Now that the Vegas Golden Knights have been crowned 2023 Stanley Cup Champions, it’s time to take a look at what’s next on the off-season calendar. After the NHL Draft, free agency is set to begin on July 1st. While not as prominent a market as other years, there are a few notable names to keep an eye on among the unrestricted free agents that will create some attraction as we head into the frenzy. There is a range of smart veterans, skilled goal scorers, and intriguing options between the pipes. As we get closer to the start of free agency, let’s take a look at what the market has in store come July 1st.
Top 2023 NHL Unrestricted Free Agents
1. Patrick Kane (Right Wing)
It was announced that Patrick Kane would undergo a hip resurfacing procedure and is expected to miss 4-6 months. While teams will be in no rush to sign the 34-year-old after this news, he’s still the biggest name on the free agent market. After spending 15 seasons with the Chicago Blackhawks, Kane was traded to the New York Rangers at the trade deadline. Between the two teams, he tallied 21 goals with 36 assists in 73 games.
The three-time Stanley Cup Champion said he would like to stay with the Rangers, although he understands the cap situation. His agent voiced that Kane would like to play for a long time and that this procedure would certainly help that. His skill level, hockey smarts, and past success will get him plenty of interest when he’s healthy.
2. Vladimir Tarasenko (Right Wing)
Another big-name player that was traded to the Rangers at the trade deadline was Vladimir Tarasenko. He scored 18 goals and had 32 assists between St. Louis and New York, with eight of the goals and 13 of the assists coming after the big trade. Tarasenko had some key moments in New York both in the regular season and in the playoffs but the result wasn’t in his favor.
The tank is known for his lethal sniper, scoring 270 goals in his 11-year career. He’s been hampered by a series of shoulder injuries from 2019 to 2021 but he’s been feeling relatively healthy, with the exception of a hand injury that caused him to miss 10 games this past season. The blistering wrister Tarasenko still puts on display is an example of that. For that reason, he will get a healthy multi-year contract come July.
3. Ryan O’Reilly (Center)
Tarasenko wasn’t the only one traded from the St. Louis Blues at the trade deadline, as Ryan O’Reilly was sent north of the border to the Toronto Maple Leafs. He helped carry the Blues to their first Stanley Cup in franchise history in 2019 while also winning the Conn Smythe. While O’Reilly didn’t bring the same luck to Toronto as they would’ve hoped, he had a huge hand in finally getting them over the hump and past the first round, something they haven’t done prior to this year in almost 20 years.
O’Reilly tallied twelve goals and seven assists for the Blues while scoring four goals and also tallying seven assists for the Maple Leafs. In 11 playoff games with Toronto, he scored three goals and added six assists while also having 19 takeaways, which was top five in the playoffs. O’Reilly immediately slotted in and built a connection with his teammates, something Toronto has been looking for. He will be a hot commodity as one of the most sought-after unrestricted free agents on the market.
4. Dmitry Orlov (Defenseman)
Dmitry Orlov was yet another big name moved at the deadline, going from the Washington Capitals, where he spent 11 seasons, to the Boston Bruins. In 66 total games last season, he scored 7 goals and had 29 assists. He also chipped in eight assists in 7 games in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The soon-to-be 32-year-old is a top-pairing defenseman, showcasing his defensive game and high hockey IQ at both ends of the rink. Orlov has also tallied more ice time per game than any free agent this year, making him even more desirable for any team. He is the best defenseman on the market and will look to get the biggest contract of any unrestricted free agent at his position.
5. Alex Killorn (Right Wing/Left Wing)
After finishing his 7-year, $4.5M AAV contract with the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2023, Alex Killorn comes into free agency with a lot of interest surrounding him. He buried 27 goals and tallied 37 assists this past season after having 25 goals and 34 assists the previous year, both in 82 games. He is reliable and consistent, playing a huge role in the Lightning’s back-to-back Stanley Cup Championships in 2020 and 2021.
Killorn can play both right and left-wing, also making him a versatile threat that many find value in. While he set a career-high in goals and assists, he also enters free agency with the most points of any player on the market in 2023 (64). He’s played all 11 of his seasons in Tampa Bay, where he’s racked up over 800 games and with 466 points. His career year is set to give him one more solid payday with a contender come next season.
Other Unrestricted Free Agents
*Has said to either re-sign with Boston or retire
Main Image: Danny Wild-USA TODAY Sports