For a couple of years, this came from unsigned U.S. College free agents, but this year, there's been an unprecedented wave of signings from European leagues, especially the KHL and Sweden League, particularly the championship-winning HV71, who has now lost the league's Rookie Of The Year Andreas Borgman (Toronto Maple Leafs), winger Filip Sandberg (San Jose Sharks), goalie Linus Soderstrom (New York Islanders), and forward Kevin Stenlund (Columbus Blue Jackets).
Signing free agents allows teams to not give up an "asset" (someone they already have under contract that they'd like to keep) while stockpiling other assets; there is a limit of 50 NHL-level contacts per team, however, which usually amounts to a full NHL roster (23 players), one or two overseas rookies, most of an AHL roster (15-23 players), some ECHL prospects (1-5), and a few players in Juniors (1-10), meaning the number of contracts awarded becomes a commodity almost as precious as salary cap space for some teams.
But the road to the NHL is abrupt, and for every success story like Jimmy Vesey, there's a Jimmy Hayes to contradict it. Which brings me to Fabian Brunnstrom, the once-sought-after wunderkind who quickly climbed the ranks of Swedish Hockey from third division to second division to a fine rookie season as a 22-year-old in the Elite League:
Jonstorps IF in 2005–06, he posted an impressive 44 points in 38 games; the following year, he joined Borås HC, helping them reach the second-tier Allsvenskan with a league-leading 73 points in 41 games. Then he was off to Farjestads BK Karlstad, where he posted what, at first glance, seemed like a decent season, with 9 goals, a team-leading 28 assists, and 37 points in 58 games. Except that stat line doesn't hint at the fact that most of his points were accumulated in the first half of the season, and as teams got wiser to him and started paying more attention, his production turned silent. Which also explains why he was reduced to a single assist in 12 playoff games.
That's why NHL teams are now looking for players from championship teams, who have won individual or team hardware and have produced when the play gets more physical and intense.
Many teams were vying to retain Brunnström's services, and the "usual" Swede-happy teams were in the mix: the Detroit Red Wings, Montreal Canadiens, Toronto Maple Leafs and Vancouver Canucks - but it was the Dallas Stars who got the final word when the Canucks fired GM Dave Nonis, who reportedly had a deal in place.
After being a healthy scratch for the first two games of the 2008-09, Brunnström scored a hat trick in his first NHL game, prompting American sports media types to go nuts, kind of how they reacted last October when Auston Matthews scored four in his first game.
He did alright the rest of the year, including scoring a game-winner against the Flames in Calgary, but could never equal that performance; he finished the season with a respectable 17 goals, 12 assists and 29 points in 55 games, but injuries started taking over his 6'2", 205-pound frame.
Things got worse in 2009-10, as he spent the year alternating between the Stars (2 goals, 9 assists and 11 points in 44 games), their AHL affiliate Texas Stars (5 points in 8 games) and the injury list, then spent the entire 2010-11 season in the AHL, splitting his time between Texas (21 points in 37 games) and the Toronto Marlies (14 points in 35 games), and league-hopping again in 2011-12 between the Detroit Red Wings (one assist and 4 penalty minutes in 5 games) and the AHL's Grand Rapids Griffins (12 goals and 23 assists for 35 points in 45 games), and while that was an improvement over the previous couple of seasons, it wasn't enough to convince yet another NHL team to give him a shot.
And so he went back to Sweden, where he was never again a point-per-game player (or even remote close to one), before ending up in Denmark last year:
|from his HockeyDB page|
He's not the only "Euro-bust" in recent memory, what with goalie Jonas "The Monster" Gustavsson never panning out as a #1 starter, Ville Leino having had just one decent year, Damien Brunner, Jiri Sekac...
In his defense, I probably would not have wanted to play in the Stars' Rbk Edge uniforms. Ugh. They're a "greatest hits"of everything you want to avoid on a hockey jersey, from a word-mark instead of the team logo on the chest to having the number on the front, which was even worse on the dark (home) uniform, as can be attested on card #207 from Upper Deck's 2008-09 Collector's Choice set and Choice Reserve and Choice Rookies sub-sets:
awful, ill-suited piping across the chest and under the arms:
Upper Deck's 2008-09 Series 2 set and Young Guns sub-sets.
They both count as rookie cards, and he signed them both in blue sharpie while he was in the AHL.