June 1st is a long ways off. That is the deadline for NHL clubs to sign their 2009 NHL Draft selections (for the majority). And while, it seems like a long ways off to be discussing which OHL players still need to be signed, it isn't. The OHL regular season ends in approximately three weeks. From there, the OHL playoffs aren't going to last much longer than a week for many of these guys. That means there's really only a month left for some of these OHL selections to prove to their NHL clubs that they deserve to be signed. For those more fortunate, they'll have upwards of two months.
Each year, NHL clubs choose to leave several of their selection unsigned. In 2009, 7 OHL players were not retained by NHL clubs (headlined by Bryan Cameron and Jacob Muzzin). Last year, 10 OHL players were not retained (headlined by Nathan Moon and James Livingston). It's a tough decision, but in today's cap world (with the contract maximum) there isn't enough room to sign every draft pick you make. Sometimes it's an easy decision (sorry Matias Sointu), other times I'm sure it's quite difficult (and stupid, see Jake Muzzin).
With all of that in mind, I've outlined those players who have yet to receive an NHL contract...and who need one by June 1st, 2011 in order to remain property of an NHL club.
The Near Locks (remember there are no guarantees, thus the "near")
Ethan Werek - New York Rangers
A high draft pick, Werek has definitely battled injuries during his OHL career. But there is no doubting that the Fronts are a better team when he's in the line up. Offensively, the injuries may have slowed his development a bit, but he remains a quality NHL prospect IMO and a guy who still has potential to grow.
Richard Panik - Tampa Bay Lightning
Panik's OHL career might not have gone as well as Tampa may have liked, but he remains a high quality offensive player. He's no doubt, an enigma and a true boom or bust type prospect, but his potential remains to high to let go.
Casey Cizikas - New York Islanders
Cizikas has absolutely blossomed as an OHL player these past few years. He's one of the strongest two way forwards in the league and will be captaining a Memorial Cup team come close to decision time. The Islanders would be absolutely foolish to let him walk.
Marcus Foligno - Buffalo Sabres
Foligno has finally had his breakout season, in his 4th year in the OHL. He's been an absolute beast, and like Cizikas, is one of the league's premier two way players. Considering all the intangibles he brings to the table (and the family history in Buffalo), I'd say this one is about as sure a thing as you can get when it comes to signing draft picks.
Garrett Wilson - Florida Panthers
A big power forward, Wilson has improved every season he's been in the league. He and the Owen Sound Attack are looking like Memorial Cup contenders and I just can't see the Panthers giving up on the opportunity to secure a big strong forward who can put the puck in the net.
At Least a 50/50 Shot
Kenny Ryan - Toronto Maple Leafs
I've seen a lot of debate as to whether Ryan actually has to be signed by June 1st, because he was drafted out of the U.S. Development Program. But as far as I can tell, because he came to the OHL after he was drafted, he still needs to be signed. Josh Unice had to be signed two years ago and he was in the same boat (drafted out of the Under 18 program and played in the OHL the next year). For Ryan, the offensive game hasn't really developed as many had hoped, but he has a chance to develop into a quality character player because he does a lot of little things well.
Jordan Szwarz - Phoenix Coyotes
I'm really not entirely sure what type of role Szwarz would have at the next level, but he's played well enough for Saginaw this year to deserve a look. If the Yotes don't think he profiles well as an NHL player (similar to my concerns), then they may pass.
Ben Chiarot - Atlanta Thrashers
Chairot has actually developed quite nicely this year. He's come to Saginaw and has been quite possibly their best defenseman. He's got size, physicality and the offensive game has improved. I think he's the MOST likely of this list to be signed.
Cody Sol - Atlanta Thrashers
You have to wonder if Atlanta signs both Chiarot and Sol. Sol is a big beast who can push people around, but I've been disappointed with the development of his offensive game this year (which I thought might really breakout). That being said, he wasn't drafted to bring the puck up or QB the powerplay.
