The NHL’s 2018 unrestricted free agency (UFA) period will begin in less than one month on July 1st. Heading into this summer’s free agency period, a majority of the major headlines are surrounding all-star skaters such as John Tavares, John Carlson and James van Riemsdyk.
Still, there a number of other potential UFA signings that no one is talking about this offseason, but could still take place and also have a bigger impact down the road for various NHL teams. Then, there are additional free agents come July 1 that could ink their names on the official free agent tracker coming from overseas in the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL).
In the pool of skaters that aren’t receiving as much publicity this upcoming UFA period, there are a few veteran players in the fold that could revive their careers with a new team. But there are also youngsters that are ready to sign their first contract with a different club in order to try and take their game to the next level.
Teams such as the Dallas Stars and Calgary Flames are in need of adding depth to their offense and at the winger position, while the Vancouver Canucks and New York Rangers may aim to add defensemen that could pan out to be bargains.
16 Kyle Brodziak - Winnipeg Jets
Centers are of the essence, especially when the forwards are able to earn a spot in a team’s everyday lineup. Center, Kyle Brodziak, fits into that category mentioned above is fresh off of one of his better seasons in recent memory.
The 34-year-old played in over 80 games for the first time since 2013-14, and also recorded more than 30 points (10G-23A –33PTS) in a season for the first time since the 2010-11 campaign with the Minnesota Wild. No, he’s not a caliber skater such as Paul Stastny, but he’s an UFA flying under the radar this offseason. The St. Paul, Alberta native brings a respectable amount of Stanley Cup Playoff experience and teams that are strapped down with spending because of the salary cap should take Brodziak into serious consideration as a potential bargain.
After skaters such as Tavares, Stastny and Joe Thornton, there’s a big drop-off in value when it comes to available centers during this year’s UFA period.
A team such as the Winnipeg Jets could take interest in adding the veteran center to add some key depth to their bottom-six forwards. There’s still intriguing energy left in the tank from this forward that no one seems to be talking about.
15 Alexei Vasilevskiy - Vancouver Canucks
Russian native Alexei Vasilevskiy has spent parts of six seasons in the KHL, while spending the past three as a defenseman with Yekaterinburg Automobilist. The 25-year-old is one of the better free agents available this offseason from the KHL, yet he’d probably be a surprise signing if he came overseas to North America.
The 5-foot-11 defenseman is coming off career highs in games played with 54 and points, after he notched 10 goals and 10 assists onto his belt last season with Automobilist. After developing six years overseas, Vasilevskiy could pan out to be a bargain for a team such as the Vancouver Canucks who are in a rebuild as it is anyway.
Considering that he’s the brother of 2018 Vezina Trophy finalist, Andrei Vasilevskiy, the signing wouldn’t be that much of a long shot. Vasilevskiy is a right-handed shot and was also fifth in scoring for all KHL defenseman last season. The potential NHLer has played in 12 playoff games in the KHL since 2015 while recording three goals and adding an assist.
If he can show anything close to the potential that his brother Andrei has shown with the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Canucks could have a promising asset on their hands.
14 Tim Schaller - Edmonton Oilers
At the age of 27 and four seasons deep into his NHL career, forward Tim Schaller is set to become an UFA this offseason. Who? Yes, this center/winger positional skater is someone that is flying under the radar as July 1 approaches, and it’s possible that Schaller could pan out to be a steal for teams as well.
Schaller is a shutdown forward that can offer value to a Stanley Cup Playoff caliber team, and the Merrimack, New Hampshire native probably has more confidence than ever entering his fifth NHL offseason. The undrafted forward recorded a career-high 22 points (12G-10A), and while that may not seem like much, those numbers were produced on one of last season’s deepest rosters in the Boston Bruins.
Schaller is a skater that could get signed as early as July 1, and a team such as the Carolina Hurricanes, Edmonton Oilers should take interest in signing this free agent that isn’t receiving any buzz. His three shorthanded goals this season are notable considering that only four other skaters found the back of the net more times when down a man (league leader had five). He’ll come at a fair price and one much more reasonable than other free agents most are analyzing this offseason.
13 Quinton Howden - Arizona Coyotes
After one year being removed from the NHL, forward Quinton Howden had a commendable showing in the KHL with the Minsk Dynamo. Howeden, 26, found the back of the net 17 times and tallied 15 assists in 56 games last season.
The 6-foot-2 center/winger may be appealing to NHL teams this offseason, especially since the free-agency market in the forwards department isn’t as strong in comparison to years prior. Howden is a former 2010 first-round draft pick (25th overall) of the Florida Panthers and he did play in parts of four seasons in the NHL. Most recently, Howden dressed in five games for the Winnipeg Jets during the 2016-17 campaign.
There could be mutual interest in Arizona with the Coyotes for Howden.
The forward would be given an opportunity there to blossom a checking role with the team, but one that may be able to provide offense since he’d see more ice time with the ‘Yotes than over clubs.
Thought, another Western Conference team could take interest in signing the Winnipeg, Manitoba native. The Calgary Flames are in need of help at the winger position and this low-key signing couldn’t hurt, either. Keep in mind he did make the 2018 Canadian Olympic roster and recorded one assist in four games played.
12 Cam Ward – Chicago Blackhawks
It may be hard to believe that Cam Ward has not only played his entire NHL career with the Carolina Hurricanes (2006-present), but the former Conn Smythe Trophy winner (2006) is set to become an UFA and may finally leave the Hurricanes.
Ward has been inconsistent, and far from the caliber netminder he was when he helped Carolina win its first ever Stanley Cup back in 2006, but he did have a decent campaign for the ‘Canes in 2017-18. With all eyes set on skaters such as John Tavares and John Carlson, there’s not much talk about which teams may be looking to sign a goaltender on July 1.
Ward could offer some stability as a backup goaltender and bring in some friendly competition for teams that may need to bring that competitive spirit to its goaltending’s crease. Ward’s market value is going to be cost friendly, and teams like the Buffalo Sabres, Chicago Blackhawks, Montreal Canadiens and New York Islanders all may show interest in signing Ward to something as simple as a two-year contract. The 34-year-old is a blast from the past, but a change of scenery in a role with the Blackhawks may just have been something Ward needed years ago to regain his form between the pipes.
11 Brandon Manning - Anaheim Ducks
Defenseman Brandon Manning was undrafted but has spent parts of the past six seasons with the Philadelphia Flyers and had been a regular in the lineup more times than not. Though, his inconsistent play has left the 28-year-old UFA as a skater that’s going to fly under the radar come July 1.
With the likes of Carlson, Green and other blueliners receiving more attention from suitors this offseason, Manning has fallen off the radar and most could think that he’d re-sign with the City of Brotherly Love. Though, Flyers GM Ron Hextall has other plans, which has opened up an opportunity for a team to give Manning a fresh start.
While there’s not much talk about Manning signing on with a team as a top-four defenseman, he could blossom into one given it’s the right fit. At the age of 28, the British Columbia native is on the verge of entering the prime of his career and his play could take one giant step forward. Manning is fresh off of a career-high offensively, while netting seven goals and adding 12 helpers for 19 points on the year; and two of which were game-winning goals. The Vancouver Canucks and Anaheim Ducks could take interest in adding this 6-foot-1 defenseman, however, Manning would be more intrigued to join Anaheim.
10 Kevin Connauton - Ottawa Senators
The Edmonton, Alberta native is fresh off of scoring a career high of 11 goals last season, while chipping in 12 assists for 21 points. Defenseman Kevin Connauton’s offensive display last with the Arizona Coyotes during the 2017-18 campaign isn’t being talked about much, but there’s a chance that he could be a nice bargain for teams such as the Ottawa Senators.
The Senators should be planning as much as possible for life without all-star blueliner, Erik Karlsson, and signing Connauton would come at a cheap cost and could bring some help to the team’s backend at the very least.
The former third-round draft pick just turned 28 years old and will be entering his sixth NHL season, which is usually when an NHL defenseman begins to peak and portray their true colors for what type of skater they can be with a club moving forward. Prior to spending the past two seasons with Arizona, Connauton had only never completed a full season while dressing for one team. It’s probably no coincidence that he blossomed when he was given a chance to perform on a nightly basis with one squad. Expect the Flyers to take interest in the 6-foot-2 defenseman and have him potentially replace Brandon Manning’s role.
9 Johnny Oduya – Buffalo Sabres
Since signing with the New Jersey Devils as an unrestricted free agent back in 2006, defenseman Johnny Oduya has gone on to skate with five different teams. Though, he’s proven to be a valuable and underrated asset, and has won two Stanley Cups (2013 & 2015 Chicago Blackhawks) in the process.
Oduya has flown under the radar the past two seasons while dressing for the Ottawa Senators and Philadelphia Flyers, which makes him a prime candidate to be a free agent signing that no one is talking about this offseason. Oduya offers that journeyman and playoff experience that can pay dividends for a young and rebuilding defense corps; or a Stanley Cup contender that’s looking to add invaluable depth to its third pairing.
