One Player Each NHL Team Should Target in 2013 Offseason
For 22 of the NHL's 30 franchises, the ongoing 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs are no longer of immediate relevance.
For those nearly two dozen teams unfortunate enough to have tee times, not puck drops, populating the rest of the May calendar, the time has already come to look ahead to the offseason.
On June 30 is the 2013 NHL Entry Draft in New Jersey. And on July 5 is the opening of this year's free-agent market. Those two crucial dates will determine the short-term future of every single team and, for a few, the long-term future too.
This spring's impressive draft class is juxtapositioned with an underwhelming and still shrinking free-agent crop; as a result, 2013 will focus more on the young'uns than any offseason in recent memory.
Nonetheless, every club will pick out one player—be it either a top prospect or juicy pending UFA—to target above all others. Which players will they be? We point out and examine one possibility for each team on the 30 coming slides.
Note: For the sake of diversity, each individual player is listed only for one realistic team, regardless of the widespread interest they may garner.
Anaheim Ducks: Nathan Horton
A first line of Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Bobby Ryan may be great, but the Anaheim Ducks can't be a true contender without production from other players, too.
For years, their answer to that has been Teemu Selanne. But, as Selanne's career approaches an inevitably upcoming end, the Ducks will only become shallower on their second and third lines.
Bruising, unrestrained winger Nathan Horton would not provide another source of top-six scoring, but also bring his full set of addition intangibles. At 6'2", 229 pounds, Horton can hit; at age 27, Horton still has much of his career ahead of him; with 402 points in 591 career games, Horton can shoot too.
Plus, it's always nice to add a free agent with 24 points and one Cup ring in just 28 playoff games.
Boston Bruins: Damien Brunner
While the aforementioned Nathan Horton could bring a gritty, Bruins-esque playing style to any team, young Swiss product Damien Brunner could bring a finesse-based, Red Wings-like playing style to any team.
And that's a niche the Boston Bruins haven't yet filled.
Brunner, 27, racked up a very respectable 12 goals and 26 points in his rookie season in Detroit. He fits the mold of the quick, advantageous, Jeff Skinner-type winger, but, with enforcers like Zdeno Chara and Milan Lucic alongside him, shouldn't have to fight through the constant rough play Skinner does.
He would be an extremely unique addition to the Bruins' top six.
Buffalo Sabres: Valeri Nichushkin
The Buffalo Sabres will enter the summer extremely shallow on the wings. Three of their top four scorers in 2013 are listed as centers and LW Thomas Vanek, coming off a sporadically great campaign, will see his production drop significantly in the coming years without a new wingman to replace the traded Jason Pominville.
Fortunately, Buffalo has the eighth overall draft choice to take care of that hole.
Incredibly talented but contractually uncertain Russian winger Valeri Nichushkin has a chance to slip that far—he's by far the biggest risk of the top 10—but the Sabres may also have to trade up to fifth or sixth to ensure their selection.
At 6'4", Nichushkin is more of a power forward than the typical Alexander Ovechkin/Alexander Semin Russian model, but he could take Buffalo's offense to an entirely new level of versatility.
Calgary Flames: Alexsander Barkov
If missing out on the eighth seed by more than a dozen points can ever be considered over-performing, the Calgary Flames did so this year.
Receiving the sixth overall choice is almost insulting for a team that is among the league's thinnest in every major category and now lacks former captain and best player Jarome Iginla too. Making matters worse is the fact that Calgary is also the NHL's third-oldest team.
The good fortune of dynamic Finnish center Aleksander Barkov slipping to the sixth pick might be the blessing of a lifetime for the Flames.
Barkov, at 6'2", 210 lbs, likely possesses the most balanced combination of grit and finesse among this year's highly ranked prospects. He would be able to step into the NHL quickly and provide a great influx of youth and energy to the paltry Calgary offense that "featured" a minus-15 leading scorer (Mike Cammalleri) in 2013.
Carolina Hurricanes: Andrew Ference
A plethora of injuries and some absolutely atrocious defensive play derailed the Carolina Hurricanes' promising 15-9-1 start in a hurry.
