Let’s Go CHL Free Agent Shopping: 2023

The National Hockey League trade deadline has come and gone for another year and you know by now how active the Boston Bruins have been in their “all in season”. The Bruins have mortgaged a lot of their future by trading away 10 draft picks in the next three seasons. But there is a way to supplement those losses.

As March 1, 2023 rolled in, NHL teams are now permitted to sign undrafted free agents to contracts beginning next season. This is important to the Bruins because they only have one contract spot open for this season and they may want to hold onto that to sign an NCAA prospect. Those NCAA prospects are not permitted to sign an NHL contract until their season is complete so, this pertains to Canadian Hockey League players or more specifically, the Ontario Hockey League since that is the league I cover. We will cover the NCAA players in the coming days and weeks.

James Hardie of the Mississauga Steelheads attended Bruins Camp in 2022. Photo by OHL Images.

Logan Morrison – Center – Ottawa 67’s

Morrison finished 6th in league scoring a season ago with 34 goals and 66 assists in 60 games. He is currently third in league scoring with 37 goals and 47 assists in 52 games. He stands 6’0” and 180 pounds.

Morrison is a gifted offensive threat with outstanding hockey IQ that is evident not only in the offensive zone but also the neutral and defensive zones. He actually does a lot of things very well that scream NHL player. But I’ve got to be honest with you: He did not make my top 60 OHL players last season in my draft rankings. I had too many concerns with his skating. Credit to him, he’s made some improvements in that area but he is still not an NHL level skater? So, why include him on this list? Well, if you believe your team has the staff in place that can improve his skating to an NHL level, this is a gamble you’ve got to take.

Avery Hayes – Right Wing – Peterborough Petes

Hayes finished last season with 41 goals and 38 assists in 66 games, but it was in the playoffs where he really stood out scoring 14 goals and 20 assists in 16 games for the Hamilton Bulldogs. This season was split between Hamilton and Peterborough and has 36 goals and 27 assists in 55 games.

The 5’10- and 175-pound winger has a motor that just doesn’t quit. He is relentless in his puck pursuit and can create turnovers almost at will. He is a technically strong skater with good mobility and puck protection skills. He’s been more of a goal scorer than an assist guy however, his playmaking skills are underrated. His game screams bottom six NHL’er who can create energy and provide a bit of offence. Like Morrison however, I did not have him in my top-60 a season ago.

Evan Vierling – Center – Barrie Colts

Vierling was originally drafted by the New York Rangers in the fifth round of the 2020 NHL Entry Draft but they chose not to sign him.

The 6’0’ – 176-pound center had 20 goals and 27 assists in 55 games last season. He currently has 31 goals and 44 assists in 51 games. At this level, Vierling certainly has the skills to be a playmaker, but he also possesses an excellent shot though I’m not sure his shot beats NHL goaltenders with regularity as it does in the OHL. His game also doesn’t show bottom six energy guy either so, I’m not sure he has an NHL future. But he could have an AHL career ahead of him. Vierling was not in my top 60 last season as the Rangers still owned his rights but I had him ranked 20th among OHL skaters in 2020.

James Hardie – Left Wing – Mississauga Steelheads

Hardie is the most interesting name on this list for me because he actually attended Bruins Development Camp as an invite last summer.

The 5’11” – 180-pound left winger scored 41 goals and added 36 assists while playing all 68 games last season. He has 36 goals and 36 assists through 56 games this time around, and really picked up his efforts after the Mississauga Steelheads traded away some major assets, becoming the captain of his team and helping bring along the younger players. There have been concerns over Hardie in previous drafts, mostly warranted. But in 40-plus years of watching the OHL, I can’t recall a player who has put in more effort than Hardie to overcome those deficiencies (although it’s hard to remember the early days sometimes). Among OHL skaters I had Hardie ranked 42nd in both the 2021 and 2022 Entry Drafts and 31st in 2020. I would have called his name out in the late rounds in both drafts.

Nick DeGrazia – Left Wing – Sudbury Wolves

If skating alone was the criteria for making the NHL, DeGrazia would be there. He’s an effortless, smooth and agile skater and fun to watch.

The 6’1” – 181-pound left winger had 22 goals and 27 assists in 65 games last season. He currently has 25 goals and 25 assists in 53 games. He won’t wow you with offence and I’m not so sure it translates to the NHL. But he could possibly play a bottom six role, kill penalties and pop in the odd offence. He’s got some work to do if he’s going to make it. But he has the hardest part – the skating – down and that’s a step ahead of some of the others. DeGrazia was not in my top 60 a season ago.

Sean McGurn – Center – London Knights

McGurn is intriguing because he comes from a Dale Hunter coached squad and all Hunter does is prepare players for the NHL.

The 5’11” – 182-pound right shot center appeared in 66 games last season and scored 20 goals to go along with 53 assists. He currently has 24 goals and 50 assists in 59 games and is the captain of the Knights, something the Bruins put value in. He has the hockey smarts and is one of those guys that isn’t great at any one thing but holds his own in every category. And his effort is off the charts. You can put him out in any situation and you know you’ll get 100% effort each and every time. McGurn wasn’t in my top 60 last season and I readily admit that was a mistake on my part.

Riley Piercey – Right Wing – Flint Firebirds

What I like about Piercy is his combination of size, speed and skill and that he uses those assets effectively.

The 6’3” – 194-pund right wing played in 59 games last season and notched 27 goals and 31 helpers. Through 59 games this season he has 19 goals and 42 assists. He’s not a speedster but is deceptively quick with his big frame. He’s good in transition, he’s quick on the forecheck and is not shy of contact, he gets to the dirty areas and he can pot a few goals. But I think his playmaking is a little underrated. Among OHL skaters, I had Piercey ranked 39th in 2020 but not in my top 60 last season.

Those are the players I would concentrate on. Obviously, there are many more available. Lleyton Moore and Reid Valade (Kitchener Rangers), Cameron Tolnai and Anthony Costantini (Ottawa 67’s), Sahil Panwar (Hamilton Bulldogs), Kasper Larsen (Mississauga Steelheads) Mitchell Smith (Saginaw Spirit), Ryan Gagnier (Oshawa Generals), Michael Renwick (Windsor Spitfires), Dylan Robinson (Sudbury Wolves), Kyle MacDonald (North Bay Battalion) and Brett Brochu (London Knights) are likely to draw some interest around the NHL or AHL.

Follow me on Twitter @dominictiano

Published by Dominic Tiano

Following the Ontario Hockey League players eligible for the NHL Draft. I provide season-long stats, updates and player profiles as well as draft rankings.

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