The Buffalo Sabres and Calgary Flames are teams that could be looking to restructure their defense core. Plus, with the Sabres possibly drafting prospect Rasmus Dalhin with the No. 1 overall pick this summer, having Oduya in the mix couldn’t hurt. Don’t rule out the Swedish native to head back out to the Western Conference and join a team that would be right up his alley, Vegas. Still, Buffalo would make the most sense for Oduya and the Sabres could potentially flip him at the trade deadline.
8 Jonathan Bernier - Los Angeles Kings
After dressing for three different teams (Toronto Maple Leafs, Anaheim Ducks & Colorado Avalanche) since 2015, goaltender Jonathan Bernier may end up playing for another NHL team again next season. Since Bernier headed back to the Western Conference and stood tall between the pipes for the Ducks and Avalanche over the course of the last two seasons, the former top prospect based out of Laval, Quebec has proved he still has value in net.
Though, there hasn’t been much speculation about Bernier being a UFA this offseason. The 29-year-old posted a .913 save percentage and 2.85 GAA, while recording two shutouts for the Avs last season. Bernier didn’t look as sharp down the stretch of the season as he did to open up his 2017-18 campaign, but this is a signing that a majority of team’s fan bases should monitor closely as July 1 nears.
Teams such as the Dallas Stars, Buffalo Sabres, Montreal Canadiens, Ottawa Senators, Vancouver Canucks, Chicago Blackhawks and Carolina Hurricanes could show interest in pursuing “Berny” this offseason. Then there’s the idea that Bernier and the Los Angeles Kings could reunite; as the Kings have shown signs that they’ll need another veteran goaltender to potentially share Los Angeles’ crease-duties moving forward with the great Jonathan Quick.
7 Michal Kempny - New York Rangers
Most fans are now familiar with hearing Michal Kempny’s name and have a general idea of who he is. Though, it may come as a surprise that Kempny is set to become an UFA this offseason.
The Czech Republic native was signed by the Chicago Blackhawks during the 2016 offseason after Kempny had spent the previous season playing for Avangard Omsk in the KHL. The 27-year-old was dealt to the Washington Capitals from Chicago back in February, and it’s become an (originally) overlooked trade that’s gone in the Capitals’ favor. Kempny appears to have found a home with Washington, while playing alongside John Carlson. Though, with his stock rising and the potential departure of Carlson, Kempny could end up being in the middle of another under the radar deal; but this time during UFA.
With a majority of Washington’s focus on signing Carlson, or scrambling around to find a caliber defenseman to replace his status with the team, Washington could lose out on re-signing one its biggest surprises this season.
Keep in mind that a team such as the New York Rangers, who have been able to watch the Capitals advance all postseason long from afar, may be ready to pounce and add the low-key defenseman.
6 Luke Schenn - Toronto Maple Leafs
It seems that defenseman Luke Schenn has lost a majority of spotlight and chatter since he was acquired by the Arizona Coyotes back in 2016. At the age of 28, Schenn will be entering his 11th NHL season and is set to hit UFA for the third time in his career.
The former fifth-overall selection at the 2005 NHL Entry Draft by the Toronto Maple Leafs never lived up to expectations, but there’s a chance that a team will surprisingly sign and take a chance on him and on other than Arizona. Schenn is a low-cost blueliner that could still fit nicely with a team if it’s the right situation for the Saskatoon, Saskatchewan native. Playing in Arizona the past two seasons certainly hurt his value and is a big reason why he’s not necessarily being speculated much this offseason as someone teams will look to sign.
A new Leaf has been turned over in Toronto should the Maple Leafs consider bringing Schenn back under completely different circumstances and there are a couple of other Canadian clubs that could take interest in the skater that was once traded to the Philadelphia Flyers in exchange James van Riemsdyk back in 2012.
5 Ilya Kovalchuk - Vegas Golden Knights
Ilya Kovalchuk isn't getting the amount of attention he would normally get for such a prolific goalscorer returning to the NHL. With such a superstar player like John Tavares possibly hitting the market, Kovalchuk's return to the NHL has flown a little under the radar.
"[Kovalchuk] is looking to come back to the NHL, and from our standpoint we will keep all our options open as we move along," Devils general manager Ray Shero wrote in an email to NHL.com.
