NHL Playoff Disaster, Debrincat, and Nikolas Matinpalo

It’s difficult to imagine a worse outcome for the NHL than the four teams that made it into the conference finals (Dallas, Vegas, Florida, and Carolina). While the league itself likely believes it’s a positive result, increasing their footprint in the south, I’ve seen no evidence the Southern strategy has accomplished anything. None of the four teams draw outside their region and local interest is minimal. Ratings are going to be horrific (NHL’s viewership this year is already awful, illustrating that just two seasons of scoring increase isn’t enough to erase thirty years of stagnation–something I’ve gone over a few times). The NHL has never figured out how to market itself because it’s convinced it’s a major sport instead of a regional one whose limitations (expense and playing surface) put a cap on participation. The best thing for the league would be contraction and moving franchises away from dead areas to where they might have some relevance, but that’s an impossibility as long as the current regime remains in power.

I mentioned in my season wrap-up that I thought all the local voices talking about moving on from Alex Debrincat was a sign that the org itself is moving on and I still believe that as additional voices restate the idea. There’s no guarantee, and moving him won’t be easy, but to me the odds of him going continue to increase. Dorion likes to make splashy moves, so I could see it happening at the draft (I suspect, if they’ve given up on Alex Formenton, he’ll also be moved around that time).

The Sens signed an off-the-radar Finnish defensemen in Nikolas Matinpalo (in the spirit of Artem Zub and Olle Alsing); he’s the second European FA prospect they’ve picked up this off-season after signing Jiri Smejkal about a month ago. The 24 (soon to be 25)-year old wasn’t on anyone’s radar (either this year as a free agent or during his draft-eligible seasons). Here’s a quick look at his recent numbers:

Nikolas Matinpalo, DR, DOB 98 (Oct)
2020-21 Liiga 41-1-2-3 (0.07)
2021-22 Liiga 50-4-4-8 (0.16)
2022-23 Liiga 51-7-9-16 (0.31)

Like Smejkal he’s an older prospect with size (6’3 in his case), and his middling numbers have been augmented (to the Sens brass at least) by a good playoff (8-0-4-4) and then representing Finland internationally for the first time (not a high bar when you consider Patrick Brown was on the US roster). This is not a player you sign to produce offense and he’s unlikely to have NHL-caliber talent (he was well behind former Florida draft pick Ian McCoshen on his team this year, whose best AHL season was his first, 68-4-12-16), but his potential is as a defensive presence for the BSens on their already clogged right side. It’s difficult to imagine this turning out well, but it’s interesting that the Sens decided to go this route in the first place. The plus side of the equation is it’s low risk–both in terms of dollars and commitment.

This article was written by Peter Levi


Sens News & Notes

Recently former Sens and current commentator Marc Methot commented (46:40, since the YTers don’t timestamp their podcast) that Artem Zub is a bottom-pairing player and the Sens will regret his contract extension. This is interesting, because just in December Methot called the signing ‘a steal’. In context, his comment seems based on his estimation of the kind of player Tyler Kleven will be (which would explain the abrupt about face, since the tiny sample of Kleven and Zub‘s injury-plagued year are paired in Methot’s head). It’s also highly amusing how fearful Methot is of analytics (see below). If you’re asking what separates the two players in Methot’s mind, given the context (the Sens content is largely about Brannstrom), it’s that Kleven is a more physical player–we all know how much Methot values the physical dimension (look at how a big, physical team like Calgary is dominated in the playoffs right now). What’s funny to me is how easily Methot flipped the switch on someone who was one of his favourite players, which he blames on this season (and given his Tweet, clearly very late in this season). As for my opinion, I do think Zub was overpaid for what he does, however I think it’s a less ridiculous contract than others Dorion has signed and it’s more easily moved if the Sens decide he doesn’t fit into their plans (since defensive defensemen are overvalued in the league).

Jiri Smejkal, LW/C, Nov/96, 6’4, SHL 49-23-20-43 0.87
I was surprised when the Sens signed Jiri Smejkal out of the SHL (1yr/950k), although perhaps I shouldn’t be since they did something similar with Olle Alsing in 2019. The Czech forward was 6th overall on Pronman’s list of FAs and 2nd out of Europe. An older player (26), it’s uncommon for an NHL talent to be found at that age, but it does happen. Smejkal bounced around early in his pro career, but found his footing in Finland and was able to translate that production into the SHL this past season. He’s not an unknown quantity, as he spent two years in the WHL (2014-16) playing for Moose Jaw and Kamloops. According to Pronman he’s a: “Big, powerful winger with good skills who can help on both special teams. His skating is just OK and whether he will score in North America is a question.” The Sens have never been shy about poor skating, although watching the speed in the playoffs you have to wonder how much that approach will hurt them. More importantly, let’s try to unpack his successful seasons:

20-21 Liiga (Tappara) 48-9-17-26 0.54 6th
The 6th most productive forward on a team, but the most productive import (ahead of Charles Bertrand); former Sens prospect Ben Blood (4-120/07) was on the roster, which is funny to see
21-22 Liiga (Pelicans) 44-25-20-45 1.02 2nd
Played on the top line lead by former Vancouver prospect Lukas Jasek (6-174/15) and there’s a further connection as Jasek has signed with Oskarshamn for next season; as a prospect in the AHL Jasek was unremarkable save his last (half) season in his fourth year (he never played in the NHL)
22-23 SHL (Oskarshamn) 49-23-20-43 0.87 3rd
Finished well behind the team’s top two players, Patrik Karlkvist and Antti Suomela (the latter spent time in San Jose and Toronto’s organizations, playing 51 games for the Sharks with middling AHL numbers), but he was able to remain productive despite a step-up in competition

What can we expect from Smejkal? He’s on a two-way contract and there’s a good chance he spends most of his time in Belleville. His offensive output in European leagues is solid, but not spectacular. He should be productive in the AHL, but his NHL window is as a depth forward. While he’s big I’m not expecting him to crash and bang, but that’s not what’s required. I think he’s a reasonable gamble for the Sens to make, even though they are loaded on the left side. If we want to go into conspiracy theories, perhaps the Sens grabbed Smejkal in order to trade some of their prospects on that side–time will tell.

Back to Methot: I haven’t seen him in quite some time (he left Coming in Hot in the fall, which is the only hockey show I sometimes watch) and I was amused to see how much he complained about people arguing with him on social media about his opinions. The problem for Methot is that his arguments are based on feelings–he’s not a numbers guy–so it’s a bit like religion. If the world was made in six days and you don’t think evidence for that to be true is required, it’s going to get really annoying when people keep asking you about all those fossils lying around. I think Methot is a fun guy to hear from, but like a lot of ex-players he struggles to understand that just playing the game does not make your opinions bulletproof (nor is it a get-out-of-jail-free card in arguments). I think he’d be a a better commentator if he became comfortable with analytics and learned how to incorporate that into what he experienced and sees. Just a thought.

This article was written by Peter Levi

Interesting NCAA/CHL/European Free Agents and Ottawa’s Success with Them

I don’t expect Ottawa to sign any college or European free agents this year (it’s a tough sell since where are they going to play in the lineup?), but I wanted to look at the names being bandied about (here for multiple leagues, here just for the NCAA). Overall the Sens have an awful track record with such free agents (Zub is the obvious exception) and I’ll touch on that below. I’ve included Pronman’s ranking from his top-30 list in brackets and those included in the other article have a star (*); those since signed are in green:

Hardy Haman Aktell, LD, DOB 98 (1) – (4-108/16 Nsh; SHL 51-9-27-36) The analysis: “can make a good first pass and has a strong point shot. His skating will be a major limitation in the NHL, but I think he defends well enough to potentially overcome that and be a third-pair defenseman in the league.” Aktell was unranked when Nashville selected him and it seems like they picked him for the same untapped potential being discussed seven years later. Signed by Washington.
Jiri Smejkal, LW, DOB 96 (6) – (SHL 49-23-20-43) “Big, powerful winger with good skills who can help on both special teams. His skating is just OK and whether he will score in North America is a question.” A lack of offensive talent has never troubled the org, although at his age (27) I doubt he’d cross the pond for anything other than an guaranteed spot on the NHL roster. Signed by Ottawa.
Grigori Dronov, LD, DOB 98 (16) – (KHL 41-8-11-19) “Can move pucks well and is able to defend well at the KHL level. The big issue for him in the NHL will be his mobility.” I’m not sure the Sens have ever had this combination of good hands but questionable skating on the blueline–plenty of the latter, but they always have hands of stone as well.
Konstantin Okulov, RW, DOB 95 (17) – (KHL 60-18-36-54) “Has very good offensive skills and is a legit goal-scoring threat at the highest levels. His shot can beat quality goalies from the circles. Whether Okulov’s feet will hold up in the NHL is a question. I don’t think either his compete or skating really stand out.” A KHL veteran wound only cross the pond for a roster spot in the NHL and the Sens wouldn’t do that at this stage (at least with a forward).
Rickard Hugg, LW, DOB 99 (18) – (SHL 52-13-24-37) “Competes well and can score, but he’s 5-foot-11 and not a great skater.” The Sens have experimented with forwards who have good hands and can’t skate (Cole Schneider among others). I had him pegged as a fifth-round pick in 2017, but he went undrafted.
Valetti Pulli, LD, DOB 01 (23) – (Liiga 53-3-14-17) “Has some hockey sense, but his puck game is limited. I’ve seen worse feet on a big guy like him but I wouldn’t call his skating an asset either” He sounds a bit like Andrej Sustr (300+ NHL games) if he pans out. Size is a drug NHL GM’s can’t quit either.
Isac Brannstrom, LW, DOB 98 (30) – (SHL 47-13-16-29) “Very skilled and creative with the puck, and can run a pro power play effectively with his great vision. He works hard enough, but he’s not that big and unlike his brother [Erik], he’s not an amazing skater.” Again skating is rarely an issue for the Sens, but size is something they covet.

