The 2012 NHL free agent frenzy began with a bang for the Dallas Stars, with the team making some of the biggest splashes in the league, at least in terms of talk.
Much buzz surrounded the signings of 40 year-old veterans Ray Whitney and Jaromir Jagr, as well as the trade with the Buffalo Sabres that sent Steve Ott out and Derek Roy in. Add in the signing of defenceman Aaron Rome and the first week of free agency was a very busy one for the Stars.
The Western front has gone quiet since, however, with the team making little in the way of other moves, aside from the signing of restricted free agents like Mark Fistric and Richard Bachman, as well as other small moves.
The Stars wasted no time in assembling what they believe to be a competent and talented forward core going forward. According to NHLnumbers.com, Dallas has 13 pro forwards ready for next year (this is counting Jamie Benn, who is still an RFA but will surely be signed before the season begins). Toby Petersen will likely be sent to the AHL and be replaced on that list by Cody Eakin, but the total of 13 forwards, a healthy number for any NHL team, still remains.
Dallas, however, often rolled with 14 forwards last season, leaving open the possibility of an AHL callup.
But according to this post over at Texas Stars fansite Hundred Degree Hockey, the AHL’s Stars also have 13 forwards under contract. Taking into consideration the possibility of one of those players being promoted to the bigs, that could leave an open roster spot for one lucky contract recipient.
Dallas GM Joe Nieuwendyk seems content with his current group of NHL forwards, as well as the top prospects in the system that are currently battling their way up the ranks, so it seems unlikely that anyone will be signed to a one-way NHL contract.
The AHL’s Stars seem to be in a healthy spot as well, with a solid mix of experienced AHLers and promising prospects. However, this potential open roster spot allows for the organization to do a bit of gambling and sign a player with a possible high reward.
The cream of the free agent forward crop is all but gone, but there still remains a handful of players that feel they have something left to prove, and have shown enough promise in one way or another to suggest that signing them might yield a high return, if they are willing to accept two-way contracts.
Here now is a quick rundown of five current free agent forwards, and why they could be a good fit for the organization.
1) Gilbert Brule
Drafted 6th overall by Columbus in the 2005 entry draft, Brule, 25, has struggled to consistently produce offense at the NHL level. However, he managed to score 37 points in 65 games on a woeful 2009-2010 Edmonton Oilers roster, as well as a respectable 14 points in 33 games on the defense-oriented Phoenix Coyotes last season. Might not be a serious scoring threat in the NHL, but could be a great complement to talented prospects like Alex Chiasson and Reilly Smith.
2) Rod Pelley
Strong and hardworking, Pelley, 27, is a prototypical blue collar forward. He logged reliable penalty kill minutes with the New Jersey Devils in 2009-2010 and was being touted by some as a possible anchor on the Devil’s checking line, but never seemed to move past fourth line minutes, both on the Devils and then on the Anaheim Ducks last season. With 256 games under his belt it’s less likely that he’d be willing to accept a two-way contract, but Pelley could still be a major shutdown force in Texas, especially paired with Petersen and Francis Wathier.
3) Victor Oreskovich
At 6’3″ and 215 pounds, Oreskovich, 25, has the perfect frame to go along with his hit first, ask questions later style of play. He can’t really be counted on for anything aside from hitting, including fisticuffs, but he’s a good energy player that can annoy and frustrate opposing teams, and who doesn’t love having those types of guys on their team? There are other similar players still available in free agency, but the 19 playoff games that Oreskovich logged during the Vancouver Canucks’ failed 2011 Cup Run, and the playoff experience that comes with them, put him ahead of the curve.
4) Eric Fehr
A member of the esteemed 2003 draft class, Fehr’s career has had it’s ups and downs. He torched the WHL for 111 points in 2004-2005 and scored 21 goals in 69 games for the Washington Capitals in 2009-2010, but his development has been stalled over the years by multiple injuries. Fehr was given a second chance in Winnipeg last season, but never moved past the fourth line and only managed 3 points in 35 games. Still, it’s hard to ignore the potential upside with a 6’4″, 26 year-old former 20-goal scorer. He’s easily worth a shot with a one-year, two-way contract.
5) Jamie Arniel
A bit of an oddity for the list, considering that Arniel, 21, has only played 1 game at the NHL level. He had a disastrous 2011-2012 season for the AHL’s Providence Bruins, scoring 24 points and going -17 in 74 games, and was not tendered a qualifying offer by Boston. But he led those same Providence Bruins in scoring the season beforehand with 50 points in 78 games, so he’s shown that he is capable of producing at that level. Considering his young age, another contract would be worth the risk.