The 'Canes lost 19 of their final 23 games to crash into the fifth overall pick and miss the playoffs by a whopping 13 points. While they'll certainly have some great options with that high selection, GM Jim Rutherford is most focused on improving the defense immediately.
Ference isn't all that big—just 5'11, 189 lbs.—but he provides the equal balance of hitting, shot-blocking and even blue-line playmaking that isn't seen much in non-elite defensemen anymore.
The 34-year-old rearguard (who, if signed, could instantly become the 'Canes' oldest player) had four goals, nine assists, a plus-nine rating, 89 hits and 60 blocked shots in the 2013 regular season, ranking fourth on the Bruins in both the latter two categories.
Chicago Blackhawks: Derek Roy
Derek Roy's career has certainly gone in the wrong direction since his 81-point 2007-08 campaign, but the 30-year-old center is still a viable middle-line option for any contender.
Roy managed only seven goals but an impressive 21 assists in 42 games for Dallas and Vancouver this past season, proving he remains a veteran capable of earning a few million on the free-agent market.
The Chicago Blackhawks, ongoing Stanley Cup aspirations aside, were looking to add to their depth before the trade deadline and will now face the prospect of effective third-line forwards Bryan Bickell and Victor Stalberg becoming UFAs in July.
Roy fits the Chicago battle-tested mentality and playing style well and could even seen a reputation revival there alongside more consistent teammates.
Colorado Avalanche: Seth Jones
The Western Conference's last-place finisher got lucky in the draft lottery, vaulting to the No. 1 overall choice and receiving the enticing option to select consensus top prospect Seth Jones.
Jones has been touted as one of the most draft-ready defensemen in decades, taking center stage during the United States' gold medal run in the World Junior Championships in January. He would be the first African-American player ever drafted first overall in the NHL draft.
For an Avalanche squad that entered 2013 with tentatively optimistic expectations but fell flat on its face—partially because of their 25th-ranked defense in terms of shots allowed—Jones should be the prize of the summer.
Columbus Blue Jackets: Michael Ryder
The Blue Jackets vaulted from last place overall in 2012 to the last team out of the playoffs in 2013, adding first-line superstar Marian Gaborik and a million times more confidence to the franchise in the process.
With 38-year-old leading scorer Vinny Prospal set to enter free agency in July—and no other player on the current roster over the age of 31—the Jackets may soon realize that a veteran presence or two will be needed.
Michael Ryder, 33, is one player who would not only fill that role but also fit right in with the rest of Columbus' reliable yet unheralded cast of players. He's a former Stanley Cup winner (2011 with Boston), coming off a 16-goal, 35-point season with Dallas and Montreal and has never missed more than 12 games in any of his nine NHL campaigns.
He would be a reasonable and responsible addition for the Blue Jackets on the open July market.
Dallas Stars: Mark Streit
The Dallas Stars have now missed the playoffs in the season's final week for two consecutive Aprils. That cost head coach Glen Gulutzan his spot this past week.
The Stars are clearly in need of leadership to get over that hump—and leadership they will find in Mark Streit.
Streit, the 35-year-old New York Islanders captain and highest-scoring 2013 UFA defenseman, isn't nearly as worn down as his age indicates and would instantly improve both the puck-moving capabilities and board-battle toughness of Dallas' defense.
He's excellent at staying healthy and could provide a great boost to the Stars' 18th-ranked power play, having recorded 61 assists in 128 games over the last two seasons.
Detroit Red Wings: David Clarkson
New Jersey Devils winger David Clarkson has arguably redefined the NHL's idealistic representation of a true power forward over the past two years.
The 6'1", 200-pound 29-year-old shocked everyone with his 30-goal explosion in 2011-12 before following it up with 15 more lit lamps in 2013. It's not too often that one player can finish first on his team in goals along with being second in hits, but Clarkson did so this past regular season.
