This week's Capped discusses some recent signees of the entry-level contract variety.
Did you know that the odds of correctly predicting a perfect March Madness bracket are less that one in nine-quintillion? It’s an impossibly difficult task. Hockey’s version of March Madness is upon us at the moment with some of the top college free agents signing contracts over the last week. This week’s column gets into some of the cheap and recent contracts, as well as what kind of impact they can have in your cap league moving forward.
John Hayden (C, RW) – Chicago Blackhawks
Cap Hit – $925,000
One of the higher profile college free agents, John Hayden has definitely stepped into the forefront of this discussion with his recent play for the Chicago Blackhawks. After signing his contract last week, Hayden has appeared in four games, registering three points, eight shots, and 18 hits! He won’t be able to keep up this hits pace, but he should still be able to produce well to close out the season. Next season, however, will be a whole different story, completely based on what opportunities pop up.
Hayden has been playing on the top line with Richard Panik and Jonathan Toews, while getting over 15 minutes per game in the last three matches. This opportunity for him is solely because Artem Anisimov and Marian Hossa are currently out with injuries. Chicago doesn’t have the forward depth right now to fill their spots, and that’s where Hayden comes in. Hayden right now is actually tied as the sixth most expensive forward on Chicago’s roster. That is how shallow they really are. If the Blackhawks’ depth issue does not get addressed, then we could see Hayden keeping a useful role next season, and thus maintaining his fantasy relevance.
Zach Aston-Reese (C, RW) – Pittsburgh Penguins
Cap Hit – $925,000
A standout in many ways, Zach Aston-Reese was able to choose between at least eight NHL teams that showed interest in him. The lure of playing with a competitive team (and world class line mates) is a strong selling point. It is easy to then look at the new Pittsburgh Penguins winger and think he could be the next big thing beside one of Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin. And while it is possible, there are so many other options in the system at the moment. Aston-Reese has been progressing well with each successive season, and managed to pot 31 goals and 32 assists in 38 games with Northeastern University this season.
However, it may not be Aston-Reese’s offensive talents that get him up to the big leagues right away. With the scoring lines jam-packed on the Penguins anyways, Aston-Reese’s strong defensive awareness would make him a great fit on one of the bottom two lines. Since Pittsburgh always seems to be in a salary cap crunch, it could be sooner rather than later that he makes an impact in the NHL.
Gavin Bayreuther (D) – Dallas Stars
Cap Hit – $925,000
The average age of the Dallas Star’s defence at the moment is 25.8 years. This is one of the youngest defence cores in the NHL, and this is also with young stalwarts Julius Honka (21) and Stephen Johns (24) in the press box. Gavin Bayreuther, the recent college signing of the Dallas Stars fits right into that age group. This however, is not necessarily a good thing. This means that Bayreuther has a ton of competition before even getting a sniff of ice time with the Stars.
It is likely that we see Bayreuther with a couple years in the AHL before finally progressing to the NHL. It will be better for his development, and allows the logjam of young defencemen above him on the depth chart to possibly dissipate. Bayreuther was regarded as the top college defenceman on the market, and can put up points both at even strength and on the power play. He may have fantasy relevance down the road, but it is tough to see it materializing very soon.
Tyler Parsons (G) – Calgary Flames
Cap Hit – $759,167
Tyler Parsons does not fall into the category of a March University signing, but his recent contract is relevant just the same. He is currently the starting goaltender for the perennial powerhouse London Knights team, and he is also now gearing up for another long playoff run. London won the Memorial cup last year with the help of a brilliant performance by Parsons (Four wins, 1.78 GAA and .942 SV% in the tournament). Though he may be a couple years away yet, Parsons may actually have a shorter route to the NHL than most goalies his age (19).
Parsons was drafted 54th overall by the Calgary Flames last June, and his entry-level contract comes at a time when the Calgary goaltending depth chart is in flux. Both starting goalie Brian Elliott and backup Chad Johnson are free agents at the end of the season. Top prospect Jon Gillies seems to always be battling a different injury, while the next prospect in line Mason MacDonald is struggling this season while now toiling away in the depths of the ECHL. There is lots of opportunity for Parson to quickly ascend the depth chart in Calgary, and potentially get into the league by the beginning of the 2019-2020 season, if not earlier.
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