European Free Agents of Interest

This is the fourth year I’ve looked at interesting free agent prospects in Europe, focussing specifically on those who are 24 and under.  For successful free agents from Europe I talk about it here; for the issues of comparing stats in Europe to production in the NHL go here.  The players are organised by league and “PPG” here means points-per-game:

Toni Rajala RW/LW DOB 91 4-101/09 Edm 5’10 SHL 31-14-13-27
The former Oiler prospect has already established himself as a point-per-game player in the AHL; after a brief stint in the KHL he produced at about the same clip in the SHL; he’s undersized and has been dumped by one organisation already, but given how dysfunctional Edmonton is I’m not sure it’s a true black mark; I suspect he’d be given an opportunity elsewhere, but Rajala may not want to come back to North America to play in the minors

Tim Heed D DOB 91 5-132/10 Ana 6’0 SHL 50-10-27-37
Another former draft pick, he enjoyed a breakout season right after Anaheim’s rights to him expired, finishing second in scoring by a blueliner behind former free agent wunderkind Cory Murphy (but ahead of him in PPG); he’s also tops among the 24 and under crowd (including forwards), so there’s a lot of reasons for teams to approach him

Kristian Nakyva D DOB 90 6’0 SHL 55-10-19-29
Brought over from the Liiga after three strong seasons, he posted similar numbers in the SHL (a better league) and finished fifth in scoring by a defenseman; I’m not sure his numbers are remarkable enough to be signed, particularly given that he doesn’t have typical NHL size, but it remains a possibility; he’s someone I identified back in 2013

Joel Lassinantti G DOB 93 5’9 SHL 1.88 .928
The diminutive goaltender might still be draft eligible (I get a bit fuzzy about the European rules as they vary from league to league), assuming he’s not eligible he’s 2nd in GAA and save percentage, so the only thing holding him back is his size

Jan Kovar C DOB 90 5’11 KHL 60-24-44-68
Someone I identified back in 2012, he’s put up crazy back-to-back numbers in the KHL and it’s likely a question of any NHL team being willing to pay the 24-year old enough to come across the pond

Artemi Panarin LW DOB 91 5’11 54-26-36-62
The 23-year old lead SKA St. Petersburg in scoring, playing with Ilya Kovalchuk and Vadim Shipachyov (the latter appeared on this list a few years ago, but no one has pried him out of the KHL); how much Panarin‘s numbers are inflated by his teammates is an open question, but it didn’t stop Roman Cervenka (now a teammate) from getting a shot in the NHL, so we could see the same for Panarin

Emil Garipov G DOB 91 6’2 KHL 1.78 .933
His second season as the backup for Ak Bars Kazan, he played a third of the games and had excellent numbers behind one of the best teams in the league; it’s difficult to say how much of his success is based on the team in front of him, but he’s surely worth a look

Lino Martschini RW DOB 93 5’6 NLA 50-23-24-47
At just 5’6 I’m not sure what it will take to get the opportunity to cross the pond; he’s 1st among the 24 and under and 4th in overall scoring; it took Mats Zuccarello (who is about the same size) leading the SHL in scoring and a successful Olympic experience to get his shot with the Rangers, but even then he left the team for the KHL for part of a season before becoming fully established

Inti Pestoni RW DOB 91 5’8 NLA 30-9-15-24
Passed over in the draft largely due to his size (a common theme), he’s put up good numbers in an injury-shortened season–currently 2nd in PPGs among the under 24 players; I suspect his size will keep him off the radar again this year and that he’ll need a bigger season to overcome that

Joonas Donskoi RW/LW DOB 92 4-99/10 Flo 6’0 Liiga 58-19-30-49
The Panthers never signed the Finn who enjoyed a breakout season with Karpat (fifth in overall scoring); the Finnish league is a good league, but not on the level of the Swedish (Eric Perrin leads the Liiga in scoring); the numbers are still significant enough to get noticed and as a former draft pick teams can much more easily assess the risk of signing him

