Their numbers — both together and apart — weren’t ‘Jack Eichel and Evan Rodrigues’ good; Hyman’s 54 points in 37 games and Larkin’s 47 points in 35 games put them both a little behind the third overall scorer in the nation (Jimmy Vesey, Harvard) and a good ways back from the Eichel-Rodrigues levels of production.
Hyman’s game has come a long way since getting drafted in the fifth round of the 2010 NHL Entry Draft. His offense has improved, as has both his physical game and his defense — after spending his underclassmen years playing a bottom six role on Michigan’s roster, the former OJHL star slowly worked his way up the depth chart until his senior year began. By that point, he was able to keep pace with the freshman Larkin — although it’s unclear whether he’ll be a fully successful skater at the NHL level, his improvement over the four years he spent in Ann Arbor suggest that Hyman may have just been a late bloomer. His Hobey Baker nomination backs that up, although he only made it as far as being named a finalist before the award was narrowed down to the trio of Eichel, Vesey, and netminder Zane Mcintyre.
After getting drafted by the Florida Panthers, though, Hyman has made it clear he won’t sign with the club. Rather, the 22-year old Toronto native is willing to hit free agency — leaving speculations as to whether the Panthers will trade his negotiating rights to another club or not.
It somewhat hurts Florida that Hyman won’t stay with the team, since he’s developing into the kind of player that every team hopes to have on their bottom six. He’s made a name for himself as his NCAA career evolved for being able to convert defensive zone starts up the ice, and that could have helped Florida. As a team that makes it a priority to bring on as many true shut-down blue liners as they do offensive back-end talents, though, the Panthers are actually at less of a loss than they could be; while Hyman is developing into a useful depth player, he’s expendable in Florida’s system.
With team chemistry as important to a player’s development as anything else, the Panthers could look to deal Hyman’s rights to a team already playing host to the negotiating rights of one or more of his Michigan teammates. The Winnipeg Jets (Andrew Copp), Chicago Blackhawks (Tyler Motte), and Detroit Red Wings (Dylan Larkin) all retain negotiating rights for top six players on the 2014-2015 Michigan roster. Much like Buffalo’s decision to sign Jack Eichel‘s linemate Evan Rodrigues and Arizona’s trade deadline acquisition of Max Domi‘s World Juniors linemate Anthony Duclair, one of the teams listed above would likely be interested in making a swap — assuming Hyman expresses interest, of course. It would be worthless to another club to make the swap if Hyman doesn’t seem invested in heading there.
If he hits free agency, though — which would happen on August 16th — it’s interesting to investigate where he might want to sign instead.
Hyman made it clear that he didn’t want to sign with Florida, although they’re close to being a playoff contender — so likely, it isn’t the competitive level of the club that would interest Hyman. A team like Tampa Bay or New York would likely see him struggle to make his way into the depth chart, as well, so any cup-contending teams that don’t see an added bonus to acquiring him are likely out as well.
One possibility would be Toronto. The Maple Leafs are Hyman’s hometown team, and they’re at a stage in their rebuild where he’d likely get a quick look at the NHL level upon signing. They’re also a defensive nightmare, boosting the value of his strongly developed two-way talent.
Another look, of course, could be the Columbus Blue Jackets. As a new UFA, Hyman is likely affordable enough for the Metropolitan Division team (using that argument, he could look at a Pittsburgh signing, as well), but he’s also a young, healthy player with no significant injury history and flexibility in regards to where he can skate. Nashville may be a dark horse contender for his hand, but it’s not as likely — and the San Jose Sharks would be unwise to bring in another player with a similar upside to current pending RFA Ben Smith.