It's already been said though, that Kovalchuk will not return to the Devils. GM Ray Shero certainly hasn't seemed interested in reuniting. Kovalchuk instead, may look to come back to the NHL, for a Stanley Cup contender. If Kovalchuk takes a one-year deal with incentives, he should be able to find a contender. One team that could give him both some decent money and a chance to contend is the Vegas Golden Knights. They're set to potentially lose some names in free agency, but Kovalchuk can keep them in contention next season. The Knights have cap space, Vegas is a great place to play and Kovalchuk would have a great chance to thrive once again.
4 Ryan Reaves - Calgary Flames
Forward Ryan Reaves had been making plenty of headlines lately when most NHL fans would least expect it. Reaves, 31, has had a commendable showing during the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs with the Vegas Golden Knights and the team’s unimaginable run to the Stanley Cup Final.
Prior to his spark in the Knights’ everyday lineup in the playoffs, the enforcer had one goal in six playoff appearances (2011-16) with his former team, the St. Louis Blues. However, Reaves scored twice for Vegas and in back-to-back playoff contests, and one of which came when the 6-foot-1 skater scored the game-winning goal for Vegas in Game 5 against the Winnipeg Jets during the Western Conference Finals.
Though, there hasn’t been much talk about Reeves’ status heading into the 2018 offseason. The former fifth-round draft pick (2005) had spent his entire career with St. Louis and had a brief stint this season with the Pittsburgh Penguins, prior to being traded to Vegas at the 2018 NHL Trade Deadline. He’s set to become an unrestricted free agent for the third time in his career, and his stock is higher than its arguably ever been with his recent play in Sin City. The Calgary Flames looking for a big body and spark to its fourth line will take some serious interest in offering Reaves a contract.
3 Brian Gibbons - San Jose Sharks
The third-year pro, Brian Gibbons, showed flashes with the New Jersey Devils this past season of what type of NHL caliber skater he can be. The 30-year-old played in a career-high 59 games during the regular season, while netting 12 goals and tallying 14 assists for 26 points on the year. Gibbons also had three game-winning and shorthanded goals last season, which standout heading into UFA this summer.
Gibbons proved that when needed he can bring a commendable change of pace to a team’s lineup, and a signing to a short-term deal could benefit certain teams in either conference.
His grit and motivation to earn his way into an NHL team’s lineup as a regular could be a nice fit with the New York Rangers.
Gibbons’ name is being thrown around in New Jersey, yet just across the Hudson River the Rangers could sign Gibbon’s and use him as a low-cost depth forward. The Rangers had previously signed Gibbons to a contract back in 2015, but the center only played in the American Hockey League with the Hartford Wolf Pack.
However, Gibbons has a better chance of signing the San Jose Sharks. A majority of the 5-foot-8’s points last season (9) came against Pacific Division opponents.
2 Lee Stempniak - Dallas Stars
Forward Lee Stempniak has a long and unique professional hockey career, especially since the veteran forward has dressed for seven teams in the last four seasons. Stempniak, 36, has proven that in the right setting and when healthy that he can produce. Due to the winger missing a majority of last season with the Carolina Hurricanes because of injury, the former fifth-round draft pick is rarely being talked about when it comes to UFA in 2018.
Sure, another non-Cup contending team may take interest in signing Stempniak to potentially flip him at the 2019 Trade Deadline, but chances are that a legitimate contender will sign him because at this rate he’s cost-friendly in his career.
The Dallas Stars could use his responsible two-way play for their overall needs defensively, and he would be a depth forward that Dallas has been missing in recent memory. No, Stempniak isn’t going to do wonders for Dallas, but the Journeyman is arguably one piece to the puzzle for GM Jim Nill and company.
1 Janis Kalnins - Detroit Red Wings
There’s one free-agent heading into the 2018 offseason that stood tall between the pipes over in the KHL last season and could be a steal for teams looking to add some competition in net. Latvia native, Janis Kalnins, had 42 appearances for the Riga Dynamo last season and posted an impressive .923 save percentage in the process.
While the 26-year-old doesn’t receive much spotlight from playing overseas, the goaltender has proven he can handle a heavy load of games and shots against.
In addition to his strong save-percentage last season, Kalnins recorded a 2.28 GAA and had over 1,000 saves. The Detroit Red Wings are not only in a rebuild but could be in the market for an under-the-radar goaltender such as this Latvian masked man.
Kalnins has seen action at the International level, while playing at the International Ice Hockey Federation’s World Championship and World Junior Championship on a number of occasions dating back to 2008. With two full seasons at the KHL level under his belt and his numbers standing out in comparison to other KHL goaltenders, a signing this offseason with an NHL team is a possibility. Hockeytown could welcome this underdog with a contract and at a low-cost.
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