While much of the focus on this offseason is rightly on the 2015 NHL Draft and elite talents such as Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel, there are several good players set to hit unrestricted free agency this summer. While most of a successful team often comes from the draft, many important players on Stanley Cup winners were signed as free agents, such as Marian Hossa of the Blackhawks or Zdeno Chara of the Boston Bruins. While the biggest names available this summer include Mike Green of the Washington Capitals and Martin St. Louis of the New York Rangers, here some under the radar players are also up for grabs that could be signed for cheaper than the top options, while providing the team that signs them with an impact player.
After being bought out by the Buffalo Sabres after the 2013-2014 season, Christian Ehrhoff signed a one year, $4 million deal with the high-flying Pittsburgh Penguins in an attempt to re-establish his value and land a long-term deal this season. However, his season was marred by injury, as he was able to play in just 49 games and managed just 14 points, albeit with a strong +8 plus/minus rating.
The Penguins signed Ehrhoff with the hopes of adding a strong two-way defenseman with excellent offensive instincts and the ability to contribute to a powerplay. Ehrhoff is a great skater from the back end who has the ability to start the breakout with a crisp pass or skate the puck up and gain the offensive zone on his own. Not only can he contribute on the offensive end, he is responsible on the less glamorous end of the ice, possessing the ability to be matched up against top forwards and to shut down the opposition’s best scoring threats. He also is viewed as a solid veteran presence, participating in 73 playoff games over the course of his career and playing in a Stanley Cup final in 2011 with the Vancouver Canucks.
While Ehrhoff is still in solid playing shape at only 32 years old, possesses a strong two-way game, and could fly under the radar with the up and down season he just experienced. Many teams could use a solid veteran presence on their back end like Ehrhoff, and he may not get the long-term, big money deals fellow UFA defensemen Mike Green or Paul Martin may receive.
Potential Suitors – Columbus Blue Jackets, Ottawa Senators, San Jose Sharks
Tlusty, a former first round pick of the Toronto Maple Leafs, never managed to live up to his lofty draft status. However, in recent seasons, he has carved out a nice role for himself as a speedy and skilled top-9 forward who can take care of business in his own end but also put points up on the board. He can fit in on any of the top three lines, and has experience playing with the stars of the team. In the 2013 season, playing with Eric Staal, he put up 23 goals in just 48 games. However, as he was shifted around the lineup, he settled in as a consistent 30-40 point scorer.
Tlusty combines great skating ability with a strong shot and the ability to finish plays. He is employed in all situations, as he has good defensive awareness that allows him to make an impact on the penalty kill as well as the size and skill level to contribute to a team’s powerplay unit. Check out this highlight-reel goal he scored while on the powerplay against a helpless Washington Capitals defense:
He is a tireless worker on the forecheck, and could fit in as well on a checking line as he would in a top-6 role. Coming off a one-year deal that paid him just $2.95 million, Tlusty would be a cheap acquisition for a team looking to add skill and consistency to its forward group.
Potential Suitors – Nashville Predators, New York Rangers, Vancouver Canucks
Originally a 2nd round pick of the Detroit Red Wings in 2006, Shawn Matthias was a highly touted junior player. He won a World Junior Championship gold medal with Canada in 2008 and averaged more than a point per game in two straight seasons starring for the OHL’s Belleville Bulls. However, he has made his mark in the NHL as a hard-working two way forward who provides a physical presence and chips in offensively as a member of the Florida Panthers and Vancouver Canucks.
While Matthias provides an enticing package as a 6’3″, 212 pound power forward who works hard on the forecheck and in his own zone, he has some nice offensive skills and explosive speed he can demonstrate on occasion, like this beautiful goal he scored as a member of the Panthers:
Matthias could provide value to any team as a cheap acquisition who can serve as one of the team’s top penalty killers, while providing some solid secondary scoring and a physical presence in the bottom six forwards. Coming off a two-year deal that paid him a measly $1.75 million a season, Matthias will be an attractive option for teams that miss out on bigger name free agents such as Antoine Vermette of the Chicago Blackhawks or Carl Soderberg of the Boston Bruins.
Potential Suitors – Boston Bruins, Chicago Blackhawks, New Jersey Devils
Joseph Aleong is an At-Large writer for THW from Toronto, Ontario. He is a graduate of Brock University in St. Catharines, ON. Follow him on Twitter @josephaleong11