Free Agent Finds
If the Red Wings are able to land coveted undrafted free agent defenseman Danny Dekeyser, it won’t be the first time they have uncovered NHL talent without going through the entry draft. Detroit often uses its training and development camps to not only evaluate drafted prospects, but also allowing select players to tryout for a potential contract. Dekeyser, who participated in the Wings 2011 development camp, just finished his junior season at Western Michigan and has decided to turn pro.
Detroit can also count current Red Wings defenseman Brian Lashoff as one of its bonus prospects after inviting him to participate in the 2008 NHL prospects tournament and training camp. The 6-foot-3, 212 pound defenseman eventually signed an entry level deal and is now one of Detroit’s most reliable blueliners already appearing in 28 games this season. Lashoff, who is just 22 years old, is not only earning playing time but he is also a main stay on Detroit’s penalty killing unit.
In addition to Lashoff and hopefully Dekeyser, Detroit has a history of taking risks on undrafted talent. Below is a breakdown of some recent free agent finds who have seen action in the NHL.
- Brian Lashoff – The 6-foot-3, 212 defenseman signed in 2008 after a strong training camp. The steady defender has quietly developed in the Wings system with little fanfare up until his first NHL promotion this season. Expected to just play a few games this season, Lashoff has already played in 28 and has not looked out of place seeing action in all situations.
- Damien Brunner – The 5-foot-11, 187 pound winger was inked to add scoring depth and so far he has 10 goals and 21 points in 31 games. The Swiss born forward, who has played mostly on Henrik Zetterberg’s wing, has seen his production drop recently as he adjusts to a more rigorous NHL schedule.
- Ville Leino – The 6-foot-1, 183 pound winger played just two seasons with Detroit before being traded to Philadelphia for Ole-Kristian Tollefson and a 2011 5th round pick (Mattias Backman). The streaky scoring forward put up solid numbers with the Flyers before signing as a free agent with the Buffalo Sabres. In 225 NHL games, Leino has potted 38 goals and 102 points.
- Brett Lebda – The 5-foot-9, 195 pound defenseman signed an entry level contract with the Wings in 2004 after his senior year with Notre Dame. The undersized defensman was signed mostly for his skating ability and speed which eventually earned him a roster spot in Detroit. Lebda played five NHL seasons for the Red Wings before signing with Toronto as a free agent. The now 31 year-old has seen time with the Columbus Blue Jackets and has played a total of 397 NHL games notching 20 goals and 76 points. Lebda is currently playing for the Binghamton Senators of the AHL.
- Matt Ellis – The 6-foot-1, 210 pound forward signed an entry level contract prior to the 2002 NHL prospect tournament and training camp. The hard working forward was sound defensively but lacked NHL foot speed and skating ability. Ellis eventually worked his way onto the Wings roster and saw limited NHL action through two seasons before being claimed on waivers by the LA Kings. The now 31 year-old forward is playing in the Buffalo Sabres system but has seen 267 NHL games scoring 16 goals and 41 points.
- Darryl Bootland – The 6-foot-2, 200 pound forward also signed with Detroit prior to the 2002 training camp. The former Colorado Avalanche draft pick played in parts for two NHL seasons for Detroit before signing as a free agent with the New York Islanders. The now 31 year-old forward has played 31 NHL games notching 1 goal, 3 points and 85 penalty minutes in the process. Bootland is currently playing for the Allen Americans of the CHL.
- Joey MacDonald – The 6-foot-1, 185 pound goaltender signed an entry level contract with the Red Wings after attending the 2001 training camp as a free agent tryout. The 33 year-old netminder has seen 111 games of NHL action for the Wings, Islanders, Maple Leafs and Flames. MacDonald was recently claimed on waivers by Calgary after coming off injured reserve following an off season back surgery.
- Nathan Robinson – The 5-foot-9, 181 pound forward signed as a free agent after coming to training camp as free agent tryout in 2002. The speedy center played 5 NHL games for Detroit during the 2003 – 2004 season. Robinson would later see 2 more NHL games with the Boston Bruins before heading overseas to play in Germany. The 31 year-old is currently playing for Cologne (DEL).
- Jason Williams – The 5-foot-11, 185 pound center signed after coming to the 2000 NHL prospects tournament and training camp. Williams saw two stints with the Red Wings playing a total of 455 NHL games scoring 94 goals and 227 assists with Detroit, Chicago, Columbus, Dallas and Pittsburgh. The 32 year-old is currently playing in the Swiss league.
- Dwayne Zinger – The 6-foot-4, 225 pound defenseman signed as a free agent after completing his senior year with the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Zinger never saw any action with the Red Wings, but he did play 7 games with the Washington Capitals during the 2003-2004 season. Zinger was serving as the coach of the Queen City storm of the All American Hockey League before the team suspended operations in 2011.
- Sean Avery – The 5-foot-10, 195 pound forward signed with Detroit prior to the 1999 training camp. The pesky Avery played just two seasons for the Red Wings before being traded to the LA Kings in the Mathieu Schneider trade. He would go on to play 580 NHL games notching 90 goals, 247 points, and 1,533 penalty minutes. Avery announced he was retiring prior to the 2012 NHL lockout.
While Detroit has found success signing free agents, not all have seen NHL action. The Wings brass have all also passed up on several players who were free agent tryouts and went on to play in the NHL for other teams. Despite the odds, Detroit will continue to take risks signing undrafted free agents who have potential to add to the organizational depth for years to come.