5 Young NHL Players in Line for Big Contract ExtensionsJune 16, 2022
5 Young NHL Players in Line for Big Contract Extensions
When the NHL's annual free-agent market opens July 13, several players will be in line for raises based on their recent performances. The top unrestricted free agents, such as the Calgary Flames' Johnny Gaudreau and the Nashville Predators' Filip Forsberg, will likely garner headlines via big contracts.
Most of the top restricted free agents, meanwhile, are 25 or younger and will re-sign with their teams on lucrative deals. Gaudreau's teammate Matthew Tkachuk, Columbus Blue Jackets winger Patrik Laine and Dallas Stars winger Jason Robertson are among that group.
Teams can also sign players with a year remaining on their contracts to extensions on July 13. A few of them, such as the Anaheim Ducks' Trevor Zegras and the St. Louis Blues' Robert Thomas, are 24 or younger and could be in line for big paydays.
Some, like the 21-year-old Zegras, have a year remaining on their entry-level contracts. Thomas, who turns 23 on July 2, has a year left on his second pact.
How much could those two get, and for how long? That's what we'll try to determine, as they're among our five young NHL players in line for big extensions on their next contracts, perhaps as soon as July 13.
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Cole Caufield, Montreal Canadiens
After an impressive performance in the 2021 playoffs, Cole Caufield endured a difficult rookie campaign in 2021-22. Nevertheless, his strong finish after Martin St. Louis took over as head coach on Feb. 9 suggests big things could be in store for the 21-year-old Montreal Canadiens winger.
Caufield joined the Canadiens during the final 10 games of the COVID-shortened 2020-21 season, finishing with five points. He quickly became a key offensive contributor to the underdog Habs' run to the Stanley Cup Final with 12 points in 20 games. He entered this season considered among the favorites to win the Calder Memorial Trophy.
The Canadiens, however, stumbled badly through the first half of the season, with Caufield managing just one goal and eight points through the team's first 45 games. He also spent some time with Montreal's AHL affiliate in Laval. However, he turned things around under St. Louis, finishing the season as the Canadiens' leading goal scorer (23) while coming in second with 43 points in 67 games.
Caufield's rejuvenation points to a much better sophomore campaign for the 21-year-old winger. That could lead to a significant raise before his entry-level deal expires next summer. He could end up with an eight-year pact comparable to the $7.9 million annual cap hit of linemate Nick Suzuki.
Jordan Kyrou and Robert Thomas, St. Louis Blues
The St. Louis Blues are fortunate to have two talented young forwards in Jordan Kyrou and Robert Thomas. The good news is they both enjoyed breakout performances this season. The bad news is signing them to extensions will get quite expensive.
Unlike the others on our list, Kyrou and Thomas aren't approaching the final year of their entry-level contracts. They're completing the first season of their two-year bridge contracts with identical $2.8 million annual cap hits.
Kyrou, 24, finished fourth this season among the Blues with a career-best 75 points in 74 games. A gifted scoring winger, he participated in his first NHL All-Star Game, winning the fastest skater competition.
After struggling last season through an injury-shortened campaign with a career-low 12 points in 33 games, the 22-year-old Thomas enjoyed a career-best 77-point performance in 2021-22, finishing second among Blues scorers.
The Blues have a projected $36.2 million in salary-cap space for 2023-24, with just 10 players under contract. New deals for Kyrou and Thomas will eat up a healthy chunk of that cap room, especially if the duo builds on this season's healthy output. Signing both to long-term contracts for up to eight years could put each of them in line to earn $8 million annually.
Tim Stuetzle, Ottawa Senators
The third pick in the 2020 draft, Tim Stuetzle cracked the Ottawa Senators roster in the shortened 2020-21 season. He tallied a respectable 12 goals and 29 points in 53 games, finishing fifth among that season's rookie scorers and sixth on the Senators.
Stuetzle showed considerable improvement this season. Avoiding the sophomore slump, he was second on the Senators with 58 points in 79 games and third with 22 goals. The 20-year-old also led them with 26 power-play points and sat second with four game-winning goals.
A talented offensive forward who can skate at left wing or center, Stuetzle is rapidly developing into one of the Senators' core players. Another strong performance that exceeds this season's production will ensure he gets a hefty raise on his next contract.
The Senators could wait until next summer to re-sign Stuetzle. They could also attempt to lock him up to a long-term extension that might prove cost-effective over the long term. Perhaps they can entice him with an offer of $7.8 million annually on an eight-year deal, putting him just below Brady Tkachuk's $8.25 million and Thomas Chabot's $8 million.
Trevor Zegras, Anaheim Ducks
Chosen ninth overall by the Anaheim Ducks in 2019, Trevor Zegras was projected to become a talented playmaking forward. After showing his potential with 13 points in 24 games during the COVID-shortened 2020-21 campaign, he established himself this season as the Ducks' first-line center. The 21-year-old is also a finalist for the Calder Trophy, finishing second among rookie scorers.
Zegras was second among the Ducks' scorers with 61 points in 75 games, including a team-leading 38 assists and 2:38 of power-play ice time per game. Though he logged plenty of time with the man advantage, 44 of his points came at even strength. The young center also proved adept at stripping opponents of the puck, leading the Ducks with 40 takeaways.
A dazzling offensive performer, Zegras garnered praise (and some criticism) for a couple of lacrosse-style goals during this season. His puck-handling abilities earned him a trip to his first NHL All-Star Weekend as a participant in the breakaway challenge.
Zegras has a year remaining on his entry-level contract. The Ducks could attempt to sign him to an extension this summer, perhaps for seven years and $7 million per season. He could seek much more if they wait until next summer and he builds on his impressive rookie campaign despite his lack of arbitration rights.
Stats via NHL.com. Contract info via CapFriendly.