The mystifying Matt Puempel did himself no favours by virtually vanishing during his contract year.
As if they’re not busy enough preparing for the annual entry draft and an expansion draft, 30 NHL general managers must also consider which of their free agents they wish to re-sign, and for how much.
While older players have achieved unrestricted free agent (UFA) status and can sign freely with any team, most of the prospects we write about here are restricted free agents (RFAs), and their teams still have the leverage.
With that in mind, let’s examine some select free agents whom Dobber hasn’t yet graduated from prospect status. Did they add to their bargaining power with good performances in the final seasons of their contracts – or the opposite?
This week, we look at the Eastern Conference.
C/RW Noel Acciari, 25 RFA: A bottom-six forward who accumulates six points in 48 games in his first two seasons would be lucky to be offered a contract. Outlook: Four assists in five post-season games might intrigue the Bs enough to extend a short-term deal.
D Joe Morrow, 24 RFA: Once highly regarded and a former first-round pick by Pittsburgh, Morrow has faded into a spare part. Outlook: The Bruins need help on their back end and Morrow, still only 24, might get a deal as a depth blueliner, although he’ll be lucky if it’s not a two-way contract.
G Linus Ullmark, 23 RFA: Although he played in just one NHL game this season, Ullmark led the AHL with 55 appearances, 3,201 minutes played and 1,678 shots faced, earning him the MVP award for the Rochester Americans. Outlook: In a perfect world for the Sabres, Vegas won’t choose Ullmark in the expansion draft, Buffalo will offer him a two- or three-year deal and he’ll back up fellow Swede Robin Lehner next season.
C Justin Kea, 23 RFA: A 2012 third-round pick, Kea has not done much to justify Buffalo’s
faith in him other than remaining a hulk at 6-4 and 225. In three seasons he’s played more times for the Elmira Jackals of the ECHL than the AHL’s Rochester Americans. Outlook: Unless the Sabres still believe they have a late-blooming power forward, Kea will be lucky to get an NHL contract offer.
LW Brock McGinn, 23 RFA: A slow-developing second-round pick, the industrious winger played significantly more games with the Charlotte Checkers than the Hurricanes in his first two seasons, although he got into 57 NHL contests in his third campaign. Although he saw some icetime with Jordan Staal and Elias Lindholm, McGinn managed just seven goals and 16 points while averaging 11:59. Outlook: Teams need bottom-sixers with a bit of grit, but McGinn shouldn’t expect a long-term offer.
LW Phil Di Giuseppe, 23 RFA: Like McGinn a 2012 second-round pick, the former Michigan Wolverine has likewise played a lot in the AHL since then. His 36 games and seven points were a step back from his NHL totals a season earlier. Outlook: Di Giuseppe was drafted for his offensive creativity. Without production, he’ll be offered a show-me bridge contract at best.
D Phillip Samuelsson, 25 UFA: The former Pittsburgh second-rounder doesn’t do anything really well, including having no aptitude for or interest in offense. Outlook: He played all of this season in the AHL and, with Carolina’s enviable group of promising young blueliners, might find himself heading elsewhere.
D Trevor Carrick, 22 RFA: Not oversized at 6-2 and 184, the former fourth-rounder skates well and plays a sturdy defensive game. He’s even contributed 90 points in three AHL campaigns, although he’s still waiting to get into his first NHL tilt. Outlook: Carrick is marinating nicely in Charlotte and should get a short-term offer, although he will have a tough time rising on Carolina’s depth chart.
RW Danny Kristo, 26 UFA: Exceptional skating got the former North Dakota Fighting Hawk drafted by Montreal in 2008’s second round, although he’s played in zero NHL games since. Outlook: Strictly a speedy depth winger, Kristo is coming off 24 points in 54 AHL games. That might not be enough to get him a contract offer let alone his NHL debut.
