Every spring there is a new crop of drafted players who sign their entry level deals or free agents who defy the odds and ink contracts without every having been drafted in the first place. This year is no different and some of the names that have been etched on dotted lines lately represent the future of the NHL.
Here's a rundown on what has been happening around the league over the last few weeks that you might have missed.
The Ducks went the collegiate route signing Minnesota-Duluth forward MacGregor Sharp. The Red Deer native led the Bulldogs in scoring with 50 points in 43 games and set career highs in all categories this year as a senior. Before college Sharp played 3 years in the AJHL for Boris Rybalka and the Camrose Kodiaks. Sharp reported to AHL Iowa last week.
Anaheim also came to terms with Mark Mitera, a defenceman of the Michigan Wolverines who was the Ducks' 1st round pick (19th overall) back in 2006. Mitera is 6'3 and 215 lbs or so and is a decent 2-way defenceman who often played in the shadow of guys like Jack Johnson (LA) and Matt Hunwick (BOS). Mitera is already in Iowa and has 2 points in 3 games.
It was announced last night that the Bruins have inked free agent forward Yannick Riendeau who compiled 126 points in 64 regular season games for the Drummondville Voltigeurs this season. The Volts are still alive in the QMJHL playoffs and are considered one of the favorites to represent the league at this year's Memorial Cup in Rimouski. After only 4 playoff games Riendeau already has an incredible 19 points. The 5'10 winger hails from Brossard, PQ.
The Sabres signed their 7th rounder from 2005. Matt Generous is a 6'3 blueliner who spent the last 4 years at St. Lawrence University where he totalled 56 points over 4 seasons with the Saints. Hockey's Future does not consider Generous to be a strong prospect for the Sabres.
Interesting side note, I was recetnly approached by a Sabres scout who mentioned to me that The Pipeline Show had been recommended to the NHL club's scouting staff as an excellent prospects resource. I looked into it, found out the name of the Buffalo contact who did the recommending and called him to say hello and express our gratitude.
Both John Negrin and Matt Pelech were signed a while ago but the pair of defencemen have been recalled by the Flames thanks to the rash of injuries currently plaguing Calgary's line up. Negrin split this past season between Kootenay and Swift Current and compiled career highs in all categories. The Vancouver product was a 3rd round pick by the Flames in 2007 and would definitely go sooner than that if that draft were done over today.
Pelech is already in his second pro season but the former 1st rounder had not dressed for the big club until recently. The 6'3 225 lbs rearguard was drafted while a member of the Sarnia Sting but he also played for the London Knights and the Belleville Bulls during his OHL career.
He's one of Carolina's top prospects according to Hockey's Future and now Jamie McBain has embraked on his pro career. He spent the last three seasons as a key member of the Wisconsin Badgers including this past season where his 37 points in 40 games was a team high. McBain was a second round pick by the Hurricanes back in 2006 and is considered by everyone that I have spoken to as a player who will have little trouble making the jump to the NHL. He's also got a wealth of experience playing for USA on the international stage.
The Avalanche signed Minnesota Golden Gopher Ryan Stoa, their 2nd round pick from 2005. The 6'3 and 215 lb center stayed in college for 4 seasons although he missed almost all of his junior year due to injury. Stoa rebounded with 24 goals and 46 points for the Gophers this year, and was the team's leading scorer.
The Stars have had a lot of luck with their NCAA trained netminder in Marty Turco and recently signed another one. Colorado College Tigers goalie Richard Bachman was considered one of the best collegiate goalies this time last year but he and his club were disappointments this season. The 5'10 Bachman hails from Salt Lake City Utah and played his junior days in the USHL with Cedar Rapids and Chicago. Dallas selected Bachman in the 4th round back in 2006.
The Oilers signed 2008 1st rounder Jordan Eberle to a 3-year entry level deal in late March. Once his WHL season was complete in Regina, Eberle joined the AHL Springfield Falcons and has notched 3 points in 5 games. The smallish forward had a good but not stellar year with the Pats but will be forever etched in Hockey Canada history for his memorable goal against Russia at the 2009 World Junior Championship in Ottawa.
Edmonton also recalled Taylor Chorney from the AHL. The 2nd rounder from 2005 has spent the entire year on the farm where he and numerous other Oiler prospects have floundered on the cellar dwelling team. Chorney is considered one of Edmonton's top prospects by HF
Matt Duffy was a 4th round pick by the Panthers in the 2005 draft and he's been at the University of Maine every since. The 6'2 rearguard had 17 points as a senior this year, turned pro and went to the ECHL for a couple of games and is now in the AHL with the Rochester Americans. In 4 games with the Americans he already has 5 points.
