Overreaction of the week: There will not be as many overage players signed to NHL contracts this year.
The 20-year-old season is a pivotal one for WHL players hoping to earn professional contracts to continue to play hockey.
Last season, there were many NHL entry-level deals handed out to 1997-born players.
There was defenseman Austin Strand from the Seattle Thunderbirds and Portland Winterhawks goalie Cole Kehler signing with the L.A. Kings. There was Glenn Gawdin inking a deal with the Calgary Flames. Moose Jaw’s Jayden Halbgewachs and Everett’s Matt Fonteyne signed with the San Jose Sharks.
Speaking of Everett, Patrick Bajkov signed on with the Florida Panthers.
The Arizona Coyotes inked Moose Jaw center Brayden Burke.
The Edmonton Oilers signed Regina Pats play-maker Cameron Hebig in his bounce back season.
Not surprisingly, the New York Rangers noticed Ty Ronning’s breakout year and signed him to an entry-level contract.
The Philadelphia Flyers got in on the action and signed Kelowna Rockets overage forward Carsen Twarynski.
After his season was just over, the Nashville Predators inked another Moose Jaw Warriors overager in Tanner Jeannot as well.
I’m sure there are others I’m missing but point is there was a plethora of 1997-born players signed during the season last year.
So then why has there not been a single 1998-born player signed who has played in the 2018-19 campaign? We are already over a month into the season. By this time last year, both Strand and Kehler were holding contracts from the Kings.
My theory is that this year, we will see a big dip in overage players being signed during the year to pro deals.
The biggest reason for this is that so many 1998-born players are already signed. The large majority of players born that year attending NHL camps this summer were drafted and/or signed. At the NHL camps there were just nine overage players who were free agent invites. There were four more who were NHL-drafted and not yet signed. One of those (Cale Fleury) was signed before he even returned to his WHL team.
That leaves just 13 overage players who saw time at NHL training camps, were not signed and were returned to their WHL team.
Considering there were 48 players born in 1998, who participated in NHL camps, that is a relatively low number that was not signed.
The year previous there were 45 overage players invited to NHL camps and 21 were not signed. That left quite a few players there for the taking for NHL teams that were out scouting talent in 2017-18.
Now while there were more overage players at NHL camps this summer there were less than half the number of available prospects who could just be signed without having to wait for an NHL draft.
The 12, 1998-born NHL camp attendees who are obviously on an NHL team’s radar are:
- Schael Higson (VGK)- Invite (Brandon)
- Jermaine Loewen (DAL) – Drafted 2018 (Kamloops)
- Martin Bodak (VGK) – Invite (Kootenay)
- Igor Merezhko (CAL) – Invite (Lethbridge)
- Linus Nassen (FLA) – Invite (Medicine Hat)
- Dylan MacPherson (FLA) – Invite (Medicine Hat)
- Brendan De Jong (CAR) – Drafted 2017 (Portland)
- Joel Lakusta (STL) – Invite (Prince George)
- Brandon Hagel (MTL) – Invite (Red Deer)
- Reese Johnson (NYR) – Invite (Red Deer)
- Max Gerlach (ARI) – Invite (Saskatoon)
- Lane Zablocki (DET) – Drafted 2017 (Kelowna-traded from Victoria)
This group of players is the most likely to be signed from by the NHL.
Of that group, so far Hagel is the highest scoring players (3rd in the WHL) with 28 points in 15 games. Max Gerlach is the next highest scorer at 34th overall (16 points in 16 games). That is a group of forwards not exactly forcing an NHL team to hand over a contract.
Keep in mind that Jermaine Loewen served a four-game suspension in the first part of the season and Lane Zablocki has only played in three games with his new team, the Kelowna Rockets during which he has four points.
Higson has been a stand out at times and outside of Hagel seems the most likely to get signed, but Nassen and MacPherson did also get quite a lot of attention from the Florida Panthers and were returned late.
I’m not saying that there isn’t someone not on this list who could get signed, but there does not seem to be any obvious candidate. Of the list of players signed last year I referenced, only Everett’s Matt Fonteyne was not invited to an NHL camp during the summer of 2017.
The best options on the board to pull off what Fonteyne did are probably Tri-City’s Nolan Yaremko (6th in WHL scoring), Prince Albert’s Sean Montgomery (16th) and Saskatoon’s Dawson Davidson (17th and 2nd among d-men). Those three or others would need to sustain their current pace and overcome whatever NHL scouts have thought they have lacked over years of viewings.
Brendan De Jong and Lane Zablocki are the only two from the 2017 draft who must be signed by the summer or their team’s will lose the rights to them. Both would need strong years to keep this from happening.
As far as goalies are concerned, Victoria’s Griffen Outhouse has had a strong start and has made efforts to make his goaltending more professionally ready.
All in all though, it does not seem like a signing from this year’s crop of overage players is impending and we should see far fewer than we saw last year.