The first day of free agency in the NHL has a lot of signings taking place. Not every signing is necessarily for the NHL, though. This is also a day where teams sign players meant to be for their AHL affiliates and meant to be nothing more than call-up depth for the NHL short of an impressive performance in front of the decision makers. The New Jersey Devils made one of those signings this afternoon. As reported by Darren Dreger of TSN, the Devils signed forward Chase De Leo to a two-way contract for one season where he would be paid $750,000 at the NHL level and $350,000 at the AHL level.
If you do not know who Chase De Leo is, then that is understandable. The forward has been primarily playing in the AHL since turning professional in the 2015-16 season. De Leo was drafted in the fourth round in 2014 by Winnipeg. He was a prolific scorer with Portland in the WHL, but the production did not fully translate to the next level. He played in 2 games with Winnipeg in 2015-16 and then spent the rest of that season with their AHL affiliate, the Manitoba Moose. He was a member of the Moose for the next two seasons. The Jets dealt the La Mirada, California born De Leo to Anaheim back in June 2018 in a swap of minor leaguers. De Leo has played exactly one NHL game in each of the last three seasons with Anaheim. He was with the San Diego Gulls, Anaheim’s AHL affiliate, for the vast majority of those seasons.
De Leo is not large. Given that he could not get anything more than a single call-up in each of the last three seasons on Anaheim suggests there is not a lot of future here. Surprising to me, he is not that old for an AHL veteran. He is just 25. De Leo went from junior right into the AHL and pretty much stayed there for the most part. In terms of production, he has averaged just over 0.6 points per game in 365 AHL games. However, he nearly went a point per game with 35 in 37 games with the Gulls last season. He posted 20 goals and 55 points in 66 games back in 2018-19. So he could be seen as someone to help an AHL team with production. His six seasons in the top minor league can also serve him well in a potential leadership role (he wore an ‘A’ for San Diego last season) on a team filled with young players - like the Utica Comets.
That is who this signing is really for. Utica, not New Jersey. De Leo will most likely play with the Comets for 2021-22. He can be the veteran presence to help a really young forward group that will feature Alexander Holtz, Graeme Clarke, Nolan Foote, Aarne Talvitie, and Tyce Thompson among others. He can also help them score depending on how he is used and he fits in with the Utica Comets’ strategies. That New Jersey signed him points to the appeal of this deal. By signing a NHL contract, De Leo could be called up. For AHL veterans like him, they are looking for an opportunity to play and make the higher wage rate at the NHL level. Sure, it is the minimum salary but even that is much larger than what is considered to be a high AHL salary - which De Leo is also getting. That may have been the enticing factor for De Leo when other teams may have only offered AHL only deals. I would not be shocked if going to a new organization also appealed to him as it was clear De Leo was not going to break through in Anaheim after three seasons there. Think Ben Street and other such deals in the past and you have the right idea.
To that end, there really is not much to get worked up over with this signing from a New Jersey Devils perspective. Any impact on New Jersey will be minimal. The contract is for one season, so there is no long-term implication for the roster. Should he stay in Utica (and he likely will), there is no cap impact either. If you are an Utica fan, then you may want to be excited that the parent team is not going to just let a young squad be fed to the AHL slaughter and they brought in De Leo. I hope he does well in upstate New York.
I welcome Chase De Leo to the organization and I wish him the best. I do not know if you have any strong feelings about this signing, but I would like to know your take about it. Even if it is just a shrug. If you are intending to follow the Comets or you know more about him from his time with the Moose or Gulls, then what do you think of this signing? Please leave your answers and other De Leo thoughts in the comments. Thank you for reading.