Who Wants to Sign an RFA: Ontario Reign Edition

Seven AHLers are currently RFAs in need of new contracts. Should they get them?

Yesterday, we looked at NHL regulars (or almost-regulars; thanks, Jonny Brodzinski) who are restricted free agents waiting for their next contracts. Today, we’re looking at the players who spent the season with the Ontario Reign who are anticipating contract decisions.

These players have spent all, or almost all, of their professional careers in the AHL. It’s easy to imagine all of them being re-signed, simply to bolster depth in Ontario, but for the most part, the expectation that any of these players will see NHL time is low. It’s also easy to imagine the Kings deciding not to tender a qualifying offer to any of the below players. Any of them could probably benefit from a change in scenery, and if the chance arises to flip any of them for other prospects in similar spots, no one should object to trades.

Michael Mersch
2016-17: AHL: 48 GP, 16 G, 17 A (Playoffs: 5 GP, 0 G, 3 A)
Career: NHL: 17 GP, 1 G, 2 A; AHL: 183 GP, 64 G, 60 A (Playoffs: 40 GP, 15 G, 17 A)
Last contract: 3 years (ELC), $925,000 AAV, arbitration eligible

Ah yes, the curious case of Michael Mersch. He got a brief look in the 2015-16 season but was derailed by injuries this season. Additionally, he’s been passed on the depth chart by players like Nic Dowd, Adrian Kempe, and Jonny Brodzinski, who all made the jump to the NHL in some capacity this year. If he’s fallen out of favor with the Kings organization, it would probably be more useful to trade his rights (or re-sign and flip) to another team that thinks it could use the big forward. More likely, he gets a short contract, a cut in pay, and a chance to prove himself out of training camp. If not, he’ll be getting even more familiar with Ontario.

Joel Lowry
2016-17: AHL: 40 GP, 1 G, 7 A (Playoffs: 4 GP, 0 G, 0 A)
Career: AHL: 81 GP, 6 G, 13 A (Playoffs: 16 GP, 4 G, 2 A); ECHL: 3 GP, 0 G, 1 A
Last contract: 2 years (ELC), $925,000 AAV, arbitration eligible

Back in December, I wrote that Lowry was having a rough season, spending most of his time in the bottom six along with other players who weren’t expected to make any impact on the Kings’ roster. Lowry’s performance didn’t improve much from that point -- he had two assists in early December and added just six more total points over the remainder of the season. (Lowry, incidentally, is the son of Kings new assistant coach Dave Lowry.)

Patrick Bjorkstrand
2016-17: AHL: 42 GP, 8 G, 4 A (Playoffs: 2 GP, 0 G, 0 A)
Last contract: 1 year (ELC), $925,000 AAV, arbitration eligible

This was Bjorkstrand’s first year playing pro in North America. The Danish forward previously spent three seasons playing in the KHL, as well as time at the pro level in Sweden and Denmark. He was a frequent healthy scratch and despite being brought on as a depth option, never really seemed to catch on.  I could see giving him another contract to see if he adapts better to North American hockey, but he may never project any higher than a fourth line player, if he were ever to make it to the NHL.

Justin Auger
2016-17: AHL: 61 GP, 11 G, 9 A (Playoffs: 5 GP, 2 G, 1 A)
Career: AHL: 199 GP, 43 G, 42 A (Playoffs: 37 GP, 6 G, 4 A)
Last contract: 3 years (ELC), $616,667 AAV, not arbitration eligible

Auger is well liked because of his size (6’7”, 229 lbs) but with three full seasons of pro experience under his belt without even a single call-up to the NHL, his likelihood of being seen as a legitimate NHL prospect is low. He spent a bulk of his time in Ontario as a middle-six forward, and while he’s put up decent numbers for a depth forward, there just isn’t a spot for him unless he can learn to be more consistent.

Zachary Leslie
2016-17: AHL: 65 GP, 5 G, 18 A (Playoffs: 5 GP, 0 G, 0 A)
Career: AHL: 95 GP, 5 G, 23 A (Playoffs: 8 GP, 0 G, 1 A); ECHL: 5 GP, 1 G, 0 A
Last contract: 3 years (ELC), $616,667 AAV, not arbitration eligible

The defenseman missed a chunk of the season due to injury and mostly played second and third pairing minutes when he was on the ice. It’s possible he could blossom into a bottom-pairing/replacement-level NHL player, especially if he’s given a chance to get a full season under his belt. I wouldn’t mind seeing him re-signed with the hope that he remains healthy and can take on a bigger role on Ontario’s blue line.

Andrew Crescenzi
2016-17: AHL: 56 GP, 7 G, 8 A
Career: AHL: 240 GP, 22 G, 37 A (Playoffs: 30 GP, 1 G, 5 A); ECHL: 23 GP, 3 G, 11 A
Last contract: 1 year, $600,000 AAV, arbitration eligible

Crescenzi was acquired from the Maple Leafs in 2014 in a trade for Brandon Kozun. Crescenzi was an undrafted free agent signee by Toronto out of juniors. He’s been a reliable player in the AHL, and won the Calder Cup in Manchester, but most likely seems like an AHL lifer at this point.

Kurtis MacDermid
2016-17: AHL: 58 GP, 6 G, 14 A (Playoffs: 5 GP, 0 G, 0 A)
Career: AHL: 114 GP, 10 G, 26 A (Playoffs: 18 GP, 2 G, 1 A)
Last contract: 3 years (ELC), $578,333 AAV, not arbitration eligible

MacDermid is another big defenseman (6’ 5”, 207 lbs) who may be known more for his time spent in the penalty box than much else. He was the OHL’s most penalized player in 2013-14, with 165 minutes. He led the Reign with 135 PIM this year, practically double of the next player down on the list (Vincent LoVerde, with 68 PIM). He led the season before, too, with 121 PIM. MacDermid is a fine AHL player, but until he learns to play with more discipline, there shouldn’t be a spot for him on the NHL roster.