2023 NHL Free Agency: Ranking the Top 25 2023 NHL Free Agents
2023 NHL Free Agency: Ranking the Top 25 2023 NHL Free Agents
2022 NHL free agency did not disappoint. Whether it was the blockbuster signing of Johnny Gaudreau to Columbus, or veterans like Kris Letang and Patrice Bergeron re-signing with their respective franchises, most general managers made aggressive moves to alter the landscape of the league for years to come.
Eight players were talented and lucky enough to sign contracts worth at least $20 million thus far during 2022 NHL free agency. Nick Leddy was given the biggest contract extension via a four-year, $16 million deal to stay in St. Louis, while Reilly Smith and Patrice Bergeron comprise the other notable re-signing transactions. While there is plenty of reason to assess these top contracts and the implications that their moves will create, the real value can be found in some of the smaller contracts.
Teams who are one or two pieces away from being a contender, such as Edmonton and Dallas, targeted goaltender Jack Campbell and winger Mason Marchment to address their glaring weaknesses. These were still significant contracts draining the salary cap but the talent and fit appear to be undeniable. Younger teams with a lot of salary cap depth, like Chicago and Detroit, saw their general managers implement a different strategy by signing several players at the same position to comparatively smaller contracts.
Whether or not a free agent contract is signed at $60 million or $1 million, ranking the top 25 NHL free agents in the 2023 class will be done based on their talent, production, and style of play.
2023 NHL FREE AGENCY RANKINGS
1. PATRICK KANE, RW, CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS
Kane has spent 15 years playing for Chicago but he's projected to be one of the best unrestricted free agents in the 2023 free agent class. The Blackhawks let Dominik Kubalik and Dylan Strome sign deals elsewhere, which will force Kane to produce another 90-point season for the Blackhawks this upcoming season. After being held under 20 goals for the first time in his career during the 2020-21 season, Kane bounced back with 26 goals and 66 assists in 2022. He remains an elite talent at 33 years old and should attract plenty of suitors in 2023.
2. NATHAN MACKINNON, C, COLORADO AVALANCHE
MacKinnon has been one of the biggest contributors during Colorado's Stanley Cup journey. After enduring a dreadful 48-point season in 2017, MacKinnon has developed his skillset and also benefitted from increasingly strong roster development. The 26-year-old center scored the second-most points for the Avs in 2022, including 32 goals, which was the fourth time surpassing 30 goals in his nine-year career. MacKinnon will be a hot commodity to re-sign in Denver but expect hefty multi-year contracts to attract his attention next year.
3. VLADIMIR TARASENKO, RW, ST. LOUIS BLUES
St. Louis' top goal-scorer and point scorer, Vladimir Tarasenko, will be among the headliners in the upcoming 2023 NHL free agency period. The 30-year-old winger dealt with injuries the previous two seasons which severely limited him, casting doubt about his future. In an impressive 2022 season, Tarasenko notched 34 goals and a career-high 48 assists for the Blues during their playoff run last season.
4. JAMES VAN RIEMSDYK, LW, PHILADELPHIA FLYERS
Durability was the constraint on Van Riemsdyk the past three seasons but he stayed healthy for the full 82-game schedule in 2022. This allowed the 32-year-old winger to score 24 goals and another 14 assists on a bad Flyers offense. In fact, Van Riemsdyk led the Flyers in goals last season. He would be a quality asset as the second or third-best player on another team's top two attack lines during the 2023-24 season.
5. DYLAN LARKIN, C, DETROIT RED WINGS
Larkin managed to solidify himself on top of the point and goal leaderboard for the Red Wings in 2022, scoring 31 goals and finishing with 69 total points. The 25-year-old center finally surpassed 30 goals for just the second time in his career and the first since 2019 (32), showing he has plenty of talent in the offensive zone when fully healthy. The Red Wings brought in some second and third-line attack pieces during free agency but losing Larkin would be a huge blow towards becoming a future contender. Perhaps he lands a significant extension in the Motor City next offseason.
