In 2011, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins was the No. 1 overall pick in the NHL draft. Two years later, he signed a seven-year extension with the Edmonton Oilers that would keep him with the team throughout the early phase of his career.
Now, Nugent-Hopkins is set to enter free agency for the first time. He turns 27 on April 12, so he could be a key part of a team's offense for plenty of years, whether that's the Oilers' or somebody else's.
The start date of NHL free agency is unclear because of the league's coronavirus pandemic-related suspension. It's also unknown whether the 2019-20 season will resume or how the pause could affect key offseason events such as the playoffs and the draft lottery.
But it's not too early to look ahead to some of the players who could be on the market this offseason. Here are three who will draw plenty of interest if they don't re-up with their teams before their contracts end this summer.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, F
Although Edmonton committed to Nugent-Hopkins early in his career, it took some time for him to develop into one of its top players. He was solid early, but he also missed some time because of injury, and his stats were somewhat underwhelming for a former top draft pick.
However, Nugent-Hopkins has made more of an offensive impact the past two seasons. In 2018-19, he set career highs in points (69), goals (28) and assists (41) while playing in all 82 games for the second time in his career.
This year, Nugent-Hopkins was faring even better. He had 61 points (22 goals and 39 assists) through 65 games and was on pace to break the career highs he set a year before. Though how much of that can be attributed to playing on the left wing of Connor McDavid, arguably the best hockey player in the world, is up for debate.
After earning $6 million in each of the seven years of his contract, Nugent-Hopkins, thanks to his age, numbers and proving he can stay healthy, is in line for a bigger payday. The Oilers' cap situation—CapFriendly projects them to have just $13 million in cap space despite having eight active-roster spots to fill—may see him head to a new team even if Edmonton wants to keep him around.
Alex Pietrangelo, D
Alex Pietrangelo would be the top defenseman available on the free-agent market this offseason if he doesn't re-up with the St. Louis Blues. Over 12 seasons with the Blues, he has been a two-time All-Star and a Stanley Cup champion, captaining the team to success in the 2018-19 season.
The 30-year-old Pietrangelo was having one of the best seasons of his career this term, as he had scored a career-high 16 goals through 70 games. He had 52 points, two shy of the career high he set in 2017-18. And his plus-minus was plus-11, his highest since the 2013-14 campaign.
St. Louis drafted him with the No. 4 overall pick in 2008, and Pietrangelo signed a seven-year, $45.5 million extension ahead of the 2013-14 season. He's likely to sign a bigger deal this offseason as he continues to play at a high level.
If the Blues don't bring back Pietrangelo, not only would they be losing a key part of their defense but also their team captain. Therefore, it's possible they will go all-out to negotiate a deal with him before free agency begins.
Taylor Hall, LW
Taylor Hall's career with the Arizona Coyotes may end up being only 35 games long. The Yotes acquired the left wing in December to strengthen their playoff push, but they were on the outside looking in in the Western Conference when the NHL was suspended.
Although the move didn't lead to team success, Hall played well, tallying 27 points (10 goals and 17 assists). Combined with his time with the New Jersey Devils earlier in the season, he had 52 points (16 goals and 36 assists) in 65 games this season.
It was a nice bounce-back showing for Hall after injury limited him to 33 games in 2018-19. His health issues meant he didn't have the chance replicate his impressive 2017-18 season, when he had a career-high 93 points and won the Hart Trophy as the NHL's MVP.
Still only 28, Hall likely has some strong years ahead of him. His goalscoring exploits despite being on struggling teams should see him make more than the $6 million average annual salary he picked up as part of the seven-year contract he signed with the Oilers in 2012.