Columbus Blue Jackets
G Anton Forsberg, 24 RFA: The 6-3 Swede has parlayed his lowly seventh-round 2011 selection into a shot at the Columbus backup gig. Still somewhat raw, he’s never been scintillating at the NHL level, with GAAs of 4.69, 3.02 and 4.10 in three seasons of severely limited exposure. However, he had a 27-17-4 record with the Cleveland Monsters in 2016-17, registering a 2.28 GAA, .926 save percentage and four shutouts in 51 games. Outlook: He’ll have to toughen his mental game but Forsberg should land a two- or three-year deal to show the Jackets what he’s really made of.
G Joonas Korpisalo, 23 RFA: Dueling with Forsberg and Oskar Dansk for playing time in Columbus, the 6-3 Finn had mediocre GAAs of 2.88 in 14 NHL games and 2.69 in 16 AHL games with the Cleveland Monsters as well as 3.82 playing for Finland at the world championship. Outlook: Athletic and unflappable, the former second-rounder can expect the same kind of short-term, show-me deal Forsberg is likely to receive.
G Oskar Dansk, 23 RFA: Confident and athletic, Dansk is a third Scandinavian puck-stopper trying to squeeze into the Columbus crease behind No. 1 Sergei Bobrovsky, who has two years left on his contract. Still to get into an NHL game, Dansk had unimpressive stats in the AHL and ECHL before the Blue Jackets loaned him to Rögle BK of the Swedish Hockey League, where his statistics improved slightly in two seasons. Outlook: Clearly unready for North America earlier, Dansk is back on this side of the Atlantic and can expect a short-term contract offer while the Jackets continue to assess their young netminding trio. Any or (probably) none of the three could be the goalie of the future in Columbus.
Detroit Red Wings
C Andreas Athanasiou, 22 RFA: Spending time with Frans Nielsen and Tomas Vanek as well as Dylan Larkin and Justin Abdelkader, the lightning-fast forward nonetheless averaged just 13:27 without much PP time while compiling 18 GS and 29 points in 64 games.
How could the Red Wings not re-sign Andreas Athanasiou after he scored this sensational goal?
Outlook: Athanasiou's 18 goals were second on the rebuilding Wings and the former fourth-rounder says he wants to be dominant in 2017-18. Detroit will surely offer him a contract based on his ability and potential, although it might not be a long-term deal based on his results so far.
D Xavier Ouellet, 23 RFA: After the Wings marinated him slowly in the AHL, the sturdy and mobile Frenchman proved he belongs with the big boys, although 12 points in 66 games will not get his name in lights. While he has some offensive ability, Ouellet’s calling card is discouraging opposing forwards and moving the puck out of danger. Outlook: The former second-rounder has the potential to be a pillar on Detroit’s back end, quietly doing the little things that contribute to team success. The Wings could conceivably offer him a modest long-term deal.
D Robbie Russo 24, RFA: Matched with Ouellet, the former Islanders’ fourth-rounder was pointless in 19 NHL games, unusual for someone with PP QB potential. He showed his skill in the AHL, though, posting 32 points in 58 games. Outlook: Detroit will likely extend a bridge contract while the Wings gauge Russo’s upside.
RW Martin Frk, 23 RFA: The Czech winger is undisciplined enough for Detroit to waive him at the start of the season yet talented enough for the Wings to claim him back on waivers after he played in just two games for Carolina. Not a particularly good skater or really interested in playing defense, Frk racked up 27 goals and 50 points in 65 AHL games. Outlook: The Wings will surely offer him a short-term deal to see if they can persuade Frk to play some defense without losing his scoring touch.
D Mackenzie Weegar, 23 RFA: Although he has no points in only three NHL games, the relatively unheralded seventh-rounder has used his modest offensive skill to average almost a point every second game in the past two AHL seasons. Topping out at six feet although a robust 212 pounds, he’s also totaled 130 PIMs in that time. Outlook: A righthanded-shooting defender with some skill and zest for physical hockey will usually get offered at least a short-term contract.
C/LW Kyle Rau, 24 RFA: Undersized at 5-8 and 179, the 2011 third-rounder has NHL experience although he has yet to prove he belongs with the big boys to stay. To do that, he must maximize his superior offensive instincts, outwork larger opponents and do more than the 24 points he had in 48 AHL games. Outlook: He’ll likely land a short-term bridge deal with incentive to prove himself.
