The Senators announced late Tuesday night that they’ve signed Aaron Luchuk to a three-year, standard entry-level contract that’ll begin next season.
Luchuk is currently playing in his fourth and final OHL season, and has spent a majority of his career in Windsor with Logan Brown. A versatile player, Luchuk’s primarily played centre (53.9 faceoff win% last year) and was the team’s second-line pivot last season. This year, he’s spent most of his time as Brown’s left-winger.
Luchuk was recently traded to the Barrie Colts as Windsor looks to recoup assets after their Memorial Cup run last year. It’s a good spot for him as Barrie (second in the East) is looking to go on a big playoff run with projected top-five pick in 2018, Andrei Svechnikov, and Russian import Alexei Lipanov — Luchuk’s new linemates.
The read on Luchuk, despite being undersized for the Sens’ usual standards (5-foot-10, 185 pounds), is his shot. After putting up just 10 goals and 23 points in 67 games as a rookie during his draft year, Luchuk put up 27 goals (68 games), 28 (68 games), and is now on pace to crush his career high as he already has 28 goals in just 30 games this season.
The Senators must love his consistency, both in terms of point production and playing time — Luchuk’s only missed one game over the last four seasons, which likely speaks to good conditioning.
From Randy Lee:
"Aaron is a talented and proven goal scorer who plays a strong two-way game. He's shown the ability to elevate his play in big games, as demonstrated by his play in last year's memorial cup, said Senators assistant general manager Randy Lee. "He has high character, excellent hockey sense and is trusted by his coaches in critical times of the game. Aaron is a player we have had our eye on for some time and we are very happy to welcome him into the Senators organization."
Luchuk had four goals in seven games as Brown’s Spitfires lost a heated first-round matchup to Formenton’s London Knights in last year’s OHL playoffs, but as Windsor was hosting the Memorial Cup, they still got to play in the tournament. As we all know, they won, and Luchuk’s point-per-game performance certainly helped:
What about his character? We can get a glimpse of it here through a video recorded by the Spitfires communications staff after Luchuk was traded to Barrie:
VIDEO: He spent four-plus years as a Spitfire, was our captain, and scored one of the biggest goals in franchise history - the GWG in last year's Memorial Cup final. We talked to an emotional @ALuchuk91 before he left for Barrie this morning. pic.twitter.com/vzFTBkJe9n— Windsor Spitfires (@SpitsHockey) December 14, 2017
Anything bad regarding this signing certainly isn’t Luchuk’s fault, but moreso the Sens dismal track record when it comes to signing CHL free agents. Over at Eye on the Sens, Peter Levi has a detailed account of every undrafted free agent the Sens have signed, and the results aren’t pretty:
Craig Schira (2009) – AHL 208-15-32-48 (0.23); Result: bottom-pairing AHLer. No fanfare and didn’t really evolve from when he arrived; he’s been better in Europe, although he’s had less success in Sweden than he did in Finland
David Dziurzynski (2010) – AHL 351-46-81-127 (0.36); Result: third-line AHLer. No hype for the BCHLer, but a lot of Bingo fans have a soft spot for Dave; as a prospect he essentially arrived as a third-line player and never evolved from there; he suffered through a terrible season in Germany this year and will likely be back this side of the Atlantic in the fall
Wacey Hamilton (2011) – AHL 175-13-26-39 (0.22); Result: fourth-line AHLer. Lacked fanfare and, as with the above players, arrived and simply never evolved; has marginal AHL-talent, but his ability as an agitator has kept him in the league
Troy Rutkowski (2013) – ECHL 156-12-51-63 (0.40); Result: ECHLer. No org hype; actually drafted by Colorado (but sensibly discarded), the Sens lost faith in him very early (not cut in the Luke Richardson mold) and he barely appeared in Binghamton (just 30 games over three years); Jeff Ulmer and I argued about him quite a bit last year, but my point then was that the BSens blueline was bad enough that he was a sensible alternative; he’s playing in Norway now (the same route, incidentally, that Schira used to graduate to better European leagues)
Macoy Erkamps (2016) – ECHL 57-6-19-25 (0.43); Result: undetermined. No fanfare; Far too early to decide his fate at this point, although being unable to break through Binghamton’s weak blueline this season is not a good sign
We can also add the undrafted Parker Kelly to this group, but as an 18 year-old, he’s quite a bit different. Of the five above, only Dizzy played NHL games, and although the jury’s still out on Erkamps, the rest haven’t even been productive AHLers. Does Luchuk have any qualities that buck this trend?
For one: Luchuk has been the most consistent point producer of the group. Troy Rutkowski and Macoy Erkamps were signed after putting up nearly point-per-game seasons as defencemen, but Rutkowski played on one of the most stacked junior teams I’ve ever seen and was paired with Seth Jones, while Erkamps was held up by elite NHL defender, Ivan Provorov. Again, his 0.80 PPG in the OHL is nothing to scoff at: it’s a mark reached by around ~70 players a season; ~50 players pot 25+ goals a year. He’s a solid OHL contributor.
Importantly, a majority of Luchuk’s points are at even-strength and are primary points (a goal or the first assist). There’s been a ton of work at the NHL level to say that secondary assists are a bit noisy, and that primary points are better predictors of future point production, so they’re indicators we look for when projecting prospect performance. According to prospect-stats.com, 49 of Luchuk’s 60 points last year were primary points (P1/gm ranked 52nd in the league); 40 of those 60 points were scored at even-strength — a high percentage.
This year, Luchuk is fourth in the league in even-strength points (29 points in 33 games) and he leads the league in primary points per game with 1.36. That mark puts Luchuk ahead of the highly touted Morgan Frost, Team Canada’s Jordan Kyrou, Boris Katchouk, Robert Thomas, Taylor Raddysh, and Team USA’s Logan Brown (who ranks 7th in the league in this metric). Now, Luchuk is ~1-2 years older than these premier prospects, which matters a ton in junior and should dampen some hype, but he’s clearly one of the best overagers in the league this season, and thus, a solid candidate for an NHL contract.
Moreover, it’s important to me that Luchuk is shooting a lot (his 4.52 shots/game ranks 5th in the league) because it means he’s capable of getting into the areas of the ice where he can let a shot go, and has enough time and space to be accurate while doing so. It’s in this category that Luchuk’s experienced the biggest breakout — he’s nearly doubled his 2.69 shots per game mark (ranked 74th) from last season.
You can see some of Luchuk’s skill on display from this replay pack during the 2015-16 season (Luchuk’s Draft+1 year). He picks up a primary assist on Windsor’s first goal with a sweet pass in tight looking for the most dangerous opportunity, and then the game-winner in OT by protecting the puck well, showcasing his good hands in tight, and using his hard shot twice.
Despite the Sens dismal track record with CHL free agents, Luchuk appears to be a good gamble. He’s a smart forward who’s been a consistent producer over multiple seasons at the OHL level, puts up a high-percentage of his points at even-strength, and is shooting a ton this season. It remains to be seen how much of his improved performance comes from being an older player, but his versatility at multiple forward positions may help him fill a depth role if he’s not a pro scorer.
Luchuk certainly believes so (from an interview with The Hockey Writers after participating in the Vancouver Canucks development camp over the summer):
Q: Why do you feel like a team should take a chance and sign you?
AL: I bring a lot more to the table than just putting up offense. Penalty killing and playing defense is something I take extreme prpide in. We have one of the top penalty kills this year. We had a record-breaking penalty kill last year. I think a team who signs me doesn’t only get a guy who can put the puck in the net but also someone who can defend in his own end and shut down other team’s top lines.
Welcome aboard, Luchuk.