Defense and Goaltending
Currently playing in the SHL, Johannes Kinnvall is a right-shot defenseman for HV71. With 40 points in 51 games, he’s one of the best offensive blueliners in Sweden. At just 22 years of age, he appears to be a prime guy for an NHL club to look to sign and develop within their system.
Although the Canes are set with right-shot D at the NHL level, it is never a bad thing to add to it, especially when you don’t have to give up any assets in the process. On a few teams, Kinnvall could slide right into the lineup on the third pair, but with Carolina, he would more than likely start the season in the AHL.
Over time, should he continue his positive trajectory he could be a solid second pair guy in the NHL. With his age, he would have to sign a two-year entry-level deal, per the CBA, making him well worth a shot.
Rumored to already have a deal in place with the Ottawa Senators, Artyom Zub was said to have had a few NHL suitors. Playing his native Russia, Zub is another right-shot D who could slide right into a team’s bottom pair without looking out of place.
With 22 points in 57 games with SKA St. Petersburg the 24-year-old Russian is more of a defensive defenseman. His plus 35 was the best in the entire KHL, a reflection of his ability to shut down opposing team’s top guys. In the NHL he probably tops out as a Trevor van Riemsdyk type player, solid defensively with very little offensive production.
At 26, Mikko Lehtonen is the elder skater of this list. Currently playing for Jokerit in the KHL, Lehtonen is a Finnish left-shot defenseman who has slowly worked his way up the ranks. His 49 points were best among D in the entire league.
Said to have nothing left to prove in Europe, it is possible that he finally makes the jump to North America and the NHL this offseason. Capable of providing a bit more offensively than Zub or Kinnvall, he could be a good get on the cheap.
With Timur Bilyalov signing an extension with Ak Bars Kazan, the only goalie on the list is Alexei Melnichuk. The only player mention who has been linked to the Carolina Hurricanes so far, Melnichuk is rumored to have narrowed his list of NHL suitors down to four clubs, the Canes, Aves, Golden Knights, and Sharks.
At 21 his certainly has the time to progress into a solid NHL netminder in the very near future. Appearing in 16 games for SKA St. Petersburg in the KHL he posted an impressive 1.68 GAA and a .930 save percentage, earning KHL goaltender of the month honors in the process back in September. His solid numbers continued in the VHL, the AHL equivalent in Russia, with a GAA of 1.95 and a .925 save percentage.
Should the Canes be the one who wins his services, he will more than likely be the best bet to start for the Checkers in the AHL. With goaltending a difficult position to judge, adding another top prospect into the pipeline would be nothing but a smart move for the organization this summer.
Question for CC Readers: Do you think the Carolina Hurricanes should look to sign any of these European free agents this upcoming offseason? If so who?