We’re almost out of games, people. The awarding of the Memorial Cup to Windsor on Sunday wrapped up the junior hockey schedule, but with that came opportunity. Specifically, NHL teams now have the chance to make their final pitches to free agent defenseman Darren Raddysh of the Erie Otters.
Raddysh, 21, was recently named the OHL defenseman of the year and led the league in offense from the blueline with 81 points in 62 games. He was a point-per-game player for the Otters during the post-season, helping Erie to the championship. He was never drafted by an NHL team, but now franchises are lining up.
Raddysh’s gifts come from his skating and his offensive capabilities. A perfect snapshot of this came in the Memorial Cup semifinal when he outraced Saint John defenseman Simon Bourque down the ice for a puck, used his body to curl away from the defender, then paused ever so slightly before pulling the puck to his forehand and roofing it past goalie Callum Booth.
When the Otters originally drafted Raddysh back in 2012, the fifth-rounder was 5-foot-11 and 165 pounds. He’s now 6-foot-1 and 200 pounds, but the growth has been more than just physical.
“I came in as a 16 year old and I had to wear a cage the first couple games,” Raddysh said. “I’ve matured as a man and I became more patient with the puck.”
Coming from a minor midget Toronto Marlboros team that also featured Connor McDavid, Sam Bennett and Josh Ho-Sang, it’s easy to see why Raddysh may have been overlooked early on. Heck, his own younger brother ended up overshadowing him for a couple years: Taylor Raddysh also made a name for himself with the Otters and was taken in the second round by Tampa Bay last summer. Needless to say, the big right winger is happy to hear that many NHL franchises want to sign his older brother.
“I’m hoping for the best for him,” Taylor said. “He has definitely shown what he is able to do both this year and in the past.”
Now it’s all about destination. The Vancouver Canucks were seen as a thirsty suitor, but apparently that may have dried up. Based on what I’ve been told, this makes sense. Raddysh knows that he needs to keep developing and most likely will require at least a season in the AHL before he’s ready to compete for an NHL job. So with his choice of franchise, he is seeking out a landing spot where he’ll get a good opportunity and appropriate ice time. Vancouver recently signed defenseman Philip Holm out of Sweden and naturally that impacts the Canucks’ organizational depth – which also has the highly touted Olli Juolevi coming up the pipeline, not to mention players such as Jordan Subban and Jalen Chatfield, the latter of whom just won the Memorial Cup over Erie with Windsor.
Toronto obviously has hometown appeal, but the Maple Leafs just signed two Swedish free agents in Andreas Borgman and Calle Rosen. The Buds also have Travis Dermott knocking on the door, plus still-young pros Andrew Nielsen and Rinat Valiev in the AHL.
Personally, I’m keeping an eye on Pittsburgh. The Penguins are obviously one of the top organizations in the NHL right now, but don’t have a ton of blueliners in the pipeline. Derrick Pouliot probably has one more season to prove himself, but even with Pouliot, the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins had only one defenseman among the top-10 in team scoring this season: veteran David Warsofsky. I could see the Rangers, Oilers and Capitals making pretty good pitches, too.
The most obvious, perhaps, is Tampa Bay – since that’s where brother Taylor’s rights reside. Playing together in Erie was obviously fun, even though the two were purposely assigned to different billet families so they could grow as individuals.
The Bolts didn’t have any offensive defensemen prospects in Syracuse this year (veteran Matt Taormina was the big blueline scorer), so the fit might be nice, too.
As for little brother’s role in the matter? Taylor’s not going to get too deep at this point in his career. “I try to help out a bit,” he said. “But it’s not my job to do that.”
THE LATEST HOCKEY NEWS PODCAST: