of roads fr those not selected in the draft, from college, Europe, the CHL, the CIS, AHL, and ECHL.  Given the way I defined the various categories there remain a few players missed above: Cory Conacher, Ben Street, and Mark ArcobellaConacher is an NCAA grad, but was not signed to an NHL contract coming out of college, instead playing a season in the AHL before Tampa signed him.  The story is the same for Arcobella and Street, although each split their rookie seasons between the ECHL and AHL.  These three players earned their minor league contracts from NCAA play and their NHL contracts from AHL play, but don’t fit neatly into the usual patterns of either route (if pressed I’d call them minor league grads, so I’ve added them as such in the numbers below).

College remains the most common route for undrafted players, with 66 reaching the NHL that way since 2006.  Europe clocks in at a distant second place with 29, followed by the CHL (24), AHL (22), ECHL (11), and finally the CIS (3).  Including the outriders above that’s 154 players who had played at least one NHL game without the benefit of being drafted.  This a large tally, although it’s worth keeping in mind the NHL consists has well over 600 players playing each year, so this represents a small percentage (the average is about 20 players a season, so less than 3% were untouched by the draft).

The quality of these players is all over the map, but most are not (or were not) NHL regulars.  By my count (and current players on ELC’s are hard to judge), 45 of the 155 (29%) have been everyday NHLers (NCAA: 22, Europe 9, CHL: 6, AHL: 4, ECHL: 3, CIS: 1).  The only truly elite players in this group are goaltenders (all from Europe); the other “best” players in other categories fall along the lines of top-six or top-four players–nothing to sneeze at, but not the same weight as a starting netminder.

What can we conclude?  It’s the same story from last year, where scouts properly identify the vast majority of players in the NHL only missing those who are undersized or simply not exposed enough (ie, in Europe).

This article is written by Peter Levi (@eyeonthesens)

AHL Success Stories

Continuing my updates of undrafted success stories (post the 04/05 lockout), here are the players who made their way from being AHL professionals into the NHL.  The way I’ve separated out minor league pros from other undrafted players is the time they spent in the minors; logging either 200+ minor league games or at least spending three full seasons before seeing action at the NHL level (this is by necessity arbitrary, but seems like a reasonable way of making the macro decision on players en route to the highest level).

2005 (6)
Matt Carkner
(D) 184 NHL games
Spent an eternity in the AHL (246 games) before getting his shot; now a regular in the midst of a three-year deal with the Islanders
Keith Aucoin (C/RW) 143 NHL games
Played 310 minor league games (including the UHL and ECHL) before getting his shot with Carolina; he signed a one year, one-way deal with St. Louis
Jeff Hoggan
(W) 107 NHL games
Played 189 games (three seasons) in the AHL before getting his shot; he’s now retired
Mike Glumac (RW) 40 NHL
NCAA grad played 196 minor league games (ECHL included) over three seasons before seeing spot duty with St. Louis; after three years in Germany he’s playing in the KHL
Mark Cullen (C/LW) 38 NHL games
College grad played 189 AHL games through three seasons before getting the call; entering his second season in Austria
Rob Collins (C/RW) 8 NHL games
Played 231 AHL games before getting his shot with the Islanders; spent seven years in Germany before joining Brampton in the CHL
2006 (1)
Jesse Schultz (RW) 2 NHL games
Undrafted WHLer played 204 games in the minors before Vancouver gave him a shot; he’s begun his fourth season in the CHL
2008 (1)
Jared Ross (C/LW) 13 NHL games
208 games in the minors (including the UHL and ECHL) before getting a cup of coffee with Philadelphia; in his third season in Germany
2009 (2)
Maxim Noreau (D) 6 NHL games
QMJHLer played 205 games in the minors before getting the call; in his third season in Switzerland
Charles Linglet (LW) 5 NHL games
Undrafted QMJHLer played 331 AHL games before getting his cup of coffee with Edmonton.  He’s entering his fourth season in the KHL
2010 (2)
Andrew Desjardins (C/LW) 135 NHL games
Played 223 games in the minors before establishing himself with San Jose; signed a two-year, one-way deal with the Sharks
Stephen Gionta (C/W) 13 NHL games
Played 258 AHL games before seeing action; in the second year of a deal with Jersey which is two-way this season
2011 (4)
Pierre-Cedric Labrie (LW) 33 NHL games
QMJHLer played 255 minor league games before Tampa called him up; on a one-year, one-way deal with the Lightning
Mike Angelidis (C/LW) 7 NHL games
Played 339 games in the minors before getting his cup of coffee with Tampa; on a one-year, two-way with the Lightning
Bracken Kearns (C) 5 NHL games
CIS grad played over 400 minor league games before getting a call-up from Florida; he’s in the last year of a two-way deal with San Jose
Greg Rallo (C) 1 NHL game
Played over 300 AHL games before getting his one call-up with Florida; he remains with the Panthers organisation on a two-way deal
2012 (3)
Mike Kostka (D) 35 NHL games
College grad played 307 AHL games before seeing action with Toronto; on a two-way contract with Chicago
Steve Pinizzotto (RW) 12 NHL games
NCAA grad played over 260 games in the minors before the Canucks gave him a shot; now on a two-way deal with Florida
Matt Anderson (RW/C) 2 games
Played 312 minor league games before getting a call-up from Jersey; now in the KHL

