The NHL off-season is in full swing and has already been chalk full of exciting happenings. A very active and unique off-season has begun across the league. The Vegas Golden Knights saw their first roster filled out with the NHL Expansion draft and there have already been big trades to shake up other rosters. And although restricted free agents have been able to sign with their current teams already, there are many talented ones that remain unsigned. This group of free agents is full of newly emerged studs and consistent performers. Usually, unrestricted free agents are the hot talk, but many restricted free agents could see themselves being targeted by new teams.
Although offer sheets rarely occur, and most RFAs remain with their same team when given a qualifying offer, there is still a possibility of movement among these players. Here is a look at the best remaining unsigned RFA forwards.
Top 10 RFA Forwards
#10: Conor Sheary
Previous Cap Hit: $667,500 with the Pittsburgh Penguins
2016-2017 Quick Stats: 23 G, 30 A- 53 P
Connor Sheary had a solid and productive year for the Penguins in just his second year in the NHL. He put up great numbers and eclipsed twenty goals in just over 60 games played. Had he played the whole season, his stats would have been even more impressive. Sheary is a young winger who is a bit undersized but plays with a lot of skill. He could see his numbers increase even more next year if he continues to play on Sidney Crosby‘s line. However, Sheary did see his production decline in the post-season and even was benched for a couple games. Nonetheless, the Penguins did send him a qualifying offer.
Sheary is an intriguing player who actually could be lost to an offer sheet with another team. Pittsburgh’s main priority will be securing their blue line and therefor might have to sacrifice Sheary. He would be accepting a $650,000 dollar deal with the Penguins if he takes his tender. However, the 25-year-old will likely look for an increase pay, either with the Penguins or via a change of scenery. The Penguins will do all they can to keep him as his potential and skill set could be a big part of the Penguins offensive future.
Previous Cap Hit: $925,000 with the Columbus Blue Jackets
Quick Stats: 13 G, 46 A- 59 P
Alexander Wennberg has become a key play maker for the Columbus Blue Jackets early in his young career. Just three seasons in, Wennberg has become a reliable and productive player who played almost all 82 games in the 2016-2017 season. Last year he managed to obtain almost 60 points on a whopping 46 assists. Although he is not a prolific scorer, Columbus really only needs him to center a line and set-up their dynamic goal scorers such as Cam Atkinson and Artemi Panarin. Wennberg is very young and already the Blue Jackets best centre. It will only be a matter of time before he demands a contract close to $5 million dollars a year.
For now, the Blue Jackets will hope to secure his talents for cheaper than that and keep him as a crucial part of their young core. Head coach John Tortorella plans to play Wennberg with newly acquired Panarin which will surely mean an even more productive year for the gifted passer. Many teams will be interested in securing such a talented young center but it is highly unlikely that Columbus will lose his services.
#8: Bo Horvat
Previous Cap Hit: $894,167 with the Vancouver Canucks
Quick Stats: 20 G, 32 A- 52 P
The Vancouver Canucks do not have a whole lot of positivity surrounding their team. One thing they have going for them is young star Bo Horvat. Horvat represented the team in this past year’s All Star Game and had a strong season of 20 goals and over 30 assists. He is a very young player who has gotten better and increased his production in each of his three NHL seasons. He was their first round pick in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft and the front office of Vancouver will have a strong desire to keep him. Horvat can be the next franchise player for the Canucks and surely will demand an annual salary increase commensurate with his strong season. It will be close to impossible for another team to capture Horvat and his services as Vancouver will do all that it can to hang on to one of their best players.
Previous Cap Hit: $2,666,667 with the Minnesota Wild
Quick Stats: 25 G, 32 A- 57 P
The Minnesota Wild have a lot of offense to secure this off-season. Along with Niederreiter, the Wild have to re-sign offensive stud Mikael Granlund. This could make the possibility of the Wild losing a key component more plausable, but still unlikley. One of those players could be the 24 year old Nino Niederreiter. He has played six NHL seasons and had his best this past year. He achieved almost 60 points with over 20 goals. As well as being a good scorer, he also passes well. Niederreiter is an effective assist man who the Wild really rely on. Many teams would love to have a guy like Nino as he as an ironman. Niederreiter has played in every game the past two seasons. He is a crucial part of the Minnesota Wild core who will need to be secured. Teams with a lot of cap space could offer him over 3 million a year in hopes that Minnesota is unable to comply. The Wild have a lot to bring back this offseason and Niederreiter could be lost because of that.
#6: Ryan Johansen
Previous Cap Hit: $4,000,000 with the Nashville Predators
Quick Stats: 14 G, 47 A- 61 P
The Nashville Predators had a historic year. They lost in the Stanley Cup Final and made it their due to a lot of production from a lot of different players. Center Ryan Johansen was a big part of the Preds offense. He played his center role well as he picked up almost 50 assists on the year. Although Johansen is productive, he is not a cheap keep. The Predators have multiple guys to re-sign including Victor Arvidson. Because of this other teams around the league might target Johansen. A team will need to have a lot of cap room as he will surely demand a big pay day. However, they would be getting a top tier talent.
