Given some fans insatiable appetite for potential sleeper free agent picks, which late season call ups, prospects, players with a change of scenery and others might be worth an extra look for next season’s free agency?
Here are some names to consider:
1) Boston’s Chuck Kobasew who with more playing time and better young linemates might start living up to what the scouts said about him. So far he has two points in four games with the Bruins, benefiting from Phil Kessel and Marc Savard as teammates, and equaling the number of power play goals (1) he had through forty games with the Flames.
2) Chicago’s Jeff Hamilton, who as Dobber has pointed out recently had a five point game. Yes it still might be early to tell his potential, but given Tuomo Ruutu’s injury history and if the Hawks want to cut costs, he might get more playing time next season and be worthy of a free agent pickup at a later date.
3) Columbus’ Duvie Wescott has 10 points in 23 games, but injuries ruined his season. With his big shot from the point and Columbus’ likely dumping of Bryan Berard he’ll get points next season but other poolies might overlook him because of his injuries.
4) If the Avalanche, decide to cut costs and get rid of Jose Theodore, it is likely that former Anaheim goaltender Michael Wall, who arrived in a trade for Brad May, may challenge for playing time. In four games this season (three of which he started during the Ducks injury dominated stretch, he had a record of 2-2 with a 2.97 goal against average. Again, it might be early to tell how well he will do, but the opportunity for playing time might be there.
5) The Kings Patrick O’Sullivan has much potential, but did not get to play the full season in the NHL. The Kings still have a number of centers, but his nine points in 32 games, hint at possible more production. See how he performs in games now, to get an idea of what he might do if the Kings are compounded injuries or if he makes their next season opening roster.
6) Marc-Andre Bergeron seems to be staying out of Ted Nolan’s doghouse and getting more playing time than he did in Edmonton. Will a full season with the Islanders improve on his total next season? He has twelve points in ten games for the Islanders, including four goals. Is this just because of the Islanders late season acquisitions, or will he really get more minutes? Wait and see. He’s averaging over 21 minutes on his new team while with the Oilers he was getting less than 18 minutes.
7) The Flyers are blessed with some new young skilled prospects: Scottie Upshall, who arrived via the Forsberg trade with Nashville and Braydon Coburn who came from Atlanta. Upshall has ten points in thirteen games, getting a good amount of playing time. Coburn has two points in eight games. Upshall will stick with the team and Coburn will get called up during next season. This seems to be Upshall’s opportunity to seize.
8) The Coyotes have taken looks at Bill Thomas, Matias Tjarnqvist and Jeff Taffe and these players have produced decent numbers in limited appearances. How well they do next season depends upon the direction the Coyotes management decides—to still go with veterans or to allow the kinds playing time to develop. The latter seems to be where they are now, but will it continue? Will at least two of these guys be just teases? Wait and see. I don’t see them as immediate help, but long shots.
9) I suspect that Joe Pavelski will remain with the Sharks and not be in the minors at the start of next season. Ryan Clowe also has a good shot of starting with the Sharks, but of the two Pavelski seems the better sleeper.
10) David Backes of the Blues with his 17 points in 36 games will get playing time next season. Will he start with the Blues on opening night—that is not sure, but he may get into more games with the Blues because of his numbers from late this season. With injuries in St. Louis he might put up point streaks for those in search of streaky players.
11) Kevin Bieska is sure on to be on a number of people’s draft lists given his production this season. Although I have mentioned him before do not forget about ranking him higher next season even if Brent Sopel is back with the Canucks.
Sure there are others out there as well to watch, but the above list gives you a sampling of what to look at such as who might be motivated now or who is showing flashes of potential or which players are gelling with their new teammates.
Of course we don’t know what GMs will do in the off-season but late season games do offer opportunities for players who might be stuck behind other talented players.
Good luck scouting.