That’s only 19 players over eight years (nearly a third of whom appeared in the aftermath of the lockout), which is the smallest group of undrafted players to reach the NHL outside the CIS.  Among these players only four are regular NHLers and all of them are of the depth, support variety.  While the road through the AHL to the NHL exists there are no diamonds in the rough above, just hard-working support players who eek out their existence on the margins of the league.

This article is written by Peter Levi (@eyeonthesens)

CHL and CIS NHL Success Stories

Continuing my updates of undrafted success stories, here’s a look at players who developed in the CHL (Canadian junior) and the CIS (Canadian Universities) who eventually made their way to the NHL.  As in my other articles I’ve focussed on the post-lockout NHL because of the different parameters in which players are viewed (particularly undersized players).  Any CHL or CIS player who logged 200 or more games in the minors I consider a graduate of those leagues rather than their junior/university background.

CHL (24)
Chad Larose
(W) 508 NHL games
An undersized forward who went undrafted out of the OHL, he played 125 games in the AHL before making the jump to the NHL in 05-06; he remains with Carolina; currently a UFA
Mark Giordano (D) 385 NHL games
OHLer played 144 AHL games before making the permanent jump to the NHL in 06-07; he remains with Calgary
Martin St. Pierre (C/LW) 38 NHL games
OHL grad spent a season in the minors before getting a two-way deal from Chicago and getting his cup of coffee; on a two-way with Montreal this season
Dan Girardi (D) 488 NHL games
Inexplicably not drafted out of the OHL, he played 111 AHL games before making the permanent jump into the NHL in 06-07; he remains with the Rangers
Mike Wall (G) 4 NHL games
The WHL graduate spent most of his career bouncing around the minor leagues, but played 4 games with Anaheim in 06-07; he’s now retired
David Clarkson (RW) 426 NHL games
OHLer played 123 games in the AHL before making a permanent jump to the NHL in 07-08; signed with Toronto in the off-season
Jerome Samson (C/RW) 46 NHL games
QMJHLer played 135 games in the AHL before getting a chance with Carolina; is on a two-way deal with Winnipeg
Brian Lashoff (D) 31 NHL games
OHLer was signed as a free agent by Detroit and after serving time in the AHL earned himself a three-year, one-way deal
Ryan Wilson (D) 199 NHL games
OHL graduate only played 71 AHL games before making the jump to the NHL in 09-10; he remains with Colorado
Michael Haley (C/LW) 52 NHL games
OHLer played 116 minor league games before suiting up for the Islanders; in the final (a one-way) year of his deal with New York
Nick Holden (D) 7 NHL games
WHL grad played 130 AHL games before getting his first taste with Columbus; signed a two-year, two-way deal with Colorado
Brenden Dillon (D) 49 NHL games
WHLer signed an ELC as a FA with Dallas and saw a game in his rookie season; he’s entering the final year of his rookie deal
Brandon Mashinter (LW) 17 NHL games
Signed directly out of the OHL, he played 79 AHL games before getting a look in the NHL; re-signed to a one year, two-way deal with the Rangers
Matt Fraser (LW) 13 NHL games
WHLer was signed by Dallas and got a call-up in his rookie season; traded to Boston and is on a two-way deal
Brandon Manning (D) 10 NHL games
WHLer was signed by Philadelphia and was called-up in his rookie season; signed a one year, two-way deal with the Flyers
Jason Akeson (RW) 1 NHL game
Signed an ELC right out of the OHL, playing 76 AHL games before getting his cup of coffee with Philadelphia; in the final year of his rookie deal
Antoine Roussel (LW/RW) 39 NHL games
Frenchman out of the QMJHL made his way into the Dallas lineup after 146 AHL games; in the second season of his ELC
Tyler Johnson (C/RW) 14 NHL games
WHLer signed an ELC out of junior and played 75 AHL games before hitting the NHL; remains with Tampa in the final year of his rookie deal
Michael Sgarbossa (C) 6 NHL games
OHLer suited up for Colorado in his rookie season
Mark Cundari (D) 4 NHL games
Signed out of junior to an ELC the OHLer played 175 AHL games before getting his audition with Calgary; on a one year, two-way contract with the Flames
Jonathan Audy-Marchessault (RW/LW) 2 NHL games
QMJHLer played 76 AHL games before getting a cup of coffee with Columbus; he’s entering his second year of his ELC
Matt Konan (D) 2 NHL games
Signed an ELC out of the WHL; 50 minor league games before getting his games in his rookie season; two more years left on his rookie deal
Carter Bancks (LW) 2 NHL games
WHL grad played 93 AHL games before getting a cup of coffee with Calgary; he’s on a tryout with the Flames this season
Ryan Stanton (D) 1 NHL game
WHLer played 151 AHL games before a call-up from Chicago; signed a two-year deal with Chicago with the second a one-way deal

