Ranking the Top 10 NHL Free Agents Who Haven't Hit Their Primes

Tyler DonohueNational Recruiting AnalystJune 6, 2013

Ranking the Top 10 NHL Free Agents Who Haven't Hit Their Primes

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    The NHL offseason is right around the corner, and it promises to provide a frenzy of exciting roster movement. Squads aiming to take strides toward a title will examine an impressive free-agent market in an attempt to strengthen rotational options. 

    Established stars like Jarome Iginla and Mike Ribeiro are ready to cash in, bringing accomplished resumes to the negotiating table. However, younger and more unproven players are prevalent on the list of available free agents.

    These players have yet to maximize their potential at the professional level but may be on the verge of soon stepping up into stardom. Here's a look at who to watch when front offices across the league begin to open up the bank account.

10. Tyler Kennedy (Restricted Free Agent)

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    Current Team: Pittsburgh Penguins

    Position: C

    Age: 26

    Kennedy has quietly emerged as a key contributor in a lineup loaded with established star power. The 2004 Penguins draft pick picked up 11 points in 46 regular-season games but he has made a more significant impact during the playoffs.

    He owns five points and a plus-six rating through eight postseason contests. Kennedy is an intriguing offseason prize since he seems to be a player who could thrive with an expanded role elsewhere.

9. Valtteri Filppula

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    Current Team: Detroit Red Wings

    Position: C

    Age: 29

    His regular season was hardly headline-stealing (nine goals, eight assists) but he continues to look more comfortable as a key component of a title contender. The Finnish product enjoyed a career year in 2011-'12, tallying 66 points, and now Detroit must decide whether to proceed with Filppula as a member of the franchise core.

    Filppula was originally drafted by the Red Wings and has never suited up for another NHL squad.

    He played nearly 18 minutes per game in 41 regular-season contests. His postseason player rating was negative for the second year in a row, but he is capable of providing key depth for in a variety of game plans.

8. Clarke MacArthur

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    Current Team: Toronto Maple Leafs

    Position: LW

    Age: 28

    Since joining Toronto in 2010, MacArthur has steadily become a vastly improved versatile offensive threat. He tallied his first career 20-goal seasons during the past pair of full-season campaigns and managed 23 points in 45 total games this year.

    MacArthur scored in both Game 4 and Game 5 against Boston in the first-round of playoff action.

7. Blake Wheeler (Restricted Free Agent)

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    Current Team: Winnipeg Jets

    Position: RW

    Age: 26

    The former fifth overall draft pick is fresh off the best year in his professional career. He led the Jets in goals (19) and ranked third on squad in assists (22), playing in all 48 games. 

    The Minnesota native is an iron man. He has missed just four regular-season matchups since debuting in 2008 as a member of the Bruins.

6. David Clarkson

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    Current Team: New Jersey Devils

    Position: C

    Age: 29

    Clarkson is a guy general managers can count on to stay on the ice. When you remove an injury-riddled 2009-'10 season from the equation, he has appeared in 419 of 422 possible games. 

    He was one of few offensive bright spots for the Devils this season, scoring 15 goals. Clarkson, who tallied 30 scores last year, has never played for another NHL team aside from New Jersey.

5. Sam Gagner (Restricted Free Agent)

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    Current Team: Edmonton Oilers

    Position: C

    Age: 23

    Gagner arrived in Edmonton surrounded by significant expectations after being selected sixth overall in the 2007 draft. Although he has yet to emerge as a superstar. the Ontario native seemed to take a major step from solid player to potent performer during the 2013 season.

    He netted 14 goals, just four shy of his career high, and added 24 assists while playing every game. Retaining Gagner is a crucial facet of this beleaguered franchise's future. 

4. Damien Brunner

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    Current Team: Detroit Red Wings

    Position: C

    Age: 27

    Brunner didn't miss a beat during the most daunting portion of his rookie year with Detroit. He didn't arrive in the States to play professional hockey until this season but hardly looked like a newcomer.

    The Swiss standout accounted for 26 points in 44 regular-season games and elevated his performance in the playoffs. Brunner buried five goals and added four assists in 14 postseason contests, propelling a surprising Red Wings run that ended one win shy of the Western Conference finals. 

    After a series of clutch performances, expect Detroit to make Brunner a main priority this offseason. He will have several suitors after a strong opening NHL campaign.

3. Nathan Horton

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    Current Team: Boston Bruins

    Position: RW

    Age: 28

    The No. 3 overall pick in the 2003 draft is again proving to be a very dangerous postseason performer. Horton, who racked up 17 points during the 2011 Stanley Cup title run, already has 17 points through 14 games this time around.

    Horton has a high-risk, high-reward factor about him. The former Florida Panther has missed at least 15 regular-season contests in all but one full campaign.

2. Chris Stewart (Restricted Free Agent)

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    Current Team: St. Louis Blues

    Position: RW

    Age: 25

    St. Louis acquired Stewart from Colorado in 2011 anticipating gradual growth for the young player. Two years later, he led St. Louis in goals (18) and points (36).

    Stewart's name has again surfaced in trade rumors, which are unlikely to subside until he signs a contract extension or a new one elsewhere. He owns 15 career game-winning goals.

1. Tuukka Rask (Restricted Free Agent)

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    Current Team: Boston Bruins

    Position: G

    Age: 26

    Tim Thomas who?

    Rask has done an exceptional job of filling the skates of a Boston hero. Since taking over for the 2011 Conn Smythe Trophy winner, he has quickly won over the city with several dominant efforts.

    The Finnish netminder stopped 53 shots during a two-overtime Game 3 win against Pittsburgh in the Eastern Conference semifinals. It's the third time during this postseason that he has made at least 45 saves, lowering his goals-against-average to 1.99.

    Rask is 8-1 in his last nine starts. In a league built around stopping the opposing attack, a goalie of this mold is tough to come by.