Owen Pederson, LW, DOB 02 (7) – (WHL 62-32-41-73) “Excellent puck skills and size, and can create a lot around the net which makes him intriguing for the pro game. Pederson’s skating has and continues to be an issue.” The org used to have a heavy western bias when it came to CHL FA’s and while it’s not as universal as it was, it’s easy to name a few signed or drafted recently (Parker Kelly, Zach Ostapchuk, and Mark Kastelic).
Christopher Sedoff, LD, DOB 02 (10) – (WHL 58-4-46-50) “The offense has been good. As an older WHL player it’s hard to tell whether the puck game is now real or a mirage from an older player in junior.” Signed by Vegas.
Kyle McDonald, RW, DOB 02 (19) – (OHL 42-34-18-52) “Big winger with excellent puck skills and a good track record of scoring goals in the OHL. His skating is quite heavy though and whether he can even be an average AHL skater is a question.” Signed by Dallas.
Logan Morrison, C, DOB 02 (25) – (OHL 54-38-50-88) “Very good skill and playmaking ability … His average-sized frame combined with a lack of speed and average off-the-puck play will make an NHL path difficult.” Sounds like Brannstrom above; the 67s link isn’t what it used to be (Ceci, Prince, and Cowick). Signed by Seattle.

[Prospect analysts have an obsession with the NCAA that I think is on full display with the lengthy list below]
Sam Malinski, RD, DOB 98 (2) – (32-8-18-26) “Excellent playmaking ability. …has the ability to run a pro power play with his vision and shot. His skating is solid too and he can create with his skill and feet.” Oddly, the Sens have never signed an offensively talented NCAA FA defenseman (it’s always been forwards).
Jake Livingstone, RD, DOB 99 (3*) – (38-8-27-35) “Doesn’t have a ton of offensive skill and his mobility is just OK. Livingston is a 6-foot-3, intelligent, two-way defenseman though.” Can’t skate, no hands, but he’s big? Dorion likely got weak at the knees just hearing that (Andreas Englund but he doesn’t cost a 2nd-round pick!). Signed by Nashville.
Austen Swankler, C, DOB 01 (4*) – (35-19-25-44) “He can create a lot with his offensive creativity. The big knock on Swankler was his skating, which used to be terrible. It’s still not an asset, but it’s improved notably.” This is very much in the wheelhouse of the early days when Ottawa was trying to find scoring in the NCAA.
Victor Ostman, G, DOB 00 (5) – (.918) “I find his reads and puck tracking can be somewhat inconsistent but I think there’s a lot of talent to bet on.” If this season has proven anything it’s that the Sens need more goaltending depth; their efforts to find that in the NCAA have been mixed.
Riese Gaber, RW, DOB 99 (8*) – (39-20-17-37) “Skating is excellent and … he gives an honest effort every night.” The Sens do value character/effort highly.
Hunter McKown, C, DOB 02 (9) – (38-21-7-28) “Overall compete can be inconsistent too and he’s probably not a pro center. The skill and scoring touch will be worth a team taking a gamble on.” Signed by Buffalo.
Luke Krys, RD, DOB 00 (11) – (30-2-14-16) “Skate and competes well … a lot better a defender than his [older] brother [Chad] was, but he doesn’t have near the offensive abilities and whether he can move pucks versus pros will be his challenge.” Lack of puck skills have never troubled the Sens as long as he’s gritty.
Travis Mitchell, LD, DOB 99 (12) – (32-6-12-18) “Competes well and could be a solid pro defender. His skating is fine for his size but not a major selling point. Whether he can move pucks versus men will be [his] main challenge.” As I’ve said above, puck skills on the blueline never seem like a heavy emphasis for the org (Macoy Erkamps, below, might have had the worst hands I’ve ever seen in the AHL). Signed by the Islanders.
Anton Malmstrom, LD, DOB 00 (13) – (33-3-3-6) “Can skate very well for a defender his size. … has very little to no puck game though and his hockey sense will be a major question at higher levels.” Sounds like Andreas Englund. Signed by St. Louis.
Cooper Black, G, DOB 01 (14) – (.899) “Closer to 6-foot-9. His technique is rather smooth given that large frame and he shows good hockey sense in net. Not surprisingly, his lower half is a little heavy and how quickly he can move will be his main challenge for the pro game, but Black still moves fairly well for a guy his size.” The Sens love size in net.
Collin Graf, RW, DOB 02 (15*) – (37-20-35-55) “His vision and his shot are major assets and inside the offensive zone…. He can play way too much on the perimeter, though, and his skating isn’t ideal for the pro game.” The Sens have rarely (if ever) signed a perimeter FA (albeit they traded for one in DeBrincat).
Jacob Bengtsson, LD, DOB 99 (20) – (36-1-22-23) “Offensive touch isn’t that great, but he can make a good outlet pass and shows instances of O-zone playmaking. Bengtsson’s skating will be his major issue for the NHL.” Nothing that would scare the Sens away.
Jaxon Nelson, C, DOB 00 (21) – (36-8-14-22) “Skating is fine for a 6-foot-4 guy…. He has decent skill. I don’t think he’ll be a big scorer versus men but there’s enough talent to his game to be intriguing for the next level.” He’s big, so Dorion’s hand is creeping towards his phone.
Akito Hirose, LD, DOB 99 (22) – (37-4-23-27) “Strong skater … has strong playmaking abilities … whether he can defend men will be a question. His skating will help him, but I wouldn’t call him the hardest to play against defenseman.” With the exception of Erkamps, the Sens have only signed blueliners who (at least in theory) are hard to play against. Signed by Vancouver.
Jason Polin, RW, DOB 99 (24*) – (38-29-17-46) “Good hands, and has scored a lot of goals the last two seasons in college. I do have some questions about how natural a play driver he is.” The Sens have signed a few players like this (watching Matthew Wedman (7-199/19 Fla) skate for Belleville causes me mental anguish). Signed by Colorado.
T. J. Hughes, C, DOB 01 (26) – (36-13-20-33) “Skilled and intelligent center … skating is just OK.” A reminder that skating doesn’t worry the org.
Ryan Siedem, RD, DOB 01 (27) – (33-1-16-17) “Skating has historically been his issue and it’s still not a strength, but given his frame and sense I can see someone taking a shot on him.” See above.
Max Sasson, C, DOB 00 (28*) – (37-15-27-42) “Works hard enough with his feet to potentially play a lower role on a team. The question with him will be offense.” The Sens like hard workers, so the possibility is there. Signed by Vancouver.
Ryan McAllister, LW, DOB 01 (29*) – (38-13-35-48) “A lot of skill and offensive creativity. He’s an undersized winger who’s a fine but not great skater and plays a lot on the perimeter.” Perimeter players are not commonly signed. Signed by Florida.
David Silye, C, DOB 99 (NR*) – (38-23-16-39) Described as a powerplay specialist. The Sens have never signed someone with that as their selling point (some people might argue about Stephane Da Costa, but he was supposed to be an everyday player).
Matt Brown, LW, DOB 99 (NR*) – (36-15-29-44) Another powerplay specialist (if not as potent as Silye above). See analysis above as well.
Yaniv Perets, G, DOB 00 (NR*) – (.929) Projected as a team’s third goaltender. At just 6’1, I’m not sure he fits into the Sens effort to sign only giants as goaltenders. Signed by Carolina.
Devon Levi, G, DOB 01 (NR*) – (7-212/20 Fla; .933) Projected as a backup, he was signed by Buffalo.

One of the common themes above is skating issues, which is something the Sens think they can overcome (and to be fair, they have made some awful skaters merely bad or even average).

