10 best under-the-radar NHL offseason additions

10 best under-the-radar NHL offseason additions

After analyzing some of the biggest head-scratching moves of the offseason Friday, we’re now breaking down some of the savviest. Below is a list of players who aren’t household names and signed on the cheap but could vastly outplay their low-cost deals.

Players are listed positionally and then alphabetically.

Connor Brown ➡️ Oilers

Scott Taetsch / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Position: RW
Cap hit: $775K
Term: 1 year

The Oilers got creative with the Brown signing. Since he played just four games last season due to a torn ACL, he was eligible to sign a deal allowing him to earn $3.225 million in additional performance bonuses. However, he’ll count for only $775,000 on the cap. It’ll likely result in overages next year, but kicking the can down the road makes sense with the Oilers in win-now mode and the cap set to rise significantly in 2024-25.

It’s easy to envision Brown starting the season on Connor McDavid’s wing. He’s a hard-working, responsible, two-way winger with just enough skill and smarts to shine alongside high-end players. He and McDavid were also teammates for two years with the OHL’s Erie Otters. That history will help his case to start the year on the top line.

Jonathan Drouin ➡️ Avalanche

Vitor Munhoz / National Hockey League / Getty

Position: LW
Cap hit: $825K
Term: 1 year

Continuing the theme of old junior teammates reuniting this offseason, Colorado is the perfect landing spot for Drouin, who desperately needed a fresh start after a tumultuous end to his tenure with the Montreal Canadiens.

Drouin and Nathan MacKinnon were an unstoppable duo with the QMJHL’s Halifax Mooseheads. It wouldn’t be surprising if the Avalanche gave him the first crack at playing on the team’s top line with MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen. It’ll be on Drouin to seize the opportunity, but he should play like his career depends on it.

There’s no denying Drouin’s last few years with the Habs were a nightmare. However, some bad luck was involved, as the winger shot a paltry 4.8% since 2020-21. The 2013 No. 3 pick has always been a better playmaker than a shooter, but he’s still due for some bounces to go his way at some point.

Daniel Sprong ➡️ Red Wings

Michael Martin / National Hockey League / Getty

Position: RW
Cap hit: $2M
Term: 1 year

Sprong has been one of the game’s most efficient scorers over the past three seasons, ranking seventh in goals per 60 minutes at five-on-five since the 2020-21 campaign. He’s coming off his best year with 21 goals and 25 assists in 66 games despite averaging just 11:25 per contest.

It’s a mystery why the Seattle Kraken didn’t issue Sprong a $737,500 qualifying offer to retain his rights considering he’s only 26 years old and coming off his best season. But the Red Wings stand to gain.

Scoring efficiency doesn’t always translate when a player is bumped up the lineup. Still, it’s worth a shot for Detroit to see if Sprong can do more damage with extra opportunities. At the very least, the Red Wings have a bottom-six winger they know can provide offense.

Pius Suter ➡️ Canucks

Norm Hall / National Hockey League / Getty

Position: C
Cap hit: $1.6M
Term: 2 years

Quality centers were tough to come by in free agency, and the Canucks entered the offseason needing depth down the middle behind Elias Pettersson and J.T. Miller. They added a solid fourth-line center early in Teddy Blueger but snagged Suter late after his market dried up.

At just 5-foot-11 and 179 pounds, Suter doesn’t have the ideal build for a shutdown center. However, he’s posted superb defensive metrics throughout his three-year career. He’s also excellent on the penalty kill, an area Vancouver ranked last in the league a year ago.

Suter is no slouch offensively, averaging 16 goals and 16 assists per 82 games in his career. He’s entering his age-27 season, so there aren’t many ways this contract could go poorly.

Filip Zadina ➡️ Sharks

Dave Reginek / National Hockey League / Getty

Position: LW
Cap hit: $1.1M
Term: 1 year

Zadina needed a fresh start as much as anyone on this list. He failed to carve out a clear role in parts of five seasons with the Red Wings, who drafted him sixth overall in 2018.

The fact that Zadina forewent $4.56 million to terminate his contract with Detroit should say a lot about his character. He desperately wanted a change of scenery. Sometimes, that’s all it takes to get everything to click for a talented player.

It’s a smart gamble by the Sharks, who can afford him the opportunity to play high in the lineup as they continue to rebuild. If he busts, they don’t have to issue a qualifying offer to him after the campaign. If the 23-year-old shines, he’s under team control until 2027.

