In hockey’s version of NCAA basketball’s March Madness, pro teams begin signing undrafted or free agent players, often once their collegiate season ends.
NHL teams or their AHL affiliates sometimes sign players to amateur tryout deals for the remainder of the season to get players under contract without complicating the parent club’s cap situation or exceeding the maximum of 50 NHL contracts.
Although Jimmy Vesey is a high-profile example, most acquisitions are under-the-radar transactions that nonetheless can lead to shrewd additions to your fantasy hockey roster, especially in keeper pools. Some developments from this week could reward you handsomely down the road if not during the rest of this pro hockey season.
Toronto Maple Leafs
C Miro Aaltonen signed to an entry-level contract.
As one of the KHL’s best young players, the 23-year-old Finn is a canny acquisition with an outside shot at making Toronto’s NHL roster next season. Drafted by Anaheim in 2013’s sixth round, he became a free agent by first playing three seasons in the Liiga, Finland’s premier men’s league. He played for Kärpät last season with fellow prospect standouts Jesse Puljujärvi and Sebastian Aho. In his rookie KHL campaign, Aaltonen was the league’s highest-scoring younger-than-24 player with 19 goals and 25 assists for 44 points in 59 games on a line with former NHLer Maxim Afinogenov. Aaltonen is clever with the puck, a good goal-scorer and an efficient passer. He is, however, small and averse to physical play, suggesting he’ll need time in the AHL.
G Callum Booth signed to three-year, entry-level contract
A Carolina fourth-round pick in 2015, Booth is tied for first in the QMJHL with 31 wins. He leads the junior league, which is notoriously tough on goaltender stats, with a .911 save percentage. Booth, who turns 20 in May, was traded in his fourth season with Quebec Remparts to the Saint John Sea Dogs, where his GAA improved dramatically. Recently named goaltender of the week in the Canadian Hockey League, he was the QMJHL’s goaltender of the month in November. The 6-4, 192-pounder will remain with the Sea Dogs for their playoffs and might join the AHL’s Charlotte Checkers if they are still active once Saint John is finished. Booth will need AHL development.
Columbus Blue Jackets
C Sam Vigneault signed to two-year, entry-level contract.
The Jackets successfully wooed the 6-5, 200-pound Clarkson forward after his junior season, signing him to an amateur tryout contract that will morph into an NHL entry-level contract next season. Vigneault will make his pro debut with the AHL’s Cleveland Monsters. The sizable 21-year-old plays physically. His Clarkson scoring evolved nicely from 13 points to 26 to 36 this season. Columbus has been interested in him for awhile.
D Luc Snuggerud signed to three-year, entry-level contract.
Foregoing his fourth NCAA season, the 21-year-old junior has joined the AHL’s Rockford Ice Hogs on an amateur tryout contract for the rest of the season just two days after the UNO Mavericks’ season ended with a loss to Western Michigan. En route to becoming an NCAA second-team all-leaguer, the 6-1, 190-pounder established personal bests with 11 goals, 20 assists and 31 points in 39 collegiate games. He’s already made his debut with Rockford. A mobile PP QB candidate, Snuggerud is overly aggressive and must learn when to pick his spots for a high-risk play.
D Gavin Bayreuther signed to three-year, entry-level contract.
The 6-1, 194-pounder began his pro career well on an amateur tryout deal, scoring a goal and finishing plus-1 with the Texas Stars of the AHL. The 22-year-old completed four seasons at St. Lawrence University of the ECAC, capping his time there with eight goals, 21 assists and 29 points as a senior. He totaled 111 points in 142 NCAA games, being named co-winner of the ECAC rookie-of-the-year award, then being named second-team All American during his junior season. Undrafted, but not unwanted, he’ll begin his NHL deal next season.
New York Rangers
LW Tim Gettinger signed to three-year, entry-level contract.
The 6-5, 220-pound winger doesn’t mind the rough stuff, but doesn’t initiate it. Any physical play is puck-related, including driving to the net. He uses a heavy wrister with a superior release or a devastating one-timer to score. A decent skater for a skyscraper, the 18-year-old is enjoying his third and best junior season with Sault Ste-Marie. In 61 games with the Greyhounds, he has 53 points, including 31 goals, in 61 games. Large players generally need time to mature, so don‘t expect him in the NHL anytime soon, although he sure has the size for it.
Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins (AHL)
C Troy Josephs signed to amateur tryout contract.
Pittsburgh’s seventh-round pick in 2013 earned his deal with a breakout season in his senior year at Clarkson University. The 22-year-old established personal bests with 20 goals, 33 points and plus-10. His 20 goals led the Golden Knights and his 33 points were second on the team. He’s a longshot for an NHL career but, at 6-0 and 194 pounds, he already has decent NHL size and a reputation at Clarkson as a difference-maker.
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As in any week during the long NHL season, prospects are shuffled up and down between the big league and the minors.
D Derrick Pouliot recalled from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins (AHL).
Pittsburgh hadn’t planned to expose their slowly developing potential star blueliner until he marinated sufficiently in the minors, except the organization’s NHL defense corps keeps getting ravaged. Veteran Ron Hainsey, whom Pittsburgh acquired at the trade deadline because Kris Letang, Olli Maatta and Trevor Daley were hurt, is sidelined indefinitely with an upper-body injury. Pouliot, only 23 and still gifted with a lot of potential, did not distinguish himself in a 6-4 win Friday over the Devils. Playing only 13:43, mostly with Ian Cole, the former eighth-overall pick played more than a minute each on the power play and penalty kill, but was minus-2 without a point. It’s safe to assume he’ll be back in the AHL once rehabbed D-Men return to health. It’s too early to give up on Pouliot and you should monitor him closely, but he has to figure out things in his own end. He certainly hasn’t earned a lucrative, long-term deal when he becomes an RFA after the season, and will likely have to settle for a bridge contract.
Tampa Bay Lightning
RW Joël Vermin recalled from Syracuse Crunch (AHL).
The Swiss native was promoted in case ailing winger Ondrej Palat can’t play today in an important game against the visiting Washington Capitals. While the 25-year-old Vermin has some smarts and puck skill, he was only a seventh-round pick and hasn’t posted big pro numbers so far (28 points in 43 AHL games). In an earlier 110-game callup, he averaged 11:20 of ice time, with just three assists.
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I’ll be back next Saturday to ramble some more.