The Journey: Which One-Year ELCs Are Worth a Gamble?

by Brayden Olafson on June 15, 2019
  • The Journey
  • The Journey: Which One-Year ELCs Are Worth a Gamble?


Last year there were 21 players signed to single-year ELCs between March 1 and September 1. Approximately eight of those players ended up playing significant NHL minutes. Of the other 13 contracts signed, four were mutually terminated prior to the end of the season, mostly due to lack of opportunity. While NHL teams recognize these contracts as a small gamble, it’s important for fantasy owners to accurately evaluate the opportunity presented by these relatively unrecognized players, and the effort some teams are willing to make in order to ensure their risk pays dividends. In some cases, our vision of the future won’t be crystal clear until after July 1; however, isolating the players and their contracts should provide a reasonable expectation

Some of the notable players to have an impact last year include Par Lindholm, Saku Meanalanen, Igor Ozhiganov, Sheldon Dries, and Antti Suomella.

In almost all cases, these single-year contracts have wound up being exactly that in terms of an NHL career for these players, but in a deep one-year league, value can sometimes be found. An important thing to watch for in these contracts is a European Assignment Clause (EAC), which allows the player to walk away from their commitment should they be demoted from the NHL.

Below, I’ve highlighted some players that I believe will have the best opportunity to make an NHL impact in the fall, as well as included the entire list of single-season ELC’s signed to date. I’d like to give important credit to Mason Black (@NHLRankKing) for giving me some special assistance in the NHLe department as well – his statistic is an incredible reference for fantasy projections.
 

LW Dominik Kubalik, 26 | 6-2, 179lb | Chicago Blackhawks

HC Ambri-Piotta, NLA | 25-32-57 in 50 GP

NHLe – N/A (*NLA-NHL data is inconclusive)

The biggest challenge ahead for the former LA Kings prospects will be immediately seizing the opportunity that he’s expected to be handed by the Blackhawks. Kubalik had an excellent showing at the recent World Championship tournament for the Czech Republic, and with a strong pre-season will likely receive top-nine deployment in the Hawks regular lineup. Currently, his biggest competition will be Brandon Saad and an additional signee mentioned below, but with Free Agency signing period opening on July 1, that could stiffen up.  
 

RW Ilya Mikheyev, 24 | 6-2, 194lb | Toronto Maple Leafs

Avangard Omsk, KHL | 23-22-45 in 62 GP

NHLe – 35

Leading up to July 1, the Leafs roster could perhaps, be one of the NHL’s most volatile. Mikheyev came to the Buds from Omsk where he finished the year with a team-leading 23 goals and 45 points in 62 contests. His chances of being a full time Leaf will depend largely on the futures of Patrick Marleau and Connor Brown, who both appear to be expendable from the team's perspective. If the lineup situation becomes favorable, expect 13-14 minutes per night under Babcock with a legitimate opportunity to approach his NHLe over an 82-game slate.
 

LW Anton Wedin, 26 | 5-11, 194lb | Chicago Blackhawks

Timra IK, SHL | 14-13-27 in 32 GP

NHLe – 21

One of the top renowned free agents to come from the Swedish Hockey League thus far this offseason, Anton Wedin, is in a similar position to the aforementioned Dominik Kubalik. Coming from the slightly more competitive SHL, on a disastrous Timra squad, Wedin’s offensive instincts and leadership appear to be more promising than Kubalik’s. With a projected points total of 21, the 26-year-old’s expected production is less than overwhelming. An injury or two, however, could see Wedin receive the opportunity he needs to make that 21, a 41.
 

C Nikolai Prokhorkin, 25 | 6-2, 201lb | LA Kings

SKA St. Petersburg, KHL | 20-21-41 in 41 GP

NHLe – 41

Prokhorkin represents the Kings’ second at-bat with a high profile KHL scorer in consecutive offseasons. This time, however, their newest imported addition is ten years Ilya Kovalchuk’s junior, and shines at center ice, as opposed to the wing. Prokhorkin drove a relatively strong offense among one of the league’s top lineups and fits comfortably into the Kings lineup as a fourth-line pivot. With his resume, that kind of deployment certainly isn't ideal. While the Russian’s NHLe is tantalizing, it’s representative of his past, and not necessarily his future – a 41-point ceiling may represent an absolute ceiling if his deployment remains limited.
 

G Elvis Merzlikins, 24 | 6-3, 192lb | Columbus Blue Jackets

HC Lugano, NLA | 2.44 GAA, 0.921 SV% in 43 GP

NHLe – N/A

If there hadn't been a bona-fide “best name in the NHL” already, Elvis Merzlikins will have the opportunity to seize that title within the next four months. Merzlikins has been on prospect radars since beginning to backstop his home country, Latvia in international competition in 2013. The Latvian plays an athletic and aggressive style, similar to Andrei Vasilevskiy, but could use some refinement at the professional level before truly being capable of stepping up to a significant NHL role. With the potential departure of Sergei Bobrovsky from Columbus, Merzlikins could be thrust into a backup opportunity. Currently, he’s the most qualified netminder under contract in Ohio, which could lead to an interesting scenario come July 1.  
 

