4 former BCHL players unsigned thus far in NHL free agency

Inspired by a Daily Hive article that explored 17 former Canucks players still available in free agency, I decided to take a look at which B.C. Hockey League alumni who haven’t received new contracts for the 2023-24 National Hockey League season at this point.

There are a number of former BCHL players who received new NHL pacts since free agency opened on July 1, but despite the fact that players like Tyson Jost, Mike Reilly, Dylan Coghlan, Akito Hirose, Dryden Hunt, Laurent Brossoit, Riley Nash, and Alexander Kerfoot, have secured a place to play for 2023-24, there are still a handful who are looking for contracts.

Here are four BCHL alumni who are unrestricted free agents as of this writing.

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1. Derek Grant (Anaheim Ducks)

  • 2022-23 stats: five goals, 13 assists in 46 games

Grant (49 goals, 74 assists in 92 games with Langley from 2007-09) is coming off a three-year contract he signed back in October 2020. The deal paid the 33-year-old from Abbotsford, B.C. an average salary of $1.5 million per season.

Grant isn’t a big scorer at the NHL level, but is a solid bottom-six forward who can help bolster a team’s penalty kill. On a dreadful Ducks team that allowed 129 goals more than it scored last season, he ended up with a respectable plus/minus of -4.

He’s played for Anaheim on three different occasions during his NHL career, including twice after being traded away, so it’s not a given that he won’t find his way back to Orange County. If so though, it will likely be at a discount from what he made over the last three seasons.

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2. Danton Heinen (Pittsburgh Penguins)

  • 2022-23 stats: eight goals, 14 assists in 65 games

Heinen (29 goals, 35 assists in 59 games with Merritt and Surrey from 2012-14) is a 28-year-old from Langley, B.C., who had a so-so season for the Penguins. His eight goals look effective, but three of them came in the first five games he played for Pittsburgh, so he only scored five goals in the remaining 60 games of the season.

He inked a $1 million deal with the Penguins in July 2022 and might be looking at one of the short-term contracts worth $775,000 that a number of veteran players have already signed this summer for the 2023-24 season.

That said, Heinen was an effective member of Pittsburgh’s bottom six and according to Penguins news site Pensburgh, he actually had solid underlying analytics numbers. A team in a salary cap-strapped situation will probably take a look at Heinen for its third or fourth line as a young-ish veteran who won’t break the bank on a new contract.

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3. Jujhar Khaira (Chicago Blackhawks)

  • 2022-23 stats: six goals, eight assists in 51 games

Khaira (39 goals, 82 assists in 112 games with Prince George from 2010-12) has solidified himself as a bottom-six forward at this point of his career. He’s a physical player who’s seen time on the left wing and at centre during his career.

There’s not much offensive game to the 28-year-old from Surrey, B.C., but he can help a team on the penalty kill. Khaira was on a two-year contract with the Blackhawks that paid him an average of $975,000 per season.

Much like Grant and Heinen, Khaira may end up with a lower salary if he wants to secure a spot on an NHL roster in 2023-24. He’s an effective penalty killer and solid defensively, which are traits that a number of teams could use on their third or fourth lines — especially those without much salary cap space.

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4. Jordie Benn (Toronto Maple Leafs)

  • 2022-23 stats: one goal, one assist in 12 games

Benn (24 goals, 90 assists in 172 games with Victoria from 2005-08) split this past season between the Maple Leafs and the Toronto Marlies of the American Hockey League. The 35-year-old veteran signed a one-year deal with the Leafs last July worth $750,000.

At the AHL level in 2022-23, the Victoria product had two goals and six points in 23 games. He added three assists in seven Calder Cup playoff games. The Leafs’ depth prevented Benn from seeing a regular role on their blueline but for a team looking for a veteran presence at the NHL minimum salary of $775,000, he might fit the bill.

He’s a defensive defender who is a veteran of 607 NHL games with Dallas, Montreal, Vancouver, Winnipeg, Minnesota, and Toronto over the last dozen seasons. Benn has also played 188 games with Texas and Toronto in the AHL over the course of four seasons in his career.