NHL free agency: The 10 best players still available on the market

NHL GMs were tripping over each other in a race to spend money on July 1. And honestly, who can blame them? It’s the first time many of them have had significant cap space now that we’ve passed the flat cap era.

By the end of Day 1, $1.2 billion worth of signings were completed, according to CapFriendly. Nearly all of the top players are off the board, but there are still some intriguing names available. Expectations just have to be tempered — these aren’t top-six players or top-four defenders that will be core pieces, they’re solid supporting cast/depth options. Clubs should be able to snag most of them for bargain prices.

Here are 10 of the most attractive targets left.

Vladimir Tarasenko, RW

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Vladimir Tarasenko is a far cry from the elite player he was in his prime, but he can still add offensive sizzle to a club’s middle six.

The 32-year-old right winger has scored 50-55 points in each of the last two years. These weren’t just empty-calorie power-play points either — Tarasenko ranked just outside the NHL’s top 50 forwards for both five-on-five goals and points last season. He was riding an inflated shooting percentage (17.4 percent at five-on-five) so his even-strength scoring numbers will likely cool off next season, but the point is that he remains a highly productive even-strength performer. Tarasenko may not be as dynamic of an attacker or as assertive of a play-driver as he used to be, but he’s still got the puck skills, wicked release and offensive IQ to be dangerous in the attacking zone. And after a successful run in Florida, he also comes with the pedigree of two Stanley Cup victories.

The red flag on Tarasenko is that he’s a major defensive drag. It doesn’t always look that way by the eye test, but his defensive metrics are very alarming over the last three seasons or so. Tarasenko is far from perfect, but he still has a lot to offer in a third-line scoring role, especially if he’s paired with linemates that can drive play and hold up the defensive end of the bargain.

Kevin Lankinen, G

If you’re in the market for an affordable goalie with upside, Kevin Lankinen should be your guy. The 29-year-old Finn hasn’t had the opportunity to play a ton of games in Nashville over the last two years because he backs up Juuse Saros, an elite starter, but his performance in a limited role has been very promising.

Lankinen has rocked a .912 save percentage in 43 games for the Predators since 2022-23 and saved just shy of 14 goals above expected, according to Evolving-Hockey’s model. That GSAx figure ranks 31st out of 114 NHL goaltenders in that time frame. It’s all the more impressive because goals saved above expected is a cumulative stat, meaning Lankinen could very well be even higher on that list if he had been given more playing time.

Goalies are notoriously hard to predict, but Lankinen profiles like a sharp bet to excel in a 1A/1B type tandem where he can get more playing time.

Daniel Sprong, LW/RW

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The Daniel Sprong story should be fairly well-known by now.

The 27-year-old sharpshooting forward has racked up numbers in the 20-goal, 40-45 point range in back-to-back seasons despite only averaging 12 minutes per game. He’s a remarkably efficient offensive scorer for a club’s bottom six, but there are significant tradeoffs to his game.

Sprong is one-dimensional — he doesn’t forecheck well, is slow to recover on transition defense and owns poor defensive metrics. It takes a specific lineup fit for Sprong to work because teams are often looking for speed, two-way reliability, physicality or other more well-rounded tools when building out their bottom six. But if there’s a team that needs more depth offense and doesn’t have much money to spend, Sprong could provide a solution on a sheltered bottom-six scoring line.

Jack Roslovic, RW/C

Jack Roslovic has had an up-and-down NHL career.

When he’s feeling it, the 27-year-old has the flashy skating, playmaking IQ and high-level skill to drive dangerous zone entries and scoring chances. He’s capable of wild hot streaks where he can score at a point-per-game clip. The problem is that those heaters are contrasted with frustrating stretches of invisibility, turnovers and occasional defensive lapses. And that’s especially problematic because he doesn’t bring much to the table beyond his offensive toolkit.

Roslovic is a natural center but has played quite a bit of wing recently, including his time with the Rangers where he primarily lined up on Mika Zibanejad’s right flank. He’s averaged 45 points per 82 games over the last four seasons. These aren’t empty-calorie power-play points either, he’s consistently produced five-on-five points at a top-six-caliber rate.

On the right team, in a sheltered scoring role, Roslovic could provide dynamic secondary offense at an affordable rate.