Ottawa’s History with NCAA/CHL/European Free Agents

How have the Sens done with such players? Let’s take a look at the record (skaters with at least a season’s worth of NHL action are in green, as are goalies with 40 or more games; those who utterly failed are in red):
Jesse Winchester, NCAA (2008) – How quickly people forget the buzz that he was going to be the other winger with Spezza and Heatley when signed; 285-20-50-70, never scoring more than 18-points in a season (Curtis Lazar without using a 1st-round pick)
Bobby Butler, NCAA (2009) – Another supposed scoring winger; 130-20-29-49, now playing in the ECHL; he gets points for the Boston accent
Craig Schira, WHL (2009) – After three declining seasons in the org, he’s since spent his career in Europe (the SHL for the last 9 years)
Stephane da Costa, NCAA (2010) – Dynamic offensive forward who maybe could have found a home in the NHL, but there was much more money in the KHL (where he continues to play to this day); perhaps best known for getting hammered; 47-7-4-11
David Dziurzynski, BCHL (2010) – The man known as Dizzy, he was a big, grinding power forward; spent six straight seasons and part of another with the org (probably best known for being KO’d in the NHL); stopped playing pro after a few years in the ECHL; 26-3-3-6
Pat Cannone, NCAA (2011) – Three unremarkable seasons with the org; now retired; 3-0-0-0
Wacey Hamilton, WHL (2011) – A pest/energy player; spent three years with the org; now retired
Cole Schneider, NCAA (2012) – Another scoring winger; nearly five years with the org; still playing in the AHL; 6-0-1-1
Buddy Robinson, NCAA (2012) – Checking winger; nearly five years with the org; a useful minor pro who is still kicking around; 58-3-6-9
Andrew Hammond, NCAA (2013) – We all know and love the Hamburglar; over four years with the org; currently in the KHL; 67 games played and a worthy third-goaltender
Ludwig Karlsson, NCAA (2013) – One disappointing season with the org; now retired
Garrett Thompson, NCAA (2013) – One disappointing season with the org; now retired
Troy Rutkowski, WHL (2013) – Was unable to be an AHL regular through three seasons; currently playing in Europe
Matt O’Connor, NCAA (2015) – Goaltender of the future when signed; two seasons with the org and now playing in Europe; 1 NHL game
Macoy Erkamps, WHL (2015) – Two seasons with the org where he was unable to be a regular player; now playing in Europe; the worst signed defensemen I’ve ever seen play for the org

Jordan Murray, USports (2016) – Blueliner spent three seasons with the org (putting up decent AHL numbers) and now plays in Europe
Ryan Scarfo, NCAA (2017) – Traded almost immediately; now plying his trade in the ECHL
Aaron Luchuk, OHL (2017) – Big CHL scorer bombed out; after a couple of ECHL seasons he’s now playing in Europe
Boston Leier, USports (2017) – Played one season with the team; now retired
Andrew Sturtz, NCAA (2018) – Part of one season; now in the ECHL
Jonathan Aspirot, QMJHL (2019) – In his fourth season with the org with his production unchanged; while a solid AHL-contributor, I’m not sure what the org thinks they got out of giving him an ELC
Parker Kelly, WHL (2019) – An energy player; this is his fourth year with the org and he’s essentially the 13th forward (so Curtis Lazar without using a 1st-round pick); 97-9-8-17
Olle Alsing, SHL (2019) – Part of one season with the org; back in Sweden; 4-0-0-0
Chris Clapperton, USports (2019) – One season; now retired
Max Veronneau, NCAA (2019) – Most of one season; currently struggling in San Jose’s org after dominating in Sweden
Artem Zub, KHL (2020) – Diamond in the rough–the org hit a homerun; 169-12-33-45
Xavier Bernard, QMJHL (2021) – Season and a half before being jettisoned

What constitutes success when dealing with such players? ELCs aren’t being signed to create good AHL pros–the intent is to be useful to the NHL lineup, even if they aren’t regulars. I accept that it’s impossible for all signings (or even 50%) to work out, but unlike with the draft, these are usually older players, so scouts ought to have had far more time to assess what they are getting.

Artem Zub – They found a regular, top-four blueliner for free, which is incredible–top marks for that (especially given the orgs general disinterest in players who play in Russia)
Andrew Hammond – Not just for his remarkable run, but for being a solid third goaltender for various orgs
Jesse Winchester – An unremarkable regular fourth-liner on a mediocre-to-bad Ottawa team (missing the playoffs two of his four seasons and losing in the first round in the others); he’s a success, but at the bottom of what that term could mean

Parker Kelly – For me the jury is still out–the Sens have so many players like him who have more talent I wouldn’t be surprised to see him out of the org sooner than later
Buddy Robinson – While not an NHL-regular, he’s good enough to be a call-up and there’s some value in that
Stephane da Costa – We’ll never know if he could have been something more, but unlike Butler there are signs that his NHL potential was never fully realized
Bobby Butler – More than 100 games in the NHL, but all of that was early in his career when there were hopes he could show more and instead he fizzled out badly

Broadly that’s 7 out of 27 players, which is not great (25%), but the more important number is how many have played two or more full NHL seasons and it’s just 2 (Zub and Winchester); that’s a 7% success ratio (akin to picking in the 7th round of the draft, cf). You’d expect better with so much more time to assess the players (as much as a 1st-round pick gets, and the org has done much better in that scenario, cf).

We can also see some trends in where the org has looked for free agents and what kind of player they were:
NCAA: 13 (5-13) – From 2019 onward the Sens have only signed one college FA
CHL: 9 (1-9) – No noticeable change
USport: 3 (0-3) – The Canadian university experiment lasted from 2016-19
Europe: 2 (1-2) – The only two signings are from 2019-20
Offense (3-11*): Winchester, Butler, da Costa, Cannone, Schneider, Thompson, Murray, Scarfo, Luchuk, Sturtz, Veronneau
Grit/Character (3-14): Schira, Dziurzynski, Hamilton, Robinson, Karlsson, Rutkowski, Erkamps, Leier, Aspirot, Kelly, Alsing, Clapperton, Zub, Bernard
*None could translate their offense to the NHL

Lest we forget, Trent Mann said back in 2018 that the org didn’t want to gamble on skill anymore and that’s largely been true since his tenure (Veronneau would be the starkest exception). I think the small number of players from Europe is more about Ottawa as a destination than disinterest from the org–certainly signing a player from Russia is something Bryan Murray gave up on after a number of failures (Kaigorodov comes to mind). The massive decline in NCAA signings I assume is related to how rarely they’ve turned out–the days of top players falling through the cracks seems largely gone. As for the CHL, it’s difficult to imagine a league that’s more heavily scouted, so I wouldn’t expect the success rate to be high (and most of those signings have been for depth anyway). I’m not sure what was behind the USport effort, but nothing came of it and clearly the Sens have given up on that route. The type of players has changed with Mann looking for character, energy, pest, and defensive players as prospects.

This article was written by Peter Levi

Sens Sign Olle Alsing

The Sens have notoriously avoided signing free agents out of Europe going back to the days of Bryan Murray. Instead we had an endless stream of NCAA and CHL players, none of whom have ever panned out. Pierre Dorion finally took a shot in the dark and signed Swedish defenseman Ollie Alsing, so let’s take a look at him.

Olle Alsing, DOB 96, DL
2016-17 SHL 45-1-7-8 (0.17, 6th)
2017-18 SHL 51-7-14-21 (0.41, 2nd)
2018-19 SHL 49-4-11-15 (0.30, 3rd)

These aren’t overwhelming offensive numbers, but as a young player he’s been near the top of his team’s defensive production the last two seasons. So what did scouts think when he was available for the draft? Among the scouting sources I track only Hockey Prospects included a scouting profile for him in 2015 when he was eligible. Here’s what they said:

… a slight defenseman with quick feet that effectively starts up plays from the back end, often before the opponents have the time to shut down his best option or put pressure on him. He has decent puck skills, his head up and he immediately recognizes the best passing lane available. When no good one is available straight away, he has the notable capability of waiting an extra split second for a lane to open up. He takes some risks, but overall his passing game is excellent and certainly his main strength. He doesn’t mind joining the play in the offensive zone, but doesn’t possess great acceleration to make up for it when he gets caught.

… Olle doesn’t look intimidated by bigger opponents, but inevitably his size [5’11] somewhat limits his defensive efficiency. How he would fare against the most talented forwards in the top Swedish league is a question mark, and he certainly will have to bulk up to increase his chances to succeed at the next level.

We can boil this down to: decent puck skills, a good passer, solid defensively, but concerns about his board/body play.

