NHL’s Top 10 UFAs of 2018: The best right wingers

New Jersey Devils' Michael Grabner celebrates a goal against the Los Angeles Kings. (Jae C. Hong/AP)

With the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs and NHL Draft in the books, the NHL’s 31 general managers have turned their attention to building a winner in 2018-19. Step one comes on July 1 when the league’s free-agency period officially gets underway. Sportsnet.ca has all you need to know on the top 10 UFAs at each position likely to be available.

The right wingers in this year’s unrestricted free-agent class won’t be turning the league upside down in 2018-19. Outside of Michael Grabner, still a genuine top-six threat, and a few left wing UFAs who can be just as effective on the right side, most of the group below will be filling out teams’ third or fourth lines. That said, for clubs who miss on the bigger names, or can’t afford them, the right wingers offer up some interesting depth gambles.

Let’s take a look at who’s available this summer…

Top 10 UFAs by position: C | LW | RW | D | G

1. Michael Grabner

2017-18 Team: New York Rangers/New Jersey Devils
2017-18 Cap Hit: $1.65 million

A strong start in New York (25 goals in 59 games) went sideways after a trade to New Jersey, but the 30-year-old still finished with 27 goals for the second straight season. One of the fastest skaters in the game, he’s built to thrive in today’s quick-footed, offensively dynamic NHL. And with four seasons above the 20-goal mark, topped by a 34-goal showing early in his career, he’s shown he can hold his own offensively. Given his age, he isn’t likely to break the bank, which means he could be an excellent bargain on the right side.

Potential Fits: Calgary, Vegas, Colorado, Columbus, New Jersey

2. Joel Ward

2017-18 Team: San Jose Sharks
2017-18 Cap Hit: $3.275 million

At 37 years old, Joel Ward’s effectiveness in the big leagues is waning, but the hope is he still has enough in the tank to contribute in a limited role. The 2017-18 season was a write-off for the veteran winger, who ended up playing only 52 games. He’s only a couple years removed from a 21-goal, 43-point effort, though, which capped a trio of useful seasons. On a reasonable deal, he could still provide a useful bottom-six boost.

Potential Fits: Calgary, Vegas, Colorado, Columbus, New Jersey, Boston

3. Brian Gibbons

2017-18 Team: New Jersey Devils
2017-18 Cap Hit: $650,000

Once a long shot for the big leagues and now a perfect fit given how the game has progressed towards speed and offensive creativity, 5-foot-8 Brian Gibbons could be a great third-line option for teams looking to upgrade their foot-speed. Coming off a career campaign in New Jersey, posting 12 goals and 26 points in 59 games, and having shown flashes of brilliance in the past, he still has the potential to bring some decent secondary scoring.

Potential Fits: Calgary, Vegas, Colorado, Columbus, New Jersey

4. Chris Stewart

2017-18 Team: Minnesota Wild/Calgary Flames
2017-18 Cap Hit: $1.15 million

His offensive output has declined year-by-year, and a move from Minnesota to Calgary didn’t do much to upend that trend. But as one of only a few UFA right-wingers available who posted double-digit goals this season, Chris Stewart could still be worth a shot in a limited bottom-six role. He can chip in from the fourth line for a club looking to add a bit more offensive potential there, though he isn’t a good bet for much more.

Potential Fits: Columbus, Colorado, New Jersey, Boston, Arizona

5. Tobias Rieder

2017-18 Team: Arizona Coyotes/Los Angeles Kings
2017-18 Cap Hit: $2.25 million

Acquired by the Kings from the Coyotes to add a sprinkle of speed an offensive upside for the playoff push, Rieder was left unqualified and therefore will be a 25-year-old UFA. The decision to let him go likely had more to do with Los Angeles’ tight cap situation and their need to find upgrades, rather than Rieder being an unattractive player. A decent option for a third line, Rieder comes in as a 16-goal scorer. If an acquiring team gets him for less than his previous contract, it’ll be a value add.

Potential Fits: Colorado, Columbus, Boston, Arizona, NY Islanders, New Jersey

6. Austin Czarnik

2017-18 Team: Boston Bruins
2017-18 Cap Hit: $675,000

While most players on this list is in the final stage of their careers, Austin Czarnik is just getting started. The 25-year-old got only 10 games at the NHL level in 2017-18, but tore it up in the AHL, posting 25 goals and 69 points through 64 games. That was good enough to lead the Bruins’ minor-league affiliate, and finished as the third-highest total league-wide. He can play centre or right wing, and should make for an interesting gamble for a club that can offer him a bigger role.

Potential Fits: Calgary, Columbus, Colorado, Minnesota, New Jersey, Boston, Arizona

7. Lee Stempniak

2017-18 Team: Carolina Hurricanes
2017-18 Cap Hit: $2.5 million

The 35-year-old missed significant time in 2017-18, but he’s proven over the past few years that he can still contribute some meaningful offence. He posted 40 points on a thin Carolina team in 2016-17, which followed an impressive 19-goal, 51-point season split between Boston and New Jersey. His age will likely scare some suitors off, but there’s a good chance Stempniak can still be an effective bottom-sixer who brings some genuine offence to the table.

Potential Fits: Columbus, Colorado, Minnesota, New Jersey, Boston, Arizona

8. Drew Stafford

2017-18 Team: New Jersey Devils
2017-18 Cap Hit: $800,000

Coming off two seasons in which he was limited to less than 60 games, veteran winger Drew Stafford stacks up as a decent bottom-six option on a team needing a steady, veteran presence there. He put up 21 goals in his last full season, 2015-16, and was near that mark in three of the preceding four campaigns as well. He’s far from a sure thing, but worth a bottom-six tryout for those looking for depth scoring.

Potential Fits: Calgary, Columbus, Colorado, Minnesota, New Jersey, Boston, Arizona

9. Jannik Hansen

2017-18 Team: San Jose Sharks
2017-18 Cap Hit: $2.5 million

After a steady run of double-digit goals capped by a career-high 22 tallies in 2015-16, Jannik Hansen has taken a step back the past two seasons. He’s played fewer than 50 games in both years, and saw both his points-per-game and goals-per-game rates decline. His past performance may give teams reason to gamble on a reasonable contract, and in the right system, he could come up with some useful secondary production.

Potential Fits: Calgary, Columbus, Colorado, Minnesota, New Jersey, Boston, Arizona

10. Ryan Reaves

2017-18 Team: Pittsburgh Penguins/Vegas Golden Knights
2017-18 Cap Hit: $1.125 million

The fit never seemed right in Pittsburgh, but Ryan Reaves made his mark on Vegas’ Cup Final run with a game-winning goal to clinch a Conference Final win for his club. Teams looking to bring him in this summer know offensive production isn’t his main asset, but Reaves does have some skill to supplement his place as the most feared brawler in the league. He proved as much during his time with Vegas, adding a little bit of everything to the Golden Knights’ miracle run.

Potential Fits: Columbus, Colorado, Minnesota, New Jersey, Boston, Arizona

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