NHL Free Agents 2012: Ranking Top Players at Every Position

Brad Kurtzberg@@sealshockeyContributor IJune 24, 2012

NHL Free Agents 2012: Ranking Top Players at Every Position

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    With the draft now finished and some blockbuster trades already made, the NHL offseason now moves on to free agency.

    Players can be signed as of July 1st and while this year's crop of free agents is not particularly deep, there are some quality players out there that can be very helpful to teams if they land in the right situation and system.

    Here is a look at the top available unrestricted free agents by position as we head towards July 1st.

    This list will not include players like Teemu Selanne and Martin Brodeur who will most likely either retire or return to their present teams.

Center: Olli Jokinen

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    Olli Jokinen is probably the best offensive center out there in what is a fairly weak free agent class at this position.

    At age 33, Jokinen should still have some good hockey left in him. He is a productive second-line center and has a place on the second-team power play unit on most teams.

    Last year, he scored 23 goals and 61 points for the Flames.

    However, the issue with Jokinen is not his skills but his lack of clutch play. In his NHL career, he has played 1,042 regular season games and only six playoff games, all coming in 2009 with Calgary.

    Jokinen can be a good fit on the right team but preferably a team with strong leadership where he is a role player and not a top line player.

Center: Paul Gaustad

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    Gaustad is a role player and no better than a third or fourth line center, but he sure does fit that role well. He is a tough, physical checker, plays solid defense and is one of the top 10 face off men in the NHL. Gaustad is also a very effective penalty killer.

    He is the type of player that winning teams need to have on their roster. Sure, Gaustad is a role player, but one of the better ones and he will add grit and intangibles to whichever team he signs with.

Center: Jochen Hecht

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    Jochen Hecht is also a role player and at 35, he is starting to get a little long in the tooth.

    Hecht has had trouble staying healthy in recent seasons, playing in only 22 games last year after appearing in only 67 in 2010-11. Concussions have been the issue and teams have to be wary that another blow to the head could end Hecht's career at any time.

    When healthy, Hecht used to be reliably counted on for 15-20 goals and to kill penalties.

    Anybody signing Hecht is taking a gamble. Don't be surprised to see him sign an incentive laden contract based largely on ice time and games played.

Center: Gregory Campbell

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    Like Gaustad and Hecht, Gregory Campbell is a role player but he is not afraid to drop the gloves and takes the body very well. Campbell also has a Stanley Cup ring after winning with the Bruins in 2011.

    Offensively, the son of Colin Campbell is limited, never having scored more than 13 goals in his NHL career which is why he is well suited to third or fourth line duty.

    Both Campbell and Chris Kelly are unrestricted free agents but at 28, Campbell is younger and would probably be the player who has a little more value both to the Bruins and on the open market.

Center: Zenon Konopka

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    You know exactly what you're getting if you sign 31-year-old Zenon Konopka. First, he is one of the most willing fighters in the NHL and he is usually at or near the top of the NHL's penalty minute leaders list.

    Konopka is also excellent at faceoffs and killing penalties. He also provides leadership and is great in the locker room, especially with younger players.

    What you won't get from "Big Z" is offense. He has never scored more than four goals in any NHL season and has a total of only 11 goals and 27 points in 250 career NHL games.

    Konopka is a useful fourth line center, enforcer and penalty killer and some team will find him a helpful addition to their roster in those roles.

Left Wing: Zach Parise

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    Zach Parise isn't just the best left wing available in this year's free agent class, he is probably the best player available, period.

    Parise is 27 and just entering his prime. He is a leader and a clutch performer. Zach is also remarkably consistent. He has topped the 30 goal mark for the last five seasons that he has been healthy and has scored as many as 45 goals in a season.

    The Devils have money problems and may not be able to afford Parise even if they can fit him under the cap. There are plenty of teams who would love to add Parise's grit, scoring ability and consistency to their lineup. Expect him to command top dollar and sign a long term deal this summer.

Left Wing: Ray Whitney

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    Sure, Ray Whitney is 40, but the veteran winger shows few signs of slowing down.

