Ever since Kyle Dubas was hired in 2014, the Toronto organization has shown a liking for taking on reclamation projects.
Call it sniffing out market inefficiencies, if you will — a term that is commonly referenced with the young Maple Leafs General Manager — but with the cap not increasing at the rate expected, finding cheaper talent to fill out your roster has never been so important.
No reclamation project is the same and many go south (think Jordan Subban last season), but to varying degrees, Byron Froese, Justin Holl, and Tyler Ennis proved successful and cost the organization very little to acquire.
With holes to fill on both the Marlies and Newfoundland rosters, plus the potential for a rearranging of the deckchairs on the Leafs‘ bottom six, it’s entirely possible another reclamation project or two will be procured this summer.
Below is a compilation of players who enter the market as unrestricted free agents who were not tendered a qualifying offer as an RFA that Toronto might take an interest in.
Curtis Lazar (C/W)
One of the higher-profile AHL-level free agents in this class, the former 17th overall pick in the 2013 NHL entry draft could be looking at joining the third organization of his career this summer.
Traded by Ottawa Senators to Calgary Flames in March of 2017, Lazar found himself slipping out of favour last year, spending the year in the AHL with Stockton Heat (20 goals, 21 assists for 41 points in 57 games) and only dressing for one NHL game.
Despite featuring just once for Calgary in the most recent 2018-19 campaign, the BC native has 246 NHL games and 51 points (15-36-51) to his name and organizations around the league will have a good handle on what he can bring to the table. There was the sense he was rushed into a checking role with the Senators as a physically-mature 19-year-old and never developed his offensive game and confidence properly at the professional level. But it’s possible his offensive upside was never what the Senators thought it was when they drafted him in the middle of the first round.
What kind of opportunity Lazar is looking for is anyone’s guess, although I don’t expect a plethora of teams to offer extended term or guaranteed NHL playing time. As per Scott Cruickshank’s article in The Athletic, the 24-year-old has said, “It’s a matter of finding out who wants my services. I don’t just want to be an option. I want to be a priority.”
Lazar has played a fair bit of wing, but he has shown he can take competent-enough shifts at center at the NHL level in the past. Word is he may be Buffalo bound once the FA period opens, however.
David Kämpf (C/RW)
A product of the Czech Republic youth system, David Kämpf was penned to a two-year NHL entry-level contract in 2017 by the Chicago Blackhawks.
Tasked with a bottom six role, the 24-year-old posted 19 points (4-15-19) in 63 games as his 2018-19 campaign was cut a little short after breaking a bone in his right foot. Kämpf performed penalty-killing duties for Chicago, and although his former team struggled in that department, it’s said to be a strength of his game alongside his skating ability and commitment defensively.
If he chooses to remain in North America rather than returning to play for Piráti Chomutov, he’ll be an excellent candidate for a short-term cheap contract in an organization that is looking for center and penalty-killing depth options.
Hunter Shinkaruk (C/W)
A familiar name to fans and watchers of the Toronto Marlies, the 24th overall selection by Vancouver Canucks in 2013 is now a free agent. Already traded twice, Shinkaruk has yet to make his mark in the NHL with just 15 games under his belt in which he produced a pair of goals and assists.
The 24-year-old has spent the last two campaigns exclusively in the AHL, with last year ending up a complete washout with the Laval Rocket. He recorded just 10 points (5-5-10) in 54 games for Montreal’s affiliate in a season in which he battled injuries and a concussion and also found stuck lower in the lineup when dressed.
His skating ability and offensive skills are without question — he scored 21 goals and 39 points in 45 games as a sophomore in the AHL — but his lack of consistency and unwillingness to engage physically are big question marks against him. Having missed quite a few games to injury in the last few years, you do wonder if the Marlies would show an interest in putting him to work with their sports science and development staffs to see if there is upside that can still be tapped into with this player.
Justin Bailey (RW)
A promising young player from Buffalo who excelled in the local leagues before carving out a good junior career, hopes were high for the hometown kid drafted 42nd overall by the Sabres in 2013.
It never really panned out for the 23-year-old who was given NHL opportunities by Buffalo and more recently Philadelphia after a trade to the Flyers in January. Nine points (5-4-9) in 63 NHL games and a lack of consistency to his game at the top level meant both Buffalo and Philadelphia were content to offload him.
A .58 PPG producer at the AHL level and a proven goal scorer (two 20-goal seasons), he could be a development project for Sheldon Keefe and the coaching/development staffs while providing an offensive boost and much-needed competition for the Marlies.
Marko Dano (C/LW)
Another former 2013 first round pick, Dano was twice traded and claimed off waivers for a second time back in November, so it’s been quite a ride for the Slovakian forward since signing an entry-level contract for Columbus Blue Jackets in 2014. The 24-year-old has already played for four NHL teams and three AHL affiliates, racking up 278 professional games in North America evenly split between the two leagues.
After a promising start to his career in Columbus, Dano has struggled to establish himself in any organization since — seemingly labeled as the archetypal bubble player — and he is looking for the right opportunity to hit the reset button in his career.
Dante Salituro (C/RW)
Dante Salituro is at the other end of the scale to Curtis Lazar in this list. Undrafted, passed through two NHL organizations and without a game at the top level to his name, I’d forgive you for questioning why he should be a player Toronto might consider.
At 22 years of age, he’s the youngest of this group and he’s coming off the best professional season of his young career. Salituro led the Allen Americans in scoring with 61 points (22-39-61) in 66 games despite a terrible campaign in which the team finished bottom of the standings and were one of the lowest scoring teams in the ECHL.
The North York, Ontario native has so far failed to convince in the step-up to the AHL level, but his development wasn’t helped initially by playing for four different teams (Cleveland Monsters, Cincinnati Cyclones, Norfolk Admirals and London Knights) in 2016-17 at various levels.
A right-handed shot who predominately plays on the wing, Salituro strikes me as a possible project to initially develop in Newfoundland. With a little patience, he could turn into useful offensive depth on the Marlies.