6. DAVID PASTRNAK, RW, BOSTON BRUINS
Boston has one of the oldest rosters in the league but David Pastrnak is their primary young star, finishing 2022 with 40 goals and 77 total points. Pastrnak is immensely talented and has scored 30-plus goals in five of his last six seasons. The 25-year-old will play his ninth season for the Bruins but he could land a massive contract with five or six other teams in 2023.
7. RYAN O'REILLY, C, ST. LOUIS BLUES
The Blues had one of the deepest teams in terms of scoring talent last season but veteran center Ryan O'Reilly encapsulated their heart and soul. The 30-year-old center scored 21 goals and 37 assists for St. Louis in 2022 and has 20-plus goals in six of his previous seven seasons, including a three-year stint in Buffalo. O'Reilly has played for three teams in 13 years and could garner a hefty contract from a fourth team seeking a talented veteran center.
8. JONATHAN TOEWS, C, CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS
Chicago could lose multiple core veterans in 2023 free agency, including Jonathan Toews. The 33-year-old center has spent his entire career playing alongside Patrick Kane, who could be the other notable star veteran signing a contract with a different team a year from now. Toews has seen his goals dwindle across the last two seasons, scoring 30 combined goals, yet he's a talented playmaker with an elite vision to create scoring possessions in the offensive zone. Plenty of teams will come knocking on Toews' door to attempt to lure him away from Chicago.
9. TIMO MEIER, LW, SAN JOSE SHARKS
Timo Meier is only 25 years old but he led the Sharks in goals (35) and total points (76) during a disappointing 2022 season. San Jose has to be excited about his development six years into the league, as he scored just 12 goals in 54 games during 2021 with a plus/minus of -7. He needs more help but his talent is undeniable due to his natural vision and scoring abilities. If Meier doesn't receive more help in 2023, he could seek another contract on a better roster.
10. ALEX DEBRINCAT, RW, OTTAWA SENATORS
DeBrincat was the lead goal scorer for Chicago in 2022 but he was recently traded to the Ottawa Senators. He's only 24 years old but he has scored 41 goals twice in his career, including last season, where he also added 37 assists and 270 total shots on goal. He's quick and has elite spatial awareness moving around defenders in the offensive zone. Despite being 5-7 and 165 pounds, DeBrincat is set to cost the Senators $6.4 million if he is traded or signs elsewhere in 2023.
11. PIERRE-LUC DUBOIS, C/LW, WINNIPEG JETS
Winnipeg managed to re-sign Dubois to a one-year deal but his future remains cloudy with the Jets. Dubois is entering his seventh year in the league but he is still just 23 years old and scored a career-high 28 goals in 2022. He also offers versatility for inquiring teams in free agency based on his dual wing/center abilities.
12. MATHEW BARZAL, C, NEW YORK ISLANDERS
The Islanders had one of their worst years in recent memory last season but Mathew Barzal led the team in assists (44) and also managed 15 goals across 73 games. The 24-year-old center is not a premium goal-scorer but he is incredible at finding the open player due to his passing skillset. Barzal finished with 40-plus assists in three of his previous four seasons with the Islanders.
13. JOHN KLINGBERG, D, ANAHEIM DUCKS
The Ducks just finished signing one of the top defensemen in 2022 free agency via a one-year, $7 million contract. John Klingberg is a 6-3, 190-pound defenseman with great puck handling and skating in both zones on the ice. The 29-year-old surpassed 40 assists (41) with Dallas for the first time since the 2018 season, showcasing he's still got plenty left in the tank. If he proves to be a valuable commodity in Anaheim, expect the Ducks to re-sign him to a larger contract in 2023.
14. BO HORVAT, C, VANCOUVER CANUCKS
Horvat was exceptional for the Canucks in 2022, setting a career-high with 31 goals. The 26-year-old center attempted 303 shots and his 16 percent accuracy was another career-best, making his stock go up heading into the 2022-23 season. Horvat is currently earning $5.5 million from Vancouver for next season and appears to be entering his prime. Expect a lot of suitors in free agency due to the scarcity of quality centers available.
15. MAX PACIORETTY, LW, CAROLINA HURRICANES
It was just announced that Pacioretty will be undergoing surgery on his Achilles after being traded by Vegas to Carolina a couple of weeks ago. The 33-year-old winger was one of the Golden Knights' best offensive players during his four-year tenure, scoring 20-plus goals in three of his four seasons. Despite playing only 39 games for Vegas in 2022, Pacioretty still managed 19 goals and 18 assists on 148 shots. He's got plenty of tread left for teams who won't be scared off of his upcoming Achilles surgery.
