NHL Free Agency 2019: Artemi Panarin Buzz, More Free Agent Rumors, Predictions

Kristopher Knox@@kris_knoxFeatured ColumnistJune 26, 2019

FILE - This Feb. 7, 2019, file photo shows Columbus Blue Jackets left wing Artemi Panarin (9) in the third period during an NHL hockey game against the Arizona Coyotes in Glendale, Ariz. The 27-year-old Panarin is regarded as the top player available in free agency.  (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri, File)
Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

Now that the NHL draft is in the rearview, teams and players are gearing up for free agency, which officially begins on July 1.

Though players cannot be signed until next month, the interview window is open. Columbus Blue Jackets winger Artemi Panarin, for example, has already met with the Colorado Avalanche, according to Adrian Dater of Colorado Hockey Now.

Panarin should be one of the most coveted players in this year's market, as he's just 27 years old and coming off another strong season (28 goals, 59 assists).

According to Pierre LeBrun of TSN and The Athletic, however, Panarin's decision is likely to come down to the Florida Panthers, New York Rangers and the New York Islanders:

NHL Prospects Watcher @Prospects_Watch

LeBrun on TSN1050 says there could be a surprise team, but he believes it will come down to 3 teams for Artemi Panarin, Florida, Rangers and the Islanders.

Presumably, the Blue Jackets would also like to have Panarin back, but that feels unlikely. The team tried to get an extension done during the season, to no avail. Assuming Panarin doesn't want to stay in Columbus but does want to play for a contender, the Islanders—who won 48 games this past season—are a likely destination.

Another player garnering a lot of attention is winger Mats Zuccarello. According to Dave Pagnotta of The Fourth Period, Zuccarello has received attention from "a number of teams" and appears likely to move on from the Dallas Stars:

David Pagnotta @TheFourthPeriod

As of now, it sounds like the Stars are out of the mix for Mats Zuccarello. Could change, but that’s current state. He’s received interest from a number of teams so far.

This doesn't mean, though, that Dallas is giving up on Zuccarello. According to The Athletic's Sean Shapiro, the Stars are still in on the 31-year-old:

Sean Shapiro @seanshapiro

1. Stars are still in on zuccarello, even if chances have dropped. 2. They also plan to meet with a number of options, Pavelski for example could be good fit on 3-year deal https://t.co/b9m9Np40BN

As Shapiro pointed out, the Stars are also weighing other options, including San Jose Sharks center Joe Pavelski.

According to LeBrun, Pavelski could take early visits with teams, including the Stars and the Tampa Bay Lightning—though he hasn't completely ruled out a return to San Jose.

"Maybe I come back," Pavelski said, per LeBrun. "I don't know."

If Zuccarello is out in Dallas, the Stars' push for Pavelski could be strong. This, in turn, means San Jose could be set to lose both Pavelski and winger Joonas Donskoi.

According to The Athletic's Kevin Kurz, Donskoi is drawing his own high level of free-agency interest:

Kevin Kurz @KKurzNHL

There’s been strong interest in Sharks UFA Joonas Donskoi, from what I understand. Door isn’t closed on a return to the Sharks, but it’s looking more and more likely that he’ll find another home for next season

The problem for San Jose is that it has a number of players headed to the open market—including Pavelski, Donskoi, Timo Meier and Kevin Labanc—but is only projected to have roughly $5.4 million in cap space, according to Spotrac.

Pavelski and Donskoi are players the Sharks simply cannot afford to retain as things stand. According to Bruce Garrioch of the Ottawa Sun, the Sharks "are trying to move" defenseman Brenden Dillon in an effort to free up some cap space. Without such a move, Pavelski and Donskoi are likely gone.