Johansen is young, big, and fast and has a knack for setting up his linemates. His assist production is elite and also has scored 30 goals in the league previously. He is the prototypical possession center, ala Anze Kopitar, that many teams desperately need. Look for Johansen and the Predators to be in contract discussion for a while as they will need some flexibility to retain all their guys. If Nashville is unable to keep all their free agent talent, many teams would drool over the opportunity to sign a dynamic player like Johansen.
#5: Viktor Arvidsson
Previous Cap Hit: $631,667 with the Nashville Predators
Quick Stats: 31 G, 30 A- 61 P
As noted above, the Predators have multiple RFAs that are crucial to their team. Along with Johansen, Viktor Arvidsson is a key part of the offense that they would love to keep. Not many players came onto the scene quite like Arvidsson this past season. After only having 16 points the previous year, in 2016-2017 Arvidsson put up at least 30 goals and assists. He was a breakout star in the league who had a good postseason as well. If the Predators can only sign one of their free agents, it is likely that they would choose Arvidsson as he scores and assists at high rates. He is a player that surely will require a big pay increase and it will be interesting to see if Nashville will be willing to offer that. His play and upward trend would indicate that he deserves north of one million dollars. If a team offers him that and the Predators still need to sign other guys, they may see him walk. However, it is more likely that they retain his services at a slight increase of his current pay.
#4: Evgeny Kuznetsov
Previous Cap Hit: $3,000,00 with the Washington Capitals
Quick Stats: 19 G, 40 A- 59 P
Like many of these RFAs, Kuznetsov is a center with a gift for the assist. This past season he had 40 and almost 20 goals. It was a strong season for a young player but a drastic decline for Kuznetsov who had almost 80 points two seasons ago. Still, Kuznetsov is a talented center for strong Washington team that scores a lot. He comes at a high price tag. The Capitals have a lot of talent and have already re-signed some of it so perhaps their cap space may become an issue at some point. The fact that the Capitals appear to be walking away from UFAs Justin Williams, Karl Alzner, and Kevin Shattenkirk does give them some room though. Many teams could benefit from his skills but few will have the cap space to lure him away from Washington. Expect Kuznetsov to remain a Capital unless his price becomes rocket high.
#3: Mikael Granlund
Previous Cap Hit: $3,000,000
Quick Stats: 26 G, 43 A- 69 P
Mikael Granlund is yet another center in this year’s RFA class. The Minnesota Wild have multiple RFAs to deal with and he and Niederreiter are the two biggest. They will want to keep both and likely will, however, teams will surely have their eyes turned towards them in an effort to grab a good player. Granlund is an exceptional center who consistently sets up teammates. Furthermore, he also has great speed and a quick shot that he uses to be an elite scorer. Granlund is an exceptional talent at a young age who will be part of the Wild core for years to come. His talents will remain in Minnesota, though he may demand a higher price tag.
#2: David Pastrnak
Previous Cap Hit: $925,000 with the Boston Bruins
Quick Stats: 34 G, 36 A- 70 P
David Pastrnak‘s has taken the league by storm. This year he had over 30 goals and assists in 75 games. The two years prior to this year, Pastrnak showed his potential in abbreviated seasons where he almost had 30 points in each. This season was full of Pastrnak snipes from crazy angles which highlight his great scoring ability. It is clear that “Pasta” has a knack for scoring and for making the electric play. The Bruins need to lock him up as a long time part of their future plan and should be able to. His game would indicate that he needs a large pay raise and that is surely what he will be looking for. The Bruins have tendered a qualifying offer and he will surely be their top priority for retaining next season.
#1: Leon Draisaitl
Previous Cap Hit: $925,000 with Edmonton Oilers
Quick Stats: 29 G, 48 A- 77 P
Leon Draisaitl excelled tremendously during the 2016-2017 campaign. On a team crowded with offensive talent, he still shined and made his name be known in a big way. Being the number two center behind Connor McDavid is not an easy task, yet Draisaitl was able to make his own mark on his team. He collected almost 50 assists and also achieved just under 30 goals. Draisaitl has become a number one center in just three years in the NHL. He has the ability to skill to be a franchise player but in Edmonton he is just asked to be the star that he is.
Any team would be silly to not want his services, however, Edmonton would never let his talents walk away. Draisaitl deserves a lot of money and if not this year, in the near future he will get it. Although Edmonton has a lot of talent that is not necessarily cost friendly, Draisaitl will be their biggest free agent priority for this summer. It is unlikely that he would sign another offer sheet, but Draisaitl is without a doubt the top RFA forward for the 2017 summer.
Main Photo via Getty Images.