Charles Bertrand LW/RW DOB 91 6’1 Liiga 60-16-31-47
The Frenchmen is in the midst of a true breakout season with Sport, sitting at 7th in overall scoring and 2nd amongst the 24 and under crowd; not only are these career numbers for him, but he’s also doing it on a talent-deprived team, so he should earn some looks from scouts if nothing else; he’s someone I identified back in 2012

Markus Hannikainen LW DOB 93 6’2 Liiga 60-19-27-46
I think he may still be eligible for the draft (see above), but assuming he’s not eligible, he’s 9th in overall scoring and 3rd in the 24 and under group (behind Donskoi above); his numbers might be getting inflated by teammates Perrin and Jani Tuppurainen, so that’s something for GMs to consider

Eetu Laurikainen G DOB 93 6’0 Liiga 2.10 .933
The former Swift Current Bronco sailed through the draft as a WHL backstop, but has had a remarkable season back in Finland where he’s 3rd in GAA and save percentage; a bit undersized, Finnish goaltenders have a well-deserved reputation for technique that might overcome that objection, so I could see him signed

Tomas Filippi C/RW DOB 92 6’1 Czech 52-16-24-40
The former QMJHL player had a career year in the Czech league (his third there); he was the second most productive under-24 player and as someone familiar with scouts; it’s worth remembering the Czech league is pretty weak so his production there isn’t as appealing as it would be in other leagues

Jakub Jerabek D DOB 91 5’11 Czech 48-7-25-32
The undersized defender had a career year; the weakness of the league means he’s more likely to sign in the KHL, but it remains a possibility that a team will take a look at him

Yasin Ehliz RW DOB 92 5’10 DEL 48-11-34-45
The German league is not generally a place where free agents are signed, but it does happen occasionally; Ehliz has his size against him, but he’s made good progress in the DEL; he’s 13th in league scoring and 1st among players under 24

A final note: the Norwegian league is not a good league, but I’ll mention Alexander Reichenberg‘s injury shortened season (13-18-17-35; yes, that’s 2.69 ppg), but it’s too short a sample size to mean much other than (perhaps) an offer in the Allsvenskan or SHL

How have previous versions of this list done?  It’s always interesting to go back and look “where they are now” after a successful and/or breakout season.  I first wrote about this three years ago, before I knew as much as I do now about judging player performances, but even then I hit some targets (those in green become regular NHL players, those in blue remain NHL prospects):
-Damien Brunner (NLA) was signed and played parts of three seasons in the NHL before Jersey loaned him back to the NLA
-Ronalds Kenins (NLA) signed at the end of last season and is playing in the Vancouver organisation
-David Wolf (DEL) signed at the end of last season and is playing in Calgary’s organisation
-Simon Moser (NLA) was signed the year after and spent a season in Nashville’s organisation
-Richard Gynge (SHL) attracted NHL interest that year, but had already signed in the KHL to mixed results (his best season is this one, but it’s not remarkable enough to attract interest I’d guess)
-Sakari Salminen (Liiga) there was also interest, but like Gynge went the KHL route instead; he’s posted up excellent numbers in the Russian league and would certainly attract NHL interest now (he’s 26 so I didn’t include him above)
-Vadim Shipachyov (KHL) the twenty-eight year old likely makes too much money to be brought over
-Jan Kovar (above) was on the list
-Charles Bertrand (above) was on this list
The following year I noted far fewer players, but one mentioned is worth mentioning:
-Joel Vermin (NLA) signed an ELC with Tampa, putting up middling AHL numbers this year
Last year (again with a smaller list) here are the notables:
-Dennis Rasmusen (SHL) was signed by Chicago where’s he’s been unremarkable
-Michael Keranen (Liiga) was signed by Minnesota has been decent on their farm team
-Borna Rendulic (Liiga) Croatian player was signed by Colorado and looked solid in an injury-shortened season

This article is written by Peter Levi (@eyeonthesens)

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).

KHL
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?

NLA
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

SHL
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.

Liiga
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.

DEL
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)
2005
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
2006
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
2007
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
2008
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
2009
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
2010
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
2011
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
2012
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).
2006
Joel Ward (RW) 353 NHL games
Played 66 AHL games before getting his NHL call-up; became a regular in 08-09
2010
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
2012
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)

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