As the National Hockey League (NHL) free agency period approaches, the Hershey Bears do not have a ton to do when it comes to their forward lineup. The Washington Capitals have already re-signed five of the restricted free agents (Beck Malenstyn, Axel Jonsson-Fjallby, Joe Snively, Shane Gersich and Garrett Pilon) that could play in Hershey next season and inked Mike Sgarbossa to a two-year extension. The Bears have also brought back Mason Morelli and Kale Kessy on American Hockey League (AHL) contracts to go with the other seven forwards already under contract.
The chocolate and white realistically have two needs, a veteran center to replace the departed Philippe Maillet and a scoring winger. Who are free agents that fill those needs? Here is a look at a few potential options on the free agent market.
The re-signing of Sgarbossa prevented Hershey from losing both of their veteran centers this off-season. He provides the Bears with a top-line, scoring center and a leader in the locker room. With Maillet signing in the KHL, keeping Sgarbossa in the fold was necessary.
Beyond Sgarbossa, Hershey is likely to have last season’s leading scorer Connor McMichael back to start the season as well as Aliaksei Protas, Garrett Pilon, Brian Pinho and Riley Sutter down the middle. This would seem to be enough, however, Pilon and Pinho both spent a lot of time on the wing last season and were quite productive there. One or both of them may slot into a wing position, to make the team stronger. Pilon and Pinho could also be in the mix for a bottom six role in Washington. Adding a veteran presence to replace Maillet makes sense.
One pivot available in the free agent class is Danny O’Regan. The 27-year-old averaged a point-per-game last season with the Henderson Silver Knights. He potted 16 goals and dished out 21 assists in 37 games. O’Regan has posted 37 points or more in each of his last three seasons and is a two-time 20-plus goal scorer in the AHL.
A pair of versatile centers from the San Diego Gulls are possible additions. Andrew Poturalski won a Calder Cup with the Charlotte Checkers in 2019 and was the Jack Butterfield Trophy winner as the most valuable player of the playoffs. During the 2019-20 season, the Williamsville, New York native amassed 70 points (23 goals, 47 assists) and added 23 more in the playoffs. Last season, he tallied 43 points in 44 games with the Gulls. Potularski has scored 43 points or more in each of his last four full AHL seasons. The 27-year-old is also capable of playing right wing and would provide the Bears with a player who can play multiple positions.
Chase de Leo was Poturalski’s teammate in San Diego and is the other versatile pivot that could help Hershey. He potted 15 goals and 20 helpers with the Gulls last season. The La Mirada, California native had 20 goals and 55 points for San Diego during the 2018-19 campaign. He has been a consistent 30-plus point scorer in his career. De Leo can also play on the left wing, making him another multi-position option.
Another option at center is proven AHL scorer T.J. Tynan. The native of Orland Park, Illinois posted 35 points in 27 games with the Colorado Eagles last season and was named the AHL’s most valuable player. In the 2019-20 season, he had 47 points in 42 games. Tynan put up 60 and 71 points in his two seasons with the Chicago Wolves. He is a player who knows how to produce offensively and a team can always use that type of player. He also can play on the wing.
Other centers available include Patrick Brown, Tyler Graovac, Alan Quine, Ben Street and Luke Johnson.
Hershey has Brett Leason, Kody Clark, Damien Riat, Beck Malenstyn, Joe Snively, Axel-Jonsson-Fjallby, Shane Gersich, Mason Morelli and Kale Kessy in tow on the wing. Brian Pinho and Garrett Pilon both have spent significant time on the wing and have had success there. The depth on the wing is solid, but the group lacks a proven veteran scorer.
The obvious answer to fill the role is the player who was in the same role last season, Matt Moulson. The Hershey captain finished second on the team in scoring (24 points) and goals (12). He will turn 38 in November, but is still a productive player and has been a good mentor to the young players in the organization. Moulson could opt to retire, but he has openly talked about his desire to win a championship. The cancellation of the Calder Cup playoffs the past two seasons has deprived him of that opportunity. Moulson very well may want another shot at that elusive title.
A versatile center who can also play wing like Poturalski, De Leo and Tynan could theoretically be brought in to play on the wing.
Looking at available wingers, Gerald Mayhew is one of the top available options. The 28-year-old had 18 points in 19 games played last season with the Iowa Wild. The previous season, Mayhew tallied 39 goals and dished on 22 assists in 49 games with Iowa. The 61 points gave the Ferris State product his second straight 60-point season (had 60 in 2018-19). Mayhew knows how to score at the AHL level.
Like Mayhew, Dylan Sikura is a product of the American college system. Sikura got a taste of the Stanley Cup playoffs this past season, playing in two games with the Vegas Golden Knights. He also played in six games with the Golden Knights in the regular season, scoring two goals. Sikura spent the rest of the season with the Henderson Silver Knights. He potted 11 goals and had 11 helpers in 30 games in Henderson.
Another available winger is Andrew Agozzino. A veteran of 535 AHL games, Agozzino recorded 27 points in 31 games with the San Diego Gulls this past season. The Kleinburg, Ontario native has two 60-point and two 50-point seasons in his AHL career. Agozzino also brings leadership to the table, having served as an alternate captain in six of his last seven seasons.
Some of the other wingers who are free agents include Andy Andreoff, Gage Quinney, Austin Poganski, David Gust, C.J. Smith and Hudson Fasching.
With few holes up front to fill, Hershey should be able to land an impact player or two in free agency and the above mentioned players could be among those that the chocolate and white pursue.
By Eric Lord