13, 2005; UPDATED: August 24, 2005
INCH Flight Risks
Eaves signed with the Senators on Aug. 22. (Photo by Michael
Last year, the
threat of an NHL lockout led to a flurry of college defections,
as players signed before salary cap rules took effect.
This year, the
ratification of a new collective bargaining agreement should lead
to another round of departures from the college game.
It seems, in
a sense, like college hockey can’t win either way. But the
guys signing the contracts can win, to the tune of as much as $850,000
That may not
be as much as the previous rookie cap, but it beats meal money.
And with each rookie contract set at four years, some players may
want to end one four-year journey – college – in order
to start the next one. At the end of that first contract could be
each player’s first chance for a really big payday.
With that in
mind, here are some candidates Inside College Hockey has identified
as potential Flight Risks:
School (NHL Rights)
Skinny & INCH's Prediction
Backes, Minnesota State, Mankato (St. Louis Blues)
a proven scorer (77 points in 77 career games with the Mavericks)
and, at 6-3, 210 pounds, he’s got the size to bang
with just about anyone. Backes has been on the right wing
almost exclusively at Mankato, but he can also play center,
a position at which the Blues desperately lack depth. With
a number of aging, high-priced forwards on the payroll,
expect St. Louis to make a serious run at getting Backes
signed for a year of grooming with their AHL affiliate in
Prediction: The Blues need forwards who can score,
especially at the AHL level. Backes, who has shown he’s
one of the WCHA’s most talented forwards, fits that
mold. They’ll get him signed.
Carle, Denver (San Jose Sharks)
a defenseman wouldn’t seem to be high on the Sharks’
to-do list, what with Scott Hannan, Kyle McLaren and top
prospect Christian Ehrhoff under contract and re-signing
stalwart Brad Stuart a likely priority. But Carle, who showcased
his talents at April’s Frozen Four – including
an unforgettable dance through a posse of North Dakota skaters
to set up a Paul Stastny goal – has offensive gifts
Sharks fans haven’t seen since Sandis Ozolinsh wore
a teal sweater nearly a decade ago. At the new rookie maximum
of $850,000 per year for four years, Carle would be a steal.
Prediction: It’s certainly not a lock that
Carle would jump, especially with a shot at a third straight
NCAA title on the line, but defensemen with a gift for offense
are coveted commodities. Look for the Sharks to make a push
to sign Carle, who would have an outside shot at starting
the year in San Jose.
Earl, Wisconsin (Toronto Maple Leafs)
wisdom states that Earl could use at least another year
in college, and that the Maple Leafs would favor CHL products
to fill their AHL roster. But it’s clear that Earl
– who called himself “a steal” when Toronto
drafted him last summer – has confidence in his abilities,
so it’s possible that he could seek out the next level,
especially if he’s chafing under coach Mike Eaves’
conservative style of play.
Prediction: The Maple Leafs’ record of developing
college prospects is about as impressive as General Motors’
record of financial management. The odds of Badger fans
having to mothball sweaters with Earl’s name on the
back are remote.
Eaves, Boston College (Ottawa Senators)
Senators have been open about their hopes of getting Eaves
under contract, and the talented forward doesn’t have
much more to prove at the college level. Depending on the
framework through which teams will be able to sign players
that would have been restricted free agents under the old
system, Ottawa’s focus early on will be locking up forwards
Marian Hossa, Martin Havlat and Jason Spezza. Still, the Sens
would like to get Eaves into their system, so expect him to
make the jump for a year of AHL seasoning.
Prediction: As sure as this type of thing can get.
Eaves would likely get tons of playing time as the focal point
of the offensive attack of the Sens’ AHL affiliate in
The Senators announced Eaves' signing on Aug. 22.
Greene, North Dakota (Edmonton Oilers)
has the size (6-3, 224) and the bruising style of play that's
perfectly suited for the NHL. From the Oilers' perspective,
he'd develop more under their watch than on trips to and
from the penalty box, which they thought happened too often
as a result of last year's obstruction crackdown. Plus,
they've got room on the blueline – especially at the
AHL level –
and have never been averse to young, affordable former collegians.
Prediction: The crackdown obstruction isn’t
going anywhere. Greene, however, could be. Given the Oilers’
desires, the chances of him leaving Grand Forks are a shade
better than 50-50.
The Oilers announced Greene's signing on Aug. 15.
