I had originally planned to do a Top 5 revolving around the 2009 Memorial Cup but since the participants aren't completely decided yet, that will have to wait until next year.
From time to time I like to make a list of recent signings that NHL teams have made. With that in mind, if you hadn't heard yet there were a trio of significant contracts announced over the last week or so including a big one just today.
The Buffalo Sabres announced earlier that they had inked Tyler Myers to a 3-year entry level deal. Myers was recently named the WHL's Playoff MVP (he wasn't my choice but he's not a bad choice either). There is no doubt about his ability or his potential, Myers should be a terrific NHL blueliner in short order and could be one of the best in the league once he reaches his potential - think Zdeno Chara if he can fill out the same way.
Swedish blueliner Erik Karlsson was signed by the Ottawa Senators last week. He was taken 15th overall in the 2008 draft, just three picks after Myers went to Buffalo. Being European, he can play in the AHL as a 19-year-old but there are people who believe he'll be able to step right into the NHL next season after his 45-game year in the SEL with Frolunda.
Another recent signing was that of Casey Pierro-Zabotel, the WHL's leading scorer this season. He was drafted by Pittsburgh in the 3rd round of the 2007 draft while playing in the BCHL with the Merrit Centennials. His grades were not good enough to allow him to persue his NCAA abitions though so he was wooed by and signed on with the Vancouver Giants. Pierro-Zabotel had 115 points this year, the most the WHL has seen since 2000-01.
Had Pierro-Zabotel not signed on with the Penguins before June 1st they would have lost their exclusive rights to him and he would have re-entered the NHL draft. It's how Jarret Stoll went from being drafted by the Calgary Flames yet ended up being re-drafted by Edmonton two years later.
And that's where I'm going with the Top 5 list this week. Here are, in my opinion, the most interesting 2007 draftees who are still yet unsigned and will re-enter the 2009 Draft if they do not reach a deal with their NHL owners by June 1st. There are a few notable players who didn't make the top 5 but I'll mention them afterwards.
5. Simon Lacroix - New York Islanders
Long Island's 7th round pick from 2007 is still actively playing, at least for one more day as the Shawinigan captain leads the Cataractes into Game 7 against Drummondville tonight. The 6'2 and 190 lb defenceman had 50 points in 62 QMJHL regular season games and has added 7 more so far in the playoffs. He's ranked 18th on the NYI's Top 20 Prospects page by Hockey's Future but is well down the depth chart in the organization on the back end. He's got some interesting ability though, not the least of which is a right handed shot - always something scouts like to see in blueliners. He also logs a ton of ice time with the Cataractes and the fact that he wears the 'C' shows some leadership ability as well.
As a 7th round pick Lacroix has zero negotiating strength when it comes to a contract so it might be better for him if he does go back into the draft. He'll either get taken a little higher (more money) or he'll become a UFA and have his pick of contract offers.
4. Ondrej Roman - Dallas Stars
Czech forward Ondrej Roman has played for the Spokane Chiefs the last three years, the most recent was split between pro back home in the Czech Republic and then the second half of the season in the 'Dub. He doesn't have spectacular numbers but he was instrumental in helping Spokane win the Memorial Cup last year netting 20 points in 21 games. This season he had 32 points in 32 games with Spokane, slightly better pace than the previous year but one should consider if he could have kept up that pace over a full 72-game schedule. HF lists Roman as Dallas' 4th best prospect and while the Stars may not have a stellar prospect pool, 4th is pretty good. He's fast and plays physical, has hands but he's of average size.
3. Mitch Fadden - Tampa Bay
One WHL player told me a summer ago that the Lethbridge Hurricanes would be a lot better if they could trade Fadden, apparently he's not the best guy in the dressing room. I don't know how much validity there is to that but the 'Canes did actually deal Fadden to Tri-City so perhaps there was some truth to it.
Fadden was taken by Tampa Bay in the 4th round after a strong year in the WHL, a 84 point campaign in Lethbridge. He scored 36 goals that season and followed it up with 34 the next year when he bumped up his total to 89. His numbers took a bit of a hit with the Americans, 71 points this year but in only 54 games, but he was great in the post season collecting 16 points in just 2 rounds of action. He's of average size (6'0 and 180 lbs) but he was named Player of the Week Mar 23-29th (playoffs), March 1st as well plus was chosen as the Player of the Month for February.
HF lists Fadden as Tampa Bay's 9th best prospect.
2. Alex Plante - Edmonton
6'5, 225 lbs 1st round picks rarely go back into the draft and I don't expect Alex Plante will either, however, he is still unsigned and so he has to be on this list. Plante sits 12th on the prospect list for Edmonton according to HF but he'd be inside the top 10 if I was still doing the work over there.
The Calgary Hitmen defender had a good year and an impressive post season helping his club get to the WHL final round. He's big and tough, has a booming shot and again, is a right handed shot. As a pro I wonder if he'll become more of a shutdown guy, stay at home type simply because his skating isn't a strength and might get exposed at the next level. If he concentrates on his own end more, that will play to his strong points and help him be successful. I recently made a Derian Hatcher comparison and I still think that one makes sense.
He's unsigned but I don't expect that will be the case for much longer.
1. P.K. Subban - Montreal
Quite frankly I was surprised to learn that Bob Gainey hadn't signed Subban yet. He had a breakout performance at the 2009 WJC in Ottawa and had 76 points in 56 regular season games for the Belleville Bulls. The smooth skating defenceman added 15 more points in 17 OHL playoff games. He's got a ton of ability.
HF ranks 4th on the Montreal prospects list and that's a team with an abundance of prospect depth. He's fast, strong, can read offensive plays, has a big booming shot and seems to be just a first class individual as well. He has defensive shortcomings but his pros far outweigh his cons, in my opinion.
We keep hearing his name being thrown around as a toss in from Montreal as they put together a packgage to wow someone like Vincent Lecavalier to town. I don't know if that's a reason he isn't signed yet.
Edmonton has another prospect worth watching for in Milan Kytnar. The Slovak had a 64-point breakout year in Saskatoon showing he might have more than just a defensive upside. He could be a pretty decent 2-way player.
There are a couple of goalies out there of note as well in Josh Unice (CHI) and Torrie Jung (TBY). Unice was traded to Windsor during the year but I'm hearing that he's another bad locker room guy and that was one of the reasons the team turned to Andrew Engelage in the playoffs despite Unice's experience.
Jung was outstanding for the Edmonton Oil Kings all year but is buried behind some terrific goalie prospects in Tampa. He sort of came out of nowhere this year but there is no question he was his team's MVP and he had great stats in comparison to the rest of the league's top netminders who all played on far superior teams.
Lethbridge Hurricane forward Dwight King was a 4th round pick by Los Angeles and although he doesn't have jump-off-the-page-at-you stats, he is a big strong power forward that finished second on his team in regular season scoring. He had 60 points in 64 games which was on pace with Kyle Beach's 63 points and it was 10 points more than Carter Ashton.
Others who still need a contract include Brett Leffler (Regina) and Justin Taylor (London), both property of the Washington Capitals. 6'4 Netminder Antoine LaFleur was a 2nd round pick by the New York Rangers but he's flundered since then. Ryan Molle (Swift Current) is a New Jersey pick still looking for a deal, he was a 7th rounder. Corey Syvret belongs to Florida. Linden Rowat (LA) was a top goalie in 2007-08 for Regina. Max Tanguay was a 3rd rounder for Chicago. Carolina has a pair in Chris Terry and Justin McCrae.