It’s back to the grind of rumors, behind-the scenes-talks, and overheard ramblings around the NHL. Everything with the CBA is set to go, and now we can focus on hockey as GMs try to find the right fit of talent for their teams. A major order of business will now be dealing with restricted free agents, a group which includes several stellar names who have yet to sign with their 2011-2012 teams.
Dmitry Kulikov, FLA – D
Florida’s stand-out young defenseman earned $1.325 million last season and was a 14th overall pick in 2009. He has an outstanding shot from the point and loves to jump in offensively, which teams have been willing to pay for in the seasons leading up to this past lockout.
In September of last year, Kulikov signed with Lokimotiv Yaroslavl (KHL), and stated that he hopes to sign a deal with FLA as soon as the lockout ends.
Michael Del Zotto, NYR – D
Drafted by the New York Rangers in 2008 (20th overall), Del Zotto is bursting at the seams with offensive ability. He knows how to use his legs in every area, which translates into being a good leader of the powerplay unit. He went from a -5 in the 2010-11 season to a +20 in the 2011-12 season, showing his ability to learn from mistakes and understand the game.
If he can continue to stop making mistakes with his hands, he can be a top-tier defensive with oustanding offensive upside. During the lockout, Del Zotto played in the Swiss League, and notably left with ‘back stiffness’, causing his return to New York.
P.K. Subban, MTL – D
With a flair for the dramatic, the Montreal Canadien’s 2009 draft pick propelled into the 2010-11 All-Rookie team. Like Del Zotto, Subban knows how to use his legs in order to set his team up offensively. You’ll catch him wanting to rush up the ice, lead the powerplay, and make contact with anyone he can get to.
Part of his downside is his desire to want to do too much, a common problem with younger players. He plays with a lot of passion, and it shows on the ice as it can distract the other team, as well as his own players and staff. If he can learn to control himself in certain situations, Subban can keep his flashy style and propel whatever team he’s on to success.
Ryan O’Reilly, COL – C
Drafted in the second round in 2009 by the Colorado Avalanche, O’Reilly is a gritty center who opponents hate to faceoff against. Part of the surge of young players in Colorado, he might be one of the guys the team has to turn away from in order to keep more of their core together. He more than doubled his point production from the 2010-11 to 2011-12 seasons, and has not had that affect his defensive abilities.
He is in an interesting situation in the KHL, playing for Metallurg Magnitogorsk (same team Malkin signed with). O’Reilly decided to a two-year contract, and his brother Cal also plays on the team. He has not spoken as to why he signed the two-year deal, maybe in case the lockout took more than this season to figure out or maybe because he wants to play with his brother. Without the speculation in mind, O’Reilly is a great two-way player that can help any team out by excelling on all sides of the puck.
Jamie Benn, DAL – W/C
This 6’2’’, 205 lb offensive force has had quite a bit of success in his young career. In juniors, he was named to the Tournament All-Star Team along with his teammate Tyler Myers, representing the Kelowna rockets. In 2009, he won gold as part of Team Canada in the World Junior Championship and in that same year was the leading scorer in the Memorial Cup.
This past NHL season, Benn represented the Dallas Stars in the NHL All-Star Game. He has yet to score less than 20 goals in a season and has the ability to lead by example.