There’s been a considerable increase in players getting signed out of junior and then suiting up for an NHL team, but with (thus far) only five NHL regulars it doesn’t stand out as any more (or less) than other undrafted routes to the league.  None of the high-profile players here are stars, but the ceiling seems to be pretty high (a surprising fact given how well-scouted the CHL is)–it’s worth noting that the best of these players were picked up very early on (post-lockout) and that may indicate scouting has improved since.

CIS (3)
The least likely route to the NHL (Mathieu Darche would be one that predates this and Bracken Kearns would be included if I was categorizing things differently).
Joel Ward (RW) 353 NHL games
Played 66 AHL games before getting his NHL call-up; became a regular in 08-09
Darryl Boyce (C/LW) 84 NHL games
Debuted with Toronto in his rookie season (07-08), but didn’t start getting regular call-ups until 10-11; split last season between Hamilton and Finland; currently a UFA
Kevin Henderson (LW) 4 NHL games
Played 167 AHL games before making his debut with the Predators; signed a new two-year, two-way contract with Nashville

This article is written by Peter Levi (@eyeonthesens)

European Undrafted Success Stories Revisited

Continuing my updates of undrafted success stories, here’s a look at players who developed in the European pro leagues without being drafted, who eventually made their way to the NHL.  Like the other articles I’ve focussed on the post-lockout NHL because of the different parameters in which players are viewed (particularly undersized players).  I’ve set the “European pro” bar at age 23 (anything earlier and I consider the player is still a prospect).  For goaltenders the comparisons are slightly less apt (in terms of numbers), but it’s interesting to look at the relative success enjoyed by them.  The numbers next to the player’s name are their stats prior to being signed by an NHL team.

2006 (3)
Niklas Backstrom (G, SM-Liiga) 32-9-10, 1.68, .940 – has played 369 NHL games and remains a starting NHL goaltender
Patrick Thoresen (SEL) 50-17-19-36 – played 106 NHL games; he’s now settled in as a career KHL player
Patrick Fischer (NLA) 44-21-32-53 – played 27 NHL games in his only season; now retired

2007 (4)
Jonas Hiller (G, NLA) 28-16, 2.60 - has played 276 NHL games and remains an NHL starter
Cory Murphy (D, SM-Liiga) 45-13-37-50 – played 91 NHL games over three seasons; entering his first season in the SHL
Erik Ersberg (G, SEL) 41GP, 2.39, .908 – played 69 NHL games over three seasons with LA; a UFA after three seasons in the KHL
Jaroslav Hlinka (Cze) 46-19-38-57 – played 63 NHL games in his only season; finishing his career in the Czech Elite League

2008 (7)
Ville Leino (SM-Liiga) 55-28-49-77 – has played 228 NHL games; signed long-term by Buffalo
Antti Niemi (G, SM-Liiga) 26-14-6, 2.35, .926 – he won a Stanley Cup with Chicago (2010) and has 213 NHL games to his credit; he remains a starting goaltender
Tim Stapleton (SM-Liiga) 55-29-33-62 - undersized NCAA grad played two years in Finland before coming back to North America; played 118 NHL games; beginning his second season in the KHL
Anssi Salmela (D, SM-Liiga) 56-16-16-32 (0.57) – played 112 NHL games over three seasons; entering his third season in the KHL
Fabian Brunnstrom (SEL) 54-9-28-37 – played 104 NHL games over four seasons; entering his second season in the SHL
Ryan Vesce (SM-Liiga) 56-26-18-44 – undersized NCAA grad had made the jump from the AHL to Finland to land a deal with San Jose where he saw all his limited action (19 NHL games); he’s currently in the KHL
Per Ledin (SEL) – played 3 NHL games in his only season; continues to play in Sweden

2009 (5)
Jonas Gustavsson (G, SEL) 42GP, 1.96, .932 – “The Monster” has played 114 NHL games; an NHL backup with Detroit
Mika Pyorala (SM-Liiga) 55-21-22-43 – played 36 NHL games in his only season; entering his first season in the KHL
Henrik Karlsson (G, SEL) 34GP, 2.45, .914 – has played 26 NHL games; he’s back in Sweden
Alexander Salak (G, SM-Liiga) 20-20-9, 2.40, .923 – played 2 NHL games; beginning his first season in the KHL
Johan Backlund (G, SEL) 49GP, 2.56, .907 – played 1 NHL game; beginning his first season in the KHL