Travis Dermott ➡️ Coyotes

Steph Chambers / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Position: LD
Cap hit: $800K
Term: 1 year

The signing of Dermott carries no risk. Even if he plays most of the year in the AHL, he’s on a two-way deal that pays him only $450,000 in the minors – an important note for the frugal Coyotes.

Dermott played in just 11 games last season due to concussion symptoms, but he posted strong defensive metrics in each of the first five seasons of his career – albeit in sheltered, third-pairing minutes.

While Dermott can play both sides, his path to ice time in Arizona is on the left side. The Coyotes have a glut of right-shooting options. The only lefties are Juuso Valimaki and J.J. Moser. Don’t be surprised if Dermott, who’s still just 26 years old, establishes himself as a reliable NHL defenseman again.

Erik Gustafsson ➡️ Rangers

Eliot J. Schechter / National Hockey League / Getty

Position: LD
Cap hit: $825K
Term: 1 year

The Maple Leafs used Gustafsson sparingly down the stretch after a deadline trade brought him to Toronto, but he was playing stellar for the Washington Capitals beforehand. He tallied seven goals and 35 assists in 70 regular-season games between the two clubs last campaign. His 42 points ranked 27th among all NHL defensemen.

So he must be a disaster defensively, right? Wrong. While nobody would confuse him for Jared Spurgeon, he proved last season that he’s not a liability as long he’s used properly. He’s on the left in the chart below.

Evolving-Hockey

Who’s the chart beside him? That would be John Klingberg, who signed with the Leafs for one year, $4.125 million, despite arguably being the worst defensive defenseman in the NHL. Sure, Klingberg played for the awful Anaheim Ducks, but there’s no way he should make more than four times the amount of a similar style of player.

The Rangers are strong defensively on the left side with Ryan Lindgren and K’Andre Miller. If Gustafsson is given easy matchups and lots of offensive zone starts, he should be in for another strong season on New York’s third pair alongside youngster Braden Schneider.

Caleb Jones ➡️ Hurricanes

Icon Sportswire / Icon Sportswire / Getty

Position: LD
Cap hit: $775K
Term: 1 year

It’s a mystery why Jones had to wait until August to sign, inked only a near-league minimum deal, and joined a team he’s buried on the depth chart.

Jones is just 26 years old, and he posted strong underlying numbers last season while playing top-four minutes on a poor Chicago Blackhawks team. He’s not undersized at 6-foot-1 and plays a physical game, dishing out 116 hits last season.

With Jaccob Slavin, Dmitry Orlov, and Brady Skjei making up the left side, Jones’ path to playing time is blocked. But if injuries strike, or Skjei – who’s in the last year of his deal – is traded, Jones will be an excellent fill-in.

Mike Reilly ➡️ Panthers

Minas Panagiotakis / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Position: LD
Cap hit: $1M
Term: 1 year

If Reilly’s previous contract didn’t carry a $3-million cap hit, he almost certainly would’ve been in the NHL full time rather than logging 36 games in the AHL.

But with a small cap hit, Reilly is poised to become a nice find for the Panthers. Their system benefits defensemen who excel at skating and moving the puck. Look at Gustav Forsling and Brandon Montour. Both turned around their careers after arriving in Florida without much expectations.

At 30 years old, it’s unfair to expect Reilly to have a similar turnaround. However, there are minutes up for grabs. The Panthers have issues on the left side behind Forsling and will likely be without Montour and Aaron Ekblad on the right side to begin the season. Florida brought in other left-shooting defensemen on low-cost deals – Niko Mikkola, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, and Dmitry Kulikov – but don’t be surprised if Reilly, an analytics darling, shines with Florida’s high-powered offensive attack.

Jonas Johansson ➡️ Lightning

Jack Dempsey / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Position: G
Cap hit: $775K
Term: 2 years

Johansson has been less than inspiring throughout his 35 career NHL games, sporting a .887 save percentage across parts of six seasons with three different teams. But Johansson was dialed in last campaign, recording a .920 save percentage in 26 AHL contests and a .932 mark in three NHL appearances.

That playing time could prove valuable for Johansson’s development, as he only got into 28 games in the two prior seasons. He’s still just 27 years old, which isn’t an uncommon age for goalies to breakout. And with a 6-foot-5, 220-pound frame, the Swede has the physical tools to succeed in the NHL.

Rather than opting for an aging veteran, the Lightning are taking a swing for upside with Johansson. On a two-year deal, they could reap the benefits if he becomes a solid backup to Andrei Vasilevskiy.

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