NHL Free Agents 2012: The Top 16 Forwards on the Market and Where They'll Go

Evan Budrovich@@evanbudCorrespondent IJune 26, 2012

NHL Free Agents 2012: The Top 16 Forwards on the Market and Where They'll Go

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    With free agency less than a week away, let's discuss the big-name forwards on the market. 

    The free-agent class in 2012 is loaded with quality top-six forwards and playoff veterans. This year's class includes some stars on the rise, 40-year-old players performing like they were 20, and even some underachieving stars in need of a change of scenery.  

    In order to make sense of the ensuing free-agent madness, we have compiled a list of the top-16 forwards on the market and have included likely landing spots for each. 

    Here is the best of the free-agent forward class of 2012. 

Teemu Selanne

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    Now that Teemu Selanne has expressed interest in playing next season, the NHL must give this man a serious look this offseason.

    At 41 years of age, Selanne played one of his best seasons in recent years, scoring 26 goals in 82 games.

    Selanne, a Stanley Cup champion, has the experience and veteran savvy necessary to make a valuable contribution next season.

    The Anaheim Ducks are the only landing spot for Selanne, who has given the last seven years to this franchise. Expect Selanne to play in his 19th season and remain an Anaheim Duck.   

Lee Stempniak

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    Lee Stempniak is a very sporadic but talented scorer.

    In 61 games, he put up 28 points, and when healthy should be an easy 20-goal player. 

    Stempniak is a very streaky player, but has shown in Phoenix in 2010 and Calgary last season that he can make a nice impact when on his game.

    When Stempniak hits the free-agent market, expect the Dallas Stars to sign him. The Stars will enjoy the goalscoring ability and uncapped potential the 29-year-old has to offer.    

Jaromir Jagr

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    Jaromir Jagr took advantage of his opportunity with the Philadelphia Flyers last season. After taking three years off from the NHL, Jagr played extremely well, finishing third on the team in scoring with 54 points.

    Last season proved that, in the right situation, he can play as a top-six scorer in the NHL.

    At 40 years of age, Jagr is the type of player best suited for a playoff contender. Looking around the NHL, one team stands out as a great landing spot for his services, one that Jagr called home for three of his last four seasons in the NHL. 

    The New York Rangers are a great destination for him, who will look to replace the production of injured forward, Marian Gaborik. 

Olli Jokinen

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    Ollie Jokinen may not be the same elite forward he once was, but don't count out the 33-year-old for a strong season next year.

    Last season with Calgary, Jokinen scored 61 points and has scored over 50 points in each of the last four seasons. 

    The market for Jokinen will not be overwhelming, but expect a few teams to make a bid for the 16-year center.

    The Florida Panthers, who are desperate for depth on the attack, will make a serious run at him, and Jokinen would fit will as a third-line scorer or possibly a second-line player. 

    Last season, the Panthers struggled to score goals beside the power play, something that plagued them in their first-round series against the New Jersey Devils. Adding Jokinen and his 61 points from last season should help this team score goals in even-man play.  

Dustin Penner

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    Dustin Penner's wallet will be thankful for his run this postseason. After his amazing postseason scoring run with the Los Angeles Kings, Penner is now a big-time free-agent. 

    The regular season was horrendous for Penner, who battled homesickness and poor performance to only score seventeen points.

    The postseason was a completely different story who added three goals and ended up with 11 points. This performance allowed Penner to transform his value from castoff status in Los Angeles to a free-agent commodity. 

    These factors tremendously increase Penner's value this offseason. The Kings are very tight financially and are not looking to pay more than the $4.25 million he earned last season, making a return to LA tougher.

    Expect Penner to dash Los Angeles and head to Edmonton, a place he truly calls home and one that he always seemed to love, especially for the contract he will rake in this offseason.     

Jiri Hudler

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    Jiri Hudler improved significantly from his 2011 campaign, making himself a prized scorer this offseason.

    Hudler scored 25 goals and added 25 assists to put himself in that exclusive 50-point club, something all teams are looking for in the offseason. 

    Although Hudler struggles on the defensive end, his immediate contributions on the offensive side will get him attention this offseason.

    If Hudler can continue on this campaign and not fall back towards his 10-goal season from two years ago, he can become a legitimate second-line threat for any team. 

    After the signing of David Jones to a four-year $16 million dollar contract last week, the value of Hudler will rise above this contract, making it difficult for the Red Wings to pay.

    Watch out for a team like the Carolina Hurricanes, with all their cap space and offensive needs, to make a run at the 28-year-old forward.  

Shane Doan

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    The heart and soul of the Phoenix Coyotes over the last 15 seasons has been Shane Doan.

    He has had a great career in Phoenix, scoring over 50 points for the last ten seasons, a streak he continued last year, adding 22 goals and 28 assists.  

    Doan is a strong, energetic and aggressive forward who, at 36 years of age, is still playing at a very high level. Expect teams to give him a call this offseason looking to pry him away from his hometown Coyotes.

    At the end of the day, however, Doan will be willing to take less money than he could earn on the open market and remain with his hometown Coyotes, who are looking to build upon their postseason success from a year ago.  

Ray Whitney

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    Another star forward for the Phoenix Coyotes last season was Ray Whitney, who ranked sixth in the NHL last season with 53 assists, tying his career high.

    Add in the fact that Whitney scored 24 goals last season, he becomes a solid contributor who will demand lots of attention even at the age of 40.  

    Whitney was vital to the Coyotes' success last season and showed that he can contribute at a top-six forward level for all 82 games, something that has plagued him in the past.

