Senators News & Notes


About a week ago Nichols floated the idea of the Sens signing 35-year old, broken down Chris Kelly.  I thought the idea was verging on the ridiculous, but pointed out it would be a typical Bryan Murray signing (a player past his prime with a local connection).  Sadly this idea has come to pass as today the Sens signed their former draft pick to a one-year deal.  Kelly played all of 11 games last year after fracturing his left femur, but when healthy with the Bruins the year before put up typical numbers.  NHL players who aren’t goalies only decline in their 30s so to expect a performance akin to that wouldn’t be reasonable (Nichols sounds delightfully naive in learning Kelly hasn’t been great in the faceoff circle in years).  For those of you who want to read a positive spin on the signing both Nichols and Ross A are here for you–neither bothers to include substance behind what makes it a good move (analytics etc; in fairness to Ross his is basically a news blurb), with the former mostly being about the struggles of Curtis Lazar (and yes I agree time in Binghamton would be good for him).  Can I be persuaded this is a good move?  Maybe (with the appropriate numbers).  Could the move work out?  It’s possible, but to me it comes across as cheap fan-service to placate an aging and nostalgic fanbase.


The Sens announced a new ECHL affiliate agreement with the Wichita Thunder.  As Ross A points out they are not conveniently located for Binghamton (or Belleville for that matter).  The term wasn’t listed (their deal with Evansville was for two years), but Witchita was actually worse than the IceMen this past season (second last in the league), so it’s not even necessarily an upgrade.  From what I can tell there’s no fan website or blog devoted to the team (unlike Evansville), so it appears news about the Thunder will only be available from official organs.


I decided to look back at my prognostication of the European free agent pool (posted back in March), so below includes all the NHL-signings (including players from previous lists) along with any other player-movement from the current crop:

Marcus Sorensen – signed by San Jose
Linus Hultstrom – signed by Florida
Lukas Bengtsson – signed by Pittsburgh
Anatoli Golyshev – drafted by the Islanders
Tim Heed – signed by San Jose (2015 list)
Jere Sallinen – signed by Edmonton (2013 list)

John Norman – KHL
Juuso Ikonen – signed by Djurgardens
Otso Rantakari – signed by Tappara
Sami Rajaniemi – signed by Jukurit
Konstantin Komarek – SHL

Understandably the question posed looking at lists like this is: how often do these signings work out?  The answer is sometimes (3-7): Panarin, Donskoi, and Brunner are or were solid signings (the jury is still out on Ronalds KeninsDennis Rasmussen and Borna Rendulic, although it’s likely they will land on the failure side).  What I will say is the odds of a European FA in this age category panning out is better than signings from the NCAA–whether that’s due to just how many college kids are signed (flooding the numbers) or something else I couldn’t say.  The above, incidentally, doesn’t include players like Melker Karlsson (SJ) who I never listed.

This article is written by Peter Levi (@eyeonthesens)

An Eye on Europe

As I’ve done literally forever, here’s a look at potential European free agents who might cross the pond (a note for Sens fans: scouting in Europe is expensive, so don’t expect any signings from Bryan Murray & Co).  Last year I identified 5 players who were subsequently signed, although there’s always a delayed trickle down effect where a player noted from a a few years before also gets picked up.  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.

John Norman 47-17-25-42
Had a career year with Skelleftea, the undrafted 25-year old is second in team scoring behind former San Jose draft pick Patrik Zackrisson, the numbers far above his usual production (previous high was 17 points in 2011-12); while an aberration in scoring should give GMs caution, it rarely does
Markus Ljungh 48-13-23-36
The 5’9 undrafted 25-year old had a career year with Djurgardens (just his second in the SHL), finishing third in scoring just ahead of Sorensen (below), but well behind team leader Patrick Thoresen
Marcus Sorensen 47-15-19-34
The player Ottawa drafted in 2010; the 23-year old has posted good, consistent numbers with Djurgardens the past four seasons (23, 30, 32, 34), and while his production won’t blow anyone out of the water, as an energy player it’s possible an NHL team takes a shot at him
Pathrik Vesterholm 52-7-26-33
The 24-year old former Vancouver draft pick (2011) had a career season with Brynas (his second in the SHL), finishing fourth in team scoring
Linus Hultstrom 52-12-19-31
The undrafted 23-year old, righthanded blueliner is coming off his second consecutive season as a top point-producer (this year for Djurgardens), just ahead of undrafted 26-year old Marcus Hogstrom; criticised for his defensive lapses, I think his offensive potential should be enough to entice someone to take a chance on him
Lukas Bengtsson 30-7-7-14
The undrafted 21-year old, righthanded defenseman has put together a strong, injury-plagued season with Frolunda, although the small sample size works against him
Joel Lassinantti 1.95 .921
I identified the undrafted 23-year old last year, but at 5’9 teams stayed away–perhaps yet another strong season with Lulea (fourth in the league in save percentage) will finally earn him a shot