Scott Stajcer - New York Rangers
If he didn't hurt himself, I think he'd probably be up with the near locks section (barring he continued his strong play). This looked like Stajcer's breakout season when he hurt himself in November. He's recovering from surgery and hopes to play again this year. If he can return, play well, and do some damage in the playoffs, he may just convince the Rangers he's healthy enough to take a chance on.
Andy Bathgate - Pittsburgh Penguins
On statistical merit, Bathgate probably deserves to be down at that next level (The Unlikely). But I think he actually has a good chance to getting signed. The Bulls have been terrible this year, but Bathgate is leading them in scoring. And he's also got good bloodlines on his side (what pretty much got him drafted in the first place).
Brandon Maxwell - Colorado Avalanche
Maxwell has been good but not great for Kitchener in his two years in the OHL. He still battles consistency issues and is definitely in danger of losing his starting spot to Mike Morrison should he look shaky in the playoffs...or even down the stretch. It'll be interesting to see if Colorado takes a chance on him.
Scott Valentine - Anaheim Ducks
Considering the good season he's had, you'd have to think Valentine is a pretty good bet to get signed. He's really taken his game to the next level for Oshawa. He brings a lot of things to the ice that NHL clubs want in their defenseman. But stranger things have happened.
David Shields - St. Louis Blues
Shields is what he is. A solid, stay at home defenseman who's Erie's most important defender behind Tyler Hostetter (IMO). The question to Blues management is...is he big enough stand out to warrant a contract?
Phil Varone - San Jose Sharks
Varone has had an excellent year for Erie (after a rough start in London). But his size and a lack of really upper echelon skills makes him a real longshot at an NHL career IMO. Might be a bit rough to have him down in this area, but considering the Sharks already sent him back for an overage year, I'm guessing they just don't have a lot of faith in him as a prospect (considering they did the same thing to Julien Demers last year and then didn't sign him).
Michael Zador - Tampa Bay Lightning
Zador just hasn't developed into a capable starting netminder in the OHL. The former top OHL prospect has battled inconsistency during his career and likely will be on the outside looking in if Scott Stajcer returns from injury in Owen Sound.
Daniel Maggio - New York Rangers
Another former high OHL pick, who has never lived up to expectations. Mind you, he's turned himself into a quality OHL player, but at this point is probably a long shot to get signed.
Tyler Randell - Boston Bruins
Randell is an interesting case. He's finally started to put the puck in the net a little more this season and could have a 25 goal year (currently has 20). But the lack of development in other areas of his game, make him a longshot prospect. If the Bruins think he can develop into a serious pugilist with a bit of skill, they may sign him, but even then he doesn't have the size to be an intimidating heavyweight.
Barron Smith - Toronto Maple Leafs
Could a 19 year old who's not even an OHL regular really get signed? Stranger things have happened when dealing with 6'5 hockey players with NHL bloodlines. To be fair though, it's been injuries that have kept Smith from developing as a hockey player and not a lack of talent or desire. He missed a good chunk of last season due to a knee injury. And this season it's been shoulder issues.
The Uncertain Zone
David Pacan - Florida Panthers
While I'm fairly confident that Ryan and Maxwell need to be signed (as per the Josh Unice example), I'm completely uncertain about Pacan. The difference being that Pacan didn't play junior after he was drafted out of the CJHL. He played at the University of Vermont for a year. This might qualify him under the new CBA as someone who won't need to be signed until four years after he was drafted. But since, he's playing in the OHL now, I'm not sure what happens. His rights were recently traded to Florida, who you have to think has interest in signing him anyway since they acquired him. He has looked pretty good in his first OHL season in Niagara.
If I'm a betting man, things probably won't work out as I've outlined them. History has told us that predicting this can be difficult (after all, who would have thought a 37 goal scorer on one of the best teams in the league would have went unsigned in 2009; Bryan Cameron). A couple of the guys in that 50/50 category likely won't get signed, and just the same maybe a guy from the unlikely category does get a contract.
Who you placing your bets on?