    Whitney may not have the same speed he did 10 years ago, but he has great hockey sense and uses his ability to anticipate where openings will be in opposing defenses to get himself in the right place at the right time.

    Last season, Whitney scored 24 goals and totaled 77 points which puts him at 1,003 points in his NHL career.

    While Whitney will have to settle for a one-year-contract, he will make a heady veteran addition to any team he signs with and will provide steady and timely offense.

Left Wing: Dustin Penner

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    Dustin Penner has the potential to do what he did during the playoffs over the course of a complete season. The only problem is, Penner hasn't done it consistently.

    In the playoffs, he used his size to his advantage and was strong on the puck. He put up 11 points in 20 games, and many of his goals came at key times.

    During the regular season, Penner underachieved, scoring only seven goals and 17 points in 65 games.

    Look for a team that needs size, maybe Toronto or Montreal, to pay Penner more than the Kings are probably willing to offer.

Left Wing: Ryan Smyth

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    Yes, Ryan Smyth is slowing down at 36, but he is still a solid second or third line winger who adds grit and leadership to any team.

    Smyth still scored 19 goals last season and can kill penalties and contribute with the man-advantage. He has experience and great hockey intelligence. He will have to accept a one or two-year deal, but Smyth can still contribute.

Left Wing: Jason Blake

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    Jason Blake scored 40 goals for the Islanders in 2006-07 but has not come close to meeting that standard since.

    At 39, Blake's best hockey is behind him. He played only 45 games last season due to injuries and scored just seven goals and 12 points.

    Blake will score "dirty goals" from in close and scores because he works hard. Because of his non-stop effort, he is very good at drawing penalties and he can also help on the second power-play unit.

    If he stays healthy, he is still capable of helping the right team in a limited role.

Right Wing: Alexander Semin

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    Alexander Semin has plenty of talent and at 28, should be in the prime of his career. He has great hands and a wicked shot, but needs to work on his defense and to be a better teammate.

    Semin scored 40 goals in 2009-10 but over the last two seasons, he produced only 28 and 21. The change in the Capitals strategy was part of it, but scouts also wonder about his motivation at times.

    There is a chance Semin will head back to Russia and play in the KHL, but look for some offense-starved NHL team to make him a solid offer if he wants to stay in the NHL.

Right Wing: Shane Doan

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    Shane Doan has spent his entire career with the Coyotes/Jets franchise and serves as their captain. It would take a very lucrative offer to inspire the 35-year-old captain of the Desert Dogs to sign elsewhere.

    Doan is a great leader and has still averaged 20 goals a season over the past three years. He remains a solid two-way player who has truly been the heart and soul of the Coyotes both on and off the ice in recent years.

Right Wing: Jaromir Jagr

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    Sure, Jaromir Jagr is 40 and is no longer one of the dominant players in the game, but even at his advanced hockey age, Jagr is capable of being a valuable contributor to an NHL team both on and off the ice.

    Jagr still sees the ice very well and uses his large backside to create separation for himself from opposing defenders. When given a little extra room on the power play, he can still be deadly and he acted as a good mentor for Philadelphia's Claude Giroux last season.

    Jagr may return to Russia, but expect him to sign a one-year deal to stay in the NHL where he can be an effective second line player and power play specialist.

Right Wing: P.A. Parenteau

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    After nearly being labeled a career minor league player, Pierre-Alexandre Parenteau caught fire the past two seasons while playing on the Islanders first line with John Tavares and Matt Moulson.

    Now 29, this is Parenteau's first and probably only chance at a large, multi-year contract.

    Parenteau sees the ice well and is a very good passer. He's at his best on the power play when he has a little extra space to operate.

    The Islanders would love to have Parenteau back, but another team is likely to offer him more money.

    Parenteau is a good teammate and will make a fine addition to any team that signs him.

Right Wing: Kyle Wellwood

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    Wellwood had a bounce back season with the Jets last year, scoring 18 goals and adding 47 points.

    The 29-year-old is a solid third line player who is responsible in his own zone and adds grit and occasionally goals to his team.

    The Jets may want Wellwood back if it's at the right price. If not, he is a solid depth forward that when motivated, is a reliable NHL performer.

