The Maple Leafs announced three signings on the second day of free agency, coming to terms on one-year deals with Dakota Mermis, Phillipe Myers, and Cedric Pare.

The 2023-24 season in Toronto was a good reminder that these lesser-known signings can sometimes make a big difference. None of Simon Benoit, Bobby McMann, or even someone with the veteran pedigree of Martin Jones were heralded much entering last season, but all three ended up playing critical roles for the Leafs. Accordingly, Benoit and McMann were rewarded with multi-year extensions.

There were also additional depth players the Leafs called upon last season, as William Lagesson played 30 games, Max Lajoie played seven, and Alex Steeves and Marshall Rifai drew into a game or two, respectively. 

This is not to say that any of Mermis, Myers, or Pare will end up as the next Benoit or McMann, but each player warrants some conversation. If nothing else, they could draw into some NHL action next season. Over the grind of an 82-game regular season, every signing matters. 

Dakota Mermis

Now 30 years old as of last January, Dakota Mermis is the oldest of the trio. He is also the only player in the group that was, for all intents and purposes, an NHLer last season. Mermis played 47 games for the Minnesota Wild in 2023-24 and just five in the AHL. Considering he’s only played 74 games in the league in his career, it was by far his most successful pro season.

In those 47 games, Mermis played primarily alongside Jon Merrill, averaging 14:05 per night, scoring three goals, and putting up eight points in total. At five-on-five, he was above water in shot attempts (50.09 percent), just below in expected goals (48.52 percent), and netted dead even in goals for and against, with 21 apiece. He also averaged 55 seconds per game on the penalty kill.

At 6’0, Mermis is the shortest player signed among the trio. While he is left-handed, he played both the left and right sides last season.

If nothing else, Mermis showed that he can be a serviceable NHL-level defenseman with some versatility to play the left or right side. He was serviceable enough last season that the Wild moved Calen Addison and simply kept Mermis up for the year.

Considering the number of defensemen the Leafs recently added to their overall group, you could argue that Mermis is eighth or ninth on the depth chart, depending on how you rate Timmins (I would put Timmins ahead of him at the moment). He’s likely to start the season with the Marlies in the AHL, where he has been a captain before. As a left-shot defenseman, it’s possible he pairs with the Leafs‘ top defensive prospect on the Marlies, Topi Niemelä, and helps teach him the game at the pro level. 

Phillipe Myers

It’s also possible that Mermis could pair with the Leafs‘ second defenseman signing of the day, Phillipe Myers.

Leafs fans may remember Myers as he actually played for the Marlies on loan and put up seven points in 16 games for them during the 2021-22 season. At 6’6 and right-handed, Myers once was fairly coveted and was included in trades for Ryan Ellis and later Ryan McDonagh. 

Myers has played 158 games in the NHL, putting up eight goals and 36 points. He played five games for the Lightning last season, averaging just 11:41 of ice time. He spent the bulk of the season in the AHL with Syracuse, where he tallied 23 points in 61 games and a big +29 rating, grading out well for this play. 

At 27, it’s starting to look like Myers is more than likely a tweener AHL-NHL defenseman, but I think he’s an interesting add nonetheless. Defensemen of his size often take a lot of time to figure out their bodies and their position.

Recent Leafs signing Jani Hakanpaa didn’t really stick in the NHL until he was 28. That included stints in the AHL, a few games in the ECHL, returning to Finland, crossing back over to the AHL, and then finally sticking the following season. Recently, we saw another big player the Leafs gave up on, Justin Brazeau, start to click for the Bruins as well. 

Many of these big players are simply awkward, uncoordinated, and need to fill out their frames in their early-to-mid-20s. 

If nothing else, it’s a harmless gamble on a player who produced a good AHL season, should — at a minimum — still be good for the Marlies in the AHL, and perhaps has some potential upside remaining. I’m not going to hold my breath on it, but a bigger player figuring it out in his late 20s and finding his way back to the NHL is certainly not unheard of in professional hockey.

Cedric Pare

Finally, the Leafs added Cedric Pare at forward. Unlike Myers and Mermis, Pare has never played an NHL game before.

Pare has taken the long road his entire career to this point. Drafted by the Bruins in the sixth round of the 2017 draft, he played four full years in the QMJHL (including on a Saint John’s team that won the championship in his first full season), moved to the ECHL, jumped up to the AHL, returned ECHL (where he recorded nine points in 10 games), and earned a PTO with a Colorado Eagles team that was losing players due to call-ups by the Avalanche. He showed well enough to stick around and ended up putting up 21 points in 42 games, followed by six in seven playoff games.

Last season, Pare played the full year in the AHL and modestly bumped up his totals to 35 points (14 goals) in 61 games. At 25 years old, that’s not a level of production that suggests he’s on track to the NHL, but at 6’4, a player can carve out a role if he dedicates himself to checking. It’s also noteworthy that Pare played both center and left wing last season.

The Marlies lost Dylan Gambrell this offseason, so this could simply be a replacement with the option to play Pare at center. He would still have a long path to the NHL — especially as the Marlies will likely have players such as Fraser Minten, Nikita Grebyonkin, Jacob Quillan, and Alex Steeves on the team — but he’s still just in his mid-20s, he’s trending up, and he’s a big boy who can potentially play two positions.

We will see if the Leafs/Marlies staff focus him on mastering one position and if they develop him at all as a penalty killer. Pare was a part of the Leafs’ development camp in 2021, so clearly, this is a player the organization has been tracking for a while.