The summer of small moves continued for the Hurricanes, as they signed forward Aaron Palushaj to a one-year, two-way contract. This deal carries a $600,000 cap hit in the NHL and a $125,000 cap hit in the AHL with him being guaranteed at least $225,000 in addition to that. Palushaj was selected by the St. Louis Blues in the second round of the 2007 Draft and has spent the last three seasons with the Montreal Canadiens & Colorado Avalanche. He has mainly a fringe NHL forward during that time, recording three goals and 14 points over 66 games.
At 23, Palushaj has a lot of room to grow and has been a terrific point-producer at the lower levels. He was a point-per-game player for two years at the University of Michigan and has produced around that level in the AHL until this most recent season when he had 10 points in 21 games with the Hamilton Bulldogs. He also has some NHL potential, as he has played 30+ games in the NHL in each of the last two seasons and didn't appear to be too out of place despite the modest scoring numbers.
Expecting Palushaj's AHL scoring totals to carry over to the AHL is probably asking for too much, so the Hurricanes are just going to have to hope that he can hold down a bottom-six role if they have plans for him in the NHL. Seeing how he is only 23 and has 66 games of experience, Palushaj has a good chance of landing a third or fourth line spot with the Canes next year. It will all depend on how he performs in training camp, but he was decent as a third-liner for the Avs last year.
He is a very good skater and posted solid possession numbers with unfavorable territorial assignments, showing that he could be decent enough defensively for a bottom-six role. His ability to draw penalties was the one thing he really excelled at, though as he drew over two penalties per 60 minutes during 5v5 play. A young forward usually has to do something to stand out in order to make the NHL full time, so Palushaj's ability to draw penalties might earn him some playing time with the Hurricanes since that fits in with the rest of the team's mentality.
If Palushaj doesn't end up in the NHL next year, then he will probably serve as a replacement for one of Zac Dalpe or Andreas Nodl in Charlotte since he is a proven commodity in the AHL. He is good enough to immediately play top-line minutes in Charlotte and could be a huge boost to the Checkers offense depending on who they lose to the NHL.
Overall, this is a minor move for the Hurricanes but it could also be an underrated signing depending on where Palushaj ends up. He has NHL experience and could give the Hurricanes some forward depth for a low cost next season or he could be a top player for Charlotte if Dalpe, Boychuk, Blanchard or someone else makes the team over him. Palushaj is also young enough to give the Canes some long-term help if he is good enough, so this is a low-risk move with a decent amount of upside.