Last July 1, upon the opening of the NHL free agency period, the parent New York Rangers announced no fewer than eight signings, and then added two more in the following two days. That flurry turned out to have a major impact on the Wolf Pack roster, as half of those ten new additions, forwards Chris Bourque, Chris Mueller and Nick Tarnasky, defenseman Michael Kostka and goaltender Cedrick Desjardins, spent most, if not all, of the 2014-15 season with the Pack.
The first day of signing season was not quite as busy this year, but the big club did add six new names Wednesday, five through free agency and one, goaltender Magnus Hellberg, via trade, and all but one of those six spent at least part of 2014-15 in the AHL. Defenseman Raphael Diaz, late of the Calgary Flames, has been an NHLer for the entirety of his North American pro career, but Hellberg and forwards Jayson Megna (pictured, courtesy of pittsburghsportingnews.com), Matt Lindblad, Viktor Stalberg and Brian Gibbons all are still looking to establish, or re-establish, themselves as full-time NHL guys.
Then, on Friday, forward Luke Adam joined the Ranger organization, a free-agent signee from Columbus, as was Gibbons.
Stalberg has by far the most NHL experience of group of early additions, having logged 338 career games in the Big Show in his six pro seasons, and as recently as 2011-12, had a 22-goal, 43-point year with Chicago. The big (6-3, 210) Swede also won a Stanley Cup with the 2012-13 Blackhawks, before signing with Nashville in July of that year. He had 2-8-10 in 25 games with the Predators last season and 11 goals and 17 points in 20 AHL games with Milwaukee, his first career AHL stint.
Stalberg’s deal is reportedly a one-year contract, as is Megna’s, while Gibbons and Lindblad signed two-way deals. There may be significant opportunity for all three, as well as Adam to push NHL spots, as the Rangers, as of right now, have only eight forwards on their NHL roster under contract, according to generalfanager.com. That does not include restricted free agents Derek Stepan, J.T. Miller, Jesper Fast and newly-acquired Emerson Etem, who will almost certainly all be re-signed.
Megna’s deal is his first one-way ticket, after he had a breakout year this season with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, leading the AHL Penguins in goals with 26, and totaling 39 points, in 63 games. Originally signed by Pittsburgh as an undrafted free agent out of the University of Nebraska-Omaha in August of 2012, Megna got into 12 NHL games in 2014-15, chipping in one assist, after playing 36 games with Pittsburgh the year before. He has AHL career totals of 40-26-66 in 144 games.
Gibbons also has a Penguin pedigree, having spent the first three years of his pro career in the Pittsburgh organization, including 41 games with the NHL club in 2013-14, before splitting last season almost equally between NHL Columbus (five assists in 25 games) and Springfield (3-8-11 in 26 games). He is small, only 5-8 and 170 pounds, but plays hard, and won a pair of NCAA championships as a collegian at Boston College, sharing the second one, in 2009-10, with Chris Kreider.
Adam, a teammate of Gibbons in Springfield last year after Adam was traded to Columbus by Buffalo, is a good-sized centerman at 6-2 and 206 pounds, and has knocked on the door of 30 goals twice in the AHL, scoring 29 in 57 games with Portland his rookie year, 2010-11, and again hitting 29 with Rochester, in 59 games, in 2013-14. He totaled 16-26-42 in 73 AHL games this past season, between the Falcons and Amerks, and also got into three NHL tilts with the Blue Jackets.
Lindblad is a third-year pro out of Dartmouth College, originally signed as a free agent by Boston in April of 2013. His calling card is two-way play, and he was a solid contributor to a strong playoff run by Providence two springs ago, notching 3-4-7 in 12 games as the Bruins got to Game Seven of the second round, before bowing out to a Wilkes-Barre/Scranton club for whom Megna and Gibbons were key pieces.
As for Hellberg, brought in for Nashville in exchange for a 2017 sixth-round draft pick, he becomes another aspirant to the Ranger backup job made vacant by the trade of Cam Talbot to Edmonton. Hellberg will most likely be battling fellow trade acquisition Antti Raanta for that role, as both Mackenzie Skapski and Cedrick Desjardins are expected to miss the start of the season while rehabbing from injuries. 2014 second-round pick Brandon Halverson was signed to an NHL contract Thursday, but he is only 19 and is likely to go back to the OHL for another year of Junior.
Hellberg, physically similar to now ex-Predator organization mate Pekka Rinne at 6-6 and 198 pounds, has spent three seasons with the Preds’ AHL affiliate in Milwaukee, going 42-36-7 in 98 games, with a 2.36 goals-against average, a 91.7% save percentage and ten shutouts. With him in the fold, once Desjardins and Skapski are back ready for action, the organization should be as deep in net as it has been in a long time.
On the exit-door side, it turns out that Chris Bourque’s Ranger organization tenure is going to end after one year, as the Washington organization announced Thursday that it has signed the Wolf Pack’s 2014-15 scoring leader to a two-year contract. Also now ex-Wolf Pack are Kostka, who signed with Ottawa, Danny Kristo, to St. Louis, Mueller, now with Anaheim, Conor Allen, inked by Nashville, Ryan Haggerty, traded to Chicago for Raanta, Justin Vaive, signed by the Islanders, Carl Klingberg, off to the Russian KHL, and Ryan Potulny, who is headed to Finland.
And heartiest congratulations to Jim Schoenfeld, for whom the 2015-16 season will be his 13th as Wolf Pack general manager, on his promotion to Ranger senior vice-president, to Glen Sather on a tremendous run as Ranger GM and to Jeff Gorton on his well-deserved elevation to the general manager’s chair.