With the June 30 deadline to issue qualifying offers to RFAs having passed, a slew of young players have entered the unrestricted free agent pool at the 11th hour. With today’s free agency assumed to be a little more shallow than normal and the Wild looking to make a splash with a big signing, a low cost UFA or two could be in the works to provide organizational depth.
Below I’ll take a look at a number of players who became UFAs through their team’s failure to tender a qualifying offer yesterday and what they may be able to provide the Wild through organizational depth.
Paul Byron — Byron is a center with the ability to put the puck in. He’s played parts of four NHL seasons between Calgary and Buffalo, potting 10 goals and 17 assists through 73 games over three seasons in Calgary. He was a scoring machine in the QMJHL, but hasn’t hit those heights anywhere else yet. The biggest criticism leveled against him is his size. At 5-foot-9, 153 pounds (most accounts have him in that area, though Hockey’s Future lists him at 180). With the potential departure of Kyle Brodziak through trade, Bryron would provide some organizational depth down the middle and he’d likely make a positive impact in Iowa.
Dustin Jeffrey — Jeffrey has played in parts of seven NHL seasons for a total of 124 career NHL games, so he brings a little bit of experience. At 26, he’s older than most of the players on this list, but has shown flashes of the offensive prowess he had in the OHL that got him drafted. He had a bit of a touch and go season, dealt with some injuries, but ultimately rebounded nicely to add seven goals and five assists through 19 games in the Texas Stars run to win the Calder Cup. If the Wild were interested he’d likely be sent to Iowa and used for organizational depth only, as the Wild have a number of young centers who would likely be higher in the pecking order.
Marek Viedensky — The Slovakian center has a lot of potential. He’s got size at 6-foot-4, 210 pounds and he’s got a nice offensive touch at time. The problem here has been inconsistency. That’s likely a part of the reason the rebuilding Sharks decided not to issue a qualifying offer. That inconsistency was on display at the IIHF World Championships as well where Viedensky represented Slovakia and started the tournament strong, but saw his role shrink as the tournament wore on, eventually playing only about eight minutes per game.
Cory Conacher — Conacher has gone through three teams in two NHL seasons and is about to find his fourth. He’s a bit of a mystery. There was talk early in his rookie season that he was a frontrunner for the Calder Trophy, scoring nine goals and 15 assists in his first 35 games. Then Tampa traded him to Ottawa where he only managed two goals and three assists in 12 games. The next season was more of the same, putting in four goals and 16 assists through 60 games before being put on waivers and claimed by Buffalo who only received three goals and three assists through 19 games from Conacher. It’s not clear why teams seem to dump Conacher so quickly, if it’s just lack of production or if there’s something else going on there, though his defensive game needs to develop some. Nonetheless, there’s a lot of potential in Conacher and someone will grab him. The Wild need to find scoring through free agency, especially on the wing where they’re losing a few players and relying on young players elsewhere.
David Eddy — The Minnesota native has mostly played at lower levels, but reports tag him with a bit of the Stephane Veilleux energy and Cal Clutterbuck grit. He’s not scared to get in the corners and battle in front of the net. He had decent offensive production while playing for St. Cloud State, but he’s never captured that ability at the pro level.
T.J. Galiardi — Galiardi is a veteran of six seasons and could provide a little experience on the wing where the Wild may be looking to get deeper. However, his upside isn’t quite as high as someone like Conacher, though his floor might not be as low either. He could potentially slot into a third line role on a two-way contract, though he doesn’t seem like a great fit for Minnesota. If other options are taken off the table, Galiardi could make sense.
Geoff Walker — Walker has yet to taste NHL action, but has put up solid offensive numbers in two seasons with Wilkes-Barre of the AHL and one with Lake Erie. In those three seasons he posted 34 goals and 60 assists through 189 games. However, last season with Syracuse of the AHL he only managed eight points through 43 games and spent some time in the ECHL. The upside could be his size. He’s a strong power forward at 6-foot-3, 225 pounds.
Keith Aulie — Aulie could be a replacement for the potentially departing Clayton Stoner. He may not make the NHL out of the gate, but he’s got experience with 136 career NHL games spread across five seasons. His offensive upside is nil, but he brings a big body at 6-foot-6, 228 pounds. He’d provide some experience in Iowa, maybe a player for developing players to work off of, and a big bruiser of a blueliner to call up when needed.
Michael Del Zotto — The man Rangers fans called Del Zaster will not be returning to Nashville, who traded for him around the deadline last season. He’s been touted for his offensive potential — and the Wild could use an offensive-minded defenseman — though it’s never played out in the NHL the way it has in other leagues for Del Zotto. His biggest weakness is that he needs to continue to get better defensively. He often doesn’t play a responsible game. It’s something he’s worked on and may be able to develop under the tutelage of Ryan Suter. With a fair share of responsible defenseman who may be able to cover Del Zotto’s urge to jump into the action, he could be a good, affordable fit for Minnesota.
Justin Falk — With the Wild reportedly out of the mix on Matt Niskanen, there’s still a need for some size on the blueline and a little depth outside of the young players. Falk won’t provide the offensive upside the Wild really need (and Niskanen could have provided, though at too high a price), but he does have the size they’re losing if Stoner walks on July 1. The return of Justin Falk to Minnesota is extremely unlikely.
Jamie McBain — With a young defensive corps looking to be the future of the Wild, McBain could provide a nice bridge for the team on a short-term two-way contract. The Minnesota native is 26 and has the experience the Wild could look to if young players like Mathew Dumba, Christian Folin, or Gustav Olofsson wind up needomg a little more time developing in Iowa.
Calvin Heeter — Heeter made his NHL debut with the Flyers last season and is a bit of an unknown at the NHL level. Scouting reports consistently tag him as remarkably agile for his 6-foot-4 frame. He could provide a nice counterpart to Johan Gustafsson in Iowa.
Anders Lindback — Lindback is the most experienced of this lot, but seems unlikely to step into the fold for Minnesota. If they’re looking at all, they’re likely only looking for a goalie to step into Iowa with the possibility of three tenders in Minnesota looming already. Though with the mess they have at the position and their reported desire to trade Niklas Backstrom, who knows what will happen. Remember, this team suited up Backstrom, Josh Harding, Darcy Kuemper, John Curry, Ilya Bryzgalov, and Johan Gustafsson last season (though Gustafsson never played in Minnesota). All bets are off when it comes to the Wild and goaltenders. The problem with Lindback is that if they’re going to go after someone with lots of NHL experience who may demand a NHL role, there are better options and it currently appears that there isn’t a job for someone who needs time in the NHL outside of the three goaltenders they already have on the roster.
Olivier Roy — Like Heeter, Roy would provide a complement in Iowa with the potential to climb up the depth chart with development and doesn’t carry the baggage or cap hit that you’ll get with Lindback or Heeter. Roy has yet to make his NHL debut. The knock on him so far as been mental toughness resulting in inconsistency. But prior to turning pro Roy was a consistent, agile goaltender with a quick glove hand.
Dustin Nelson writes about news and the Minnesota Wild for The Hockey Writers.