It’s been 18 days since the Pittsburgh Penguins hoisted the Stanley Cup and the 2016-17 season came to an end. In those 18 days, a lot of has happened around the league. Between welcoming the Vegas Golden Knights, the entry draft, and free agency buzz, there has been plenty to talk about and debate over.
While unrestricted free agents usually gather most of the attention, restricted free agents should not be overlooked. Most of the time, they do in fact end up staying with the same club. But, new teams may in fact target some of these defensemen in the next couple days. Here is a look at some of the best remaining unsigned NHL RFA defensemen.
Top 10 NHL RFA Defensemen
#10 – Jake Dotchin
Cap Hit: $616,667
Jake Dotchin made his NHL debut this past season after being drafted by the Lightning in 2012. He played a total of 35 games and finished with a +/- of plus-10 with 11 assists in that span. While his production and NHL experience may be low, he certainly has potential and possible room within the top six on Tampa’s blue line. He is a 6’3” defensive defenseman who is not afraid to do the dirty work in the defensive zone. Tampa Bay currently only has four defensemen signed through the 2017-18 season in Victor Hedman, Anton Stralman, Braydon Coburn and Andrej Sustr.
#9 – Brian Dumoulin
Cap Hit: $800,000
While Dumoulin is by no means a goal scorer, he has solidified himself as a strong defenseman for the back-to-back Stanley Cup Champion Penguins. In fact, he only has one goal in the past two seasons. He did, however, have six points (1 G, 5 A) in this past season’s playoff run. This upcoming season he will be looking to being paired back up with his partner Kris Letang, who is returning from injury. Dumoulin doesn’t seem to be going anywhere as Pittsburgh’s one big change this off-season thus far has been the addition of Ryan Reaves. As the saying goes, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” and with back-to-back cups, it most certainly is not broken in Pittsburgh.
#8 – Damon Severson
Cap Hit: $605,833
Severson has become an integral part of the Devils’ blueline since his rookie season in 2014. Last year he finished with 31 points and only missed two games all season. While on the first pairing with Andy Greene, he has shown a strong ability to carry the puck up the ice and ignite offensive scoring chances for the Devils. Again, he will likely be staying in New Jersey and finding himself a nice new contract.
#7 – Nate Schmidt
Cap Hit: $812,500
Nate Schmidt was taken from the Washington Capitals by the Vegas Golden Knights during the NHL Expansion Draft. Schmidt appeared to be headed for a top-four role in Washington before being selected by Vegas. He had four points in Washington’s short-lived playoff run this past season and 17 points in 60 regular-season games. As of now, it appears Vegas is not using Schmidt as a trading piece and will hold on to the defenseman, at least for the 2017-18 season. With that, he will no doubt become a major part of their blue line during the team’s inaugural season.
#6 – Calvin De Haan
Cap Hit: $1,966,667
De Haan was unprotected and available for the Golden Knights, but not chosen, as New York made a trade with Vegas to select Jean-Francois Berube. Now the Islanders are looking to hold on to the defenseman, as he is the only restricted free agent blueliner on their roster. He may not be a flashy, playmaking defenseman, but his quieter consistency in the defensive zone is something the Isles could use. De Haan played in all 82 games during last season and recorded 25 points (5 G, 20 A). He was given a three-year contract extension in 2014 and now will most likely be given another contract and staying in New York.
#5 – Alex Petrovic
Cap Hit: $1,050,000
Petrovic is not the only defenseman in Florida without a contract. He is accompanied by RFA Mark Pysyk and UFA Jakub Kindl. While Pysyk and Petrovic have a similar stat line, both with 13 assists, Petrovic played in 33 fewer games last season. The 25-year old, 6’4” defenseman has shown a lot of strength and upside for Florida. While the smaller sample of games this past season may not jump off the charts, Florida will definitely look to keep the young blueliner.
#4 – Nathan Beaulieu
Cap Hit: $1,000,000
Beaulieu is Buffalo’s only RFA defenseman to worry about this off-season. They recently acquired the young rising star in a trade with Montreal. He is coming off a career-high 28-point season with the Canadiens. This seems to be the right move for Buffalo as they look for more depth on the blueline. Beaulieu has the potential to be a top-four defenseman, with some solid looks on the power play for the Sabres. Since being traded only a couple of days ago, it is clear he will be staying with Buffalo this upcoming season.
#3 – Justin Schultz
Cap Hit: $1,400,000
Schultz was traded to Pittsburgh in February of 2016 from Edmonton. He had eight points in 18 regular-season games and was a big part of yet another Pittsburgh championship run. Along with Dumoulin, the Penguins will most likely hold on to the RFA. There have been strong rumors of departures from UFA’s Trevor Daley and Ron Hainsey. Schultz is coming off of a career high 51-point season with no sign of slowing down. If both defensemen leave Pittsburgh, there will be plenty of opportunity and room for the 26-year old.
#2 – Dmitry Orlov
Cap Hit: $2,570,000
Orlov was drafted by the Capitals in 2009. He made his NHL debut with the club at the end of the 2010-11 season. He is currently the only restricted free agent defenseman in Washington and seems to be finding his form with 29 points in 2015-16 and 33 points in 2016-17. With heavy rumors surrounding UFA’s Kevin Shattenkirk and Karl Alzner signing with other clubs, Orlov is one of Washington’s off-season priorities. In the upcoming season, Orlov should solidify himself as a top-four defenseman for the defending President Trophy winners.
#1 – Colton Parayko
Cap Hit: $858,750
Parayko is a top priority for the St. Louis Blues this off-season. He finished second among rookie defensemen with nine goals, 24 assists (33 points), and found himself named to the NHL All-Rookie Team. Parayko earned a spot as a top-four defenseman in St. Louis behind Jay Bouwmeester and Alex Pietrangelo. Parayko also led NHL rookies with a plus-28 rating and followed up this past season with 35 points (4 G, 31 A) and a plus-7 rating. With this immediate production, this young defensive stud has a bright future in the league and for the Blues’ sake, hopefully in St. Louis.
While all of these NHL RFA defensemen are near guarantees to stay with their current clubs for the upcoming season, nothing is quite set in stone. As we have seen over the past couple of weeks, anything can happen this offseason and these defensemen should not be overlooked during the 2017-18 season.