LW/C Charles Hudon, 23 RFA: As well as putting up promising point totals (53 and 49) in the past two AHL seasons with the St. John’s IceCaps, Hudon has consecutive three-game, two-assist NHL forays. Outlook: While not big or physical, his above-average offensive ability should earn him a bridge contract, although he’s competing against other smallish forward prospects in the organization.
G Charlie Lindgren, 23 RFA: The undrafted 6-2 puckstopper has got into just three games for the Habs in the past two seasons, but he had peripherals of 2.00 and .929 in one game last season, improving that to 1.48 and .949 in two games this season. Outlook: Unless the unthinkable happens, Carey Price will agree to another long-term contract to kick in when his current deal expires after the coming season. Zach Fucale has struggled and Michael McNiven is an as-yet-unproven free-agent signing. The Habs cannot afford to not offer Lindgren some kind of deal.
New Jersey Devils
C/LW Joseph Blandisi, 22 RFA: Combining puck skill with an agitating streak, the versatile Blandisi has accumulated 48 points in 58 AHL games over two seasons as well as 109 PIMs. He’s even totaled 26 points in 68 NHL games, although he played in just 27 this season, mostly with Adam Henrique and Beau Bennett. Outlook: Projecting as a bottom-six occasional scorer who’s always a pain to play against, Blandisi can expect a modest contract offer but nothing like he’d get if he were part of the team’s core.
G Scott Wedgewood, 24 RFA: Unable to beat out Keith Kinkaid for the NJ backup job, Wedgewood played in just 10 AHL games before shoulder surgery obliterated the rest of his season. The former third-rounder could have used the work with the Albany Devils because, while he has lots of natural ability, he wastes it by going down too early, getting caught out of position and being forced to rely on acrobatics. Outlook: The Devils will likely give him another chance, but not with a long-term deal.
New York Islanders
D Adam Pelech, 22 RFA: At 6-3 and 214 pounds, the 2012 third-rounder plays a robust physical game and contributes modest offense. He likely would have played more than 44 NHL games this season except he missed almost a month with an upper-body injury and the Isles are deep in NHL-caliber D-Men. Outlook: As an increasingly reliable back-end presence, Pelech has a future on Long Island.
New York Rangers
LW Matt Puempel, 24 RFA: Can a former first-rounder who’s played in 79 NHL games still be considered a prospect? Sure, if he’s never played in more than 27 NHL games in a season or had more than nine points. Although he has oodles of talent, including great hands, the Senators gave up on Puempel due to his defensive nonchalance and inconsistency. Outlook: The Rangers have a tough call: Give up on him, too, or give him one more short-term deal. It could go either way.
C/RW Ryan Dzingel, 25 RFA: Coming off easily his best NHL campaign so far, Dzingel had 14 goals and 32 points, playing mostly with Kyle Turris and Bobby Ryan. Outlook: The speedy, industrious forward plays a valuable role with Ottawa and can expect a contract befitting that.
G Chris Driedger, 23 RFA: The lanky backstop didn’t do himself any favours with a season that included only one (bad) NHL game, 34 mediocre AHL ones and even two unimpressive outings way down in the ECHL. Outlook: He’ll probably get a short-term, show-me deal.
G Matt O’Connor, 25 RFA: He had pretty much the same kind of demoralizing season as Driedger that even included two crappy ECHL appearances. Outlook: O’Connor is two years older than Driedger and has been mediocre at best in two AHL seasons. His wavering focus is troubling and O’Connor will be lucky if he’s offered a contract.
G Anthony Stolarz, 23 RFA: In seven NHL games, Stolarz posted much better numbers than he did in 29 AHL games. The immense 6-6 netminder had unimpressive stats as an AHL rookie, and might be running out of time with the Flyers. Outlook: Fair or not, fellow second-round draft picks Felix Sandstrom and Carter Hart have already passed Stolarz on the team’s depth chart. GM Ron Hextall, a former NHL goalie, might try to deal Stolarz out of Philly while he has some trade value.