Ryan Suter, LD

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Age is catching up to 39-year-old Ryan Suter but he can still provide value, especially if it’s in more of a sheltered role.

A defensive defenseman with penalty-killing value and sound defensive instincts, Suter played a prominent role on the Stars’ blue line averaging nearly 19 minutes per game and absorbing middle-of-the-road matchups. He held up just fine, with Dallas outshooting, outchancing and outscoring opponents during his minutes.

Suter would fit well on a team’s third pair as the steady, stay-at-home presence that allows a puck-moving partner to roam.

Erik Brannstrom, LD

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NHL teams aren’t usually fond of undersized puck movers who aren’t elite in any one area. That would explain why Erik Brannstrom didn’t earn a qualifying offer as an RFA with the Senators despite stringing a solid campaign on the third pair.

Brannstrom isn’t dynamic enough offensively to put up big point totals and he’s too small to be fully trusted by most coaches defensively. It’s understandable why teams would be skeptical of a player with this profile and yet one can’t deny the results he garnered last season. In a sheltered role, Brannstrom helped the Senators control 51 percent of five-on-five expected goals, with his 2.21 goals against per game rate ranking best among the club’s defenders. Yes, he’s going to have occasional troubles boxing out defensively in front of the net or with the odd turnover, but his mobility and knack for leading controlled breakouts clearly helped him do more good than bad.

Brannstrom is worth a roll of the dice for any team searching for extra speed and transition help from the back end.

Justin Schultz, RD

Justin Schultz would be a sensible add for clubs interested in serviceable, veteran help on the right side of the blue line. The 33-year-old skates well, can break the puck out and has a solid 6-foot-2 frame. He still has enough offensive touch to contribute offense on the power play and even strength as he scored seven goals and 26 points in 70 games.

Schultz struggled at points last season and saw his average ice time cut to 16:28 per game but he was also likely the victim of bad luck. Seattle controlled 54 percent of scoring chances during his minutes and the veteran defender had above-average shot and chance suppression metrics, yet the club was outscored by 14 goals during Schultz’s shifts. His low individual PDO suggests he had more bounces than usual go against him. Schultz can still provide value on the third pair in the right circumstance.

James van Riemsdyk, LW

To see the bull case for signing James Van Riemsdyk all you need to do is look back at his performance relative to his contract last season. After inking a bargain one-year, $1 million deal with the Bruins, JVR scored 11 goals and 38 points in 71 games. He produced points at an efficient rate at even strength and remains a strong net-front power-play presence.

The 35-year-old veteran left winger lacks speed at this stage in his career, but his down-low and small-area offensive skill is still a weapon. He was able to hang just fine in a third-line role for Boston. JVR would be a good fit on a team that needs more secondary offense from the bottom six as well as a net-front power-play upgrade.

Oliver Kylington, LD

Oliver Kylington could be an intriguing blend of talent, upside and affordability.

Drafted in the second round in 2015, Kylington broke out as a top-four player next to Chris Tanev in 2021-22. He was elusive and agile on the breakout, assertive joining the rush offensively (nine goals and 31 points in 73 games that season) and less mistake-prone defensively.

Kylington stepped away from hockey to take care of his mental health, missing the entire 2022-23 season. He returned to the Flames lineup in late January this year. Kylington delivered a promising 33-game cameo, especially given his extended absence. The smooth 27-year-old left-shot defender was eased into a third-pair role for his first dozen games and was ramping back into regular top-four duties by the time the season ended.

Kylington doesn’t offer a robust physical game, but he isn’t undersized. At the right price point, he could be an effective puck mover, play driver and add offensive pop from the back end.

Nate Schmidt, LD/RD

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Schmidt could be a perfect fit for a club seeking a veteran third-pair puck mover.

At almost 33 years old, Schmidt’s skating isn’t as electric as it was in his prime, but he’s still got enough wheels and puck skills to contribute on the breakout. He’s versatile (can play both the left and right side) and is well liked in NHL locker rooms because of his infectious, high-energy personality.

The Jets controlled 55.6 percent of expected goals and outscored opponents 31-23 during Schmidt’s five-on-five minutes.

Honorable mentions: Adam Boqvist, Tyler Johnson, John Klingberg

(Top photos of Vladimir Tarasenko and James van Riemsdyk: Joel Auerbach / Getty Images and China Wong / NHLI via Getty Images) 

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