Top 23 NHL restricted free agents to watch

Maple Leafs' Nazem Kadri says it was a tough season, but you have to use it as a learning experience, and it's more about how you recover from something like this.

While the summer of 2015 has offered up relatively little in terms of must-sign unrestricted free agents, this season’s restricted free agency class is anything but dull.

The crop of young players set to negotiate new deals civilly — or head to arbitration — includes top scorers, No. 1 goalies, elite defencemen in the making, and a Calder Trophy nominee.

Will they go bridge deal, like L.A.’s Tanner Pearson, or get locked up long-term the way Dallas GM Jim Nill did John Klingberg?

Restricted free agents and their clubs may negotiate a fresh contract prior to the qualifying offer deadline of June 25, at which point teams must submit a first offer. If not, the RFA turns unrestricted, the way Michale Del Zotto did last summer.

If a qualifying offer is submitted but the teams cannot come to terms, either side can file for arbitration this summer. And of course, their rights can always be traded.

Here is a look at 23 of the most compelling RFAs and how they fared this season.


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Vladimir Tarasenko
Age on July 1: 23
Position: Right wing
2014-15 cap hit: $1.75 million
Contract year report: Dude became a superstar this season, scoring a silly 37 goals -- many of the highlight-show variety -- and 73 points in 77 games and was a career-best plus-27. While the Blues were ousted in Round 1, Tarasenko was the last guy to blame. He had six goals in six games, plus a helper.
Latest dirt: During the Blues' year-ending press conference, GM Doug Armstrong said the No. 1 off-season priority is to re-sign Tarasenko. Expect St. Louis to try to buy some UFA years.

Braden Holtby
Age on July 1: 25
Position: Goaltender
2014-15 cap hit: $1.85 million
Contract year report: All the workhorse did was turn in one of the most prolific and successful seasons in the Washington crease ever: 41-20-10, 2.22 GAA, .923 save percentage. Then he put up a .943 save percentage in the first round of the playoffs and won another Game 7.
Latest dirt: Beloved by teammates, Holtby wants -- and has earned -- a long-term deal. "I want some security. I love the city, I love the group here," Holtby told ESPN.com. "It’s a great place. It’s very underrated. Not many people [in hockey] think of Washington as a great place to go when you’re from out West. But it’s phenomenal. My family loves it. I would never want to leave."

Alex Galchenyuk
Age on July 1: 21
Position: Centre
2014-15 cap hit: $3.225 million
Contract year report: Twenty-one-year-old centres who score 20 goals for offensively starved teams and already have three seasons of NHL playoff experience are hard to find.
Latest dirt: While Montreal will also have to make a decision on RFAs Brian Flynn and Nathan Beaulieu, Galchenyuk is the priority here. Expect Marc Bergevin--who played hardball with P.K. Subban last summer--to try for something long-term here, though it might be in the best interest of the player (and agent Igor Larionov) to ink a bridge deal and knock the next one out the park, like Subban.

Derek Stepan
Age on July 1: 24
Position: Centre
2014-15 cap hit: $3.075 million
Contract year report: Despite missing the start of the season with a broken leg, Stepan came back like a beast, putting up 55 points in 68 games.
Latest dirt: GM Glen Sather should prioritize his best centre over Carl Hagelin -- another RFA worth keeping happy. Fans may recall things got testy the last time Stepan hit RFA, in 2013, but the sides eventually agreed to a show-me deal. He showed and proved. Time to lock him up.

Mark Stone
Age on July 1: 23
Position: Right wing
2014-15 cap hit: $873,000
Contract year report: Solid in the first half and a tornado in the second half of his rookie season, Stone scored 26 goals and 38 assists with a healthy wrist. Up for the Calder.
Latest dirt: The Senators are not a cap team and have a slew of RFAs worth keeping: Stone, Mika Zibanejad, Mike Hoffman, Alex Chiasson, Jean-Gabriel Pageau. Plus, the Hamburglar turns UFA. No way they can let Stone slip away, though.

Dougie Hamilton
Age on July 1: 22
Position: Defence
2014-15 cap hit: $3.3 million
Contract year report: The young D-man surpassed Zdeno Chara as the Bruins' most effective power-play point man and saw his ice time leap past the 21-minute mark. A career-best 42 points won't be a career best for long.
Latest dirt: While his next contract may include a don't-talk-to-Celtics clause, the Bruins will learn from the Johnny Boychuk debacle and find a way to keep their 2011 first-rounder and No. 1 blueliner in the making. They need a GM first, though.