LW Nikita Gusev, 26 | 5-11, 181lb | Vegas Golden Knights

SKA St. Petersburg, KHL | 17-65-82 in 62 GP

NHLe – 48

The one we’ve all been waiting for – Nikita Gusev, a former Tampa Bay draft selection, moved to Vegas in the shuffle of the expansion draft will finally be crossing the pond this fall. While further doubt of Gusev’s future in North America surfaced after the Vadim Shipachyov episode in Vegas, the NHL’s newest squad remained persistent. They’ll be cautious to avoid a similar escapade with Gusev, which should provide him with an immediate opportunity to make an impact. He’s probably a player that you will want to have on your roster as soon as possible, and deal with any consequences at a later date. His NHLe is relatively conservative, however, considering the failures of other such mid-20s rookies could simply be a median projection – an utter failure is unexpected, but certainly possible, while a 65-point campaign should be surprising to few.
 

Aside from the players detailed above, there are several other players who have pledged their services to an NHL team for the upcoming campaign. Despite previous failures, teams appear to becoming less uncertain of the risk associated with players in their mid-20s breaking in to the NHL. As alluded to several times above, the most important factor that will impact these players success will be their opportunity to make an impact to the best of their ability. To date, this is the list of players who meet the same one-year ELC criteria as the players above:
 

RW Andrei Chibisov, 26 | 6-4, 227lb | Winnipeg Jets

Metallurg Magnitogorsk, KHL | 7-13-20 in 50 GP

NHLe – 15

 

RD Oliwer Kaski, 23 | 6-3, 187lb | Detroit Red Wings

Pelicans, Liiga | 19-32-51 in 59 GP

NHLe – 39

 

LW Joakim Nygard, 26 | 6-0, 179lb | Edmonton Oilers

Farjestad, SHL | 21-14-35 in 52 GP

NHLe – 17

 

LD Tony Sund, 23 | 6-3, 183lb | San Jose Sharks

Sport, Liiga | 8-27-35 in 60 GP

NHLe – 26

 

LD Teemu Kivihalme, 23 | 6-0, 181lb | Toronto Maple Leafs

Karpat, Liiga | 9-21-30 in 60 GP

NHLe – 21

 

LD Emil Djuse, 25 | 5-11, 190lb | Dallas Stars

Skelleftea AIK, SHL | 6-16-22 in 49 GP

NHLe – 15

 

C Joel Kellman, 24 | 5-11, 180lb | San Jose Sharks

Brynas IF, SHL | 16-18-34 in 45 GP

NHLe – 19

 

C Oula Pavle, 27 | 6-0, 176lb |Pittsburgh Penguins

TPS, Liiga | 16-35-51 in 53 GP

NHLe – 19

 

LW Jacob Pritchard, 24 | 6-0, 183lb | Carolina Hurricanes

UMass Amherst, NCAA | 16-31-47 in 41 GP

NHLe – 23

 

G Artyom Zagidulin, 23 | 6-2, 176lb | Calgary Flames

Metallurg Magnitogorsk, KHL | 1.96 GAA, 0.924SV% in 25 GP

NHLe – N/A

 

LD Jimmy Schuldt, 23 | 6-1, 205lb | Vegas Golden Knights

St. Cloud State University, NCAA | 10-25-35 in 39 GP

NHLe – 25

 

G Andrew Shortridge, 23 | 6-4, 185lb | San Jose Sharks

Quinnipiac University, NCAA | 3.08 GAA, 0.917 SV% in 27 GP

NHLe – N/A

 

RD Logan Day, 24 | 6-1, 209lb | Edmonton Oilers

Bakersfield Condors, AHL | 7-27-34 in 64 GP

NHLe – 23

 

RD Brogan Rafferty, 23 | 6-2, 192lb | Vancouver Canucks

Quinnipiac University, NCAA | | 4-20-24 in 38 GP

NHLe – 16

 

C Nico Sturm, 23 | 6-3, 207lb | Minnesota Wild

Clarkson University, NCAA | 14-31-45 in 39 GP

NHLe – 20

 

RD Grant Hutton, 23 | 6-3, 205 lb | New York Islanders

Miami University (Ohio), NCAA | 7-14-21 in 37 GP

NHLe – 5

 

RW Josh Melnick, 23 | 5-10, 174lb | Dallas Stars

Miami University (Ohio), NCAA | 10-16-26 in 32 GP

NHLe – 18

 

LD Josh Teves, 24 | 6-0, 170lb | Vancouver Canucks

Princeton University, NCAA | 3-17-20 in 30 GP

NHLe – 14

 

LW Jacob Lucchini, 23 | 5-11,183lb | Pittsburgh Penguins

Michigan Tech, NCAA | 11-15-26 in 38 GP

NHLe – 14 | DP

 

Countdown to NHL Draft Day: 6 Days

 

Find me on Twitter @olaf1393