Monday Musings: NCAA free agents

Caggiula

The Oilers signed Drake Caggiula to a two-year entry level deal on the weekend. Caggiula won a NCAA National Championship with North Dakota this spring, and the 5’10, 185 pound left shooting forward turns 22 in June.

Many NHL teams were trying to sign him, but he chose the Oilers, likely due to the lack of skilled forwards in their farm system — Jujhar Khaira, Anton Slepyshev, Bogdan Yakimov and Kyle Platzer are their best skilled forwards. Josh Winquist had 8-22-30 in 35 games in Bakersfield this year, but he was on an AHL-only contract. He’s arguably the most skilled forward prospect they have in the AHL, but he isn’t signed.

Caggiula gives them some organizational depth, but we should be cautious when predicting his NHL future.

“I think NCAA free agents have become the most overrated asset in hockey,” an NHL scout said to me last month. “You will find a few good ones, but the majority are over hyped,” he continued.

Teams over hype (and over pay) some players, but so do media and fans. It is best to have realistic expectations, and recognize most of these free agents can add solid organizational depth, but they are unlikely to be top-end NHL players.

Caggiula was never drafted, and while numerous teams tried to sign him, he wasn’t glorified to the degree we’ve seen with other NCAA players recently. He won’t be looked at as a saviour, just possibly another piece of the puzzle.

Jimmy Vesey was this year’s NCAA darling. He spurned the Predators, who drafted him 66th overall in 2012, and will be signed by another NHL team this August. He’ll likely get a bonus laden contract worthy of a top-five pick.

Recently Justin Schultz, Mike Reilly and Kevin Hayes all elected to test free agency after college, instead of signing with the team who drafted them, and were involved in different degrees of bidding wars.

Schultz was selected 43rd overall by the Anaheim Ducks in 2008. The Oilers signed him in 2012 and gave him the rookie maximum salary complete with bonuses. He was force fed big minutes, and was given too much responsibility early in his career. Even after two uneventful seasons, the Oilers were still major believers and signed him to a one-year $3.6 million deal. He’s never lived up to the contract, but I blame the organization for overpaying him.

The Blackhawks selected Hayes 24th overall in 2010. He too choose free agency and signed with the Rangers in 2014. He got a $900,000 base and maximum bonuses. He tallied a solid 17-28-45 in 79 games last year and dipped to 14-22-36 this year. He was a very good signing. He has the 19th most goals from players drafted in 2010 despite only playing two NHL seasons.

The Blue Jackets drafted Reilly 98th overall in 2011. He signed with the Wild this past summer. He did not get a huge contract. He signed with a based of $925,000 and his “B” bonuses only totaled $750,000. He played 45 games in the AHL and 29 with the Wild.

Caggiula will be on TSN1260 today with me at 2:20 MST to discuss why the Oilers were the best fit for his pro career. You can listen online here

SOLID FINDS…

PanningGold

Here are some recent undrafted NCAA free agents who panned out.

Tyler Bozak, Torey Krug and Danny Dekeyser have worked out very well for Toronto, Boston and Detroit.

Teddy Purcell has 101 goals in 550 games since being signed by the Kings in 2007. Matt Read, JT Brown, Matt Irwin and Edmonton area products, Mark Letestu, Ben Scrivens and Justin Fontaine have become regular NHLers.

It is worthwhile signing NCAA players, as long as your expectations are realistic. It is more likely they will be akin to Andrew Miller, a solid AHL player, than they will be regulars in the NHL.

Caggiula chose an organization with very little organization top-six depth. Peter Chiarelli and Todd McLellan don’t have to rush him to the NHL. If he comes to training camp and proves he is NHL-ready, great, but the Oilers should not rush him. I’m sure Connor McDavid factored into the equation as well. If you are a skilled forward, the potential to play with him is very enticing.

Treat him like most draft picks outside the first round. Let him develop in the AHL. Caggiula needed time in the NCAA to grow and mature. He wasn’t very big at 17, but he’s had four years to train and get stronger. He has always been an offensive player, and if he’s going to succeed in the NHL it is most likely in a top-six role.

His last two years at UND he produced 43-44-87 in 81 games. He hasn’t had to play a defensive role in his career, and if he starts in Bakersfield he’ll be in their top six. He gives them some much-needed organizational forward depth, and if he becomes an NHL regular that is a huge bonus.