It’s notoriously difficult to project European production to North America (you can find plenty of people who do, but the averages tend to fail miserably when applied to individuals), but nothing screams out at me to say he’s going to be particularly productive–his numbers are similar to Christian Jaros, but they are very different players so I’m not sure how far you can take that. He’s almost certainly going to be an effective AHL player, but fans will want to know about the next level. I think the ceiling is pretty limited here–he’d be a very safe, depth defenseman, although there’s no harm in hoping for more. Nichols has an article looking at the signing as well (paywall), as does Ross A, whose prediction that lumbering dud Andreas Englund will be resigned is, I hope, some sort of fever dream.

This article is written by Peter Levi (@eyeonthesens

Max Veronneau (and other recent FA Signings)

There was a time, years ago, where I would have been excited about the Sens signing a college free agent, but given the org’s long history of failure with NCAA (from John Muckler through Byran Murray to Pierre Dorion) it’s hard to get excited. There was a time when these players were at least top AHL-talent, but even that assessment has become iffy under Dorion’s regime. With that said, let’s take a look at Max Veronneau.

Max Veronneau (RW, DOB 95)
15-16 30-11-6-17 (0.56) 2nd team scoring
16-17 33-11-24-35 (1.06) 1st
17-18 36-17-38-55 (1.52) 1st
18-19 31-13-24-37 (1.19) 2nd

The local boy (Dorion’s favourite) spent his entire career playing with Ryan Kuffner (signed by Detroit; he attended the Sens development camp the previous summer) and their numbers are extremely close, with the younger Kuffner being ever so slightly better (1.15 over his career vs 1.11). This means we have to ask the question of how much Veronneau benefited from his teammate. Unlike most college FA’s there are no scouting reports from when he was draft-eligible, so we only have the historical record to go by which (for NCAA free agents) is not particularly encouraging. The odds of him being a significant contributor are very small, so the optimistic appraisal is that he becomes a useful bottom-six forward.

There were two other BSens related signings I wanted to quickly go through.

Miles Gendron (3-70/14, DL, DOB 96)
17-18 33-1-8-9 (0.27)
18-19 30-3-4-7 (0.23)

The career 0.26 NCAA performer was picked a bit early at the time and his production and performance since has not changed (keeping in mind he was selected to be an offensive defenseman)–he was an unremarkable player in the BCHL and just as unremarkable in the NCAA. He’s been signed to an AHL contract and barring a miracle will disappear into the ECHL next season.

Chris Clapperton (5-122/13 Flo, LW, DOB 94)
17-18 23-16-17-33 (1.43) 1st
18-19 30-14-33-47 (1.56) 1st

Another player from the Canadian University system and another smaller player (5’9); signed to an ATO he’s a safe risk and I’m happy with this kind of signing. Unlike Veronneau there are scouting reports on him from 2012 and 2013. Here’s what Hockey Prospects said in his draft year:

He’s a hard worker and doesn’t shy away from the physical game and will go in the tough areas of the ice. Solid in all three zones and he’s a smart player that doesn’t put his team in trouble. His smarts help him get open for goals as he follows the play really well and finds soft ice easily. Like last season, his skating will hurt him come draft day, he has quick feet but lacks high end speed, something you like to see from a small player. His offensive game would be limited at the next level as he doesn’t have big strengths: his skill set is pretty average, lacking size and high end speed, he doesn’t possess a particularly lethal shot, his passing game is simple and effective but again just average.

At the University level Clapperton had no problem producing, but whether he can carry that over in the AHL remains to be seen.

This article is written by Peter Levi (@eyeonthesens)

Senators News & Notes

Melnyk Boro

Christmas does come early sometimes and Eugene Melnyk offered us an early present with a delightfully awkward ‘promotional’ video featuring everyone’s favourite local boy/character guy/good-in-the-corners Sen Mark Borowiecki. For some fans this ridiculous spectacle might be the straw that broke the camel’s back in terms of their perception of Melnyk/the org, while for myself it’s simply another in a long line of examples of his issues as an owner. Chris Stevenson (paywall) breaks it down and among the hilarity is this from Eugene:

I think this coming year, we’re going to have 10 out of the 22 players are going to be new, meaning they’re either rookies or they’ve played maybe under 10 games last year. Then the following year, it’s going to go up to about 15 of the 22, maybe 16.

Forgive me if I don’t recall, but when did Melnyk announce himself as GM? Since he’s making personnel decisions, his lackey (Pierre Dorion) must be working the phones hard to clear space for ten rookies. When I went over the potential BSen lineup like a sane person I was assuming only Colin WhiteLogan Brown and Christian Wolanin (among those with AHL-eligibility) would play regularly with the Sens and while it wouldn’t be difficult to imagine Brady Tkachuk and (possibly) even Alex Formenton on the team, arriving at ten rookies isn’t easy. Admittedly, I’m confident Melnyk made up both numbers on the spot (he wouldn’t be cap compliant with sixteen), and what does ‘either rookies or under ten games’ mean anyway–if they’ve played ten games they are still rookies. It’s the kind of stupid (audacious?) statement that routinely comes out of his mouth. He then added:

you are not going to win

That has to buoy ticket sales. I agree with him, incidentally (see below), but I’m not sure the Sens marketing folks are going to jump for joy at hearing that. Stevenson is correct, I believe, in translating Melnyk to mean he’s dumping his expensive players and going cheap for a rebuild (or sorts) while expressing it in the worst way possible. This isn’t a surprise and I’m glad it shatters any illusions the fanbase might have had that we were going to get a sensible way out of this clusterfuck. This does, btw, fit Steve Lloyd and Gord Wilson’s ebullient prospect praise as they fall in line with where the org is going. I suspect TSN 1200 is going to be pumping the tires of prospects as hard as they did in 2011 to provide some hope (for those interested in a perspective founded in the scouting material go here).

Funnily enough I actually approve of the idea of a rebuild in abstract, but it requires a better scouting apparatus, a better GM, and a better owner.


The Athletic‘s Dom Luszczyszyn previewed (paywall) the Sens and ripped them apart–great analysis that has no local bias impacting it. Dom projects them to finish the season with a meager 77 points (which is slightly higher than the other methodologies he references, providing a range of 71-77 points). He’s not a fan of org favourties Tom Pyatt, Max McCormick, Borowiecki, Ceci, or the goaltending (nor am I). It’s fully worth the read, although for those who’ve been paying attention I don’t think you’ll find his analysis or conclusions surprising.

Image result for final countdown

The Silver Seven completed its countdown of the top Sens prospects and I wanted to comment on it (you can see my list here). My intention is to both assess it and make suggestions for how it can be improved. As I’ve mentioned previously I wish prospect analysts would cite scouting reports and (where available) statistical data in their assessment, but The Silver Seven doesn’t have a universal approach–each writer does their own thing (I’m not a huge fan of the under-25 format either, since there’s a big difference in a known pro quantity like Cody Ceci and a college free agent like Andrew Sturtz). Some of the writers are more or less unfamiliar with players who haven’t appeared at the NHL level–this is understandable, but if that’s the case, why not divide the prospects up to suit the comfort level of the writer? Let’s briefly go the material:

  • Ary (Joel Daccord, Francis Perron, Markus Nurmi, Alex Formenton) – thoroughly researched and analyzed, hunting down information that isn’t easily accessible; they are among the best of the articles written for the series
  • Ross A (Parker Kelly, Ben Harpur, Jacob Bernard-Docker, Brady Tkachuk) – he’s inconsistent; a largely descriptive piece for Kelly rather than analytical (when I mentioned it would help to have included scouting material he subsequently added it); his Harpur piece is good, albeit none of the AHL or amateur scouting material is used; the JB-D article is solid, but more scouting material would help (multiple reports offer a clearer picture); the Tkachuk piece is well-rounded (although it includes notes from development camp which isn’t something I’d bother with)
  • Beata Elliott (Andreas Englund, Nick Paul, Thomas Chabot) – her Englund scouting link is actually an Ottawa Citizen article where Englund talks about himself (which isn’t that useful); she does better with Paul’s NHL-side, but the complete lack of amateur scouting material or AHL-elements means the content doesn’t add much to our picture of him; her Chabot material has neither scouting or analytics material whatsoever which is very disappointing (Beata’s comment that she doesn’t pay much attention to prospects makes me wonder why she’s writing about them)
  • Colin Cudmore (Jonathan Gruden, Jonathan Tychonick, Filip Chlapik) – he’s very thorough on Gruden with statistical data included; the Tychonick piece is also good, although I would have liked more than just one scouting report to work on (for a balanced picture); Chlapik’s is quite thorough (and includes the AHL data)
  • B_T (Cody Ceci, Colin White) – his Ceci piece is excellent and packed with analysis; the White post is strong on the limited NHL sample, but has nothing useful from his many games in the AHL (his comment that he doesn’t really follow prospects makes me question why he’s writing about them–and if you are, at least put the effort in to be thorough)
  • Spencer Blake (Maxime Lajoe, Gabriel Gagne, Logan Brown) – starts off as descriptive with Lajoie, but does use the AHL-material (amateur scouting would have been nice as well, but it’s not a crippling absence); his Gagne piece is only descriptive, which sadly means it adds very little (there’s no AHL material or amateur scouting material); conversely the Brown piece is very good, featuring very useful statistical analysis
  • NKB (Aaron Luchuk, Marcus Hogberg) – Luchuk is only descriptive with no scouting material; his Hogberg profile is better (I’m happy he linked my AHL stuff, but it would have been nice to see it used for analysis)
  • N_Dew (Christian Jaros, Drake Batherson, Filip Gustavsson, Chrisian Wolanin) – purely descriptive for Jaros & Batherson with the only insights via SensProspects about Development Camp (!)–there’s no scouting reports used for Wolanin (not even the SensProspects treatment); there’s a scouting report for Gustavsson (although as I’ve said earlier, you want multiple when you can get them), but not much else

