The offseason can be a little crazy and a tad frustrating for the AHL. During free agency, a quiet day for the NHL could end up being a real barn burner for their farm team. In the AHL no news doesn’t necessarily mean good news. By the end of the first week of free agency, a free agent usually knows whether or not they will be playing for the same team at the start of the season.
So far, two players from the 2017-18 season have signed with either the Columbus Blue Jackets or the Cleveland Monsters.
Leading up to free agency, the Blue Jackets signed Alex Broadhurst to a one-year, two-way deal. If Broadhurst doesn’t crack the opening night line up for the Jackets, he will likely be in the starting lineup for the Monsters.
On the first day of free agency, the Monsters signed defenceman Garret Cockerill to a one-year SPC. Cockerill joined Cleveland halfway through the 2017-18 season and immediately began to make a lot of noise.
Thus far the Monsters have lost three players.
Before the start of free agency, the Blue Jackets traded Jordan Schroeder to the Chicago Blackhawks in exchange for goaltender Jean-Francois Berube.
While, two players took their talents to other teams during the start of free agency.
Noted leader and fan favorite, Cameron Gaunce signed a one-year, two-way contract with the Tampa Bay Lightning. If Gaunce doesn’t crack the NHL roster, fans may get a chance to watch him play when the Monsters take on the Syracuse Crunch.
The addition of Berube gave the Monsters and Jackets one too many goalies in the system. Recognizing he might not be signed for the 2018-19 season, Jeff Zatkoff signed a one-year contract with Straubing Tigers of the DEL.
As of right now there are seven players from the 2017-18 season who are still swimming in the free agency pool.
The Monsters signed Terry Broadhurst to a 25-game PTO on December 4th, 2017. By the time February rolled around, Broadhurst was tearing up the leaderboard alongside his brother Alex. This surge up the leaderboard led the Monsters to sign the elder Broadhurst to a SPC on February 2nd for the remainder of the season.
At the end of the season, Broadhurst was third in points (32), second in assists (19), and tied for second in goals (13) with Miles Koules.
It would be a shame for the Monsters to not re-sign the elder Broadhurst as he was on their top producing line alongside his brother (Alex) and Zac Dalpe.
In his second year with the Monsters, Joe Pendenza showed a lot of promise and spunk. Unfortunately, his season was derailed on December 29th, 2017 while the Monsters played the Grand Rapids Griffins. Tired of watching his goalie get knocked around, Pendenza decided to take on noted tough guy, Dominik Shine. Despite Pendenza’s valiant effort, Shine took him out of not just the game but the bulk of the season.
In February, Pendenza was activated off of injured reserve. However, he did not bounce back from the injury as fast as one would hope. Thus leaving his fate for the 2018-19 season murky.
Miles Koules came to the Monsters on a PTO towards the end of the 2016-17 season. Impressed with his skills and positive demeanor the Monsters signed Koules to a one-year AHL-only contract.
Koules is a hard worker who is constantly looking for ways to improve his game. He can play on any line but thrives in the top six. Especially, when he gets a chance to quarterback plays.
Often, Koules would take the time to go over plays with linemates during timeouts or before a faceoff. If a teammate wasn't grasping the play, he would patiently walk them through it step by step.
One of the best parts of Koules is how he celebrates the success of his teammates with pure elation.
Koules ended the 2017-18 season third on the team in points (27, behind the Broadhurst brothers), tied for second in goals with Terry Broadhurst (13), and fifth on the team in assists.
Ryan Kujawinski joined the Monsters when the Jackets traded Jordan Maletta to the Arizona Coyotes at the 2018 trade deadline. Despite not knowing anyone on the team, Kujawinski melded his skills with the other Monsters almost immediately.
In 17 games with the Monsters, Kujawinski tallied five points in the form of four goals and one assist.
Ryan Kujawinski turned from a RFA to a UFA after not being extended a qualifying offer by the Blue Jackets. With an abundance of forwards in the hopper for the Jackets, it’s not a shock they made the tough choice to let him test the waters.
Andre Benoit was signed at the start of the 2017-18 season to be a veteran leader for the younger players.
Around the 2018 trade deadline, the Blue Jackets loaned Benoit to the Brigeport Sound Tigers for the duration of the season. With the surge of defenders signed by the Jackets organization, it’s unlikely Benoit will be back in Cleveland anytime soon.
Brady Austin brought a lot to the Monsters last season. In fact, the lone Monsters representative in the 2018 AHL All-Star game, kept the team in many games throughout the season. Unfortunately, the Columbus Blue Jackets just signed three solid defenders on top of the Monsters signing Garret Cockerill. It seems as though there may be no room for Austin once the season starts.
After an injury to starting netminder Brad Thiessen, Ivan Kulbakov was thrown into the role of Matiss Kivlenieks' back up. Both goaltenders spent the season trying to adapt to a new level of play. Luckily, they both are sponges willing to soak up anything they are taught.
Unfortunately, as of right now, there is no room for the young goaltender in the Jackets organization.
The moldability of Kulbakov makes him an asset to a team who is looking for a young goalie to learn their system.