July 1 – the day where National Hockey League teams can sign that missing piece or two they think will help them in the pursuit of a Stanley Cup. It is also the day where teams start to fill their American Hockey League rosters with players cast off by others in order to accommodate their up-and-coming prospects. These veteran players are still good enough to compete, but can’t crack the top 14 forwards (or seven defensemen) on a regular basis. Sometimes they are late bloomers who just need the right system to produce in the NHL.
[Editor’s Note: This article was written prior to the July 1 Free Agent Frenzy.]
Let’s take a look at which AHL free agents are available (compiled by Inside AHL Hockey) and who could be a good fit for the Stockton Heat on either an AHL contract or a one-year, two-way NHL contract.
As a reminder, here are the rules for icing an AHL team. A team can sign more experienced players, they just cannot dress more than five for a game.
To understand what you see, also understanding the development rule in the AHL will allow to get a grasp for what goes into constructing an AHL roster and the balance between prospects and veterans, with of course the ultimate goal being to develop in a winning environment.
Of the 18 skaters (not counting two goaltenders) that teams may dress for a game, at least 13 must be qualified as “development players.” Of those 13, 12 must have played in 260 or fewer professional games (including AHL, NHL and European elite leagues), and one must have played in 320 or fewer professional games. All calculations for development status are based on regular-season totals as of the start of the season.
Currently, the Stockton roster looks something like this (*likely to be in Calgary):
|Alan Quine||Juuso Valimaki*||Tyler Parsons|
|Dillon Dube*||Oliver Kylington*||Nick Schneider|
|Buddy Robinson||Andrew Nielsen||Artyom Zagidulin|
|Glenn Gawdin||Rob Hamilton (AHL)||Jon Gillies|
|Matthew Phillips||Corey Schueneman (AHL)|
|Mason Morelli (AHL)|
Two Heat pending restricted free agents, Rinat Valiev and Ryan Lomberg, have received qualifying offers from the team but have not signed as of this writing. With four goalies already signed, I did not go down that rabbit hole. I still am holding out hope for a Jon Gillies for Tristan Jarry trade.
Defense wins championships
The first area of concentration should be bolstering last year’s dumpster fire known as the defense. A brief report on who is already signed.
Assuming Valiev gets re-signed and, depending on what materializes in Calgary, either Juuso Valimaki or Oliver Kylington could find themselves next to Valiev. Rob Hamilton is a good second or third pairing guy who produces points (7-22-29) and can quarterback the second power play unit. Andrew Nielsen looked horrible last season after coming over from Toronto, contributing seven assists and a minus-seven while suiting up for only 37 total games. Corey Schueneman had a goal in six games with the Heat and he finished with a minus-two. In fact, three of his six games he finished with a minus number next to his name.
Time to go shopping. These names are in alphabetical order.
- Chris Bigras – A 6-foot, 190 pound 24-year old left shot who was a 2013 second round pick of Colorado. He has 179 games played in the AHL over five seasons. Last season with Hartford he put up 22 points (3 goals, 19 assists) with a plus-five.
- Tommy Cross (veteran) – The longtime Providence Bruin captain has never missed the Calder Cup playoffs in his career. At 29, he could easily slide into a captaincy with the Heat. He spent last year with Cleveland after six full seasons with Providence. A left-handed shot, this 6’3” blue-liner could mentor young defenders like Valiev, Kylington, and Valimaki.
- John Gilmour – A teammate of Mark Jankowski and Jon Gillies at Providence College while winning the NCAA National Championship, Gilmore has spent the past three seasons with the Hartford Wolf Pack and has 33 NHL games with the Rangers. This 6’0″ left shooting defensemen may help get Jon Gillies back on track, knowing their past history together.
- Chris Kato (veteran) – This veteran played most of his time in Providence before bouncing to both Chicago and Bridgeport the past two years. At 27, this 6’ 3” right-handed shot could provide some stability to a young core.
- Keaton Middleton – At 6’6”, this 240 pound 21-year old left shot spent last year playing next to his brother in San Jose. I watched this kid push Heat players around for six games last season. He tallied 13 points (six goals, seven assists) in 61 games. Hopefully the Barracuda do not re-sign this kid.
- Aaron Ness (veteran) – This 5’10” left shot has been in the league since 2010. He led all AHL defensemen with 50 assists last season. He would serve as your first line quarterback.
- Philip Samuelsson (veteran) – In Stockton’s camp last year, the 6’2” left shot was jettison after preseason and landed in Lehigh Valley for the year, where he had a respectable 15 points (four goals, 11 assists). Samuelsson, with his 51 playoff games, has bounced around the AHL since he entered the league in 2011.
- Tyler Wotherspoon (veteran) – Would Calgary welcome back an old player and would he accept a contract? He put up 22 points last year (four goals, 18 assists) for San Antonio. At 26, he is destined to be a career AHLer. A solid defensive-minded blueliner, he could be penciled in the top four without question.