Jonathan Bernier
Age on July 1: 26
Position: Goaltender
2014-15 cap hit: $2.9 million
Contract year report: Like the rest of the Maple Leafs, Bernier had a down year and a losing record; his goals-against average swelled to 2.87 and his save percentage dipped to .912.
Latest dirt: Though no Maple Leaf appears safe, and the No. 1 goalie was subjected to in-season trade rumours, Bernier is part of the team's leadership group. Toronto needs a GM in place before player decisions are made.


MORE: TOP 15 UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS OF 2015


Brandon Saad
Age on July 1: 22
Position: Left wing
2014-15 cap hit: $894,000
Contract year report: Saad's value to Chicago just keeps growing. The forward upped his goals (23) and assists (29) to career highs while dropping his penalty minutes to just 12.
Latest dirt: Worthy of a significant raise, Chicago should do its best to shoehorn Saad into a tight cap situation. But something's gotta give here. Last year it was Nick Leddy; this year UFAs Brad Richards, Antoine Vermette and Daniel Carcillo may walk and GM Stan Bowman may still need to shed salary through trade.

Nazem Kadri
Age on July 1: 24
Position: Centre
2014-15 cap hit: $2.9 million
Contract year report: The second-line centre with first-line aspirations was actually one of the few bright spots in Toronto, when he wasn't serving suspensions. A fantastic possession player who draws penalties and tries hard, Kadri failed to score at the rate of the previous two seasons -- 18 goals failed to meet the team and the player's expectations.
Latest dirt: The belief is, president Brendan Shanahan has been hard on Kadri because he sees the potential and wants to keep Kadri in the fold at a reasonable rate. Tough to see a long-term deal coming this summer after last season, though.

Jonathan Huberdeau
Age on July 1: 22
Position: Left wing
2014-15 cap hit: $3.194 million
Contract year report: After a wicked sophomore slump, Huberdeau upped his value in 2014-15, putting up a career-high 54 points and becoming a plus player (plus-10) for the first time in his career.
Latest dirt: GM Dale Tallon loves his young core, but as the Jaromir Jagr deadline deal showed, he thinks the Panthers can contend sooner than later. If the right deal comes along, we think Tallon would be more likely to offer up Huberdeau than, say, Aleksander Barkov or Brandon Pirri. The Panthers must also come to terms with RFA winger Jimmy Hayes, who busted out with 19 goals.

Gustav Nyquist
Age on July 1: 25
Position: Right wing
2014-15 cap hit: $950,000
Contract year report: One of the sharpest shots in the league continued scoring after a breakout 2013-14 campaign, putting up 27 goals and just as many assists.
Latest dirt: With Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk on the second half of their careers, Detroit needs young Nyquist's offence injection. With Mike Babcock's future undecided and rumours of a Dion Phaneuf trade persistent, it should be another compelling summer in Motown.

Brock Nelson
Age on July 1: 23
Position: Centre
2014-15 cap hit: $2.825 million
Contract year report: His entry-level deal was loaded with bonuses, and Nelson lived up to them with his first 20-goal campaign. He potted two more in his first taste of a full playoff series.
Latest dirt: Nelson is worthy of a pay bump, but GM Garth Snow needs to sort out Anders Lee and defenceman Thomas Hickey as well.

Evgeny Kuztensov
Age on July 1: 23
Position: Centre
2014-15 cap hit: $2.825 million
Contract year report: A stellar rookie campaign for the Russian saw him hit 37 points, improve his plus/minus to plus-10, and play Game 7 hero while contributing three goals in the Caps' first-round victory over the Islanders.
Latest dirt: Expect Washington to work on a deal after Holtby gets sorted out. Fellow RFA Marcus Johansson, a 20-goal scorer, needs to fit in somewhere too.

Jake Allen
Age on July 1: 24
Position: Goaltender
2014-15 cap hit: $800,000
Contract year report: Despite his poor performance in Game 6, it speaks volumes that St. Louis tapped the kid as its playoff starter over the more experienced and higher-paid Brian Elliott. Allen's regular-season record (22-7-4) was sparkling, and his .913 save percentage was a step up from 2013-14.
Latest dirt: As mentioned, Allen falls under Tarasenko in terms of re-signing priority, but the Blues have said publicly they plan to roll with an Allen-Elliott tandem in 2015-16.

Mika Zibanejad
Age on July 1: 22
Position: Centre
2014-15 cap hit: $1.744 million
Contract year report: Another Senators forward with a breakout year, the slick Swede scored 20 goals, added 26 assists and managed to register four points in six games against Carey Price. Exciting player.
Latest dirt: GM Brian Murray restated the importance of the Senators youth movement at his year-end press conference. With so many forwards needing new deals, we expect something shorter-term for Zibanejad.

