Announced like a tsunami of offseason transactions, the Toronto Maple Leafs signed seven free agents to contracts on Wednesday morning, but who exactly are these players?Most of them won’t have a major impact on the NHL roster. Either pure depth signings, designated to be in the minors, or to play a minor role on the Leafs, these seven new players are to just build-up a solid foundation beneath the stars of this team.
Undervalued and mostly forgotten about, GM Kyle Dubas and the rest of the Leafs’ front office is clearly trying to find some diamonds among the players that will play for around league minimum.
Already signing veteran and hometown boy Jason Spezza to a one-year deal that will pay him the minimum, the Leafs have their intentions set out for them.
When you’re in a hard cap system like the NHL is, there are a couple ways to go about it and the Leafs are definitely going the “stars and scrubs” route. Some players that are getting paid like scrubs are certainly not that and this is where these seven new players come in.
Some have experience in the NHL, while others have been stuck in the AHL and seen as “AAAA”-type players.
One thing is important – they’re getting paid not a lot.
LW Pontus Aberg
One-year, $700,000 AAV
Style of Play:
Aberg has a total of 127 NHL games under his belt but has been moved around and shared like a cigarette outside a bar by people that only smoke while drinking.
He will be 26-years-old when the new season starts and has been a part of four different NHL franchises already. Originally a second-round pick by Nashville, Aberg was then in Edmonton for a brief stint before playing in Anaheim and Minnesota last season.
Through his trip around North America, he has found the most success through his 37 games with the Ducks last year. Among a roster full of horrible players that aren’t named John Gibson, he found a solid role that was able to give him some flexibility. He was able to be a positive play driver, posting an on-ice 53.2 CF% at 5v5, which was close to impossible on that Ducks team.
The goalscorer was able to, well, score some goals — 11 though those 37 games. While he succeeded in his time with the Ducks, the other team he played on last season, the Wild, saw the weakness in Aberg’s game.
During his time in Minnesota, Pontus Aberg was only able to score one goal and five assists through the 22 games he played on that team. While the points didn’t come easy, neither did the shot attempt metrics. Aberg had a below-league average on-ice CF% of 47.6 as a member of the Wild.
It all depends on whether he makes a solid impression in camp or not. He has shown stints of brilliance in the couple years he has been in North America that the Leafs could certainly use for offensive depth. But with Hyman and Johnsson already taking the two top-six positions, Aberg will have to fight a slew of wingers that will be trying to get those two last positions. He will require to go on waivers to be sent down to the Marlies, so being the 13th or 14th forward isn’t the worst option to have.
LW Kenny Agostino
Two-years, $737,500 AAV
Style of Play:
At the age of 27, Agostino hasn’t spent a considerable amount of time in the NHL, but when he has, he put up some solid underlying numbers and a few points as well.
Since going pro in 2014, after spending his developmental time at Yale University, Kenny Agostino has spent part of the year in the AHL and NHL every year but his first. Constantly being bounced back and forth and used as an option for depth his entire career so far.
While he hasn’t averaged over 13 minutes of time-on-ice in a season, Agostino has a career on-ice 52.2 CF% at 5v5, being a positive player in that metric compared to his teammates on every team except his time in Boston.
Getting the short end of the stick for ice-time has affected his point totals, only able to get 30 in the 83 games of his NHL career. But during his time with the Devils and Canadiens last season, he was able to play a career-high 63 games and score six goals and 18 assists in a depth role on both teams.
Basically, Agostino will have a positive effect on shot attempts while putting up a couple points at the bottom of the lineup.
While he might sound like a solid option, he was able to put up those points on non-competitive teams last season. He hasn’t shown a ton for teams that want to contend and make the playoffs and at his age, he might be best suited for a call-up role in case of injuries.
But just like Aberg, Agostino will fight for those bottom wing roles with the rest of them.
C Nick Shore
One-year, $750,000 AAV
Style of Play:
If there is one player that is extremely undervalued in this whole pool of free agents it was Nick Shore. During his time in the NHL, Shore has been a possession-driver and suffocates the opposition with fairly stable defence.
