The Coyotes opened free agency by signing goalie Chad Johnson on Sunday to a one-year, two-way contract.
Phoenix has been watching Johnson for some time. They attempted to sign him out of college with the University of Alaska-Fairbanks, but he opted to joined the Rangers’ organization where he is has played for the last three season with their AHL affiliate in Hartford, Connecticut.
Johnson posted a 62-55-11 record with a 2.58 GAA and a .910 save percentage with the Hartford Wolf Pack/Connecticut Whale.
“Chad’s got a great opportunity to fight for that third position (in the Phoenix organization) and hopefully at some point during the season he’ll get an opportunity to be in Phoenix,” said Pirates’ coach Ray Edwards.
“He’s a very capable American Hockey League goalie.”
He’s currently slated to begin the season in a very crowded net in Portland.
The Coyotes have six goaltenders signed for the upcoming season with rookies Mark Visentin, Louis Domingue and Mike Lee under contract and fighting for an opening with the Pirates.
“We’ve got three kids coming, but we didn’t want to overwhelm the three kids,” said Coyotes’ Asst. GM Brad Treliving. “We didn’t want a situation where they had to sink or swim so Chad (Johnson) is a guy we’ve known for a while. We tried to sign him out of college a few years ago.
Despite Johnson having more experience, Treliving isn’t automatically handing Johnson the starting role in Portland. He said he doesn’t know who will be the starter, yet. That it will be decided during training camp in September.
“Chad has a longer resume, but we’ve got three kids that are going to be hungry,” he said.
Treliving also believes that the Pirates are in a better position in goal than they were a year ago. The Coyotes signed Curtis McElhinney and Justin Pogge last summer to fill net in Portland and both were mediocre at best as neither had a save percentage over .900 and a goals against below 3.00.
McElhinney went down with a season-ending injury and Pogge could never find his way, the Coyotes made an AHL deal to acquire Peter Mannino from the St. John’s IceCaps.
While not pointing solely at goaltending for the reason why the Pirates missed the playoffs for the first time in five seasons, it was obviously a glaring issue.
“McElhinney went down last year and we were scrambling we had to go out and find someone. Peter came in and was good, but now we’ve got four goaltenders that all are capable of playing in Portland,” said Treliving.
“Our goaltending wasn’t strong enough. It’s was too easy to put last season on goaltending and say that we didn’t make the playoffs because of goaltending, but the bottom line was we didn’t have good enough goaltending. We are making sure that we are deep there. We’ve got three young kids with a lot of promise but we are not throwing them out on the island.”
However, it will be a crowded crease as only two goaltenders will stick with the Pirates. Visentin and Domingue each have junior eligibility left with an option to return to their respective junior clubs, but both Treliving and Edwards have said that doesn’t appear to be an option, nor is it a concern to the Coyotes, who have a plan in place to make sure each goalie is getting appropriate playing time.
“We’ll go through on how we want this to look,” said Edwards. “How many games do we want Visentin to play, how many games do we want Domingue to play, how many games does Lee need to play. As we move through camp we’ll need to figure out where the best place for each of them to play. My sense is they’ll all be in a pro situation. I don’t see any them of heading back to junior.”
In either case, Edwards believes that Johnson is the guy that will help all three goalies make the adjustment to the pro game.
“He’s a solid goaltender. He’s won a lot of games and he got good numbers and he’s a big guy. It’s important for us – with the three young goalies we have – to have someone they can lean for support, leadership and show them the right way to do things.”
Johnson hasn’t been the only signing by the Coyotes since Sunday as they’ve signed Chris Conner and Robert Klinkhammer and re-signed center Alexandre Bolduc.
All were signed to a one-year, two-way contract.
Bolduc was a key signing for the Coyotes, not only to push for a roster spot in Phoenix, but as a key veteran in Portland.
The 6-3, 208-pound forward missed nearly two-thirds of a season with the Pirates as a result of shoulder surgery. He played 23 games in Portland, scoring three goals, 12 assists for 15 points. He was a top faceoff player for the Pirates and according to Edwards filled an important role working with the rookies on the roster.
“He adds to that role down the middle,” said Edwards. “He’s a big body, a big face-off guy. Now we have a bigger body not only for us, but in a call up role. He was really good with our young kids last year. He understands what we’re all about and I really enjoyed having him here.”
“We really wanted Bolduc back,” said Treliving. “He was good for us down, but he really never got going because he was out all year. He’s got some game to him and he was leader down there and he’s a big body.”
Conner played last season with the Detroit Red Wings AHL affiliate, the Grand Rapids Griffins, scoring 16 goals, 37 assists for 53 points in 57 games.
At 5-8, 180-pounds, Conner has appeared in 275 AHL games, scoring 227 points (88g, 139a) with Iowa, Peoria, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and Grand Rapids.
He’s played in 147 NHL games with Dallas, Pittsburgh and Detroit, scoring 17 goals, 26 assists for 43 points.
Klinkhammer, a 6-3, 209-pound forward, has appeared in over 340 career AHL games, scoring 68 goals, 100 assists for 168 points with Norfolk, Rockford and Binghamton.
The 25-year-old native of Lethbridge, Alberta spent last season with the Binghamton Senators as a point-a-game player, posting 35 points (12g, 23a) in 35 games.