2010 (3)
Mats Zuccarello (SEL) 55-23-41-64 (1.16) – pint-sized Norwegian played 67 NHL games; re-signed by the Rangers
Marcel Muller (DEL) 53-24-32-56 – played 3 NHL games; back in Germany
Jussi Rynnas (G, SM-Liiga) 14-13-1, 2.71, .911 – played 2 NHL games; back in Finland

2011 (3)
Raphael Diaz (D, NLA) 45-12-27-39 (0.86) – has played 82 NHL games; remains with Montreal
Victor Bartley (D, Allsvenskan) 52-11-23-34 – undrafted WHLer has played 24 NHL games; signed a three-year, one-way deal with Nashville
Iiro Tarkki (G, SM-Liiga) 20-20-14, 2.09, .924 – played 1 NHL game; entering his second season in the KHL

2012 (4)
Roman Cervenka (KHL) 54-23-16-39 – played 39 NHL games; returned to the KHL
Viktor Fasth (G, SHL) 2.04, .934 – played 25 NHL games; competing for the starting job in Anaheim
Daniel Bang (SHL) 50-8-10-18 – played 8 NHL games; playing in Switzerland
Harri Pesonen (SM-Liiga) 60-21-14-35 – played 4 NHL games; remains with the Devils

No players from the Slovak Elite League, Erste Bank Liga (Austria), Get Ligaen (Norway), or Al-Bank Ligaen (Denmark) have had players signed directly out of them.  The DEL (Germany), Czech Elite League, and KHL (Russia) have only had one each.

Conclusions: the vast majority of the players signed (23 of 29) come from either the Swedish or Finnish leagues and only 9 (if Zuccarello sticks) are NHL regulars.  The greatest success comes from foreign goaltenders, with up to 4 starting goaltenders arriving from the undrafted pool (and 5 of the 9 regulars are between the pipes).  It’s interesting to note how dwarfed the number of players here is by those who arrive via the NCAA route (66 players since 2006), given how large the available pool is in Europe (literally hundreds of players go undrafted).  Part of the reason for the smaller stream of players is twofold: the expense of properly scouting those players, and secondly, the fact that the KHL can pay marginal players a much better salary than they would earn playing in the AHL.  What we can say from this overview is that the scouting community doesn’t make many mistakes and there are very few diamonds in the rough overseas.  The most overlooked players remain undersized players along with the difficult-to-project goaltenders.

This article is written by Peter Levi (@eyeonthesens)

ECHL Success Stories (revisited)

Continuing my updates of undrafted success stories, here’s a look at players who plied their trade in the ECHL and other tier-2 minor leagues to get a taste of the highest level.  Like the other articles I’ve focussed on the post-lockout NHL because of the different parameters in which players are viewed (particularly undersized players).  I have ignored individuals who only had a cup of coffee in the ECHL–my focus is on those who played at least the bulk of a season in that league.  I’ve excluded Rich Peverley, whose only full season in the ECHL was during the lockout (04-05), as well as Alexandre Burrows who began his NHL immediately after the lockout.

David Desharnais (C, 178 NHL games) Undrafted player from the QMJHL, he spent one season (07-08) in the ECHL before becoming an AHL regular; he’s spent two full seasons with Montreal and is signed through 2016-17.
Steve MacIntyre (LW, 91 NHL games) The undrafted WHL pugilist spent 168 games in the ECHL (and another 158 in other minor leagues) before establishing himself in the AHL and then earning an NHL spot with Edmonton (he’s also played for Florida and Pittsburgh).  Currently a UFA.
Ryan Garbutt (LW, 56 NHL games) Undrafted out of Brown University, he had to spend a season in the CHL before cracking the AHL and subsequently the NHL.  He’s on a one-way deal with Dallas.
Chris Durno (LW, 43 NHL games) Undrafted out of the Michigan Tech, he played 147 games in the ECHL before firmly establishing himself as an AHL player, seeing action with Colorado in parts of two seasons (08-09 and 09-10).  He spent last season in Italy and is currently a UFA.
Chris Minard (C/W, 40 NHL games) Undrafted OHLer spent 174 games in the ECHL before establishing himself in AHL; his NHL games were split over three seasons with Pittsburgh and Edmonton (07-08 to 09-10).  He’s entering his second season in the DEL (Germany).
Jordie Benn (D, 29 NHL games) Undrafted BCHLer spent time in both the ECHL and CHL before establishing himself in the AHL; signed a deal that becomes one-way after this season (with Dallas).
Steve Oleksy (D, 28 NHL games) Undrafted out of Lake Superior State, he spent time in the IHL and ECHL before establishing himself.  His cups of coffee have come with Washington and he remains with their organisation.
Pascal Pelletier (LW, 13 NHL games) Undrafted out of the QMJHL, he spent 88 games in the ECHL before establishing himself as a regular AHLer.  He had cups of coffee with Boston and Chicago (07-08 and 08-09).  After three seasons in Switzerland he’s back in the AHL.
Greg Rallo (C, 11 NHL games) Undrafted out of Ferris State, he spent parts of two seasons in the ECHL before establishing himself.  His cup of coffee came with Florida; he remains in the AHL.
Cedrick Desjardins (G, 5 NHL games) Undrafted out of the QMJHL, he spent one and a half seasons in the ECHL before becoming an AHL regular; his NHL cups of coffee have come with Tampa.  He remains with the Lightning on a two-way.
Kurtis McLean (C, 4 NHL games) Undrafted out of Norwich University, McLean spent the bulk of 05-06 in the ECHL before establishing himself in the AHL.  His cup of coffee came with the Islanders (08-09).  He’s entering his fifth year in Europe (the KHL this season).