During his four years in the Kings system, he was able to have a 55.3 CF% at 5v5, towards the top-tier of forwards during that time. That includes his 2015-16 season where he was able to keep an astonishing 61.4 on-ice CF%.
Controlling the play defensively doesn’t always result in the highest point totals and since Shore played a depth role in the NHL, he only has 15 goals and 53 points in the 236 games he’s played.
After spending a year in the KHL, Shore should be ready for a depth role and will be able to positively contribute no matter what players he’s playing with.
Somewhat gave it away, but Shore should definitely be on the Leafs’ roster for the entire season. Whether he’s used as an extra forward or will feature in the bottom-six is still the question. He can play both centre and right-wing, keeping that flexibility in the lineup is key. With the departure of Kadri and Kerfoot not having a ton of experience down the middle, Shore might be called upon to take the fourth-line centre role and Spezza get the promotion, or vice versa.
D Kevin Gravel
Style of Play:
The only defenceman among the new signings, Kevin Gravel has spent his time most recently in the Edmonton Oilers organization, after spending his first taste of the NHL with the Los Angeles Kings.
Gravel will not put up points but will positively-affect the defence. He limits shots and scoring chance opportunities, but is also a blackhole offensively and will not do anything with the puck on his stick.
If it all comes out even, that should be seen as a win.
With only 13 points through 103 NHL games, don’t expect much. He is the prototypical “if you don’t notice him, he’s doing his job” type of defenceman.
With Travis Dermott set to be out for at least the first month of the season, Gravel on the bottom pairing to start the season wouldn’t be the worst option. He’s a healthy left-hand shot and will look fine in that depth position.
If not, he will be sent to the Marlies with no real threats.
C Tyler Gaudet
One-year, two-way, $700,000
Style of Play:
Undrafted, Gaudet came though the Arizona Coyotes organization and made his NHL debut his first professional season. Since then, he has been only able to have the briefest of stints in the big leagues, playing 18 games since his rookie season.
The 26-year-old forward has played mainly a depth role in the AHL as well, only netting a 0.36 points-per-game through his five seasons in that league.
He’s coming off a season with the Milwaukee Admirals where he scored eight goals and 25 points in 50 games.
Gaudet will most definitely be playing on the Marlies and not on the top line for them either. He will most likely be playing third-line centre as Pierre Engvall spreads his Swedish wings at that position and will get more experience down the middle.
C Kalle Kossila
Two-years, two-way, $700,000 AAV
Style of Play:
Kossila, 26, has spent his entire North American professional time in the Anaheim Ducks organization. Where he never fully made the NHL, playing only 19 games in his three seasons there, but has been a steady contributor for the San Diego Gulls.
Through 170 AHL games played, Kossila has scored 51 goals and 141 points. From people that watch the Gulls, Kossila is described as a natural skater that can help any offence around him — so that’s pretty good news for a small free agent signing.
Kossila will essentially replace the Miro Aaltonen role that the Marlies saw bring them a championship in 2018. Not just that they’re both Finnish centreman that will be able to put up about a point-per-game in an AHL top-six, but, well, yes exactly that.
As more prospects graduate and the Marlies forwards turnstile continues to churn out some NHL products, Kossila is a solid option for the next two years to have down there to win some games.
LW Garrett Wilson
One-year, $725,000 AAV
Style of Play:
The Barrie, Ontario native has spent most of his time recently in the AHL except for last season, where he was able to stick for 50 games with the Pittsburgh Penguins. During that time, Wilson was able to score two goals and eight points while playing on the fourth line.
Part of the Florida Panthers organization before that, Wilson has a solid 0.51 points-per-game in the AHL for his entire career. Never really his team’s top option offensively, but rather was just able to stabilize a top-six in the minors.
A very meh player that at the age of 28, won’t really do much with the Leafs.
Wilson will probably be considered in the fight for the bottom-six roles that are available on the Leafs, but will eventually be sent down to the Marlies.
Able to play both wings, he will be in the mesh of Agostino, Bracco, Marcment, Koshkov, Timashov, etc. and will find a role on a hopefully-competitive Marlies team.