Mike Hoffman
Age on July 1: 25
Position: Centre
2014-15 cap hit: $750,000
Contract year report: While teammate Mark stone stole the headlines, in most years Hoffman would be a Calder finalist. The rookie had 27 goals, 21 assists and a plus-16 rating. If only all fifth-rounders turned out like this...
Latest dirt: "Depends how long," Hoffman told the Ottawa Sun about his next deal. "Three years, yeah, no problem. But five and six ... it would all depend on the numbers, right?" We're guessing they settle at two or three.

Anders Lee
Age on July 1: 24
Position: Centre
2014-15 cap hit: $786,000
Contract year report: Though he wasn't called up until late October, Lee played his way (albeit briefly) into the Calder conversation with a scoring touch to the tune of 25 goals.
Latest dirt: With a strong forward core -- and too much money tied up in Mikhail Grabovski -- GM Garth Snow will likely look to sign Lee to two or three years at a modest raise.

Justin Schultz
Age on July 1: 24
Position: Defence
2014-15 cap hit: $3.675 million
Contract year report: Amidst the turmoil and turnover in Edmonton, Schultz failed to build on a decent 2013-14 campaign -- 31 points, minus-12 rating -- but the wekness of the Oilers' blue line hasn't allowed him to develop slowly.
Latest dirt: New GM Peter Chiarelli's to-do list is long. Trading Schultz -- or getting him to take a pay cut -- is one of them. Right now, the kid's overpaid.

Tyler Toffoli
Age on July 1: 23
Position: Right wing
2014-15 cap hit: $870,000
Contract year report: When linemate (and fellow RFA-to-be) Tanner Pearson signed mid-season, attention turned to the other That 70s Line kid with the breakout season: 23 goals, 26 assists, plus-25 rating. Yikes.
Latest dirt: Kings GM Dean Lombardi has done an excellent job keeping his forwards at reasonable rates. Pearson agreed to a $1.4-million average annual salary for two years. Toffoli's numbers are better; he will be gunning for more.

Jakub Silfverberg
Age on July 1: 24
Position: Right wing
2014-15 cap hit: $851,000
Contract year report: How good was the forward's season? Good enough that critics are now reconsidering who won the Bobby Ryan trade. A career-high 39 points and plus-15 rating was a nice start, but torching the Jets for six points in a four-game sweep put Silfverberg on this list.
Latest dirt: “I’ve been showing up more on the scoresheet,” Silfverberg said in a glowing article in the O.C. Register. “I’m trying to hold onto more of the puck and try to make more plays out there. That has a lot to do with where the confidence level is right now.” They must keep him.

Martin Jones
Age on July 1: 25
Position: Goaltender
2014-15 cap hit: $550,000
Contract year report: GM Dean Lombardi is lucky Jones' numbers fell off a bit from 2013-14's magic. A losing record (4-5-2) and .906 save percentage may have reasserted his backup status.
Latest dirt: We wonder if Jones is falling into Bernier's footsteps--the backup who will never supplant Jonathan Quick as the No. 1 and may want a shot to be the man elsewhere. Not yet. We expect another two-year, show-me deal.

Mikkel Boedker
Age on July 1: 25
Position: Left wing
2014-15 cap hit: $2.55 million
Contract year report: When Boedkker left the Coyotes in January to have his spleen removed, he was the team's leading goal-getter. Potential is still high for the franchise's first-round pick in 2008.
Latest dirt: "I've been in discussions with his agent, and we'll continue to arm-wrestle to try to get something done," GM Don Maloney told AZ Central on April 22.

Mikael Granlund
Age on July 1: 23
Position: Centre
2014-15 cap hit: $2.1 million
Contract year report: Though his regular-season production dipped slightly -- 39 points, down from 41 -- Granlund is again proving to be a big-game player. He had seven points for the Wild in last year's playoffs and already put up five in six games this spring.
Latest dirt: Keen to keep all the offensive talent it can, the Wild should barter hard but keep Granlund in the fold. Talks had reportedly started mid-season, and Granlund was looking at a two- or three-year deal with hopes of striking it rich later.


Other Notable RFAs: Michael Del Zotto (Flyers), Matt Calvert (Blue Jackets), Josh Jooris (Flames), Linden Vey (Canucks), Jimmy Hayes (Panthers), Marcus Johansen (Capitals), Carl Hagelin (Rangers), Erik Haula (Wild), Riley Nash (Hurricanes), Tomas Jurco (Red Wings), Beau Bennett (Penguins), Brendan Dillon (Sharks), Richard Panik (Maple Leafs)