Erik Karlsson is 22 years old and already has a big NHL contract. Who's Next?
With NHL free agency slowing down, it's a good time to reflect on some of the big contracts that were signed.
A contract that lucrative is fairly common for big-name forwards, as it is much easier to quantify a forward's production than a defenseman's. Consider, before the 2010 offseason, each of the five largest NHL contracts were signed by forwards.
Sidney Crosby signed a 12-year, $104.4 million deal, which is $8.7 million per year. Alex Ovechkin has a 13-year, $124 million contract.
Forwards get the big deals, but this offseason, two defensemen have cashed in big.
If talented young defensemen can earn $6.5 million per year like Karlsson, we may see some young blueliners sign some big contracts in the future.
Here are five young (23 or younger) defensemen who could break out and sign big contracts soon.
Pietrangelo will be a restricted free agent following the 2012-13 season.
Alex Pietrangelo was drafted fourth overall by the St. Louis Blues in the 2008 draft. For his first two NHL seasons, he played in eight games in 2008-09 and nine games in 2009-10 to not count against his entry-level contract.
In 2010-11, Pietrangelo joined the NHL ranks on a consistent basis and played in 79 games in his official rookie season, netting 43 points.
Pietrangelo improved on that mark last season and finished fifth among NHL defensemen in scoring with 52 points. This while helping his team finish second in the Western Conference and nearly snag the President's Trophy.
Pietrangelo's strong play and consistency in the lineup will give him a lot of leverage in contract negotiations. The Blues won't want him going as an unrestricted free agent. Expect the 22-year-old to get locked up soon in a similar manner as the Ottawa Senators did Karlsson.
In his first two complete NHL seasons, Subban has recorded 76 points and is plus-two for his career. Subban has missed six games in two seasons for the Habs.
The 23-year-old has another bargaining chip. He's one of the top-producing power-play defensemen in the league. Subban and Dennis Wideman led all defensemen with nine power-play goals in 2010-11. Subban netted five more in 2011-12, tied for eighth.
Subban has become one of the faces of the Montreal franchise. The Habs will have to decide if they want to build the defense around him, and soon.
Subban is a Group 2 free agent, which allows the Canadiens to match offers and makes them entitled to draft-pick compensation, if Subban goes elsewhere.
The St. Louis Blues could be dishing out similar contracts in back-to-back seasons—Pietrangelo in 2012-13 and Kevin Shattenkirk in 2013-14—assuming the Blues keep their top defensemen.
Shattenkirk will be a restricted free agent after the 2013-14 season. He has shown, much like his pair-mate, that he can score and make it tough on opposing top lines.
The Greenwich, CT native finished his first complete NHL season with 43 points last season and a plus-20 rating that was 25th in the league. His 43 points was 15th among defensemen.
The 23-year-old is entering the third year of his entry-level contract, which pays him $875k per year.
Another Group 2 free agent with a ton of potential is Washington Capitals blueliner John Carlson.
Carlson has been the top defenseman in the capital city since 2010. He hasn't missed a game in his two complete NHL seasons and has recorded 69 points.
He has a career plus-17 rating, despite going minus-15 last season.
Carlson is a smart player who can be physical and get in front of shots (153 blocked shots last season). He doesn't take penalties, which is a great asset and an indicator of good positioning.
The 22-year-old's entry-level contract expired following the conclusion of the season. He is yet to re-sign, but teammate and fellow defenseman Mike Green just signed a three-year, $18.25 million contract (per NHL.com). That gives Carlson a mark to beat, and he deservedly should.
I'm going to jump in the Justin Schultz train for a brief moment. The prized unrestricted free agent finally signed an entry-level contract with the Edmonton Oilers for two years.
One of the most highly-touted prospects in the field this offseason now has two years to prove himself in the NHL. It's a short period of time, but he has tremendous upside.
Two years is nice because that gives Schultz the opportunity, if he succeeds, to leave Edmonton if they aren't contenders by then. The Oilers have a ton of young talent, but we will see if that molds into a recipe for contention before Schultz looks at other deals.
Schultz had 91 points in two seasons at the University of Wisconsin and looks to find a spot on the Oilers' top power-play unit.
If he produces at the NHL level, he may even garner a Suter-like deal.