Entering their second-round series with the Chicago Blackhawks, the Detroit Red Wings have a problem with the long-term viability of their roster. Many top players are beginning to reach their later years; moreover, the Wings may also struggle to keep up in an increasingly physical league, having ranked 29th in the NHL in regular-season hits.
Clarkson would help in the filling of both holes and could finally be that big free-agent splash the Wings weren't able to land last summer.
Edmonton Oilers: Darnell Nurse
All lofty expectations for this Oilers season went quickly tumbling down the drain as the team floundered in the campaign's closing weeks. Picking seventh will be a bit of a transition for GM Craig MacTavish, however, after the club's three-year streak of first overall picks was officially ended Monday night.
He'll likely want to find a young, solid first-pairing partner for Justin Schultz moving forward—Jeff Petry isn't quite the ideal player for that role—and should have his choice of good blueliners (Rasmus Ristolainen, Nikita Zadorov, Darnell Nurse) late in the top 10.
Nurse won't blow anyone away offensively, but his conservative style and ready toughness would be an excellent complement alongside Schultz a few years down the line.
And, who knows, perhaps he can also be the young star that finally hoists Edmonton into the top eight.
Florida Panthers: Nathan MacKinnon
Nathan MacKinnon's stat line has closely resembled that of a top-six NHL forward for the past two years in the QMJHL—31 goals and 78 points in 2011-12, 32 goals and 75 points in 2012-13—but those numbers become quite a bit more surprising when considering he played just 58 and 44 games, respectively.
The Florida Panthers were practically sporting an AHL roster by season's end and have the unusual distinction of finishing 30th in both goals for and goals against. MacKinnon's exciting, lively playing style and incredible scoring talent is exactly what the Panthers would love to have alongside rookie leading scorer Jonathan Huberdeau, who was one of few bright spots in southern Florida this spring.
Panthers GM Dave Tallon will have plenty of enticing options with the second overall pick, but taking the slight risk on MacKinnon is a chance worth taking.
Los Angeles Kings: Brendan Morrow
Yet again, the Los Angeles Kings are dominating the NHL and looking dangerously close to a second consecutive Stanley Cup title despite struggling strangely in the scoring column.
Regardless of how the next month or so plays out, the Kings will look to add to their offensive firepower this offseason.
If consistency is the most important criteria, then expect veteran winger Brendan Morrow to land near the top of the list. L.A. has seen Morrow's impacts in many prior in-division battles—Morrow, 34, has spent his entire career until April in Dallas, where he scored 31 goals as recently as 2010-11—and he's been effective since joining's Pittsburgh own Cup run.
Morrow could hear from the Kings more than a few times come July, but, meanwhile, he might just get to play against them before that time comes.
Minnesota Wild: Mike Smith
With longtime starting goaltender Niklas Backstrom entering the free-agent market and talented backup Josh Harding's long-term potential ruined by the horrors of multiple sclerosis, the Minnesota Wild should be all-in players in this summer's goalie market.
The No. 1 prize among that crop is former Coyotes starter Mike Smith. Smith led Phoenix's surprising 2012 postseason run into the conference finals with an incredible 1.99 GAA and .944 save percentage, the high point so far of a career resurrection in the desert.
Now, it might be time for Smith to finally step into a starter's role in a truly hockey-focused atmosphere. The Wild seem just a few stars away from being a bona fide contender; the search for those stars could and should begin with Smith.
Montreal Canadiens: Ryane Clowe
After an extremely successful regular season, the Montreal Canadiens crashed in the first round of the playoffs at the tenacious hands of the Ottawa Senators.
This summer, they'll seek to add grit and toughness without wasting a roster spot on a useless enforcer.
Enter Ryane Clowe. The 30-year-old winger had a down year in 2013, scoring just three times (albeit also registering 16 assists), but is usually a solid bet for at least 15 goals and 30 helpers a year. Clowe, at 6'2", 225 lbs., is comfortable laying down the body, too—his 99 hits this season, cumulative between San Jose and New York, eventually ranked third on the Rangers.
Clowe fits the ideal mold of what the Habs should be trying to add this offseason.