The content of the list is wildly inconsistent–among absolute gems is useless fluff (descriptors with highlights). The latter approach would be fine if that was the aim, but the point of the list is assessing players to justify their place on it and as it is I don’t think it works. My suggestion to The Silver Seven is to provide guidance to the contributors and help them out with material–the scouting reports aren’t that hard to find (I have it all here, but Google is another good resource); the AHL material is harder to find (in many instances I’m the only source), but it is available. Statistical and/or comparative analysis would be wonderful as well (where it has been used it adds a great deal).

My favourite two profiles were on Nurmi (Ary) and Gruden (Colin); the worst were Wolanin, Jaros, and Batherson (all Dew) and Chabot (Beata), which are pretty big misses. I can’t fully compare their final list to my own because of our different methodologies, but we can put their rankings next to my own (for the ‘why’ of my list just follow the link):

1. Filip Gustavsson – #8
2. Marcus Hogberg – #14
3. Kevin Mandolese – NR
4. Jordan Hollett – NR
5. Joel Daccord – #24

1. Jonny Tychonick – #12
2. Christian Wolanin – #6
3. Christian Jaros – #11
4. Jacob Bernard-Docker – #13
5. Maxime Lajoie – #17
6. Julius Bergman – NR
7. Andreas Englund – #23
8. Macoy Erkamps – NR

1. Logan Brown – #2
2. Brady Tkachuk – #4
3. Filip Chlapik – #5
4. Drake Batherson – #9
5. Gabriel Gagne – #16
6. Colin White – #3
7. Alex Formenton – #10
8. Andrew Sturtz – NR
9. Aaron Luchuk – #15
10. Francis Perron – #21
11. Todd Burgess – NR
12. Markus Nurmi – #20
13. Parker Kelly – #25
14. Jakov Novak – NR
15. Nick Paul – #19
16. Adam Tambellini – NR
17. Johnny Gruden – #22
18. Angus Crookshank – NR
19. Filip Ahl – NR
20. Jack Rodewald – NR
21. Luke Loheit – NR

Due to my approach I don’t have Chabot (#1), Ceci (#7), or Harpur (#18) listed.


With training camps around the corner we can finally look at which free agent prospects were signed as well as how many were picked from my 2018 list of European free agents. It’s an auspicious year for me as 12 players from that list were signed, along with 5 from previous lists (2 from 2017, 1 from 2016, 1 from 2015, and 1 from 2012–Kovar, although the Islanders are getting him on the decline after he spent his best years in the KHL). This year see’s a decline in NCAA signings, once by far the largest pool of FA talent for NHL teams (last year it was 24 NCAA, 21 Europe, and 9 CHL). The pendulum has swung to Europe this year, which might be due to improved scouting. I’ve highlighted those from the 2018 list in bold and added italics for those from earlier lists:

Europe (35): Vincent Praplan (SJ), Niclas Westerholm (Nsh), Lukas Radil (SJ), Yannick Rathgeb (NYI), Miroslav Svoboda (Nsh–originally drafted by Edm), Dominik Kahun (Chi), Michael Lindqvist (NYR), Juuso Ikonen (Wsh), Ville Meskanen (NYR), Filip Pyrochta (Nsh), Maximilian Kammerer (Wsh), Carl Persson (Nsh – attended Ott’s development camp in 2018), Lawrence Pilut (Buf), Igor Ozhiganov (Tor), Par Lindholm (Tor), Joel Persson (Edm), Saku Maenalanen (Car–originally drafted by Nsh), Juuso Riikola (Pit), Yegor Yakovlev (NJ), Kevin Lankinen (Chi), Patrik Rybar (Det), Ilya Lyubushkin (Ari), Michal Moravcik (Mtl), David Sklenicka (Mtl), Jacob Nilsson (Chi), Bogdan Kiselevich (Flo), Antti Suomela (SJ), Marcus Hogstrom (Cal), Yasin Ehliz (Cal), Brooks Macek (LVK), Martin Bakos (Bos), Michael Fora (Car), Veini Vehvilainen (Clb; drafted rather than signed), Jan Kovar (NYI), Sergei Shumakov (Wsh)
NCAA (18): Zach Frye (SJ), Zach Whitecloud (VGK), Merrick Madsen (Ari–originally drafted by Phi), Cooper Marody (Edm–originally drafted by Phi), Cam Johnson (NJ), Mitch Reinke (Stl), Eric Robinson (Clb), Andrew Sturtz (Ott), Daniel Brickley (LA), Sheldon Rempal (LA), Josh Dickinson (Col), Tony Calderone (Dal), Karson Kuhlman (Bos), Andrew Oglevie (Buf), Jordan Gross (Ari), Ross Colton (TB), Joel L’Esperance (Dal), Logan O’Connor (Col)
CHL (8): Patrick Bajkov (Flo), Hayden Verbeek (Mtl), Tanner Jeannot (Nsh), Alexandre Alain (Mtl), Brad Morrison (LA–originally drafted by NYR), Aaron Luchuk (Ott), Skyler McKenzie (Win), Vladislav Kotkov (SJ)

This article is written by Peter Levi (@eyeonthesens)

Senators News & Notes

Image result for dodgeball cotton

The Sens initial dip into the free agency pool echoed their usual tendencies. They went back to the well with an familiar face, signing 35-year old goaltender Mike McKenna. They followed that up with a more impactful signing–one with another org connection as they picked up former Troy Mann player Paul Carey. The latter move I’m okay with–it could be a good one–but I’m concerned about the former.

Mike McKenna, GR, DOB 1983
2015-16 Portland .921 2.45
2016-17 Springfield/Syracuse .905 2.84
2017-18 Texas .909 2.64

The trend in his numbers is clear–he’s in decline–but a strong playoff run and org familiarity (he was with the Binghamton Senators in 2011-12) were enough for the Sens to sign the veteran. The worry, besides simply having three goaltenders on the roster, is that his save percentage (27th in the league this season and 33rd the year before) is not going to magically improve. The glass half full opinion would say he’s insurance for Filip Gustavsson/Marcus Hogberg without obviously needing the starter mantel. My issue with this idea is he’s not an elite goaltender so he represents mediocrity at best while taking development time away from one of the Swedes. If the BSens were going to be a top-AHL team I think you could make the argument about riding a veteran ‘tender for playoff success, but that’s not the case and with two talented prospects I’m not a fan of the three-headed monster in goal. How Troy Mann uses him will be interesting to watch, but if we were in the Kleinendorst era it would be McKenna-McKenna-McKenna all season.

Paul Carey, CL, DOB 1988
2015-16 Hershey 44-13-18-31 (0.70)
2016-17 Hershey 55-24-31-55 (1.00)
2017-18 NYR 60-7-7-14 (0.23)

Undrafted NCAA grad earned an NHL shot with the Rangers this past season which didn’t pan out for the 29-year old; that said, his AHL-numbers are solid (career 0.63) and adding a scoring veteran to a roster that’s struggled to score in four of the last five seasons is a good thing. A big plus for me is he’s not an agitator/goon (ala Tyler Randell/Eric Selleck/Zack Stortini etc) or a “good in the corners guy” (ala Mike Blunden), so he can genuinely play the game and (hopefully) produce. Troy Mann clearly trusts him so I’d expect him to get top minutes.