Defense: Ryan Suter

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    Ryan Suter is the best defenseman available in free agency this year and may be the best player available overall.

    He can play major minutes, has an excellent shot and is coming off a season where he scored a career high 46 points.

    Suter is also good in his own zone and is adept at making that outlet pass that helps his team transition from defense to offense.

    At 27, Suter is just entering his prime and many teams will try to lock him up to a long-term and lucrative deal.

Defense: Dennis Wideman

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    Dennis Wideman is a smooth-skating defenseman who has offensive ability and plays major minutes in all situations.

    Wideman scored 46 points last season and is a good quarterback on the power play.

    Expect a team to play top dollar for the 29-year-old Kitchener, Ontario, native who wants to see what he's worth on the open market. The Caps would welcome him back but may not be willing to match all offers.

Defense: Matt Carle

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    Matt Carle is a good offensive defenseman and has provided very steady production for the Flyers over the past three seasons. Each of those years, he has played at least 80 games, been a plus player and scored between 35 and 40 points.

    Carle will seek at least $5 million per season and is a top-four defenseman on any team in the league. He can play major minutes, contribute on the power play and at 27, has plenty of good hockey still in front of him.

Defense: Jason Garrison

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    Jason Garrison took less money to stay in Florida two years ago and now it seems to have paid off. Garrison had a career year in 2011-12, finishing third among NHL defensemen with 16 goals. Nine of those goals came on the power play.

    At 27, he's just entering his prime and should draw interest from other teams, although he has indicated he would like to stay in Florida if the Panthers will pay him what he's worth.

    Garrison got off to a red-hot start last season but cooled off later in the year. In fact, he scored just three goals after January 20.

Defense: Bryce Salvador

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    Bryce Salvador proved his value in the Stanley Cup playoffs this year and may have earned himself a nice pay raise as a result.

    Salvador is a hard-hitting defenseman who takes no quarter, helps clear opposing players away from his goalie and in the playoffs at least, scored some clutch goals and provided leadership.

    At 36, don't look for a long-term deal for Salvador, but he will probably sign a two or three-year contract and provide steady play for whatever team he plays for next season.

Goalie: Scott Clemmensen

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    It's a pretty week crop of free agent goalies if you don't include Marty Brodeur, but Scott Clemmensen is as good as anybody out there.

    Clemmensen is a career backup who has taken over as a starter for stretches and even started some playoff games this year for the Panthers.

    A late bloomer, the 34-year-old Clemmensen is reliable, steady and can replace an injured starter for weeks at at time without hurting the team. The Panthers would like to have him back if the price is right.

Goalie: Johan Hedberg

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    "Moose" Hedberg is 39, but remains a viable NHL backup goalie. In 27 games, he had a 2.22 GAA and a save percentage of .917. He's also a great teammate who can accept a backup role and still be a positive force in the locker room.

    The Devils would like to bring Hedberg back if they can, but if not, another team will be willing to give Hedberg a one or two-year deal to serve as their backup.

Goalie: Brent Johnson

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    Brent Johnson is definitely not returning to the Penguins who now have Tomas Vokoun to backup Marc-Andre Fleury.

    Johnson had an injury-plagued 2011-12 but prior to that, has been a solid NHL backup. His GAA went up by almost one goal this year but in 2010-11, it was a solid 2.17.

    At 35, Johnson still has some good hockey left in him and will be a good veteran backup for some NHL team next season.

Goalie: Al Montoya

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    Montoya showed promise with the Islanders late in 2010-11 but fought through nagging injuries last year that disrupted his season.

    The former University of Michigan star has shown he has NHL talent and can be a solid backup. But he needs to be a bit more consistent to prove himself a reliable starter.

    Montoya is just 27, works hard and is coachable. He will be a good addition to any team willing to give him a chance.

Goalie: Ty Conklin

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    At 36, Ty Conklin has proven himself to be a reliable and steady backup who can give his team a good game when called upon.

    His goals against average has been over 3.00 the past two seasons and the Wings have cheaper and better options to serve as backups so look for Conklin to go elsewhere.