It's decision time for NHL teams that still have unsigned players that they drafted in 2008. Clubs will lose the rights to those players who they haven't yet gotten under contract and those players will return to the pool and be eligible to be drafted once again when the 2010 event gets underway on June 25th and 26th. There are still some significant names of the 'to do' list and with less than a week to go you should expect a flurry of contract activity... or trades over the next few days.
Yesterday the New York Islanders dealt Saskatoon Blades defenceman Jyri Niemi to their arch-rivals, the New York Rangers. In return, the Islanders got back a 6th round pick... a far cry from the 3rd rounder they used to take Niemi back in 2008. While his offence appeared to stagnate over his 3 years in the WHL, Niemi's defensive game has developed and he still remains a decent prospect. The fact that the Islanders weren't able to recoup their value and only got a 6th rounder tells me that they had decided they either didn't want to sign him or simply couldn't and opted to get something for him rather than lose him for nothing.
I'm not going to list everyone because some really are not worth it but here's a rundown of the more notable names still needing to be signed.
ANH: Brandon McMillan (3rd round) - I actually thought that Anaheim had signed McMillan a long time ago and assumed that the news just never really registered in the media. I haven't been able to find any record of it though so he has to be on the notable list. The Kelowna Rockets forward has been a key player for the WHL team and also represented Canada in the WJC. He won the fastest skater event at the 2008 Top Prospects Game in Edmonton and had 25 goals and 67 points in 55 games last year.
ATL: Eric O'Dell (2nd round) - Originally a selection of the Anaheim Ducks, O'Dell was acquired by the Thrashers in exchange for Erik Christensen. He had back-to-back 33 goal seasons with the OHL's Sudbury Wolves and has been a point per game players there in each of his 3 major junior campaigns. O'Dell ended last year in the AHL with the Chicago Wolves.
CHI: Teigan Zahn (5th round) - Another Saskatoon Blades defenceman from 2008. Zahn had 19 points in his draft year, 16 the following season and just 4 in 44 games this past year with the Blades.
COL: Kelsey Tessier (4th round) - Tessier was with the Moncton Wildcats at the Memorial Cup last week which might explain to some degree why a contract hasn't been completed yet. The feisty forward had a pretty solid QMJHL career, mostly with the Quebec Remparts.
COL: Peter Delmas (2nd round) - The QMJHL netminder was once thought to be the next big thing in the league behind Jonathan Bernier but he's really just been slightly better than average. I won't be surprised if Colorado opts not to sign him considering they have Kieran Millan and Brandon Maxwell in the prospect system as well.
DET: Stephen Johnston (6th round) - Another 2010 Memorial Cup participant, Johnston played a role in helping the Windsor Spitfires win a second consecutive CHL title. He had 19 points in 36 games this year and was acquired by Windsor from Belleville midway through the season.
FLA: Jakob Markstrom (2nd round) - In my mind, this is the big fish still on the watch list. According to The Hockey News Future Watch, Markstrom is the best goalie on the planet that is property of a NHL team but is not yet playing in the league. He's also guaranteed to go higher in the 2010 draft than he did back in 2008 when he was the first player taken in round 2. If Florida, for what ever reason, can't sign him... they should be able to get decent return if they opt to deal him before June 1st like NYI did with Niemi. Crazy to think that the Panthers haven't locked him up long before now though.
LA: Geordie Wudrick (3rd round) - Wudrick was traded from Swift Current to Kelowna during the season. He's been a consistent 45-55 point producer at the WHL level, scored 35 goals in 2008-09 and is big enough to play a power forward role. I don't know that he's got a NHL future but he's bound to get a pro contract from someone even if the LA Kings decide to pass on him now.
NSH: Roman Josi (2nd round) - The Swiss rearguard played in the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver and I was told that he's good enough to possibly step into the NHL next year. That said, I'd be surprised if team and player don't come to an agreement soon. Josi had 21 points in 26 games this year for Bern.
NYI: Travis Hamonic (2nd round) - One of the best blueliners in the WHL this season, next to Markstrom I think Hamonic is probably the biggest name to potentially re-enter the draft. He was hurt playing in the WJC, missed several weeks and returned to play in the WHL for a new team. With Brandon he was able to recover knowing full well that he'd be playing at the Memorial Cup as part of the host team. It would be interesting to see where he would be selected in the 2010 draft should he not get inked by the Islanders (or traded and signed like Niemi).
NYI: Jared Spurgeon (6th) - Spurgeon missed time with injury this year but still had 51 points in 54 games, almost all of them assists. The undersized defenceman (5'8) doesn't have the resumé of a Kris Russell and may not get signed but I wouldn't be surprised if he gets picked up as a free agent by another NHL team if that's the case. 3 straight +40 point campaigns in Spokane should account for something.
PHI: Jacob De Serres (3rd round) - With the recent goalie signings by the Flyers (Sergei Bobrovsky and Brian Stewart) plus Nicola Riopel in the mix, I would be surprised if De Serres was in Philly's plans. His rather inconsistent performance at the Memorial Cup won't help his cause either.
PGH: Nathan Moon (4th round) - The mid-round pick by the Penguins has had pretty decent production in Kingston over the last 3 seasons. 77, 72 and 69 point campaigns. He scored +30 goals twice in that time span and yet is ranked 19th by Hockey's Future on Pittsburgh's Top 20 prospect list. I have to think that someone would be happy to take him of the Penguins' hands if they can't sign him.
STL: James Livingston (3rd round) - Formerly with the Soo Greyhounds, Livingston ended his OHL career in Plymouth. He's a big body but not really a big producer, Livingston might be headed back into the draft and towards a minor league career.
TBY: Mark Barberio (6th round) - a pretty decent find in the later stages of the draft for Tampa, Barberio is another Memorial Cup participant. He had 60 points in 65 games with the Moncton Wildcats this year and the defenceman has 46 and 45 point campaigns under his belt already. You would have to think the Bolts would want to get someone like this under wraps ASAP.
TOR: Jerome Flaake (5th round) - I know the Leafs and Germany's National Hockey body were hopeful that Flaake would eventually get out from under his pro contract in time to play in the WHL with Prince George. That didn't happen and at last report he had lost his DEL roster spot and was playing for a 2nd division team in Germany. Probably a long shot for a contract at this point.
TOR: Joel Champagne (5th) - The 6'4, 220 lb forward played for 3 teams in 3 years during his QMJHL career, most recently with the Victoriaville Tigres. He put up decent numbers, 79 points this year, and has the frame that will get him a contract from someone if not the Leafs.
VAN: Morgan Clark (7th round) - The Swift Current goaltender enjoyed his best WHL season sporting a 2.92 GAA and .907 SV%. Will it be enough to get a contract from a franchise that already has Cory Schneider on standby in the AHL? Maybe considering Schneider is eligible for waivers next season.
WSH: Joel Broda (5th) - The 53-goal man from 2008-09 failed to live up to expectations this past year. Broda played for 3 WHL teams in his career and was a key component of them all. He helped get the Calgary Hitmen to the Memorial Cup this year as WHL champs but I don't know if he's in Washington's plans or not. If he isn't, I'm sure someone would use a late pick on him.