That’s 11 players who have made their way into the NHL, 3 of which have become (or will become) NHL regulars.  Six of the players came from the CHL, while five are NCAA grads.  It’s not surprising that so few who go this route make the NHL, but being able to climb the ladder is a more common than I expected.  Regardless, as with all my previous looks at undrafted players, this emphasizes how rarely NHL scouts miss NHL talent post-lockout.

This article is written by Peter Levi (@eyeonthesens)

Free Agent College Signings in the Post-Lockout NHL (updated)

I looked at the success of college free agents awhile ago and enough time has passed to re-visit the issue.  The original article was spurred on by the Ottawa Senators buying out Bobby Butler–it posed the question: how much merit does the free agent frenzy for undrafted college players have?  There’s a large number of players signed from the NCAA, but no comprehensive list of them exists, so I’ve limited myself to those players who have played at least one game in NHL.  I’ve also excluded players like Cory Conacher who signed AHL deals coming out of college and subsequently earned a deal with an NHL team–their step forward was forged in the minors, not college.  My list begins the season after the lockout ended (2006-07) when it became clear how the style of play in the league had changed and what the impact the cap would have on rosters (for the 2010-12 seasons I have included Red Line Report‘s estimation of the caliber of these players).  Key: D is for defenseman, G is for goalie; the numbers in brackets are their final college season’s stats before signing; players are listed in order of NHL games played.

2006 (7)
Andy Greene (D, 39-9-22-31, NJ) – 395 NHL games; going into the third season of a four-year deal
Ryan Carter (39-19-16-35, Ana) – 298 NHL games; in the final year of a one-way deal with the Devils
Rod Pelley (39-7-7-14, NJ) – 256 NHL games; spent last season in the AHL where he remains this year
Tim Wallace (36-11-12-23, Pit) – 101 NHL games; re-signed to a two-way deal with Carolina
Bill Thomas
(41-27-23-50, Phx) – 87 NHL games; spent last season in the AHL, now signed to a KHL deal
Junior Lessard (45-32-31-63, Dal) – 27 NHL games; a UFA after spending last year in the LNAH
Jamie Hunt (D, 33-12-33-45, Wsh) – 1 NHL game; retired

2007 (14)
Darroll Powe (34-13-15-28, Phi) - 328 NHL games; final year of a three-year deal (now with the Rangers)
Teddy Purcell (40-16-27-43, TB) – 320 NHL games; is signed through the next three years with Tampa
Ryan Shannon (38-14-31-45, Ana) – 305 NHL games; beginning his second season in Switzerland
Mark Letestu (37-24-22-46, Pit) – 182 NHL games; two more years (one-way) with Columbus
Chris Conner
(38-17-12-29, Dal) – 159 NHL games; has a two-way deal with Pittsburgh
Kevin Westgarth (33-8-16-24, LA) – 121 NHL games; in the final year of a one-way deal (now with Carolina)
Derek Smith (D, 43-10-20-30, Ott) – 80 NHL games; final year of a one-way deal with Calgary
Trevor Smith (38-21-22-43, NYI) – 24 NHL games; Capgeek has him on a one-way deal with Toronto (this could be in error)
Sean Collins (D, 37-9-19-28, Wsh) – 21 NHL games; a UFA after playing in the AHL last season
Gabe Gauthier (38-15-24-39, LA) – 8 NHL games; a UFA after spending last season in the CHL
Kyle Greentree (39-21-21-42, Phi) – 4 NHL games; signed with the Swiss tier-2 league after playing in Austria last season
John Curry (G, 2.01, .928, Pit) – 4 NHL games; a UFA who spent last year in the ECHL
Sean Bentivoglio (37-16-30-46, NYI) – 1 NHL game; currently a UFA
Darcy Campbell (D, 39-4-20-24, Clb) – 1 NHL game; now playing tier-2 hockey in Germany