PATRICK RUSSELL

The Oilers announced they have signed Cloud State forward Patrick Russell to a two-year entry-level contract. Russell is 6’1, 205 pounds and shoots right. He had 20-21-41 in 41 games this season. The Oilers desperately need some right-shot skilled forwards in the organization, so he fills a void.

He turned 23 in January and likely needs some AHL seasoning. He is a big body who is good down low in the offensive zone. He’ll need to improve his foot speed, like most prospects, to play in the NHL. He was used on the PK this past year in college. He isn’t a rugged bruiser, but he does go to high traffic areas.

QUICK HITS…

Speedbag

  • How good is Viktor Hedman right now? He had 4-4-8 in five games versus the Islanders and was a force defensively. It took him a few years to adapt to the NHL game, but his last three years have been spectacular. He is a UFA next summer, and if I’m Steve Yzerman and had to choose between him or Steven Stamkos. I’d keep Hedman all day.
  • Nikita Kucherov and Alex Killorn are RFAs this year, while Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat and Jonathon Drouin are RFAs next year. When you look at the Lightning’s cap situation and the fact they are in the conference finals without Stamkos, I can see why Yzerman is leery of a $9 or $10 million/year deal for Stamkos. When the Bolts went to the Cup finals last year, Stamkos was fifth on the team in goals.
  • It is funny how the playoffs change from the first round to the second.
    In the first round the team who won game one, won all eight series.
    The home teams were only 19-28 (40.4 winning%).
    In the second round the home teams are 13-7 (65w%) and San Jose is the only team who won game won leading their series. The Islanders are out, while the Capitals and Stars trail 3-2.

5th Annual WSOP Charity Tournament

5th Annual Jason Gregor Show_WSOP Tournament_1080x1080_Facebook_YHD

This year’s tourney will be held at the Yellowhead Casino this year. It includes a complimentary lunch. We are already 40% sold out. It sells
out fast. You can sign up here. Good luck.

Recently by Jason Gregor:  

  • Will

    Chi is doing some solid work trying to repair a ship that should be sailing smooth right now. Too bad the previous owners focused on the shiny details rather than giving the ship a solid hull.

    Not being a sailor I fear this metaphor is losing steam, or I guess wind.

    It’s also interesting that we think the cupboards are bare. Kaharia, Shlepyshev, Chase, Pitlick, Pakarinen, Brossiot, Rienheart, and depending on where they play: Yakimov and Nurse is not a prospect cupboard to sneeze at. Not to mention if the team grabs someone at 4th overall instead of trading the pick.

    Maybe not top of the league but definitely not the worst either. But still, nice to see some skilled forwards join the ranks.

    • McRaj

      I’d disagree. While it may not be the absolute worst, it is definitely down there. Slepy, Chase, Pitlick, Yakumov have all proven nothing. Paka, Khaira, at best currently are fringe NHLers. Nurse is a top prospect but his rookie season was not promising and LB showed nothing to suggest that he is NHL ready. Reinhart may be ready for third pairing duty. Unfortunately we have one of the worst prospect pools in the league. If we keep the 4th overall pick, that will add another bonafide top prospect along with Nurse but after that, all our prospects are of C and D quality with a couple of B’s in there

      • Hhhmm, I’m not sure how much has to do with poor prospects and how much has to do with the contractual log jams and team make up.

        Really, no matter how good a forward prospect is, they have to be better than Hall, Nuge, Draisaitl, Eberle, Yak, Pouliot, Maroon, McDavid, and Kassian for top nine minutes. And for the 4th line they need to be better then Lander, Korpikoski, Letestu, Hendricks, and Gazdic.

        Not many prospects in the league would be taking time away from that top nine.

        Again, I understand Edonton is no Detroit or Winnipeg when it comes to their prospect pool, and it’s great Chi is trying to restock, but I still don’t see where these guys are going to get their shots save injuries, but when players return there’s not much choice in having them sent back down.

        Not to mention if a prospect, especially on the back end, does get play time, by the very make up of the D core, they would need to likely play above their heads. But then again, there are no right shot D prospects int he system, so they’d have to play so much better than Sekera, Nurse, Klefbom, Davidson, Reinheart, ect ect ect to get a look.

        You make good points though.