Eligible Players Not at Development Camp

I thought I’d briefly go over the five players who could have attended camp and did not:

  • Thomas Chabot – presumably the org told him he needn’t attend (a tendency for high-end, graduated prospects)
  • Francis Perron – presumably still recovering from injury (he last played January 27th)
  • Andreas Englund – could be injury-related, although he did play in Belleville’s final game
  • Macoy Erkamps – as above, although I’m sure the org wants to divest themselves of him at this stage
  • Filip Ahl – I assume he’s absent due to health reasons

Thoughts on the Development Camp Scrimmage

I don’t put much stock in development camp performances (I can vividly remember Eric Gryba skating through guys back in the day), but I thought I’d go over the scrimmage from a few days ago (which you can watch here; team white winning 6-3)–it was much more entertaining than last year’s. Incidentally, when the Sens began having a 5-on-5 scrimmage in camp they initially held it the first full day, which never made sense to me, so I’m glad this was further into it. It’s of note that the play-by-play guys (Steve Lloyd and A. J. Jakubec) spent air-time defending the Brady Tkachuk pick from fan-criticisms–something that would not have been the case even six-seven years ago.
First Period
-Chalpik’s zone entries remain the same–the wide swing around the boards going from one side to the other looking to dish the puck off at the half boards (very effective if his linemates know what he’s doing)
-Wolanin with a lazy turnover
-D’Astous threw a hit on Tralmaks and just bounced off
-Loheit goes for the knee on Lyle
1. (White) Jaros breaks up a pass, but three players converge on Burgess who makes a great pass to a wide open Crookshank who scores stick-side on Gustavsson
-Hogberg makes a nice save on White
-Formenton just misses receiving a nice pass through traffic from Chlapik for a breakaway
-Burzan wins a battle against Leier which leads to a scoring chance by Lynch (erased by a stick-check from Kuffner)
-White with a nice pass to Loheit who deflects it wide
-Jaros fires a bullet wide in the slot
-Kaldis takes away a scoring chance
2. (Red) Lyle deflects in Burzan’s pass
-Lillibridge flubs an open chance on the PP
3. (White) Great pass by Chlapik to Nurmi who puts it off the post and in on the PP
-Gustavsson with a great stop off Wolanin in the slot
4. (White) Batherson turns it over and Tralmaks beats Gustavsson with a deke
-Tychonick throws it up the middle to the wrong team (Tralmaks) and Gustavsson makes a nice save on Leier
5. (Red) Off the same play White deflects in Batherson’s centering pass
-Great stop by Hogberg off Stewart
-Stewart runs Kelly
-Gustavsson with a nice stop off Chlapik
-Jaros with a big hit on Jordan
-Gendron throws a blind backhander up the middle from his own goal and is very lucky it isn’t intercepted inside the blueline
Second Period
-Stewart runs Leier
-Lynch stopped by Hollett on a breakaway
-Novak hits the post
-Jordan out muscles and out skates D’Astous and gets a weak backhander on Gustavsson
-Scarfo stoned by Hollett on a mini-breakaway
-Novak misses the net with a one-timer in the slot
-Hollett stones Gruden
-Hollett stops Gruden on a penalty shot
6. (Red) Lajoie fans on a rebound into the open net, but the puck goes to Sturm who puts it in
-Scheid prevents a goal (wrap-around into an empty net as Daccord over commits)
-Chlapik stopped on an odd-man rush SH by Daccord
7. (White) Burgess with a one-timer off a pass by Crookshank
Third Period
-Mandolese with a nice save off Sturtz
-MacLeod knees Lajoie
-Mandolese stops Sturtz
-Daccord with a stop on Chlapik
-Kaldis makes a good defensively play on Jaros
8. (White) Tkachuk with an errant pass in his own zone which results in Jordan beating Daccord on a bad angle shot
-Mandolese stops an awkward Brown shot in close
9. (White) Nurmi beats Daccord with a bad angle shot
-Stewart blocks Gagne’s shot
-Stewart hurts White with a shot from the point

Scouting Reports on FA Signings

I dug up a couple of scouting reports on a pair of free agent players the Sens signed this past season (neither was ever ranked for the draft):

Aaron Luchuk 2015 report from HP (you can read an interview by Colin with him here):

He has good speed and will challenge defenders one on one. He has good puck handling ability…able to create offense with a deceptive shot. He works hard on the backcheck, keeping up with opposing forwards and was usually a key part of the Spitfires penalty kill. … His offensive upside is somewhat untapped playing behind several veterans, so as he moves up the depth chart he will be able to show more of the offense he displayed in minor midget.

Parker Kelly 2017 report from HP:

…relies on his exceptional skating skills and work ethic to create space. His agility and explosiveness are impressive and this allows him to win the majority of his puck races. He is elusive in the cycle game and can evade defenders with his stops and starts. …[able] to keep his feet moving and create turnovers. He is a consistent pest, and he can both strip pucks from defenders and breakup passes with his smart defensive positioning. … When he does have the puck, he continues to keep his feet moving and strives in the cycle game. …not…overly creative but he has above average on-ice vision and has shown that he can make plays through traffic. In addition, he likes to shoot the puck in stride, utilizing a high leg kick, and these shots are a heavy and accurate, forcing goalies to make tough saves. …may not develop into a dominant offensive player, but we expect him to continue to progress

Ottawa’s European Drafting

Random thought: I wonder if the absence of Swedes the last two drafts is in response to the Mikael Wikstrand situation (from the fall of 2015). This is around the time Ary M gave the org the tagline risk-averse, which remains just as true today. I’ve often thought the Alexei Kaigorodov situation from 2006 was a catalyst for the org to avoid drafting Russians and while it’s hard to imagine them going for a complete Swedish ban they do shy away from risk, so it’s food for thought.

Free Agent Signings

I’ve been tracking FA signings (specifically those who haven’t played in the NHL from Europe, the NCAA, etc) and while there are many yet to come I thought it was reasonable to offer an update. We’ll start with Europe since that’s what I cover regularly (my most recent list of likely signings is here). From that list eleven players have been taken (highlighted below), with four others from prior lists (Vincent Praplan and Par Lindholm from my 2017 list; Juuso Ikonen from my 2016 list, and Yasin Ehliz from my 2015 list).

Europe (33): Vincent Praplan (SJ), Niclas Westerholm (Nsh), Lukas Radil (SJ), Yannick Rathgeb (NYI), Miroslav Svoboda (Nsh–originally drafted by Edm), Dominik Kahun (Chi), Michael Lindqvist (NYR), Juuso Ikonen (Wsh), Ville Meskanen (NYR), Filip Pyrochta (Nsh), Maximilian Kammerer (Wsh), Carl Persson (Nsh – attended Ott’s development camp in 2018), Lawrence Pilut (Buf), Igor Ozhiganov (Tor), Par Lindholm (Tor), Joel Persson (Edm), Saku Maenalanen (Car–originally drafted by Nsh), Juuso Riikola (Pit), Yegor Yakovlev (NJ), Kevin Lankinen (Chi), Patrik Rybar (Det), Ilya Lyubushkin (Ari), Michal Moravcik (Mtl), David Sklenicka (Mtl), Jacob Nilsson (Chi), Bogdan Kiselevich (Flo), Antti Suomela (SJ), Marcus Hogstrom (Cal), Yasin Ehliz (Cal), Brooks Macek (LVK), Martin Bakos (Bos), Michael Fora (Car), Veini Vehvilainen (Clb; drafted rather than signed)
NCAA (16): Zach Frye (SJ), Zach Whitecloud (VGK), Merrick Madsen (Ari–originally drafted by Phil), Cooper Marody (Edm–originally drafted by Phi), Cam Johnson (NJ), Mitch Reinke (Stl), Eric Robinson (Clb), Andrew Sturtz (Ott), Daniel Brickley (LA), Sheldon Rempal (LA), Josh Dickinson (Col), Tony Calderone (Dal), Karson Kuhlman (Bos), Andrew Oglevie (Buf), Jordan Gross (Ari), Ross Colton (TB)
CHL (6): Patrick Bajkov (Flo), Hayden Verbeek (Mtl), Tanner Jeannot (Nsh), Alexandre Alain (Mtl), Brad Morrison (LA–originally drafted by NYR), Aaron Luchuk (Ott)

This article is written by Peter Levi (@eyeonthesens)

European Free Agents of Interest

I’ve been posting an article like this for years (lot’s of publications do something similar for undrafted NCAA players, but there isn’t the same focus on European leagues).  You can see last year’s list here; for a look at how to judge production in Europe and how it translates to the NHL, it’s explored here; you can see European free agent success stories here.  My focus is on players 25 and under (generally speaking older players are more known quantities). Seven players from last year’s list were subsequently signed (or, in one case, drafted), while overall teams signed 21 European free agents. A general note on the leagues: the KHL has the most high end talent available and this has pulled down the talent level of the SHL slightly (which is similar to the NLA); the Liiga is a notch below, but still better than the other European leagues (DEL, EBEL, etc). A final note: when I reference a player’s size below it’s not based on my own view of its importance, but rather the NHL’s outdated ideas about it.