Howard, Maine (Detroit Red Wings)
has met every challenge at the college level, and is seen
as the future answer between the pipes in Detroit. He won't
be with the parent club this year – goalies Curtis Joseph
and Manny Legace are two of the 16 players the Red Wings have
under contract for 2005-06 at a cap-busting $38.2 million
– but Detroit brass may want him to take the next step
under their supervision with the AHL's Grand Rapids Griffins.
Prediction: After years of plugging holes in its
lineup by throwing money at veteran free agents, Detroit needs
to start cultivating more in-house talent, which means bolstering
an AHL team traditionally thin on prospects by signing guys
The Red Wings announced Howard's signing on Aug.
Jessiman, Dartmouth (New York Rangers)
may have seen his potential signing bonus flash before his
eyes when he suffered a severe ankle injury last November.
His recovery went well, but he may want to cash in before
he risks another injury at the amateur level. Expect the
Rangers, who have approached their former first-round pick
before, to make another pitch for his services. He’ll
probably get his start in Hartford, although debuting with
the parent club isn’t out of the question.
Prediction: Another franchise that sacrificed the
long-term process of regenerating from within in favor of
the mercenary approach, it’s critical the Rangers
get prospects signed and in the system. The club considers
Jessiman one of its future stars, so you can expect the
Blueshirts to bring him into the fold.
The Rangers announced Jessiman's signing on July
McKee, Cornell (Free Agent)
agent, McKee could jump to the best situation that presents
itself. And even though NHL teams are loathe to rush young
goaltenders (see Miller, Ryan, and LeNeveu, David), if someone
really likes him they may push to sign him now to secure
his future rights.
Prediction: McKee might be the toughest read on
this list due mainly to his free agent status. The two-month
period prior to the start of the regular season could border
on chaos as teams sign free agents to round out their rosters.
Because of that, chances of McKee leaving Cornell appear
Montoya, Michigan (New York Rangers)
no goalies with NHL contracts (Kevin Weekes and Dan Blackburn
are free agents), the Rangers’ top priority should
be signing prospect Henrik Lundqvist, the Swedish Elite
League goaltender of the year in each of the past three
seasons, and installing him as the team’s starter.
Jason LaBarbera, the primary starter for the Rangers’
AHL affiliate in Hartford, will probably back him up. Montoya
resisted the team’s advances last summer, but G.M.
Glen Sather will dangle the starting job in Hartford this
time around, giving him an opportunity to start 55-60 regular-season
Prediction: He could’ve signed last summer,
but a logjam of goaltenders in the Rangers’ system
would’ve made playing time hard to come by. Now that
the glut has thinned somewhat, there’s a spot in the
AHL for Montoya to get the work he needs to develop further.
The Rangers announced
Montoya's signing on July 27.
Pokulok, Cornell (Washington Capitals)
who played in all situations for the Big Red before suffering
an injury that cut his season short, was a first-round pick
of the Capitals in the July 30 draft. With a year of college
under his belt, he may be more ready to move on to the professional
ranks than most of this year's first-rounders, save Sidney
Crosby. The Caps are making rumblings that they might like
to get him under contract.
Prediction: Assuming the Caps feel he's ready to
make the jump, the decision will be whether Pokulok thinks
he is. Money shouldn't be a negotiating sticking point –
as the No. 14 pick he can expect to get the rookie maximum.
Potulny, Minnesota (Philadelphia Flyers)
would point to Potulny returning to Minnesota for his junior
season, except one: he’s a Philadelphia Flyers draft
pick, and Bobby Clarke has shown a propensity for pulling
college players out of school early (Mark Eaton, Randy Jones,
Patrick Sharp). Also, with the salary cap in place, Philly
becomes one of the league’s most hamstrung teams, owing
nearly $34 million to 13 players, including aging, brittle
forwards such as John LeClair and Jeremy Roenick. Clarke may
have to shed veteran contracts and bring in young talent such
as 2003 first-round draft picks Jeff Carter and Mike Richards
and Ohio State vagabond forward R.J. Umberger, creating spots
on the team’s AHL roster.
Prediction: It’s hard to fathom Potulny leaving
the Gophers, but because of the Flyers’ precarious financial
status in relation to the new salary cap, a scenario leading
to his departure is quite possible.