Nashville Predators: Mike Ribeiro
Any team averaging a paltry 25.9 shots per game is going to have a tough time consistently lighting the lamp, as the Nashville Predators' 29th-ranked offense soon discovered.
Landing Filip Forsberg at the deadline helps the future potency of this unit tremendously, but they still need a lot more playmaking ability and need it quickly.
Mike Ribeiro, the leading scorer in 2013 among all upcoming UFAs, kept the Capitals' goal-scoring alive this year even when Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom couldn't. He ranked fifth in the league with 36 assists and tied for 10th with 49 points, closing out the final season of his five-year contract with a raise-worthy campaign.
No team needs offense more desperately than Nashville and no available free agent can provide more offense than Ribeiro.
New Jersey Devils: Jarome Iginla
Last year's Eastern Conference champion New Jersey Devils tanked down the stretch this spring, clearly missing former captain Zach Parise and oft-injured Hall of Fame goaltender Martin Brodeur as the pressure dialed up in March and April.
One long-time veteran with the proven leadership skills and experience potentially needed to remedy those shortages is Penguins winger Jarome Iginla, acquired by Pittsburgh from Calgary less than two months ago but still a pending UFA this summer. The 35-year-old veteran has scored a point in every Pens playoff game so far, totaling two goals and eight assists in seven appearances, and sports a whopping 1,106 career points to his name.
Whether or not Iginla's well-known dream of a Stanley Cup ring will come true this spring is still unknown, but despite their disappointing season this year, the Devils should have a solid interest in Iginla either way.
New York Islanders: Anton Khudobin
For all the positives to come from the New York Islanders' first playoff berth since 2007, the long-term fate of goaltender Evgeni Nabokov was not one of them.
Nabokov was lit up by the Penguins, finishing the six games with a dismal .842 save percentage and 4.44 GAA. He—being 37 and a pending UFA—may or may not be re-signed by the Isles this summer.
GM Garth Snow may instead opt to find a younger option on the market. The Isles already own the rights to on-hiatus goaltender Tim Thomas; signing current Boston Bruins backup Anton Khudobin, 27, would follow right along that trend.
Khudobin was solid in relief duty this past regular season, going 9-4-1 with a .920 save percentage and 2.32 GAA, and is probably the most promising free agent goaltender in terms of a potential long-term starter. He would hopefully give the Isles increased consistency and optimism in the netminder position.
New York Rangers: Bryan Bickell
As the regular season and playoff hits leader for the current No. 1 seed Chicago Blackhawks, there's no doubt that 6'4", 233-pound giant Bryan Bickell knows how to hit.
The 27-year-old winger also knows how to score, though, and that makes him a seriously dangerous two-way player for any team.
The New York Rangers are increasingly building their team around players just like Bickell—Brian Boyle, Arron Asham, Darroll Powe, the aforementioned Ryane Clowe, to name a few—and could welcome No. 29 to the Big Apple soon.
Bickell had a respectable nine goals, 14 assists and plus-12 rating in the regular season, ranking sixth on the loaded 'Hawks in scoring, and has followed it up with three goals and one helper in six playoff games.
Ottawa Senators: Marek Zidlicky
Even as the Ottawa Senators appear poised for a potential Cinderella run this May, GM Bryan Murray may already be looking towards next year.
Few things went wrong with this 2013 Sens campaign, but their 20th-ranked regular-season power play was one of them. Murray could look towards pending UFA Marek Zidlicky to replace fellow pending UFA Sergei Gonchar's place in the lineup and keep Ottawa well stocked with veteran leaders.
Zidlicky led all New Jersey Devils defensemen in 2013 with 3:37 of average man-advantage ice time, registering 10 of his 15 total assists and 11 of his 19 total points on the power play. At 36, he still has a few years left in the tank and probably won't cost nearly as much as his $4.0 million cap hit this past season either.
Philadelphia Flyers: Nikita Zadorov
Big? Tough? Physical? Aggressive?
Sounds like the Philadelphia Flyers, no?