2008 (8)
Jack Hillen (D, 41-6-31-37, NYI) – 253 NHL games; signed a two year, one-way deal with Washington
Jesse Winchester
(40-8-29-37, Ott) – 233 NHL games; spent last year in Finland, signed a two-way deal with Florida
Davis Drewiske (D, 40-5-16-21, LA) – 135 NHL games; signed a two year, one-way deal with Montreal
Mike Moore (D, 34-7-17-24, SJ) – 6 NHL games; signed a two-way deal with Boston
Peter Mannino (G, 2.26, .917, NYI) – 6 NHL games; signed an AHL deal with Wilkes-Barre
Matt Climie (G, 2.15, .913, Dal) – 5 NHL games; signed an AHL deal with Chicago
Brock Trotter (24-13-18-31, Mtl) – 2 NHL games; retired
Jeff Penner (35-5-7-12, Bos) – 2 NHL games; retired

2009 (9)
Tyler Bozak (19-8-15-23, Tor) – 238 NHL games; signed a five year deal with Toronto
Matt Gilroy
(D, 45-8-29-37, NYR) – 209 NHL games; signed a two-way deal with Florida
Dan Sexton (38-17-22-39, Ana) – 88 NHL games; spent last year in the AHL and will play in Finland in the upcoming season
Matt Taormina (35-5-15-20, NJ) – 49 NHL games; on a one year, two-way deal with Tampa
Christian Hanson (37-16-15-31, Tor) – 42 NHL games; signed a two-way deal with St. Louis
MacGregor Sharp (43-26-24-50, Ana) – 8 NHL games; playing in Austria after two seasons in Italy
Evan Oberg (D, 43-7-20-27, Van) – 7 NHL games; signed an AHL deal with Chicago
Brad Thiessen (G, 2.11, .931, Pit) - 5 NHL games; played in the AHL last season, signed in Finland for the upcoming season
Corey Elkins (42-18-23-41, LA) – 3 NHL games; split his time between three leagues last year, signed in Finland for this season

2010 (13)
Bobby Butler (39-29-24-53, Ott) – 128 NHL games; RLR listed him as the 9th best college free agent; signed a two-way deal with Florida
Chris Tanev (D, 41-10-18-28, Van) - 92 NHL games; unlisted by RLR; signed a one year, one-way deal with Vancouver
Tommy Wingels (44-17-25-42, SJ) - 80 NHL games, RLR listed him 16th; in the second year of a one-way contract with the Sharks
Nate Prosser (D, 39-4-24-28, Min) - 73 NHL games; unlisted by RLR; in the final year of a one-way contract with the Wild
Aaron Volpatti (37-15-17-32, Van) - 71 NHL games; unlisted by RLR; signed a two year, one-way deal with Washington
Erik Gustafsson (D, 39-3-29-32, Phi) - 60 NHL games, RLR listed him 7th; signed a one year, one-way deal with Philadelphia
Casey Wellman (36-23-22-45, Min) – 41 NHL games; RLR listed him 11th; signed a two year, two-way deal with Washington
Ben Scrivens (G, 1.87, 0.934, Tor) – 32 NHL games; RLR listed him 29th; in the second year of a deal that is one-way this season (now with LA)
Ben Holmstrom (39-9-14-23, Phi) – 7 NHL games; unlisted by RLR; signed a one year, two-way deal with Philadelphia
Jarod Palmer (44-18-27-45, Min) – 6 NHL games; RLR listed him 1st; retired
Brayden Irwin (39-15-19-34, Tor) – 2 NHL games; RLR listed him 13th; a UFA after splitting last season between the AHL/ECHL
Eric Selleck (28-21-33-54, Flo) - 2 NHL games; unlisted by RLR; signed a new one year, two-way deal with Florida
Carter Hutton (G, 2.04, .928, Phi) – 1 NHL game; unlisted by RLR; signed a one year, two-way deal with Nashville

2011 (9)
Matt Read (37-22-13-35, Phi) - 121 NHL games; RLR ranked him 13th; in the final year of a three year, one-way deal with Philadelphia
Harry Zolnierczyk (30-16-15-31, Phi) - 44 NHL games; RLR ranked him 2nd; signed a one year, two-way deal with Pittsburgh
Stephane Da Costa (33-14-31-45, Ott) - 35 NHL games; RLR ranked him 1st; signed a one year, two-way deal with Ottawa
Andy Miele
(39-24-47-71, Phx) - 8 NHL games; RLR ranked him 8th; signed a one year, two-way deal with Phoenix
Torey Krug (D, 38-12-22-34, Bos) - 3 NHL games; unlisted by RLR; in the final year of his ELC with Boston
Carter Camper (39-19-38-57, Bos) – 3 NHL games; RLR ranked him 10th; signed a one year, two-way deal with Boston
Mike Connolly (42-28-26-54, Col) – 2 NHL games; RLR ranked him 4th; signed in Germany after spending last season  in the AHL
Chay Genoway (D, 36-6-31-37, Min) – 1 NHL game; RLR ranked him 9th; in the second year of a two-way deal with Washington
Keith Kinkaid (G, 2.58, .916, NJ) – 1 NHL game; RLR ranked him 3rd; signed a one year, two-way contract with the Devils

