The Philadelphia Flyers announced earlier on Wednesday that Joonas Lehtivuori had cleared waivers, paving the way for a release from his entry-level contract. We're going to guess that that's completed now, because Paul Holmgren just announced that the Flyers have signed Blake Kessel to an entry-level deal of his own.
Kessel, who was just invited to Training Camp and has been working out this week at the Skate Zone, becomes the organization's 50th contract, thus putting them right back at the upper limit. That means that, without shedding even more contracts via buyout or trade or whatever, the Flyers can't sign Sean Couturier or Michael Nylander or Adam Mair or any other player that currently doesn't have a contract with the team.
As for Kessel, I'm not going to pretend I know a ton about him. He is indeed the brother of Maple Leafs forward Phil Kessel, and he was drafted by the New York Islanders in the sixth round of the 2007 draft. Unlike his brother, he's a defenseman. He took the college route, playing his Division 1 hockey at the University of New Hampshire from 2008 to this past season.
Yes, he did play with James van Riemsdyk during the 2008-09 season at UNH, when JvR was a sophomore and Kessel was a freshman. That year, Reemer was the Wildcats' leading scorer, putting up 17 goals and 23 assists in 36 games, while Kessel topped out at six goals and seven assists in 37 games. The following year, Kessel's sophomore season at UNH (and thus a bit more of a fair comparison to JvR's second year), he put up 10 goals and 28 assists in 38 games.
His goal scoring fell off the map in his junior year this past season, but he's a defenseman, so it's not like that's a huge deal. Unfortunately, I have no clue how he was used at UNH, but according to Hockey's Future, he was converted to defense during his USHL days and he still likes to jump up into the play offensively. That would explain the point-per-game pace at UNH in '09-'10.
He opted to leave college after his junior year. If he stayed all four years at UNH, he would have been property of the Islanders until August 15 of next summer. But since he left early, that all changes. College players that fail to finish all four years of school become unrestricted free agents on June 1 of the fourth year following their draft year. If you've been following along, that means that Kessel used a loophole in the CBA, left college early, and became a free agent on June 1, 2011. Bye bye, Islanders.
Now, he's in Flyers camp with a team that needs defensive prospects. Not a bad place to be. Apparently they like Kessel enough to give him a contract, and now Kessel has a huge opportunity. He'll likely be with the Phantoms now that he has a contract, and we can't possibly gauge how he'll do at that level. The Flyers gave him an opportunity today, and we'll see what he does with it.
Here's the official press release from the team:
FLYERS SIGN D BLAKE KESSEL
The Philadelphia Flyers announced today that they have signed defenseman Blake Kessel to an entry-level contract, according to general manager Paul Holmgren.
Kessel, 22 (4-13-1989), played the last three seasons at the University of New Hampshire, the first of which was as a teammate of Flyers left wing James van Riemsdyk. The 6-2, 210-lb native of Madison, Wisconsin recorded five goals and 22 assists for 27 points in 39 games as a junior last season.
Prior to attending New Hampshire, he played two seasons for Waterloo in the USHL, the second of which saw him post 19 goals and 38 assists for 57 points in 59 games.
Kessel is the brother of Toronto RW Phil Kessel and is a cousin of Calgary RW David Moss. In addition, his sister Amanda is a forward for the US Women's National Team and plays at the University of Minnesota.