Juuso Ikonen 54-9-28-39
The 5’9 21-year old had a career year with Karpat, finishing behind Carolina draft pick Sebastian Aho; at his age it’s remarkable that this is his fourth full season playing in the Liiga; his size works against him
Jarno Karki 54-17-19-36
At 6’4 the 21-year old is a wet dream for some GMs; he had a career season with Assat, leading them in scoring; amusingly, former Red Line Report wet-dream Troy Vance (he’s 6’5!) is finishing out the poorly thought out ELC Dallas gave him three years ago here
Otso Rantakari 37-5-15-20
The 22-year old, righthanded blueliner struggled when moved mid-season to MODO from the Blues (17-0-4-4), but may have shown enough in Finland for teams to take a chance on him
Sami Rajaniemi 2.36 .915/1.52 .939
Has put up incredible numbers since getting loaned to Karpat by the Pelicans; the undrafted 23-year could be of interest
Dominik Hrachovina 2.34 .922
Consistently puts up better numbers at the highest level (Tappara) than in junior, but the sample size for the 21-year old Czech goaltender (17 games) might be too small for GMs

Lino Martschini 50-26-28-54
The 5’6, 23-year old undrafted forward may have finally done enough with Zug to get offers from NHL teams (Mats Zuccarello was too small for the NHL as well); he finished second in scoring behind former NHLer Pierre-Marc Bouchard
Niklas Schlegel 2.16 .925
At only 5’10, the 21-year old is unlikely to get an offer, but he did have a career season with ZSC; incidentally, this is where David Rundblad has wound up (on loan from Chicago)

Jan Kovar 58-20-32-52
It seems like I bring up the Czech forward every year, but it’s unlikely any NHL team can offer the 25-year old enough money to cross the pond by now; he’s put up excellent numbers in the KHL for the past five years
Anatoli Golyshev 56-25-19-44
The undrafted 21-year old forward put up career numbers with Avtomobilist Yekaterinburg (leading them in scoring); signed until the end of time, it’s possible an NHL team could pry him loose
Danill Apalkov 59-16-27-43
The 24-year old forward had a career year with Lokomotiv, leading them in scoring; he’s signed through next season, so that (and the other problems with the KHL) make him crossing the pond unlikely

Other European Leagues
[All these players are more likely to sign AHL or ECHL deals if they are signed at all]
Petr Holik 52-11-30-41
One of only two players from the bottomed out Czech League I’ve included, the 24-year old forward had a career season with Zlin, leading the team in scoring by a comfortable margin; at 5’8 his chances of being signed are very slim (he’s much more likely to jump to the KHL)
Libor Kasik 1.90 .929
A career season for the 23-year old Zlin goaltender; by far the best numbers among younger Czech netminders; his size (5’11) will hurt him
Konstantin Komarek 42-17-23-40
Plays in a weak league (Austria), but the 23-year old had a career year with Salzburg, finishing fifth in overall scoring; the odds of him being signed are minute (he’s more likely to jump to a better European league)
Lukas Herzog 1.74 .928
The sample-size for the 23-year old is very small with Villacher (5 games at the top level), but his numbers are very good–like Komarek he’s far more likely to be signed to one of the higher European leagues
Mathias Niederberger 2.27 .930
The only player from the moribund DEL I’ve included, the 23-year old spent time in the CHL and briefly in the minor leagues previously before returning to Germany, but goaltenders are a strange breed and after a career year with Dusseldorfer he may earn himself another shot

This article is written by Peter Levi (@eyeonthesens)

European Undrafted Success Stories Revisited

I haven’t updated my undrafted success stories out of Europe article in a couple of years and there’s no time like the present. 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 23 (anything earlier and I consider the player still a prospect).  The numbers next to the player’s name are their stats prior to being signed by an NHL team.

2006 (3)
Niklas Backstrom (G, Liiga) 32-9-10, 1.68, .940 – 409 games; remains with Minnesota
Patrick Thoresen (SEL) 50-17-19-36 – played 106 NHL games
Patrick Fischer (NLA) 44-21-32-53 – played 27 NHL games

2007 (4)
Jonas Hiller (G, NLA) 28-16, 2.60 – 378 games; with Calgary
Cory Murphy (D, Liiga) 45-13-37-50 – played 91 NHL games
Erik Ersberg (G, SEL) 41GP, 2.39, .908 – played 69 NHL games
Jaroslav Hlinka (Cze) 46-19-38-57 – played 63 NHL games

2008 (7)
Antti Niemi (G, Liiga) 26-14-6, 2.35, .926 – 328 games; won a Cup with Chicago; with San Jose
Ville Leino (Liiga) 55-28-49-77 – played 296 NHL games
Tim Stapleton (Liiga) 55-29-33-62 – 118 NHL games
Anssi Salmela (D, Liiga) 56-16-16-32 – played 112 NHL games
Fabian Brunnstrom (SEL) 54-9-28-37 – played 104 NHL games
Ryan Vesce (Liiga) 56-26-18-44 – 19 NHL games
Per Ledin (SEL) – played 3 NHL games

2009 (5)
Jonas Gustavsson (G, SEL) 42GP, 1.96, .932 – 106 NHL games; unsigned
Mika Pyorala (Liiga) 55-21-22-43 – played 36 NHL games
Henrik Karlsson (G, SEL) 34GP, 2.45, .914 – played 26 NHL games
Alexander Salak (G, Liiga) 20-20-9, 2.40, .923 – played 2 NHL games
Johan Backlund (G, SEL) 49GP, 2.56, .907 – played 1 NHL game

2010 (3)
Mats Zuccarello (SEL) 55-23-41-64 (1.16) – played 222 NHL games; remains with the Rangers
Jussi Rynnas (G, Liiga) 14-13-1, 2.71, .911 – played 4 NHL games
Marcel Muller (DEL) 53-24-32-56 – played 3 NHL games

2011 (3)
Raphael Diaz (D, NLA) 45-12-27-39 (0.86) – 201 NHL games; with the New York Rangers
Victor Bartley (D, Allsvenskan) 52-11-23-34 – 111 NHL games; remains with Nashville
Iiro Tarkki (G, Liiga) 20-20-14, 2.09, .924 – played 1 NHL game

2012 (4)
Viktor Fasth (G, SHL) 2.04, .934 – played 63 NHL games
Roman Cervenka (KHL) 54-23-16-39 – played 39 NHL games
Daniel Bang (SHL) 50-8-10-18 – played 8 NHL games
Harri Pesonen (Liiga) 60-21-14-35 – played 4 NHL games

2013 (2)
Michael Raffl (Allsvenskan) 49-24-22-46 – 135 NHL games; remains with Philadelphia
Reto Berra (G, NLA) 3.01 .906 – 50 NHL games; remains with Colorado

2014 (4)
Pierre-Edouard Bellemare (SHL) 52-20-15-35 – played 82 NHL games; remains with Philadelphia
Dennis Everberg (Allsvenskan) 47-17-17-34 – played 67 NHL games; remains with Colorado
Melker Karlsson (SHL) 48-9-16-25 – 53 NHL games; remains with San Jose
Ronalds Kenins (NLA) 39-8-17-25 – played 30 NHL games; remains with Vancouver

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.

Conclusions: the vast majority of the players signed (27 of 34) come from either the Swedish or Finnish leagues; 13 are or were NHL regulars (including those from last season).  The greatest successes are the goaltenders, which isn’t hugely surprising given that remains the biggest blind spot for scouts at the draft.  It’s interesting to note how dwarfed the number of players here is by those who arrive via the NCAA route, despite how large the available pool is in Europe.  Part of the reason for the smaller stream of players is the expense of properly scouting those players and the difficulty of deciphering how big ice hockey play will translate to smaller rinks.

This article is written by Peter Levi (@eyeonthesens)

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).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The caliber here is quite Similar to the SHL.

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

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

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

This article is written by Peter Levi (@eyeonthesens)

European Free Agents of Interest

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Players Signed from Previous Lists

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

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

This article is written by Peter Levi (@eyeonthesens)

Undrafted Success Stories in the Post-Lockout NHL

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

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

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

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

This article is written by Peter Levi (@eyeonthesens)

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