2012 (6)
Brian Flynn (40-18-30-48, Buf) – 26 NHL games; RLR ranked him 6th; in the second year of a deal that is one-way this season
Chad Ruhwedel (D, 41-7-16-23, Buf) – 7 NHL games; not ranked by RLR; entering the second year of his ELC
Jeremy Welsh (40-27-17-44, Car) – 6 NHL games; RLR ranked him 3rd; in the second year of a deal that is one-way this season
J. T. Brown (29-24-23-47, TB) – 5 NHL games; RLR ranked him 5th; signed a one year, two-way deal with Tampa
Matt Tennyson (D, 41-11-13-24, SJ) – 4 NHL games; not ranked by RLR; entering the second year of his ELC
Cameron Schilling (D, 39-1-13-14, Wsh) – 1 NHL game; not ranked by RLR; entering the second year of his ELC

Over this period sixty-five collegiate free agents have suited up for at least one NHL game.  This dwarfs the number of free agents in other undrafted categories (Europe, CHL, CIS).  Two-thirds of teams in the league have had at least one such a player appear over the timeframe (with the exceptions of Atlanta/Winnipeg, Calgary, Chicago, Detroit, Edmonton, Nashville, and St. Louis).  Philadelphia has signed the most players with seven, while Ottawa is among seven teams with four.

What value have these players had?  We can’t judge the players from the last two seasons (15 of the 66), but of the remaining players 34 (of 51) have played fewer than 100 games and the vast majority are depth/complimentary additions to their organisations (it’s worth noting another 6 players should reach 100 games when this season is over).  These are useful players, but very few are diamonds in the rough (the best players gleaned from the sample are Andy Greene, Teddy Purcell, and Tyler Bozak).  This isn’t to diminish the contribution of other regulars or the risk/reward associated with signing such players (they don’t cost a draft pick, merely hitting a team’s contract limit), but it calls into question the expectations fans (and the media) have when NCAA free agents are signed.  In general, when they pan out these players are all solid citizens who can fill out roles in their lineups.

This article is written by Peter Levi (@eyeonthesens)

Senators News: July 6th

-Yesterday was a madcap, crazy day for the Sens as Daniel Alfredsson exercised his option as a free agent to sign with another team (Detroit); the Sens then made a blockbuster trade to acquire Bobby Ryan (giving up Jakob Silfverberg, Stefan Noesen, and their 2014 1st-round pick), while also signing Clarke MacArthur, meaning a third of the Sens top-six was overhauled.  There is a lot to talk about, beginning with Alfie.

-There are any number of theories on why Alfredsson decided to leave, with Nicholas J. Cotsonika seeing it as a matter of money and ego.

The Senators didn’t want to pay Alfredsson’s price, and he was too proud to beg. They took him for granted, and he explored his options.

I think Alfie‘s half-statement here:

If this is my last season, I don’t want to change anything that’s going on there. I don’t want to demand Bryan or Eugene to …

…sacrifice everything to win the Cup now–this season.”  I think Alfie see’s his time is almost up and while an older Detroit team has every reason to pull out all the stops to win now, the Sens are still finishing their rebuild as a budget team.  Add that to Melnyk’s financial woes and the move becomes a little less surprising, although it clearly caught management off-guard.  Alfredsson‘s friend Tony Rhodes explicitly said ownership was behind the change (Scott focuses a little more on the competitive side and suggests that the Sens being crushed by the Pens may have made Alfie think/realise that Ottawa was still a couple of steps away).

-The question of whether Detroit is in a better position to win the Cup this season (as compared to Ottawa) seems moot, but I think they are.

-The Sens acquired Bobby Ryan, fulfilling the rumours I dismissed last year when they first cropped up.  The power forward did not come cheap, costing the Sens three significant assets (readers can correct me, but I think it’s a similar collection of assets that another team rejected last year).  While Noesen‘s development in the OHL might not have been what the Sens hoped for, Silfverberg looks like a responsible 20-goal scorer and even a late first-round pick generally produces a player who succeeds at the NHL level.  In that sense, Ottawa offered three (eventual) roster players for one.  In return the Sens get an offensively dynamic player in his prime (26) who the team will expect to score 30 goals while he’s here (he was on a sub-20 goal pace this season, but his points-per-game were on target).  Chris likes the trade, looking in depth at Ryan‘s numbers with the only potential warning sign being his mediocre possession numbers the last two seasons.

-The acquisition of free agent MacArthur slid under the radar due to the two much bigger events.  MacArthur was cut loose by the Leafs after three successful seasons in Toronto.  The Sens signed him for two years at the same salary the Leafs were giving him.  The utility forward’s offensive numbers have been declining the last two seasons, but are still good enough for him to patrol the top-six here.  He’s a good possession player and I like the deal (as does Chris), although he’s been let go by two of his previous teams now (Buffalo and Toronto) and I’m not sure if there’s an underlying reason for it.