Offensive language ahead
Last season Stockton finished 12th in the league with 235 goals scored, but the top six Heat goal scorers, accounting for 118 lamp-lighters (50.2%), may not start the season in Stockton. Tyler Graovac paced the team with 24 goals followed closely by Kerby Rychel with 23. Both of those have not been tendered qualifying contracts and will be UFAs starting July 1. Curtis Lazar, who was the third member of the 20-goal club, is reported to have a deal with Buffalo. Alan Quine, who led the team with 52 points, has re-signed with Calgary but may take his 19 goals up north. Spencer Foo, who was fifth on the team with the quietest 17 goal season, will be setting up shop on the Great Wall of China in the KHL. Dillon Dube rounds out the top six with 15 goals. Like last season, he could start the season in Calgary.
As for the returning players, Buddy Robinson brings his 14 goals and 42 points back to Stockton, ranking him fourth on the team in points and seventh in goals. Glenn Gawdin (11 goals, 27 assists) and Matthew Phillips (13 goals, 25 assists) had encouraging freshman years, finishing tied for seventh in team scoring with 38 points. Mason Morelli had three goals and an assist in the final nine games with the Heat. Luke Philp, Adam Ruzicka, and Martin Pospisil are expected to make their AHL debuts this season.
Time to find players to fill the net:
- Daniel Audette – A 23-year old left-handed center, he has scored 98 points in his first three years with St. John’s & Laval, lighting the lamp 37 times. At 5’9”, he is on the smaller end and could be a bottom six player.
- Justin Bailey – A second round pick of the Buffalo Sabres, Bailey was shipped to Philadelphia mid-season last year. A right shot winger, he can park his 6’4”, 215 pounds frame in front of the net looking for scraps. He scored twenty goals his first two years in the league but has tailed off in recent years.
- Riley Barber – Right-handed winger who can score, Barber has played for Hersey since 2015. His 180 points (90 goals) in 237 AHL games would look really good in Stockton. He is still young enough (25) to compete for a spot in Calgary while providing some guidance to the youngsters coming through the system.
- Greg Carey (veteran) – A sniper who fills the net, Carey has averaged 28 goals a season over the past four campaigns for Springfield and Lehigh Valley. At 5’10” and 204 pounds, he has the ability to dig for pucks in the corners.
- Tyrell Goulbourne – This kid reminds me of Ryan Reeves. Standing 5’11” and 195 lbs. he tallied 135 PIMs last season for Lehigh Valley. He is a fourth liner that can kill penalties. Imagine him and Pospisil on the same line. Check out the end of this fight from this past season.
- Tyler Gust – Solid right wing for the Bakersfield Condors over the past two years. Nifty little skater at 5’10” and 177 pounds. He had 33 points last year (18 goals, 15 assists) helping the Condors reach the second round of the playoffs. Likes to shoot the puck as he fired 149 pucks on net this season (12.1%). He would be a good middle pairing.
- Scott Kosmachuk (veteran) – On his fourth team since 2015, Kosmachuk (6’0″, 185 pounds) has netted double-digit goals in each season, his high mark of 19 coming in 2015-16 in Manitoba. One drawback is he has never finished in the plus category.
- Danny O’Regan – I cheered when this kid was traded from San Jose to Buffalo in the Evander Kane deal. O’Regan was a scoring machine against the Heat. He is quick and knows where he needs to be on the ice. A near point-a-game player with the Barracuda (.883), he was fourth in scoring with 48 points for Rochester last season (20 goals, 28 assists). He also had eight power play goals. Still only 25 years old, this right-handed winger would be perfect for the Heat. I want this kid!
- Cole Schneider (veteran) – A career AHL player that has put up double-digit goal seasons since arriving on the scene full time in 2012-13. At 28 years old and on what would be his fifth team, he could provide some experience to the younger players.
- Adam Tambellini – A left shot, Tambellini has recorded 4 straight 30-point seasons for Hartford and Bellville. From his stats, he needs to work on his defensive game, going minus-34, minus-12, and minus-two in his previous three years. Only 24 years old, this 6’3” 191lb. winger may just need a change of scenery.
- Corey Tropp (veteran) – Another right winger who I have seen too much of, Tropp is a solid point producer for San Diego. He has three consecutive 40+ point seasons. At 29 years old, he has a bit of a nasty side to him as well, registering over 100 PIMs the past two seasons. He is a guy you love to have on your team but hate playing against.
- T.J. Tynan (veteran) – Playing for his third team in six seasons, Tynan is making his mark for the Vegas Golden Knights farm team. He is an assist magician, racking up 104 helpers in the past two seasons alone. He was a point a game player last season with 71 (12 goals, 59 assists) in 71. This small (5’8”) 27-year-old right-handed center won’t come cheap. He brings a Calder Cup Championship with him from his time with Cleveland (Lake Erie) along with a Calder Cup Finals defeat last year. One could dream to sign this guy.
I tried to stay away from some of the older vets on the list knowing they would come at a bigger price tag. There are a few in their upper 20s (Tropp will be 30 in July) but most are in their mid to early 20s. I would still prefer Rychel and Graovac to be re-signed but if they are not, there are some good replacements on this list to ink.
I will only charge a modest 2% finder’s fee on all mentioned players’ contracts the Flames or Heat sign for next season. Brad Treliving and Brad Pascall can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org to arrange the payments. Again, one can dream. Hopefully a few of these players can help the Heat get to the playoffs in what could be their final season in Stockton.