        • McRaj

          You replied with an excellent response that holds merit. But how many NHL rosters would Korpi, Letestu (of this season), Gazdic, Lander, and Kassian make? On most nights, we had 3 or 4 of these 5 guys playing. If our forward prospects cannot beat out these players, then how good can we say that they are? And if a player makes it impossible to send him down, then a team will always make room for him, unfortunately none of our prospects have been head and shoulders above the roster players.

          As for the D, I can agree that due to the logjam at left, it is making it harder to see if any of these prospects are any good (especially Reinhart) but again when played, there is nothing to suggest that these players are bonafide NHLers. The Oilers are not only lacking top-end prospects, but also prospects who are a surefire bet to step in and make a contribution and difference in the bottom 6.

          • I actually think Reinheart did pretty well with the task he was being asked. There were nights when Reinheart, I thought, was a better option than Nurse on the bottom pair.

            I really think there is a player there but even now you can see his development could get messed up as a result of favouring prospects over others, and not having the right support on the right side to help mentor the kid.

            I do think many NHL team would have Letestu, Lander, and especially Kassian make it on their fourth line, and some even on higher lines.

            Letestu was lethal on the face off and PK. He had a few short handed goals this year playing tough minutes. Korp was a bit of an offensive black hole, as was lander. Gazdic I could actually see doing way better on better teams. Like how Chicago deployed Bickell. They understood the player had skills, then gave him a very specific role, and he excelled. But in Edmonton there were better options so Gazdic needed to not just compete for play time, but also ‘prove’ himself worthy.

            Again, just my observations, not professional and there’s lots of room for disagreement and to show I am incorrect in my assessment. I think generally we are saying the same thing, really it’s just our mileage on where the Oilers land on the prospect list varies. End of the day, signings like these can only improve the team and the prospect pool.

            I doubt Chi is done and am excited for the summer to see how he will mold this team into a contender.

          • McRaj

            I can agree with the Reinhart statement for sure. I am a bit hard on him because I wish we had any of Barzal, Kyle Connor, Chabot or Boeser instead of him (boy we lost that trade badly).

            But, I do disagree big time on Letestu, Kassian (he was on waivers and every team passed on him), Gazdic (same thing on waivers), and Lander. Letestu won faceoffs but nothing else. His shot metrics were terrible, this was the first year in his career that he was used on the powerplay (over 2 minutes a game) and he did decent, on the PK he did score 2 goals and add an assist but overall he blocked less than half a shot per game, had more turnovers than takeaways, and while he played more than 2 and a half minutes per night on the PK, the Oilers were worse off in the shot department with him out on the PK. Bickell is burried in the AHL now for chicago and it can be argued that he is better than all of the player’s listed above.

            I do agree that signings like these can improve the prospect pool and hopefully this summer is finally the summer of improvement.

          • JimmyV1965

            Just because a player is passed over on waivers doesn’t necessarily mean they aren’t good enough for the NHL. Lots of guys don’t get claimed for salary reasons. Kassian clearly has NHL skills. In fact I would argue he’s a perfect 4th line player because he can slot up on higher lines when needed. If he made it through waivers it would be related to off-ice concerns.

          • Like I said, our mileage varies. Given how the team finished I’m not sure I have a leg to stand on, and I can’t imagine Gazdic, Letestu, Lander, and Korpikoski are in the long term plans for the team.

            Time will tell with Kassian. I think he’s a solid addition to a team that has been needing a player like him for a long ass time.

            Buried down on the third line I don’t think he’ll be too effective, but I am willing to bet an injury will force McLellan to play him up the line up where he will again be a pleasant surprise.

            That guy was a zero risk pick up, and while it wasn’t quite the slam dunk that Maroon was, I would still put him in the win column for Chi. But again, time will tell. He needs to be resigned for us to see if that deal will bare fruit or not.

            But I like the idea of having a team that can punish opponents in different ways.

          • McRaj

            Oh I definitely do think that Kassian was a good pick-up, but I was just saying that it’s hard to say he would crack another team’s top 9. McLellan did give him a shot in the top 6 but he didn’t do too well after his initial burst when he first came. But I still think he can be effective on the third line and so far I like the deal’s Chi has made (except Reinhart but that has old regime and Bob Green written all over it).

          • Well now I am interested, let’s see.

            .723 mill cap hit, played 36 games had 8 points and a whopping 119 Pims. Wow.

            Since I don’t want to try and see who else had 8 points or who had a .222 ppg, maybe I’ll pick some guys around the league at random.

