On the opening day of NHL free agency, 131 players signed contracts worth a combined total of more than $650 million, according to capfriendly.com. While Milan Lucic, Kyle Okposo, David Backes and Andrew Ladd dominated headlines, signing big-money deals as the best players available, most teams were also filling gaps in organizational depth with signings you may not have even heard about.
Sometimes, players just need a change of scenery and a new opportunity to make an impact in the NHL. Below are 10 players joining new clubs with something to prove. All 10 are on two-way, NHL/AHL contracts, meaning they’re probably penciled-in for the minor-league team or NHL spot duty. But each one has either dominated the AHL or had a brief stint in the NHL and is now in a position to show something more. It may not pan out, but these guys have given themselves a chance to take the next step with a fresh start.
Kenny Agostino, LW, St. Louis Blues
In his only two full pro seasons, Agostino led the Calgary Flames’ AHL affiliate in scoring. He had 57 points (23 goals, 34 assists) in 65 games for the Stockton Heat last season. The 24-year-old has 10 NHL games under his belt and recorded a goal and an assist with the Flames in 2013-14.
Michael Bournival, LW, Tampa Bay Lightning
Bournival played 89 games for the Montreal Canadiens between 2013-14 and 2014-15 before concussion issues derailed his career. He played 20 games last season for the St. John’s IceCaps, notching just one goal and eight points. If healthy, the 24-year-old can be an effective forechecker in a bottom-six role with a modest offensive touch.
Chad Billins, D, Vancouver Canucks
Billins was the top-scoring defenseman for the Grand Rapids Griffins in 2012-13 and for the Abbotsford Heat in 2013-14, then spent the past two seasons in Europe in the KHL and the Swedish League. This past season, he led Linkoping HC defensemen in scoring with 31 points in 50 games. He’s an undersized blueliner at just 5-foot-10, and at age 27, this may be his last chance to crack an NHL roster. He had three assists in 10 games for Calgary in 2013-14.
Michael Chaput, C, Vancouver Canucks
A center with good size at 6-foot-2, 204 pounds, Chaput played games for the Columbus Blue Jackets in each of the past three seasons, collecting eight points in 58 total contests. The 24-year-old has proven to be a capable AHL scorer, notching 45 points in two separate seasons while also spending time in the NHL. He just needs to establish a niche in an NHL bottom-six role.
Gabriel Dumont, C, Tampa Bay Lightning
Dumont played six full seasons in the Canadiens’ organization, spending the past two as the captain of the Habs’ AHL affiliate. The 25-year-old increased his offensive production in all six of his AHL seasons, but is better known for his fearless, hard-nosed approach, which would fit perfectly on a fourth line in the right situation. In 18 NHL games, he has three points.
Morgan Ellis, D, St. Louis Blues
Ellis went from ECHL to NHL in a calendar year after appearing in three games for the Canadiens in 2015-16. A year earlier, he was playing for the ECHL’s Wheeling Nailers after two full AHL seasons. With 42 points (16 goals, 26 assists) in 73 games with AHL St. John’s last season, he eclipsed his goals and assists totals from his previous three seasons – combined.
Quinton Howden, C, Winnipeg Jets
A 2010 first-round pick, Howden didn’t make it to the NHL on a full-time basis until last season – his fourth year pro. In 92 NHL games, he has 17 points (10 goals, seven assists). The 24-year-old has a chance now to make a name for himself in his hometown.
Matt Irwin, D, Nashville Predators
At 28 years old, Irwin is the elder statesman on this list, but he has already spent considerable time in the NHL (155 games) before ending up back in the AHL for most of last season. With a new opportunity in Nashville, he could have a chance to re-establish the NHL form he enjoyed while with the San Jose Sharks from 2012-13 to 2014-15.
Matt Lorito, RW, Detroit Red Wings
Lorito turns 26 on July 3, but has just one full pro season under his belt. After four seasons at Brown University (2011-15), Lorito finished the 2014-15 season with 12 points (three goals, nine assists) in 11 games for the Albany Devils. Last season, he had 54 points (18 goals, 36 assists) in 71 AHL games. On a two-year deal with Detroit, he’ll get an opportunity if he continues to produce.
Michael Paliotta, D, New York Rangers
The 23-year-old wasn’t tendered a qualifying offer from the Columbus Blue Jackets after what seemed to be a strong first AHL season in 2015-16, during which he recorded 23 points (eight goals, 15 assists) in 68 games with the Calder Cup champion Lake Erie Monsters. He has two NHL games to his credit already, as well as his first NHL assist. At 6-foot-4 and 212 pounds, he also has desirable size for the NHL.