7 2022 NHL Restricted Free Agents Who Could Use a Change of Scenery
The Carolina Hurricanes signed Montreal Canadiens center Jesperi Kotkaniemi to a one-year, $6.1 million offer sheet on Saturday, bringing some welcome excitement to the dog days of the NHL offseason. The move also likely caught the attention of several players slated to become restricted free agents next summer.
Lost amid the hubbub over the Hurricanes exacting revenge on the Canadiens for offer-sheeting Sebastian Aho two years ago and whether the Habs will match is why Kotkaniemi signed this deal in the first place. On Sunday, The Athletic's Arpon Basu suggested the 21-year-old could be seeking a fresh start after an inconsistent tenure with a club whose management questions his ability to fill a larger role.
Boston Bruins winger Jake DeBrusk and Edmonton Oilers forward Jesse Puljujarvi could find themselves in similar circumstances when they become restricted free agents in 2022. They are among seven RFAs who could seek a change of scenery via trade or offer sheet for various reasons next summer.
Filip Zadina, Detroit Red Wings
A promising NHL career seemed to lie ahead for Filip Zadina when the Detroit Red Wings selected him sixth overall in the 2018 NHL draft. A good skater with plenty of offensive skills, he had the potential to become a top-six winger with the rebuilding Wings.
Zadina has shown flashes of his potential during limited playing time in his first two NHL campaigns. He earned a full-time roster spot last season, tallying 19 points in 49 games, but his offensive consistency needs improvement.
Perhaps Zadina will have a breakthrough performance in 2021-22 with more playing time among the Wings top six. However, if he once again has difficulty finding the back of the net, he could face a questionable future in Motown. A move to a club with more experienced scorers for Zadina to skate alongside and learn from could help him find his scoring touch.
Alexandar Georgiev, New York Rangers
For the past three seasons, Alexandar Georgiev filled a backup role for the New York Rangers. The 25-year-old goaltender has a career record of 43 wins, 38 losses and nine overtime defeats with a 2.95 goals-against average and .912 save percentage. Those are decent numbers on a rebuilding club.
However, Georgiev was the subject of trade rumors this offseason. On July 29, Daily Faceoff's Frank Seravalli reported he requested a trade, according to sources, hoping to break out from behind Rangers starter Igor Shesterkin. The following day, USA Today's Vincent Z. Mercogliano quoted Georgiev's agent as saying his client never asked to be moved.
Georgiev is expected to once again fill the role of Shesterkin's understudy. If he does seek a starter's job down the road, however, he won't get it with the Rangers. Shesterkin earned the bulk of the starts last season and signed a four-year contract on Aug. 19 worth an annual average value of $5.66 million.
If Georgiev forces the issue, he could get shopped by next year's trade deadline if the Blueshirts are out of playoff contention by then. Otherwise, he could become an offseason trade chip during the 2022 NHL draft weekend.
Jesse Puljujarvi, Edmonton Oilers
The fourth overall selection in the 2016 NHL draft, Jesse Puljujarvi has not played up to expectations with the Edmonton Oilers. He spent his first three seasons shuttling between the Oilers and their AHL affiliate in Bakersfield, California, managing just 37 points in 139 NHL games. He spent the 2019-20 campaign loaned to Karpat in Finland's Liiga during a contract impasse with the Oilers.
Puljujarvi returned to the Oilers last season on a two-year contract. He enjoyed his best NHL performance, tallying 15 goals and 25 points in 55 games along with two points in four playoff contests. The 23-year-old could be on the cusp of his long-awaited breakout campaign.
If Puljujarvi regresses this season, however, it could finish his tenure with the Oilers. The trade rumors that swirled during his holdout season would undoubtedly return. There could be teams willing to gamble that a change of scenery will help the young Swedish-born Finnish winger reach his potential.
Pavel Zacha, New Jersey Devils
A first-round pick in 2015 (sixth overall) by the New Jersey Devils, Pavel Zacha had the potential to become a big scoring presence. For most of his NHL career, however, the 6'3", 210-pounder had been a disappointment until a career-best 17-goal, 35-point performance in 50 games last season.
Zacha's improvement came after moving from center to left wing, skating alongside center Nico Hischier and winger Jesper Bratt. Now 24 and entering his sixth full NHL campaign, he could be ready for a long-awaited breakthrough effort.
Should Zacha's performance regress, however, it could raise questions over where he fits on the rebuilding Devils roster and turn him into a potential bargaining chip if the Devils are out of playoff contention once again by the trade deadline.
Dylan Strome, Chicago Blackhawks
Acquired by the Chicago Blackhawks early in the 2018-19 season, Dylan Strome tallied a career-high 51 points in 58 games skating alongside winger Alex DeBrincat. After struggling early in his career with the Arizona Coyotes, the young forward seemed headed for a bright future in the Windy City.
Strome, however, managed only 38 points in 58 games the following season, in part because of an ankle injury and a concussion. He tallied just 17 points in 40 games in 2020-21, with another concussion seeing him miss time. His production also suffered because he was no longer skating alongside DeBrincat, bouncing from center to wing on the second and third lines.
The 24-year-old center's difficulties over the past two seasons made him the subject of trade speculation. On Aug. 17, the Ottawa Sun's Bruce Garrioch reported the Blackhawks were trying to move Strome. At some point in the coming season or next summer, it could be time to ship him to a club where he can get another opportunity for a fresh start.
Jake DeBrusk, Boston Bruins
Selected 14th overall by the Boston Bruins in the 2015 NHL draft, Jake DeBrusk appeared to have a bright future in Beantown. As a rookie in 2017-18, he finished seventh in team scoring with 43 points and sixth the following season with 42 points in 68 games.
DeBrusk, however, has had difficulty building upon the potential of his early seasons. He managed 35 points in 65 games in 2019-20 and just 14 points in 41 games last season, becoming the subject of trade rumors. In an Aug. 16 mailbag, The Athletic's Fluto Shinzawa reported the Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames could be interested in the 24-year-old winger.
Another subpar performance could put DeBrusk on the block before next year's trade deadline. The Bruins could also attempt to peddle him in the offseason leading up to the 2022 NHL draft. An opportunity with another team could help him regain his once-promising form.
Patrik Laine, Columbus Blue Jackets
Patrik Laine changed teams earlier this year when the Winnipeg Jets shipped him to the Columbus Blue Jackets in January. With the Blue Jackets retooling their roster, however, the 23-year-old winger could find himself on the move again next summer.
A gifted scorer with a 44-goal performance in 2017-18 on his resume, Laine tallied a career-worst 12 goals and 24 points in 46 games last season (45 with Columbus). An early-season upper-body injury and visa issues were partially to blame for his scoring difficulties. He also struggled to adjust under head coach John Tortorella's insistence that his forwards play a two-way game.
Tortorella's departure and a full, healthy season with the Jackets could revive Laine's firepower. However, they lack a proven setup centerman to feed him the puck. If he's unable to regain his form this season, Laine could be changing teams again. The Blue Jackets could shop him or he could become a tempting target for an offer sheet from a club with the depth to let him play his offensive style.