Sertich, Colorado College (Free Agent)
reigning Hobey Baker Award winner is undrafted, so he could
sign with whatever team offered him the best opportunity
to play. But most scouts have a familiar reason for skepticism
– size – which would leave the 5-foot-9, 163-pounder
to trying to become the first two-time Hobey winner.
Prediction: Call it a hunch, but squeezing an entire
off-season into roughly eight weeks would seem to create
a bear market for undrafted free agents. A sparkling senior
campaign at Colorado College, however, would rekindle the
buzz and, in turn, generate multiple suitors for his services.
Stafford, North Dakota (Buffalo Sabres)
the forwards that are currently under contract (Chris Drury
and Derek Roy), the restricted free agents under the old
CBA they’ll likely re-sign (Daniel Briere, J-P Dumont,
Jochen Hecht, Maxim Afinogenov, Ales Kotalik and Taylor
Pyatt) and the quartet of promising prospects – all
younger than 25 – who spent last season in the AHL
with Rochester, the Sabres boast a glut of talent up front.
Stafford would be best served playing big minutes on the
Fighting Sioux’s top line and best power play unit.
Prediction: Unless they feel an urgent need to
get him into their system, the Sabres will let Stafford
continue his development at North Dakota. He made significant
strides between his freshman and sophomore campaigns.
Sterling, Colorado College (Atlanta Thrashers)
is unlikely to rush the high-scoring winger, who is also
an excellent student. Expect the Thrashers to have him return
to school for his senior season, as they did with Michigan
State forward Jim Slater last year. With a slew of high-end
prospects already contributing at the NHL level –
or, in the cases of goalie Kari Lehtonen and defenseman
Braydon Coburn, ready to contribute – grooming young
talent at the AHL level isn't a high priority.
Prediction: Odds that Sterling would bolt are relatively
slim. Count on him terrorizing WCHA opponents on a line
with Sertich for one final season.
Stuart, Colorado College (Boston Bruins)
last two years, Stuart and Boston College’s Andrew Alberts
have been defensive bookends at the two ends of the college
hockey world. The Bruins would like to see the pair anchor
their blueline for years to come, and they’ve already
got Alberts in the system. Even before the lockout ended,
Stuart said publicly that he’d like to make the jump
this fall, so it would be a surprise if he wasn’t in
camp with Alberts this September.
Prediction: Given his open desire to move on and
the Bruins’ financial conservatism, it’s a virtual
lock Stuart will sign. It wouldn’t be a surprise to
see Stuart in uniform for the B’s regular-season opener
at TD Banknorth Garden.
The Bruins announced Stuart's signing (along with
Alberts') on July 30.
Tambellini, Michigan (Los Angeles Kings)
Kings will be one of the league’s more interesting
teams this season thanks to an influx of young talent to
accompany veterans like Trent Klatt, Craig Conroy, Aaron
Miller and Mattias Norstrom. For example, former Michigan
standout Mike Cammalleri will make the jump to L.A. Could
Tambellini be far behind? He’s more polished than
Cammalleri was when he left Ann Arbor. After the dominant
second half he had for the Wolverines, Tambellini appears
ripe for a new challenge.
Prediction: Outside of Stuart, Tambellini might
be the best candidate to jump right from college into the
NHL. Even if he doesn’t make the leap, he’s
probably better served by spending a season in the AHL adjusting
to the pro game. He’s a solid bet to sign.
The Kings announced Tambellini's signing on Aug.
Werner, Massachusetts (Washington Capitals)
part of a youth movement in Amherst, where there are as
many as 11 incoming freshmen, or in Washington/Hershey,
where there are only two legitimate NHLers under contract?
That’s the question for Werner.
Prediction: Even with all the openings in D.C.,
Werner (a Maryland native) would be unlikely to make the
hometown team this season. Expect him to stay in Amherst
and try to lead the Minutemen back to their heights of 2003-04.
Zajac, North Dakota (New Jersey Devils)
and Zach Parise – who, along with David Hale, we nicknamed
New Jersey's Sioux-pranos – are seen as the future
of the Devils. Zajac proved to be a complete player for
North Dakota as a freshman, especially down the stretch.
But a second season in college didn't slow Parise's development,
which could be a good argument for Zajac to stay put.
Prediction: Zajac is part of the Devils' future,
but at present, they have a decent group of forwards. We doubt
Lou Lamoriello, who helped negotiate the new CBA on the NHL's
behalf, will rush him.
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