    This combination of health, veteran leadership and point-scoring ability should make Whitney a great free-agent acquisition this offseason.

    The San Jose Sharks, the first home of Whitney,  are in need of some front-line scoring on the right wing.

    Expect San Jose to make a hard run at Whitney to add scoring and leadership to a unit that struggled during the postseason and much of the regular season.  

Mike Knuble

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    After a letdown season last year, Knuble may not be as highly coveted as in previous offseasons, but still has the talent and leadership to make an impact in any locker room.

    In 15 years in the NHL, Knuble has made the postseason in ten times. Not to mention that, besides the bad year in 2011, Knuble was performing at a top-six forward pace.

    Over the past eight seasons, Knuble has scored over 20 goals and has added at least 15 assists per season. 

    Knuble will not have the large amount of suitors as many on this list, but expect Detroit to make a run at the 39-year-old, who is desperate to win his first Stanley Cup.  

Brandon Prust

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    After coming off a career year in 2010, Brandon Prust struggled to light the lamp last season for New York, but will provide many other intangibles to interested teams.

    Last year, Prust scored just five goals, but did a tremendous job on the penalty kill and played a very physical style of hockey. 

    The skill set that Prust possesses helps teams win championships and is needed if any team expects to take the next step into elite status.

    Prust may not score many goals or help on the offensive end the way a Shane Doan or Alexander Semin would, but he will provide tenacity and grit on defense. 

    These attributes make Prust a free-agent that will be a big piece in a team's quest for postseason success.

    Assuming he comes at the right price, expect the New York Rangers to keep the 28-year-old Prust on John Tortorella's roster. 

Andrei Kostitsyn

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    Andrei Kostitsyn is a very talented player, but his off-the-field issues should make teams very skeptical this offseason. Kostitsyn, who split time with Nashville and Montreal last season, scored 16 goals and added 20 assists. 

    A first-round pick of the Canadiens in 2003, Kostitsyn is an immense talent but comes with character issues. He was suspended for a game in the second round of the playoffs for missing curfew, raising eyebrows about his commitment to winning and success when it matters most.

    Kostitsyn is a player that will probably be avoided by many postseason-contending teams, leaving him very slim pickings on landing spots for next season. The Winnipeg Jets are in need of scoring from their third line, and adding Kostitsyn could be a great addition.

    The risk is tremendous, but expect the Jets to take a chance on the talented but controversial 27-year-old forward.   

Alexander Semin

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    Alexander Semin is a special talent and will be one of the most sought out free agents this offseason.

    Semin possesses one of the game's best wrist shots and has the 40-goal season pedigree. Last season was a bit of a down year for Semin, only scoring 21 goals and adding 33 assists, but he can still make an impact from any point on the rink.

    The talent this 28-year-old he possesses will make him too expensive for Washington to retain, entering him into the frantic free-agent market. 

    Semin will be tempted to play in Russia with a much higher salary in the KHL, but expect him to land in New York with the Rangers, where he will hope to return to his form from 2010. 

Mikael Samuelsson

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    Mikael Samuelsson's second half of last season will allow him to cash in this offseason.

    In 33 games after being acquired from the Vancouver Canucks, Samuelsson scored 11 goals for the Florida Panthers.

    At 35 years of age, Samuelsson may not be the explosive 40-50 point man he was from 2007-2010, but could really help a team next season.

    If last season taught us anything, it is that Mikael Samuelsson, when driven, is still a valuable commodity that will help any team that chooses to take on his services.  

    The Florida Panthers have expressed interest in re-signing their free-agent forward and expect them to do so.

    This addition should help Florida build upon their first trip to the postseason in 10 years. 

Ryan Smyth

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    If any player wanted to finish their career in one place, it would be Ryan Smyth.

    Smyth loves Edmonton, and after being traded back to Edmonton from the Los Angeles Kings last season, he scored 19 goals while adding 27 assists.

    These numbers were actually down from his two seasons with the Los Angels Kings, but Smyth seemed much more driven and excited to play for his favorite team, the Oilers. He is not the great scorer he once was, but can provide decent numbers for a team desperate for points.

    Expect Smyth to be a large contributor and mentor for the Edmonton Oilers, looking to prepare the next generation of scorers for life in the NHL. Smyth's seasons may be numbered, but expect another 50-point year from the 36-year-old.  

P.A. Parenteau

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    Over the past two seasons P.A. Parenteau has made a name for himself with the New York Islanders, scoring over 50 points the last two years and legitimatizing himself as a top-six forward. 

    Parenteau has showed that he can put up numbers, and at 28 years of age would be a great free-agent addition to any team looking for immediate assists and complementary play.

    Parenteau may not be an elite goal scorer in the near future but he will continue to assist the puck at high levels, making him a great value for any team.

    Parenteau has expressed interest in playing with the Islanders again, and the chemistry between him and John Tavares was spectacular last season.

    Expect this chemistry to continue as Parenteau will sign an extension with the one New York team who actually enjoyed his services, the Islanders.   

Zach Parise

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    Although Zach Parise did not win Lord Stanely's Cup, he will still cash in big time this offseason.

    The 27-year-old is the best forward the 2012 class has to offer, and is coming off a 69-point performance last season. 

    In five out of the last six seasons, Parise has played at least 80 games, which has translated to success. Parise has scored at least 30 goals in those seasons, making a name for himself as an elite winger in the NHL. 

    Offers will be flying for his services especially from Detroit, Los Angeles and Minnesota, but expect Parise to remain the captain of his original team, the New Jersey Devils, for years to come.