Below are the top 20 AHL defencemen on track to become unrestricted free-agents on July 1st. This list only includes players that played on NHL contracts this past season (UPDATED THROUGH JULY 26).
SIGNED WITH COLORADO
1. DAVID WARSOFSKY | WILKES-BARRE/SCRANTON
THIS SEASON: 58 GP | 16-31-47
SALARY: $200,000 (all salary information via capfriendly.com)
EVALUATION: A top-pairing defenceman on any team in the AHL. Owns a powerful shot. Has hovered on the NHL-AHL bubble for several seasons, but has not been able to make the full-time NHL jump. Dangerous on the power play, but also a significant offensive threat at 5-on-5. An immediate impact player for any team that adds him.
UPDATE: At worst, San Antonio gains one of the very best defencemen in the AHL. At best, Warsofsky can compete for a job in Colorado.
SIGNED WITH MONTREAL
2. MATT TAORMINA | SYRACUSE
THIS SEASON: 70 GP | 15-45-60
EVALUATION: The Eddie Shore Award winner as the AHL’s top defenceman. Carried a Syracuse team that was decimated by player recalls throughout the season. Assembled an excellent playoff performance as well. An elite power-play blue-liner.
UPDATE: Laval has its number-one defenceman.
SIGNED WITH MINNESOTA
3. ALEX GRANT | PROVIDENCE
THIS SEASON: 70 GP | 17-32-49
EVALUATION: Put up career highs in goals, assists, and points. Defensively responsible while possessing quality offensive ability. A key part of an tight-knit Providence dressing room this past season.
UPDATE: Minnesota is serious about putting a winning team in Iowa, and Grant would be a big piece of that.
SIGNED WITH NURNBERG (DEL)
4. TOM GILBERT | HERSHEY
THIS SEASON: 30 GP | 3-11-14
EVALUATION: An exceptional veteran who can play the “big brother” role and also bring more than 600 games of NHL experience. His skill speaks for itself — a heady, dependable number-one defenceman who can run a power play. Hershey management, coaches, and teammates raved about his impact.
UPDATE: The move to Germany and the lighter schedule there should allow Gilbert to extend his career .
SIGNED WITH TORONTO
5. VINCENT LOVERDE | ONTARIO
THIS SEASON: 61 GP | 9-26-35
EVALUATION: Sometimes overlooked in AHL circles, but certainly not within the Ontario dressing room. A strong mentor and very intelligent. Underrated offensive instincts. Owns a Calder Cup championship. One of the biggest financial bargains in the AHL this past season.
UPDATE: The Marlies have a top-pairing AHL veteran for their blue line.
SIGNED WITH TAMPA BAY
6. JAMIE MCBAIN | TUCSON
THIS SEASON: 64 GP | 8-35-43
EVALUATION: Very little went right in Tucson, especially in the second half of the season. But McBain is a steady presence at the AHL level. A solid puck distributor. Brings considerable NHL experience.
UPDATE: Tampa Bay management wasted no time in finding a replacement for Taormina.
SIGNED WITH DETROIT
7. LUKE WITKOWSKI | SYRACUSE
THIS SEASON: 19 GP | 0-5-5
EVALUATION: It is debatable whether he is still an AHLer after playing 34 games for Tampa Bay this past season and not returning to Syracuse for the Calder Cup Playoffs. Finally cracked the NHL for an extended stay after three AHL seasons. A well-liked leader who brings a rugged style.
UPDATE: Witkowski should be able to land a job on the Detroit blue line.
SIGNED WITH ARIZONA
8. ANDREW CAMPBELL | TORONTO
THIS SEASON: 75 GP | 6-16-22
EVALUATION: Another strong veteran presence. He has had a strong impact in bringing along several young Marlies defencemen in his two seasons in Toronto. Very durable. A natural captain.
UPDATE: The Tucson blue line lost a lot of talent to open free-agency, but Campbell is a proven leader. The signing returns him to one of his former organizations.
SIGNED WITH ANAHEIM
9. STEVE OLEKSY | TORONTO
THIS SEASON: 36 GP | 4-10-14
EVALUATION: A throwback blue-liner to a more physical era. Carved out a place for himself in pro hockey, climbing out of the ECHL and eventually earning an NHL job. Nothing flashy in his game, but he is reliable, and coaches love that.
UPDATE: Armed with a one-way contract, Oleksy should have a solid opportunity to stay full-time with Anaheim. If not, San Diego will have a top-pairing defenceman.
SIGNED WITH TAMPA BAY
10. MAT BODIE | ROCHESTER
THIS SEASON: 62 GP | 10-29-39
EVALUATION: Possesses a veteran demeanour and leadership abilities yet does not count against the veteran limit, a big asset for an AHL free-agent. Made the most of a season split between Hartford and Rochester to put up strong offensive numbers.
UPDATE: Another strong addition for the Syracuse blue line that will have a lot of turnover.
