A look back at a busy NHL Free Agency weekend for the Carolina Hurricanes

Peter Koutroumpis, Triangle Sports Network
Peter Koutroumpis, Triangle Sports Network

RALEIGH, N.C. – There are varying opinions on how much the Carolina Hurricanes roster was enhanced once the National Hockey League (NHL) Free Agency signing period began last Saturday.

Though some remain cautiously optimistic, others indicated that exceptional strides were made.

In taking the next step to infuse varied experience and success levels to compliment a young, homegrown and talented roster that possesses the potential to seriously contend for a playoff spot, executive vice president and general manager Ron Francis dropped a fair amount of ink during the days that followed.

The most notable signing was announced during a break in the team’s Prospect Camp Red-White scrimmage on Saturday in front of thousands of Summerfest attendees at PNC Arena.

Former Hurricanes right winger Justin Williams, recently a free agent with the Washington Capitals and three-time Stanley Cup champion  with Carolina and Los Angeles, agreed to return  to Raleigh on a two-year deal that will pay him $5 million during the 2017-18 season, and $4 million during the 2018-19 season.

“We said that we needed goal scoring and veteran leadership, and Justin will bring us both,” Francis said.

“He believes in what we are doing here and is returning to Raleigh to help the Hurricanes take the next step.”

The 35-year-old Williams scored 24 goals and added 24 assists (48 points) in 80 games for the the Caps during the 2016-17 season.

He ranked tied for third in team goals and sixth in points, and was fourth in scoring during the 2017 Stanley Cup playoffs, totaling nine points (3g, 6a) in 13 games.

Williams played 265 regular-season games with the Hurricanes from 2004-2009, and ranks 10th in the team’s North Carolina history in scoring with 201 points (81g, 120a).

He scored seven goals and added 11 assists (18 points) in 25 games for the Hurricanes during the 2006 Stanley Cup playoffs, as the Hurricanes captured their first championship in franchise history.

Following Williams’ signing, Carolina also announced that the team had agreed to terms with forward Josh Jooris on a one-year contract, a deal that will pay the 26-year-old $775,000 during the 2017-18 season.

“Josh is a versatile player who can play in the middle or on the wing,” Francis said.

“He’s hard-working and competitive, and gives us more flexibility with our group of forwards.”

Jooris, split the 2016-17 season between the New York Rangers and the Arizona Coyotes, totaling 12 points (4g, 8a) and 16 penalty minutes in 54 games.

He has appeared in 173 career NHL games with the Calgary Flames, Rangers and Coyotes, and has tallied 49 points (20g, 29a) and 71 penalty minutes.

The latest addition along the signing timeline following the weekend was forward Marcus Kruger coming to the Hurricanes from the Vegas Golden Knights in exchange for a fifth-round selection in the 2018 NHL Draft.

Also a Stanley Cup winner with the Chicago Blackhawks in 2013 and 2015, Kruger was acquired for his experience in winning a championship.

“We were determined to bring in experienced players with winning pedigrees and Marcus is another addition who fits that mold,” Francis noted.

“He’s a solid, two-way center who has achieved success both in the NHL and internationally.”

Kruger, 27, registered five goals, 12 assists (17 points) and a plus-7 rating in 70 games for the Chicago Blackhawks last season.

He led all Blackhawks forwards in shorthanded time on ice per game (2:13) and was second on the team in faceoff percentage, winning 52.3 percent of his even-strength draws.

Additional signings supported the organization’s depth in its minor league system in Charlotte with defenseman Dennis Robertson signing for another year, while defenseman Brendan Kichton and goaltender Jeremy Smith became new members of the organization.

Robertson agreed to a one-year, two-way contract that will pay $650,000 at the NHL level or $100,000 in the AHL.

The 26-year-old blueliner totaled 16 points (6g, 10a) and 52 penalty minutes in 65 regular-season games for the Checkers last season.

He ranked tied for third among Charlotte blueliners in plus/minus (+7) during the regular season, and was tied for first among club defensemen in scoring during the Calder Cup playoffs, earning three points (1g, 2a) in five postseason contests

Kichton, 25, signed a one-year, two-way contract for $700,000 (NHL)/$235,000 (AHL) after ranking second among Manitoba Moose defensemen with 23 points (1g, 22a) in 63 AHL games in 2016-17.

He was third among all skaters in assists, and has tallied 141 points (30g, 111a) and 134 penalty minutes in 272 career AHL games with the St. John’s and the Moose.

Smith’s one-year, two-way deal will pay him $750,000 at the NHL level or $225,000 in Charlotte.

The 28-year-old netminder appeared in 10 NHL games with the Colorado Avalanche in 2016-17, and posted a 1-6-1 with a 3.54 goals-against average after making his NHL debut on Feb. 14.

Smith also played 17 AHL games with the San Antonio Rampage in 2016-17, and finished with a 5-8-0 record with a 2.57 goals-against average.