The Ohio State Buckeyes made it to the NCAA Tournament and leading the way was forward undrafted forward Corey Elkins. With 41 points in 42 games, Elkins showed enough for the Kings who have signed him and kept him around the NHL club rather than ship him off to Manchester. The Minnesota native is listed at 6'2 and 200 lbs. His 41 points this year are more than double the production of his previous three college seasons... combined.
The Kelowna Rockets announced recently that forward Cody Almond had signed his entry level contract with the Wild. He was a 5th round selection of Minnesota in 2007 and has continued to develop as a member of the powerful Kelowna club. Almond's stats have increased each year going from 43 to 56 to 66 points this year which includes 33 goals. The Rockets are still active in the WHL playoffs but this might be the Calgarian's last go around in Kelowna.
Minnesota has also signed Denver Pioneers forward Patrick Mullen. He's small and has never scored more than 7 goals (freshman year) but the 5'10 Pittsburgh product obviously showed enough to the Wild to make them want to sign him. Mullen has yet to make his pro debut.
Any time the Montreal Canadiens sneeze it makes news and make no mistake, their recent signing of Olivier Fortier was no different. HF doesn't have Fortier in Montreal's top 20 but Fortier has shown that at the junior level, he can produce. He had 35 points in 29 games this year with Rimouski and in the playoffs he's added 6 more in 4 games. He's an averaged sized center who was taken in the 3rd round.
NEW YORK RANGERS
Paul Crowder is a Victoria BC native who has spent the last three years with the Seawolves of Alaska. The 3-year NCAA came to an end recently when he signed on with the Rangers. Crowder compiled 33 points in 35 games with Alaska-Anchorage but has just one since suiting up for the Hartford Wolf Pack in the AHL. His brother Tim was drafted by the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Craig Schira is an over-age defeceman with the Vancouver Giants who put up 59 points in 71 WHL games this year. Schira was undrafted but the Sens liked what they saw in the Saskatchewan product and signed him to a deal just last week. The Giants might be playing longer than Ottawa this year as they are one of the favorites to represent the WHL at the Memorial Cup in Rimouski this May.
The Flyers have been busy. First they were able to get 2007 pick Mario Kempe out of Sweden and into the AHL on an Amateur Tryout. The 5th rounder is an offensive defenceman who played 2 years in the QMJHL with the St. John's Fog Devils before heading back home this past year. In 4 games with the AHL Phantoms Kempe has yet to hit the score sheet.
Philly also signed another Swede, this time it was 27-year-old UFA goalie Johan Backlund. The keeper played for Timrå in the Swedish Elite League and had a 2.56 GAA and .907 save percentage through 49 games.
The biggest news out of Philly though is the signing of top prospect James vanRiemsdyk. Rumors were that the Flyers were unhappy about the lack of statistical development of 'JVR' with the Wildcats and that he was available at the trade deadline. Having him under contract will make it easier to move the 6'3 left winger and so all eyes will be n the Flyers at the draft to see if they dangle the promising player to move up.
The Coyotes recently announced signing former Prince Albert Raider Jeff May to a contract. May was originally drafted in 2005 by the Detroit Red Wings, went unsigned but did not get re-selected in the 2007 draft. He ended his WHL career with the Lethbridge Hurricanes after being acquired at the deadline. This season May has bounced around the minor leagues going from AHL Norfolk to ECHL Las Vegas, back up to AHL Providence and now finally he's settled in San Antonio, the affiliate of the Coyotes.
Mark Letestu was a stanout with the Bonnyville Pontiacs, played 1 year of NCAA hockey at Western Michigan and then signed with the Penguins. He's spent the last couple of years in Wilkes-Barre and recently was signed to an extention. Letestu had 22 goals and 57 points this year.
Yesterday it was announced that the Penguins had signed free agent goalie Brad Thiessen from the Northeastern Huskies. Thiessen is a Hobey Baker finalist after his stellar campaign with the Huskies. The B.C. product was still eligible to return for a senior year but opted to turn pro instead. The Penguins are deep in NCAA goalie prospects with Thiessen, Chad Johnson (Alaska-Fairbanks junior) and John Curry (former BU Terrier).