            Again, I should preface here by saying I don’t think Kassian is the be all end all, but I do think he would crack some top nines.

            Dustin Brown, 82 games, 28 points, .39 ppg, 5.875 cap hit for the next 5 years.

            Frank Vatrano for the B’s played 39 games and got 11 points, .925 mill cap hit.

            Zach Rinaldo for the B’s was much worse playing 52 games and generating 3 points. .850 mill cap hit and singed for next year. Also really small.

            Oh! Josh Jooris from Calgary! 59 games, 13 points, .975 mill cap hit. Blegh.

            Speaking of the Flames, Ferland got 71 games and 18 points, .825 mill cap, signed on for another year.

            But for real ineptitude you have to go with Lance Bouma, 44 games, 7 points, singed on for two more years at 2.2 mill Whaaaaaa!

            Paul Byron for the Canadians is signed on for the next 4 years at 1.167, played 62 games and got 18 points. Not surprisingly he came over from Calgary.

            Chris Stewart played 56 games, got only 20 points, but made 1.7 mill.

            Keeping with the ducks Ryan Gearbutt played 80 games between the Ducks and the Hawks, got 14 points, Is signed on for one more year at .9mill cap hit.

            Anyway, I think I could go on and on. Point being, again, Kassian not amazing, but to say he can’t crack a top nine on other teams I would disagree with. There are plenty of other players around the league on worse contracts, who don’t bring his edge, producing similar or worse point totals. Especially in Calgary.

          • Randaman

            Let me chime in here. I think after his initial burst, Kassian levelled off due to being out of shape. Trying to play, practice and get in shape at the same time has to be difficult. Let’s also take into consideration that he was being tried on different lines and different situations.

            I believe we will sign him and he will come into camp ready to go. Let’s also remember the most important thing here is that he seems to have taken this opportunity to heart and is getting his sh!t together. Fingers crossed.

            We need a couple players with his skill set.

          • JimmyV1965

            Totally agree. Kassian has exceptional speed and decent play-making skills. He missed some easy goals last year and was very inconsistent. But when he’s on, he’s on. He’s the type of guy that could be extremely useful in the playoffs when the adrenaline is flowing and tensions are high.

  • CBK

    I definitely like both of these signings for the Oilers.

    I fully expect both Caggiula and Russell to start in the top 6 of Bakersfield. No need to rush either one of these guys even if they have good Pre-season stats.

    For me these guys would have to be knocking down the door in the AHL before having them re-called or full time with the Oilers.

    Earn your spot. Develop them properly.

  • Am I right?

    I assume Caggiula was never drafted because of his size, but I would be interested to know why most of the NCAA players available now, were never drafted.

      • Am I right?

        Almost all players signed to contracts honour them, very few go the Shultz route where they refuse to sign a contract in the allotted time after being drafted.

        I’m talking about these players listed in this article and other NCAA free agents, some who have been ranked rather high in their draft year but don’t get drafted. Most of these guys have passed through the draft 3 times, but never get drafted….at all, ever.

        Just saying it would be interesting to find out why.

        • Seanaconda

          Could be a combo of the contract thing . the league not being respected as much as the chl and European leagues. And the extra delay for the players to go to the ahl to develop. I’m not sure tho that’s just my guess.maybe they are seen as less dedicated to hockey as well not giving up a degree to just focus on hockey for 4 years. Idk

  • TKB2677

    Not expecting a ton from these guys but it would be nice if at least one turned into a useful NHLer. The one thing that has killed the Oilers over the years not getting useful NHLers from later rounds.

    It will be interesting to see which Oilers drafted prospects will be resigned. Does this Russell take the place of Pitlick who’s contract is up and hasn’t been able to figure it out. He can’t stay healthy with is probably the biggest problem.

  • Hey Gregor- re: Stamkos, where do you project his salary ranging as a UFA? Do you think his value has gone down at all from his lack of personal playoff success while the team has been flourishing without him? Obviously he had a huge year a couple seasons back but since then, hasn’t been performing up to his superstar billing… By my eye anyways

    • Jason Gregor

      I think he will want $9-$10 mill in cap hit. And I think someone will pay him. I wouldn’t. I just don’t see him being worth it.

      He is a very good, but I don’t see him as top-five player in the NHL. He hasn’t been for a few years.

  • smith

    If you have one of the worst offences in the NHL and none of your prospects can beat out your NHL players then you are probably in trouble and are lacking in prospects.