Scoring ratios in the league are similar to the NHL
Michael Lindqvist RW DOB 94 5’11 33-20-14-34 1.03
Was putting up ever improving numbers in the Allsvenskan before this career season with Farjestad; he has two talented teammates who could be boosting his numbers (Dick Axelsson and Johan Ryno), but he’s also fifth in the league for PPG
Victor Olofsson W DOB 95 5’11 43-24-13-37 0.86
A former Buffalo draft pick (7-181/14), he’s having a career season with Frolunda where he’s the second-leading scorer (well behind Ryan Lasch) [My understanding was that the rights for Swedish players expired after three years, but as the Sabres have signed him it appears to be four]
Lawrence Pilut DL DOB 95 5’11 45-7-29-36 0.80
Undersized blueliner is having a career year with HV71–he not only leads the defense in scoring, but the entire roster (he also leads the league for defensemen); he was rated by a couple of scouting groups for the 2014 draft, but his size scared GMs away
Joel Persson DR DOB 94 5’11 44-5-25-30 0.68
It’s very rare for a player to jump from Division I to the SHL and put up good numbers (Max Friberg is an example, but he kept himself in Divison I to win with his home town, which is a very different circumstance), but that’s exactly what Persson has done with Vaxjo (third in the league); he’s far and away the most productive blueliner on the team–he’s benefiting from playing with Elias Pettersson, but that doesn’t take away from making such an impressive step-up
Axel Ottoson C/LW DOB 96 5’10 47-14-22-36 0.76
After struggling in the SHL with MODO he’s found his footing with Bjorkloven in the Allsvenskan; he’s tied in PPG with NCAA grad Austin Farley for the team lead and is still young enough where further development could happen (at his size though it’s not likely he’ll be signed)
Henrik Haukeland GL DOB 94 6’2 .930 1.69
Norwegian struggled last year in the SHL with Leksands, but he’s put up fantastic numbers with Timra in the Allsvenskan (leading the league in save percentage and GAA)
Robin Johansson GL DOB 95 6’2 .921 2.41
Spent a season getting crushed in the NAHL a few years ago, but he’s pushed his way out of Division I to have a strong season with Troja-Ljungby in the Allsvenskan
Robin Jensen GL DOB 96 6’2 .920 2.14
Graduated out of Division I to take the starting role with Pantern in the Allsvenskan

Par Lindholm, identified last year, is now 26, so out of the purview of this review (he is, however, among the league leaders in scoring).

Scoring in the league is just slightly below the NHL
Antti Suomela CL DOB 94 6’0 53-18-35-53 1.00
Was on my list last year and his numbers have only improved as he leads JYP in both points and PPG (he’s third in the league in the latter category); I’m not entirely sure what’s kept teams from taking a chance on him, but in the absence of scouting material to examine I can’t speculate
Ville Leskinen W DOB 94 6’1 44-22-21-43 0.97
Enjoying a career year with Karpat where he’s second on the team in PPG (behind French-national Charles Bertrand); it is a talented roster so that might be boosting his numbers (he’s fourth in the league in PPG)
Ville Meskanen W DOB 95 6’1 43-23-18-41 0.95
Having a career year with Ilves, leading the team in PPG (sixth in the league, making me less suspicious that his improvement is via teammates Sami Sandell and Teemu Rautiainen)
Saku Maenalanen W DOB 94 6’3 54-17-26-43 0.79
Drafted by Nashville long ago (5-125/13), he’s having a career year with a talented Karpat team (making me a little suspicious of his numbers); his size will help engage interest, although it’s no guarantee as his numbers aren’t overwhelming
Kevin Lankinen GL DOB 95 6’2 .952 1.19
Before collapsing in shock at his numbers with HIFK it’s worth remembering it’s a small sample size as a backup (he’s playing behind Atte Engren and 40-year old Niklas Backstrom)
Veini Vehvilainen GL DOB 97 6’0 .928 1.82
Turned 21 in February so might be eligible for the draft (NHL rules say up to 21, but Sebastian Aho was drafted in similar circumstances, so…), but his size makes it unlikely; he’s outplayed veteran Jussi Rynnas for the starting role on Karpat; most expected him to be taken in the 2015 draft (including me), with just CS including him in the 2016 rankings
Dominik Hrachovina GL DOB 94 5’10 .926 1.99
At his size I think a save percentage of .999 wouldn’t be enough for the Czech national, but I included him last year with similar numbers with Tappara so I’ll throw him in this time as well
Kaapo Kahkonen GL DOB 96 6’2 .924 2.18
Former Minnesota pick (4-109/14) has played a ridiculous 52 games for Lukko and put up similar numbers to last season [The same four-year rule for the SHL applies to the Liiga, so sadly he’s out of contention]

Scoring in the league is similar to the NHL
Pius Suter C/LW DOB 96 5’9 33-11-27-38 1.15
Ottawa had him in their camp this season, but cut him loose (no surprise given his size); with CHL pedigree he could get another shot (perhaps with a team like Tampa that isn’t scared by his stature)–he was expected to be drafted in 2015 and still listed by some in 2016
Dominik Kubalik LW DOB 95 6’2 23-9-17-26 1.13
Former LA pick (7-191/13) was signed by Ambri-Piotta after ripping up the Czech league and he’s done well in the NLA with the best PPG on the team; exposure on the Olympic squad won’t have hurt him (although his lackluster OHL career does)
Yannick Rathgeb DR DOB 95 6’1 38-8-20-28 0.73
Posted similar numbers last year with Fribourg-Gotteron and wasn’t signed (he was on my list), but he’s young and a right-hand shot so the chances are reasonable
Ivars Punnenovs GL DOB 94 6’1 .921 2.38
Latvian is on the borderline of acceptable size for the NHL; this is his third year with the Tigers and his best thus far

Scoring volume is similar to the NHL
Sergei Shumakov RW DOB 92 45-17-21-38 0.84
Continuing his gradual improvement over his KHL career (this season is his first with CSKA); he has a couple of talented teammates (Kirill Kaprizov and Maxim Shalunov), but his history indicates the production level is on his own merit
Vladimir Tkachyov (Tkachev) LW DOB 95 5’10 46-17-21-38 0.82
Former QMJHL prospect made my list last year posting up similar numbers, but either his size or salary demands kept him in Russia; after being far and away the most productive player on Vladivostok he was traded to a stacked Ufa team late in the season; he was expected to be drafted in both 2014 and 2015
Alexei Byvaltsev CL DOB 94 5’11 54-18-23-41 0.76
His size may or may not be an impediment, but he leads his Amur teammates by a significant margin; this is his most productive season since he was a teenager in the Kazahk league, so it could be an anomaly
Ilya Mikheyev RW DOB 94 6’2 52-19-18-37 0.71
Significantly leads his Omsk team in points (although Andre Petersson is close in PPG); he’d had no international exposure until this year and that might have stirred up some interest
Andrei Yermakov DR DOB 94 6’2 34-7-9-16 0.47
Ivan Vereshchagin DL DOB 95 6’3 48-5-17-22 0.45
Both players are enjoying their best numbers ever (by a considerable margin) with Sibir Novosibirsk, which makes me a little suspicious of them, even if it’s not obvious what’s driving their production (talented forwards is all I can point too)
Alexei Krasikov GL DOB 95 6’3 .939 1.95
Played about equal time with Alexander Salak for Novosibirsk and has far better numbers
Vasili Demchenko GL DOB 94 6’1 .930 2.52
Has spent his career with Traktor Chelyabinsk and gradually improved; he’s backing up Czech national goaltender (and Olympian) Pavel Francouz who has better numbers; CS listed him for the 2012 draft
Andrei Kareyev GL DOB 94 5’11 .930 2.22
Backing up Ben Scrivens for Ufa, but his size will likely scare GMs away

Other Leagues (DEL, Czech, etc)
It’s very infrequent for players to be signed directly from these leagues–typically a strong performance leads to playing for a better European league and then earning an NHL-contract–but there are exceptions (eg Libor Sulak was signed out of the EBEL by Detroit last season)
Dominik Kahun C/LW DOB 95 5’11 DEL 41-12-28-40 0.97
The DEL isn’t a great league, but he has good numbers and some GMs will be impressed by his Olympic performance; CS listed him for the 2015 draft
Brooks Macek C/RW DOB 92 5’11 DEL 49-26-18-44 0.90
Former WHLer and Detroit pick (6-171/10) might benefit from his Olympic exposure
Matej Paulovic LW DOB 95 6’3 Slovakia 46-26-19-45 0.98
Drafted by Dallas (5-149/13) the big winger had decent numbers in the USHL, but was never signed. Dominating the Slovak league isn’t that meaningful, but he’s far and away the best young pro there

Six of the players above were actually drafted (Olofsson, Maenalanen, Kahkonen, Kubalik, Macek, and Paulovic), with another six considered (Pilut, Vehvilainen, Suter, Tkachyov, Demchenko, and Kahun). This familiarity can boost the chances of being signed (eg Marcus Sorenson or Tomas Hyka etc, on the considered side, Victor Ejdsell, etc). Of the 32 or so players listed here I think we can expect a similar number from last year to be taken.

