NHL free agency is often dominated by only a handful of big names, with the rest get washed away and forgotten. However, a few underrated free agent signings always end up making a considerable impact on contending teams who don't need an overhaul to push themselves to the next level. While all eyes will be on John Tavares as July 1st approaches, let's identify seven less-heralded free agents that smart teams can't afford to sleep on this summer.
7. Nail Yakupov
Yes, the days of Nail Yakupov being on track to become an elite forward in the NHL are gone. Drafted No. 1 overall in the 2012 Draft by the Edmonton Oilers, Yakupov had the potential to be a marquee offensive threat. He just never panned out the way he could have, unfortunately. Fast-forward six years, and Yakupov could once again find himself in a new jersey. The 24-year-old winger still has plenty of potential to succeed as a key role-player; he just has to find himself the right environment. He'll likely be a cheap option for a team in need, and could still provide plenty of support for the bottom lines.
6. Derek Ryan
Derek Ryan emerged on the NHL scene a bit late into his career, making his debut at age 29 a d playing his first full season at 30. Despite it all, Ryan has made a nice name for himself as a depth forward for the Carolina Hurricanes. However, the Canes are in the midst of a complete overhaul and won't be looking to resign him as part of that process. With 38 points in his most recent season, Ryan could see himself play a depth role with a team-friendly contract and contribute 30-50 points a year. He'll begin to decline one day, but he's proven that he can be a meaningful contributor.
5. Matt Grzelcyk
Matt Grzelcyk will be a restricted free agent, along with arbitration eligibility, this offseason. The Boston Bruins will likely try to keep hold of the 24-year-old defensemen, especially after they already released a few of their pending free agents. However, Grzelcyk may look for opportunities outside his stomping grounds after being a healthy scratch in a handful of games. He's known for his outstanding defensive ability, and his considered a gem within the advanced analytics crowd. He plays a high possession game, and at just 24, he's still got room to develop. Grzelcyk should be on every team's list of potential signings should he end up leaving Boston.
4. Calvin de Haan
Calvin de Haan had himself a less-than-appealing 2017-18 season, only appearing in 33 games for his New York Islanders. With John Tavares in need of a contract, the Islanders may let de Haan test free agency in order to save for other options in their defense. The 27-year-old defenseman was originally a 12th overall pick, but never met full expectations. De Haan is known more for his defensive ability, but can contribute on offense from time to time. He still has the ability to play a reliable two-way game depending on which line he suits up on. Teams in need of a left-handed shot on the blue line should look no further than de Haan as an affordable option.
3. Carter Hutton
For a few months, it seemed as if Carter Hutton had taken the starting job in St. Louis from Jake Allen. The 32-year-old had a fantastic season, appearing in 26 games and winning 17 with a 2.09 GAA and .931 save percentage. After having himself a career year, Hutton will likely look towards other teams for a starting goaltender job. The netminder has never been a starter in the NHL, but could easily become a regular in 2018-19. He would be a cheap option at goaltender, and has the ability to split starts and become a quality performer.
2. Tyler Bozak
The Toronto Maple Leafs have to re-sign many of their core players in the next two years. With much of their salary cap going towards their stars, players such as Tyler Bozak or James Van Reimsdyk may find themselves in new jerseys come the 2019 season. Bozak has been a face-off connoisseur his entire career; the 32-year-old center can still contribute 40-50 points a year, and can dominate the dot on a nightly basis. He may not be a first-line center, but Bozak could easily slot in on the second or third line of virtually any team in the NHL.
1. Ian Cole
Ian Cole, acquired by the Columbus Blue Jackets at the trade deadline, has been known for his defensive reliability and excellent advanced stats. The 29-year-old defenseman may not be very flashy with his style of play, but guys like him are essential to a team's success over a long season. The Blue Jackets have plenty of pending free agents to re-sign, and Cole likely find himself as the odd man out. His gritty play and defensive ability should make him a valuable asset for any team in need of a sneaky boost.