Current OHL defenseman Nikita Zadorov is not only one of the most underrated youngsters in this June's stacked draft class; his playing style, moreover, is unbelievably perfect for the Philadelphia Flyers, who are in desperate need for a back-end makeover and happen to own the 11th overall pick.
The massive—and we're talking about 6'5", 230 pounds of massive—blueliner was touted by London Knights coach Mark Hunter as having "unlimited potential." That surely sounds great in Philadelphia, where the Flyers finished the season with four defensemen of fewer than 60 games' experience.
If drafted, 18-year-old Zadorov would already be the heaviest and second-tallest player on the Flyers' rough-and-tumble roster.
Phoenix Coyotes: Elias Lindholm
The Phoenix Coyotes' streak of three consecutive playoff appearances came to a quiet end in 2013, missing the postseason by just four points on paper but, realistically, quite a bit more in overall performance.
The 'Yotes pick 12th in June's draft, but they might be inclined to trade up a few slots for well-rounded Swedish center Elias Lindholm.
Phoenix lacks a lot of star power down the middle—Martin Hanzal wouldn't be considered a No. 1 center on most other teams—and Lindholm is just the kind of low-profile, hard-working centerman who could enjoy playing hockey in the desert.
Most experts project him to be a top 10 pick, though, so reeling him in could require a bit of wheeling on the part of GM Don Maloney.
Pittsburgh Penguins: Ron Hainsey
When one ranks tied for third in the NHL in blocked shots (and only two behind No. 1), it suddenly becomes acceptable to go oh-fer in the scoring column in a full 48-game season.
That's what 32-year-old Winnipeg Jets blueliner Ron Hainsey did this year, racking up 123 blocked shots and 13 assists in a subtly impressive season but yet failing to break the goose egg in the goals column despite 52 shots on goal.
Meanwhile, despite how their ongoing playoff run may turn out, the Penguins clearly have a conflict moving forward between goaltenders Marc-Andre Fleury and Tomas Vokoun and the deceivingly porous defense in front of them.
The Pens will have extremely limited cap space come July to add many new studs, but Hainsey has the pure defensive ability to be that one lucky player under Pittsburgh's out-of-town acquisitions list.
San Jose Sharks: Tyler Bozak
The Logan Couture, Patrick Marleau, Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski-sporting San Jose Sharks are loaded down heavily with top-tier playmakers. As far as secondary scoring goes, however, they could use some additional talent.
The undrafted Bozak, 27, played his third full NHL season in 2013, set a career high for points per game (28 in 46 appearances) and proved yet again that he's a legitimate second-line level player on most any team.
For a Sharks team with just four forwards of more than two points in six postseason games so far, receiving better production from the middle lines could just put this already dangerous offense over the top. Young Bozak could be a prime candidate to aid in that role next autumn.
St. Louis Blues: Evgeni Nabokov/Niklas Backstrom
The goaltending situation in St. Louis is a complicated one, and it could soon get even more complicated.
Brian Elliott, 28 (14-8-1, .907 save percentage), Jaroslav Halak, 28 (6-5-1, .899), and Jake Allen, 22 (9-4-0, .905) all saw about a third of the regular-season playing time for the Blues. While Elliot then played all six games in their first-round loss to Los Angeles, it's utterly impossible to know exactly which path GM Doug Armstrong wants to follow moving forward.
Perhaps introducing a few new paths could be in order. Veterans Evgeni Nabokov, 37, and Niklas Backstrom, 35, will hit the free-agent market in July after decades as perennial starting netminders.
Conversely, with nearly identically mediocre regular-season save percentages of .910 and .909, respectively, and two poor playoff series to their name, the pair of aging stars may be willing to accept a new deal in the Blues' winnable but extremely competitive netminding battle.
Over the next few months, it should be interesting to see how this jigsaw plays out.
Tampa Bay Lightning: Jonathan Drouin
How many top-notch forwards do the Tampa Bay Lightning need before they can return to playoff contention?
A whole lot, apparently.
It's frankly astonishing that a team sporting the No. 1 and No. 2 scorers on the continent (Martin St. Louis with 60 points and Steven Stamkos with 57 points, respectively) could fall 15 points short of the cut-off line and receive the third overall draft pick.