A final note: a big thank you to those who have made donations to me–putting these articles together is a lot of work and while it’s a passion I have donations make it possible for me to invest even more time and effort into it.

This article is written by Peter Levi (@eyeonthesens)

Sens Sign CHL FA Aaron Luchuk to an ELC

The always perceptive Ary has an excellent post on the signing today and I highly recommend reading through it. I don’t want to rehash what’s in his piece, but rather supplement it.

So for those who missed it, Aaron Luchuk is a 20-year old (21 in April), undersized (5’10) left-handed center who spent most of his career with Windsor (recently traded to Barrie). He sailed through the drafts largely undetected, but there is one scouting report I’ll quote below. Let’s just put his numbers up first:

Aaron Luchuk, CL, DOB 97, 5’10
2015-16 OHL (Windsor) 68-27-26-53 (0.78, 5th ppg)
2016-17 OHL (Windsor) 68-28-32-60 (0.89, 4th ppg)
2017-18 OHL (Windsor/Barrie) 33-31-25-56 (1.69, 1st ppg)

Luchuk joins FA signee Parker Kelly as the second undersized forward the Sens have signed this fall–has Randy Lee finally figured out that it isn’t 1997 anymore and that size isn’t a precursor to success? I really doubt it, but I can hope.

It’s worth noting prospects who put up big numbers only as overagers are less likely to replicate those as pros. Ary addresses those concerns:

a majority of Luchuk’s points are at even-strength and are primary points (a goal or the first assist). There’s been a ton of work at the NHL level to say that secondary assists are a bit noisy, and that primary points are better predictors of future point production, so they’re indicators we look for when projecting prospect performance. According to prospect-stats.com, 49 of Luchuk’s 60 points last year were primary points (P1/gm ranked 52nd in the league); 40 of those 60 points were scored at even-strength — a high percentage. This year, Luchuk is fourth in the league in even-strength points (29 points in 33 games) and he leads the league in primary points per game with 1.36

So all that being said, what do we have from scouts on him? Not much, as I said above, as he was never ranked for the draft. However, Hockey Prospects did write about him in the lead-up to the 2015 draft:

Luchuk who was a real offensive threat and a perennial scorer in Minor Midget has had to adapt to a lesser role in the OHL thus far in his career and has done a very good job of embracing the change. He was primarily utilized in a third or fourth line role for the Spitfires and used his strong skating ability to factor in both the offensive and defensive side of the game.
He has good speed and will challenge defenders one on one. He has good puck handling ability and was also able to create offense with a deceptive shot. He works hard on the backcheck, keeping up with  opposing forwards and was usually a key part of the Spitfires penalty kill. We believe Luchuk might receive a little late round consideration. His offensive upside is somewhat untapped playing behind several veterans, so as he moves up the depth chart he will be able to show more of the offense he displayed in minor midget.

There was nothing written about him either in 2016 or this year, so despite the numbers Ary mentions above NHL teams did not take a flyer on him (due either to his size or perhaps the perception that he benefits from those playing around him).

I agree wholeheartedly with Ary that he’s a worthwhile gamble–I always encourage gambles with skill–I’d rather fail on a player who might help my team than some lumbering tool who clogs up the arteries of a team.

This article is written by Peter Levi (@eyeonthesens)

European Free Agents of Interest


I’ve been posting a piece like this for years (lot’s of publications do something similar with undrafted NCAA players, but that’s never really translated elsewhere).  I find it interesting to see who NHL GM’s take a chance on and which of those actually turn out (a note for Sens fans: Ottawa doesn’t partake).  You can see last year’s list here.  For a look at how to judge production in Europe and how it translates to the NHL, go here; while you can see European free agent success stories here.  My focus is on players 25 and younger.

Scoring in the league is quite low
Johan Sundstrom, C, 24, 6’3 Frolunda 43-12-26-38
The first player listed that was actually drafted (2-50/11), spending three years spinning his tires in the Islanders system; that AHL experience may scare GM’s away, but equally they may think he wasn’t handled properly; he lead his team in both scoring and PPG (points-per-game)
Sebastian Aho D, 21, 5’10 Skelleftea 46-10-20-30
He could still be drafted, but has been passed over quite a few times already (he was ranked fairly highly in 2015, but largely forgotten last year); the reluctance is related to his size, but perhaps this year’s performance will be enough to overcome those fears (he’s second in the league in points and PPG among defensemen)
Par Lindholm, C, 25, 5’10 Skelleftea 35-14-15-29
Having a career year, albeit on a very talented team
Allsvenskan (tier-2)
Victor Ejdsell C/LW, 21, 6’5 Karlskoga 49-24-32-56
Given his size and gaudy numbers there’s a good chance someone will sign him

Scoring ratios are higher than in the SHL
Henrik Haapala LW/RW, 23, 5’9 Tappara 48-14-43-57
Leads the league in both scoring and points-per-game, perhaps enough production to overcome NHL objections to his size; his stats aren’t being boosted by exceptionally talented linemates, so at least by Liiga standards, the Finn has had an epic season
Iikka Kangasniemi LW/RW, 22, 5’8 Pelicans 42-10-28-38
Given that he’s on a talented team these numbers have to be taken with a grain of salt; his size also makes it unlikely he’ll get a look, but it remains a possibility
Antti Suomela C, 22, 6’0 JYP 50-20-20-40
Leads his team in scoring and PPG, albeit he may be the beneficiary of a pair of veteran linemates
Mikko Lehtonen D, 23, 6’0 KooKoo 43-6-19-25
Currently loaned to HV71 (SHL) where he has lower numbers, he’s the top-performing blueliner in this age group in the Liiga, although GM’s might want to see him in another league for a full-season before taking a chance on him
Alexandar Georgiyev G, 21, 6’1 TPS 1.63 .924
Could be drafted as an overager; having a career year leading all goaltenders in his age group in both GAA and save percentage
Dominik Hrachovina G, 22, 5’10 Tappara 2.05 .922
Having a similar season to his last (a better GAA, but same save percentage); he’s probably too short for NHL teams to sign him

Scoring is about on par with the Liiga
Lino Martschini RW, 24, 5’6 Zug 50-23-26-49
I’ve brought the diminutive player up before, but his size scares GM’s away
Vincent Praplan LW/RW, 22, 5’11 Kloten 50-15-27-42
Played in the OHL (13-14) making him more familiar to scouts; he’s third on his team in scoring with enough separation from the next tier of players that his numbers don’t seem inflated
Yannick Rathgeb D, 21, 6’1 Gotteron 45-11-23-34
Played two seasons in the OHL (13-15), which is either a pro or con depending on how you look at it; he’s far and away the most productive blueliner on his team
Luca Boltshauser G, 23, 6’0 Kloten 2.60 .925
On the small side for NHL goaltenders, but has the best save percentage of other backstops in his age group
Niklas Schlegel G, 22, 5’10 ZSC 2.07 .920
Better overall numbers than his partner, although he’s played fewer games; on the small side which tends to prevent goaltenders from coming over

The huge gap in quality of teams creates wildly variant stats
Vladimir Tkachyov LW, 21, 5’10 Vladivostok 49-14-25-39
Spent two seasons in the QMJLH (13-15) and was considered by a few for the draft in 2015; he’s second on his team in scoring with a large gap between he and the next tier of production; his size may cause some hesitation for some GMs
Miro Aaltonen C/W, 23, 5’10 Vityaz 59-19-25-44
Drafted (6-177/13), but I believe Anaheim’s rights to him expire at the end of the season making him a free agent; I’m assuming his continued time in Europe is a sign of either his disinterest in signing with the Ducks or vice versa; his KHL numbers could be boosted from linemates and his size may cause some hesitation
Jakub Jerabek D, 25, 5’11 Vityaz 59-5-29-34
I identified him a couple of years ago when he was in the Czech league; his size is an issue for the NHL, but he is miles ahead of his blueline teammates in production

Other leagues (Czech, DEL, etc)
It’s very infrequent for players to be signed directly from these leagues–typically a strong performance leads to playing for a better European league and then earning an NHL-contract
Tomas Hyka RW. 23, 5’11 Czech Mlada Boleslav 47-17-21-38
Spent two years in the QMJHL (11-13) and was drafted by Los Angeles (6-171/12), but never signed; he substantially leads his team in scoring and if not signed by an NHL team is likely headed to the KHL
Leo Pfoderl RW/LW. 23, 6’0 DEL Nurnberg 52-22-26-48
Third on his team in scoring and likely helped by talented teammates; more likely to jump to a better paying European league (NLA or KHL)

This article is written by Peter Levi (@eyeonthesens)