C Scott Laughton, 23 RFA: Hardly a core player in spite of being drafted 20th overall, Laughton had NHL career bests of 19 goals, 39 points and plus-17. Outlook: He’s carved out a role as a useful two-way player and will be paid as such.
D Derrick Pouliot, 23 RFA: Due to injury and a baffling inability to learn to process the game at the NHL level, the former eighth-overall pick has been a dreadful letdown. In spite of sublime skating, shooting and puckhandling skill, Pouliot had zero points in 13 NHL games this season. While he had 23 points in 46 AHL games, he had at least that many points in fewer games the past two AHL seasons. Outlook: Pouliot should have locked up a long-term contract by now as Kris Letang’s successor. He’ll likely be offered a two-year pact that’s his final chance with the Penguins.
C Oskar Sundqvist, 23 RFA: Drafted as a bottom-six shutdown defender, the lanky Swede broke out with 20 goals and 46 points in a 63-game sophomore AHL campaign. Outlook: Sundqvist will be compensated as well as the cap-strapped Pens can manage.
RW Josh Archibald, 24 RFA: Undersized yet hard-working, coachable and a good teammate, Archibald will never be more than a bottom-sixer. Outlook: Due to the organization’s glut of smallish forwards and lack of cap space, there might not be a raise for Archibald.
C Jean-Sebastien Dea, 23 RFA: He’s got into just one NHL game in three seasons and tallied just 34 AHL points this time. Outlook: See Josh Archibald above. Dea’s odds of being offered a contract are even less.
Tampa Bay Lightning
D Slater Koekkoek, 23 RFA: He has exactly five points in 41 NHL games over three seasons, but this fleet, puck-moving future power-play QB has a bright future with the Lightning. Outlook: An assistant captain with the AHL’s Syracuse Crunch, Koekkoek just might be offered a long-term deal in spite of modest point totals so far.
Toronto Maple Leafs
RW Connor Brown 23, RFA: Brown played in all 82 Maple Leaf games this season, scoring 20 times and adding 16 helpers as he compensated for so-so skating with instinctiveness and tenacity. Outlook: Not everyone on a team can be a natural scorer. The Leafs will find a way to keep Brown.
Expect the Maple Leafs to re-sign Connor Brown.
C/R/L Zach Hyman, 24 RFA: Twenty-eight points is a modest total for a contract year but, like Brown, Hyman played in all 82 games, adding a goal and three assists in Toronto’s six-game playoff tussle with the Capitals. Outlook: Hyman plays all forward positions and hustles his butt off. He’ll be paid like a low-scoring but valued depth player.
G Antoine Bibeau, 23 RFA: The 6-3 former sixth-rounder didn’t do himself any favors at the negotiating table with unimpressive 3.08 and .894 peripherals in 32 AHL games, although 1.99 and .927 in two NHL outings was interesting. Outlook: Frederik Andersen and Finn Kasimir Kaskisuo are the only goalies Toronto has under contract, although promising Joseph Woll is with Boston College, while Bibeau and Garrett Sparks are RFAs. Bibeau might well be offered a short-term deal, although the Leafs will likely have to sign a short-term backup.
RW/LW Stanislav Galiev, 25 UFA: The skilled Russian forward had 40 AHL points but never played in an NHL game this season. Outlook: A UFA, Galiev will certainly try to rejuvenate his flagging hockey career elsewhere.
LW/RW Christian Thomas, 25 UFA: Only 5-9, Thomas used his explosive speed to post 24 goals and 49 points in 65 AHL games. Outlook: Like Galiev a UFA who never got into an NHL game this season, Thomas might shop elsewhere for a contract.
G Pheonix Copley, 25 UFA: The 6-4 Alaskan played in just one NHL game. Outlook: Another UFA, the former St. Louis Blue will likely also be on the move as the Capitals shake things up.
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Next week: The Western Conference.