Those two don't seem to be enough, though, so perhaps Jonathan Drouin will put this team over the ridge. The speedy winger has exactly the same quickness and puck-handling ability that St. Louis has built his career on, and many think Drouin is talented enough to have been a first overall selection in other years.
The Lightning need defense much more than offense, but new, up-and-coming netminder Ben Bishop should help stabilize the team's GAA next season, and there's absolutely no way they could pass on Drouin at third overall.
Toronto Maple Leafs: Rob Scuderi
A two-time Stanley Cup champion and three-time conference champion at only the age of 34, Rob Scuderi knows how to succeed in the playoffs.
For a promising team like the Toronto Maple Leafs with a desperate need for postseason experience—as well as a somewhat lacking defensive unit that allowed the fourth-most shots against of any team in 2013—Scuderi could be the man.
The 6'1", 216-pound rearguard should be one of the more unheralded items sought after on this summer's market. He led the Los Angeles Kings during the regular season in blocked shots (66), created a reasonable 11 assists, took just two total penalties in 1,045 minutes of ice time and finished his third consecutive complete season without a single missed game.
Many young, fragile teams hoping to jump over that playoff bubble—Carolina, Winnipeg, Minnesota, Dallas, and, of course, Toronto—may turn towards Scuderi as a sure-fire solution to their lack of experience and defensive woes.
Vancouver Canucks: Pascal Dupuis
Pascal Dupuis, now 34, continued to prove that he only gets better with age.
Dupuis set the highest point-per-game rate of his career with 20 goals and 37 points in 48 games this regular season, benefiting greatly from his position alongside Chris Kunitz and Sidney Crosby on Pittsburgh's top line.
Now he's off to a hot start in the playoffs, finding the back of the net six times already in seven appearances.
The Vancouver Canucks didn't have quite as much postseason success. The third-seeded Canucks were swept in the first round by the San Jose Sharks, despite Henrik and Daniel Sedin's six combined assists in four games.
The 'Nucks will have to deal with their tumultuous goaltending ferris wheel, but finding a pure goal scorer to play alongside the Sedin stars must be a close second on the list of priorities.
Dupuis would be a fantastic solution.
Washington Capitals: Patrik Elias
The addition of longtime Dallas Stars center Mike Ribeiro proved genius for the Washington Capitals this last spring, as No. 9 steadied the up-and-down Caps' offense week in and week out over the course of the season.
Now Ribeiro is off to be one of the summer's biggest UFA targets, however, and the Caps will again have to search for the third musketeer to play alongside Alexander Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom.
Current New Jersey Devils assistant captain Patrik Elias, a member of the Devils since his career beginnings in 1995, would certainly be a juicy replacement. The winger continues to produce, even at age 37, coming off a 14-goal, 36-point campaign this past spring. He's just 70 points shy of 1,000 for his career.
Elias in Washington seems a strange and unlikely combination, but the Caps should have the money and the desire to make it happen. Elias' internal battle between New Jersey loyalty and a cash-induced change of scenery could be a rather intriguing storyline as the summer moves along.
Winnipeg Jets: Ray Emery
The Winnipeg Jets held the Southeast Division lead at one point in the season's second half, but their inexperienced and perhaps still overly inconsistent squad just couldn't quite close the deal.
At the heart of the matter was goaltender Ondrej Pavelec, overworked to the point of 43 starts in 48 games. Pavelec limped down the stretch, recording a save percentage of .900 or worse in five of Winnipeg's last six games, and backup Al Montoya was no better.
Nonethless, Winnipeg took a big step forwards in 2013, and re-fortifying their netminding unit could lead to even better things next season.
In that line of thinking, Ray Emery was unquestionably the league's best backup this past season, recording a .922 save percentage, 1.94 GAA and absolutely jaw-dropping 17-1-0 record. He could easily challenge Pavelec for the starting job, even at age 30, and most certainly improve the Jets' weakest position one way or another.