SIGNED WITH CHICAGO
11. JORDAN OESTERLE | BAKERSFIELD
THIS SEASON: 44 GP | 7-25-32
EVALUATION: Has the potential to emerge into an elite AHL defenceman. Can move well and move the puck well. Boasts the advantage of being a player going into unrestricted free-agency while also not qualify as a veteran.
UPDATE: Oesterle gives Rockford the top-pairing defenceman that they badly need while also providing the Blackhawks with a reliable recall option.
SIGNED WITH COLUMBUS
12. CAMERON GAUNCE | WILKES-BARRE/SCRANTON
THIS SEASON: 49 GP | 2-11-13
EVALUATION: A proven AHL veteran who logged 12 games with Pittsburgh this season. Brings some abrasiveness to a blue line. Has never quite reached the offensive potential that he showed in the OHL at the pro level, though he did put together a 37-point season as a Florida farmhand in 2015-16.
UPDATE: With Ryan Craig and Anton Forsberg gone, the Cleveland line-up is turning over. Gaunce can be a steady presence on the blue line.
13. DAN KELLY | SAN JOSE
THIS SEASON: 53 GP | 1-6-7
EVALUATION: An unheralded part of perhaps the best blue in the AHL this past season. Plays a hard-nosed game.
SIGNED WITH WINNIPEG
14. CAMERON SCHILLING | ONTARIO
THIS SEASON: 72 GP | 8-10-18
EVALUATION: Salvaged a season with a poor Rockford team with a late-season trade to Ontario.
UPDATE: Badly needed veteran help arrives for the Moose blue line.
RE-SIGNED WITH PITTSBURGH
15. CHRIS SUMMERS | HARTFORD
THIS SEASON: 74 GP | 4-8-12
EVALUATION: A rare bright spot for a completely overmatched Hartford team. Plays an honest, dependable game. A quality veteran figure who has had the misfortune of being a member of AHL teams ranging from mediocre to awful.
UPDATE: At long last Summers has a chance to enter a winning environment.
RE-SIGNED WITH ST. LOUIS
16. CHRIS BUTLER | CHICAGO
THIS SEASON: 72 GP | 5-21-26
EVALUATION: Served as a veteran presence for a high-quality Chicago defence corps. His considerable NHL experience makes him an easy fit as a recall option.
UPDATE: The St. Louis native will remain in his hometown organization. If he does not stick with the Blues, where he would play in the AHL remains to be seen as the Blues do not have a sole affiliate this coming season.
SIGNED WITH EDMONTON
17. RYAN STANTON | CLEVELAND
THIS SEASON: 48 GP | 2-10-48
EVALUATION: Once an NHL regular, he has spent the past two seasons in the AHL. After an early-season trade out of San Antonio, he was able to find a home in Cleveland. Can he return to the NHL?
UPDATE: Offsets the loss of Jordan Oesterle and gives Edmonton a solid recall player.
SIGNED WITH SAN DIEGO (AHL CONTRACT)
18. JEFF SCHULTZ | SAN DIEGO
THIS SEASON: 65 GP | 0-15-15
EVALUATION: A no-frills player who is a known commodity at this point in his career. Plays a simple game that can mesh well with a variety of partners.
UPDATE: Schultz could not land an NHL two-way contract, but his return keeps the San Diego blue line solid.
19. STUART PERCY | WILKES-BARRE/SCRANTON
THIS SEASON: 37 GP | 1-7-8
EVALUATION: What could have been a fresh start in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton for the 2011 first-round pick of the Toronto Maple Leafs was derailed by injury. A reliable player at the AHL level.
RE-SIGNED WITH DETROIT
20. DYLAN MCILRATH | GRAND RAPIDS
THIS SEASON: 43 GP | 1-7-8
EVALUATION: After a regular season split between three NHL organizations, put together a strong postseason for the Calder Cup champions. Complexity is not part of his game, but he does offer a very physical presence for a team looking for that element.
UPDATE: Detroit gave McIlrath a new two-year contract along with veteran Brian Lashoff, meaning that the Grand Rapids blue line should be very strong again.
VICTOR BARTLEY (IOWA-DNP)
ERIK BURGDOERFER (ROCHESTER) — SIGNED WITH OTTAWA
CHRIS CASTO (PROVIDENCE) — SIGNED WITH LAS VEGAS
BRANDON GORMLEY (BINGHAMTON)
NATE GUENIN (SAN DIEGO)
SETH HELGESON (ALBANY) — SIGNED WITH NY ISLANDERS
MIKE KOSTKA (STOCKTON)
KEEGAN LOWE (ST. JOHN’S) — SIGNED WITH EDMONTON
ANDREW MACWILLIAM (ALBANY) — SIGNED WITH ROCHESTER (AHL CONTRACT)
BRENT REGNER (SPRINGFIELD) — SIGNED WITH DALLAS
DENNIS ROBERTSON (CHARLOTTE) — RE-SIGNED WITH CAROLINA
REECE SCARLETT (SPRINGFIELD) — RE-SIGNED WITH FLORIDA
DUSTIN STEVENSON (TEXAS)
JARRED TINORDI (TUCSON) — SIGNED WITH PITTSBURGH