-Do the two acquisitions negate the financial questions (see below) around the team?  Ryan makes a hefty salary and MacArthur is no slouch either–they add 8.35 to the Sens cap.  Or do they?  Alfredsson was going to make 5.5 and with Silfverberg‘s salary added that’s 6.4.  Ottawa has also shed the salaries of Latendresse, Lundin, Gonchar, and Regin already (along with Andre Benoit), so in reality that team hasn’t increased its spending.

-Travis Yost does an excellent job summating the information he’s put together regarding Melnyk’s financial troubles and I highly recommend reading through it.

-Like the rest of you I’m still trying to absorb all the news and information that’s coming out, but I will say I wish Alfredsson well.  It would have been great to have the captain finish his career here, but I don’t begrudge him taking one last shot at the Cup.

This article is written by Peter Levi (@eyeonthesens)

An Eye on Europe

[I've updated this article (September 30th) to see where the players listed have wound up this season.  Updates are in italics.]

The Ottawa Senators under Bryan Murray have rarely dipped into European leagues except to draft players out of Sweden, but they have brought in veterans to play in Binghamton (such as Justin Mapletoft from the DEL in 2007-08) and I think it’s possible they could sign an undrafted player out of Europe (much as they do via the NCAA and junior).  I looked at this last year as well.

While there’s debate over which European league is the best outside the NHL, most opinions I’ve read settle on the SEL (the Swedish league).  The KHL is usually next, but given Ottawa’s reluctance to deal with players from that league I’ve ignored it this time around.  As I go through the leagues I’ll list the most interesting prospects (if any).  I’ve indicated where prospects were ranked by Central Scouting where applicable and those coloured in green were on last year’s list.

Here’s a glance at the SEL (in terms of prospects I also looked at the Allsvenskan, the Swedish second-tier pro league, but no one stuck out):
Broc Little, LW/RW, AIK, 55-16-30-46, small (5’9) 24-year old undrafted college grad (Yale); he was listed by Red Line Report as one of the better NCAA FA’s back when he graduated – signed an AHL deal with Springfield
Oscar Fantenberg, D, HV71, 28-3-11-14, 21-year old signed through 13/14, but may have an opt-out clause – remains with HV71
Johan Alm, D, Skelleftea, 55-3-5-8, big (6’3) 21-year old; ranked #28 CSE in 2010; signed through 14/15, but may have an opt-out clause – remains with Skelleftea

Here’s the SM-Liiga (I also looked at the Mestis, the Finnish second-tier pro league, but no one stuck out):
Sakari Salminen, RW/LW, KalPa, 54-26-29-55, 24-year old; played for Finland in the WJC – signed in the KHL
Jere Sallinen, LW/RW, HPK, 57-15-27-42, 22-year old went unsigned by Minnesota (6-163/09); played for Finland in the WJC – remains with HPK
Kristian Nakyva, D, JYP, 59-6-22-28, 22-year old; ranked #29 CSE in 2009; played for Finland in the WJC – remains with JYP
Olavi Vauhkonen, RW, SaiPa, 46-10-12-22, 24-year old big (6’4) physical winger; #159 CSE 2008 – remains with SaiPa

The Swiss league (NLA) and the NLB (the second-tier league):
Joel Vermin, C/W, Bern, 47-13-22-35, 21-year old; #31 CSE in 2010; played for Switzerland at the WJC – signed an ELC with Tampa, but was loaned back to Bern
Killian Mottet, F, Ajoie (NLB), 50-28-32-60, undersized 22-year old – graduates to Gotteron in the NLA
Sami El Assaoui, D, La Chaux-de-Fonds (NLB), 34-3-22-25, undersized 21-year old; signed through 13/14, but may have an opt out clause – graduates to Ambri-Potta in the NLA
[Simon Moser was on last year's list and signed an ELC with Nashville after making the team on a PTO]

The German league (DEL):
Bernhard Ebner, D, Dusseldorf, 52-5-21-26, 22-year old – remains with Dusseldorf

The Czech league (Extraliga):
Jan Kovar, C/LW, HC Plzen, 52-17-34-51, 22-year old was tenth in league scoring; played for the Czech’s in the WJC – signed in the KHL

The Austrian league (Erste Bank Liga):
Richard Jarusek, RW, Orli Znojmo, 54-25-26-51, 21-year old – remains with Orli Znojmo

The Slovakian league (Extraliga):
Michael Vandas, RW, HK SKP Poprad, 49-21-31-52, 22-year old; played for the Slovaks in the WJC – signed in the Czech Elite League

I didn’t see anyone worth listing from the Danish (AL-Bank Ligaen) and Norwegian (Get Ligaen) leagues.  [So two players, if I give myself Moser, signed ELC's while another (Little) has joined the AHL.  This is a little better than I did last year.]

This article is written by Peter Levi (@eyeonthesens)


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.