They are one of the NHL's best teams when it comes to drafting or signing NCAA players so when the San Jose Sharks come to terms with Boston College blueliner Nick Petrecki, it should be something that perks your interest. Petrecki is a really physical defenceman that I first got to see in person as a 17-year-old playing for the USHL at the Viking Cup in 2006. He was impressive then and the Sharks went out of their way to be able to draft him at the end of the 1st round that June. Rough, tough and mean make Petrecki one to watch.
Joe Loprieno won't be a name that many recognize but Merrimack Warriors fans are upset that he's left as a junior and chosen not to return for a fourth and final year. The defenceman only had 13 points through his first 3 NCAA years but some regard him as the team's best player so the Sharks are likely getting a defensive specialist who is probably considered a bit of a project. 22-year-old Loprieno was never drafted.
The Blues have been making news with their signings as of late beginning with Brett Sonne of the Calgary Hitmen. The 100-point scorer had a strong WHL year and also helped Canada win gold at the 2009 WJC in Ottawa. Calgary are a explosive team and the favorites to be crowned WHL champions so it's unlikely the Blues see Sonne this year.
St. Louis drafted big Anothony Peluso in the 6th round on the 2007 draft. Peluso, 6'4 and 235 lbs, played for Erie, Sault Ste. Marie and most recently the Brampton Battalion in the OHL. Like Sonne, Peluso's team is expected to be playing well into the playoffs.
London Knights forward Phil McRae was a 2nd round pick of the Blues just last June but the NHL club already has him under wraps. The would-be second generation NHL scored 29 goals and 60 points with the Knights this year.
Perhaps the most notable player the Blues have recently signed is Aaron Palushaj. The Michigan Wolverine star was a second round pick for St. Louis in 2007 but he's been terrific since hitting the NCAA. The winger had 50 points this year after a 44-point freshman campaign a year ago. HF lists Palushaj as the 5th best prospect in their organization but the Blues are currently ranked #1 in the league thanks to fantastic drafting coupled with lousy NHL performance.
The Maple Leafs recently signed Notre Dame forward Christian Hanson to a contract and he made his NHL debut last night in a 8-5 loss to the Flyers. He played 2 years in the USHL before his 4-year career with the Fighting Irish which ended ten days ago with a historic first round upset loss to Bemidji State in the NCAA tournament. Hanson scored 16 goals and had 31 points as a senior, by far his best college year statistically.
Drumondville traded for Chris Didomenico at the Q-deadline and it's paid off for them. The forward was a point per game player during the season and currently has 14 points in 4 playoff games. He was part of Canada's gold medal winning team at the WJC and he was signed by the Leafs not that long ago.
Alex Berry was a 5th round pick of Toronto's in 2005 and the Massachusetts winger signed on with the Buds once his NCAA career came to a close a couple weeks ago. Berry is listed at 6'2 and 212 lbs and had 30 points this year for the Minutemen.
Yesterday it was annouced that Denver Pioneers forward Tyler Bozak had also inked a deal with the Leafs. The hotly sought after Bozak had 23 points in 19 games but missed a lot of the year due to injury. During that time off he was a guest on The Pipeline Show where he certainly impressed us with a solid interview.
Taylor Ellington went wall-to-wall as a Silvertip in his 5-year WHL career. Everett didn't trade him away this year at the deadline even though they probably would have gotten a decent return for the Victoria native. Vancouver signed him earlier in March. He was a 2nd round pick back in 2007 for the Canucks.
The Canucks also signed free agent Eric Walsky away from the Colorado College Tigers. Walsky is a native Alaskan who played two years with the Seawolves before sitting out a year as a transfer to C.C. where he ended his NCAA career with a 36-point campaign. Walksy has a pair of points in 4 AHL games with the Manitoba Moose.
Trevor Bruess was a junior at Makato and actually saw a big drop in his offensive production this year but that didn't scare off the Capitals. The Minnesota product scored 12 goals and had 5 helpers but that's a significant drop off from his 30-point sophomore season.
St. Lawrence Saints forward Zach Miskovic also signed on with Washington after completing his senior year. Miskovic had 16 goals and 25 points for the Saints, fourth in team scoring.
The biggest signing the Caps made, literally, is that of huling blueliner Joe Finley. The 6'7, 240 lbs blueliner had spent the last 4 years at the University of North Dakota after being a late first round pick in the 2005 draft. Finley is defence-first player but is an intimidating force that will mess you up in the corners or in front of the net.