16. JOE PAVELSKI, C, DALLAS STARS
Age is only a number. This applies to Joe Pavelski, who led the Stars in total points (81) in 2022 with 27 goals and 54 assists. The 37-year-old center has been rock solid his entire 16-year career and is currently earning $5.5 million AAV from Dallas for this upcoming season. He's not a guy who has spent his entire career with the franchise, playing 13 years for San Jose previously, so he could be on the move for the right price in 2023.
17. DMITRY ORLOV, D, WASHINGTON CAPITALS
It wasn't earth-shattering production but Washington defenseman, Dmitry Orlov, is coming off of a career year in terms of goals (12) and total points (35) for the Capitals in 2022. The 30-year-old defenseman has spent his entire 10-year career in D.C. and is plenty aggressive in the defensive zone, racking up 124 hits and 94 blocked shots last season. Orlov earned roughly 21 minutes of average time on ice and will be a quality addition for teams in need of a first or second-line defenseman who can skate quality minutes on both ends of the rink.
18. JESPER BRATT, LW, NEW JERSEY DEVILS
New Jersey nearly lost Jesper Bratt until an arbitration resulted in a one-year, $5.45 million contract to return with the Devils for the 2022-23 NHL season. The 23-year-old winger was the top goal-scorer (26) and point leader (73) for the Devils in 2022, skating over 17 minutes per night and finishing with 197 shots on goal. He's a smaller, speedy player with elite handling and finishing abilities in the offensive zone. Expect Bratt to receive numerous offers from general managers looking to boost their offensive production next offseason.
19. SEMYON VARLAMOV, G, NEW YORK ISLANDERS
Veteran goaltenders like Semyon Varlamov either hold up or expire quickly. The 33-year-old netminder still has plenty of appeal on a team in need of bolstering a leaky crease next offseason. Varlamov started 29 games for the Islanders in 2022 and managed a .911 save percentage and 2.91 GAA. These aren't Vezina Trophy numbers but Varlamov is a quality addition to rosters seeking improvements on their defense.
20. TIM STÜTZLE, LW, OTTAWA SENATORS
One of the youngest players set to hit free agency in 2023 is 20-year-old Tim Stützle. He scored 22 goals and 36 assists for the Senators in 2022, resulting in him being the third-leading goal-scorer and second overall on the total points leaderboard. Stützle is still so young but he has a ton of potential and is explosive near the net. Expect his current $925K AAV contract to be tripled or quadrupled by the Senators or another interested team in 2023.
21. DYLAN STROME, C, WASHINGTON CAPITALS
Strome was recently traded by Chicago to Washington, upgrading an aging Capitals roster with quality scoring talent. The 24-year-old has played six years for Arizona and Chicago but will now get an opportunity to showcase his talent in the nation's capital this upcoming season. Strome set a career-high with goals scored (22) and reached 48 points for the first time since the 2018-19 season. Centers are typically prioritized due to their limited availability in comparison to wingers, so expect Strome to field plenty of lucrative offers in 2023.
22. J.T. MILLER, C, VANCOUVER CANUCKS
J.T. Miller is another player on Vancouver's roster with impressive skills. The 28-year-old center finished 2022 with 32 goals, a career-high while linking up with teammates to produce a whopping 67 assists. Miller is a bigger-bodied center at 6-1, 218 pounds and has the strength, finishing ability, and vision to increase his AAV from its current $5.25 million value during 2023 free agency.
23. JONATHAN QUICK, G, LOS ANGELES KINGS
Goaltenders usually make the difference between making a playoff run or falling short in the regular season. Veteran netminder, Jonathan Quick, is coming off of a good season where he managed a .910 save percentage and 2.59 GAA in 46 starts. The Kings are currently paying Quick $5.8 million in AAV and he's still outperforming the younger Cal Petersen, so Los Angeles may opt to re-sign Quick to eliminate the stress of finding other free agents or developing a younger prospect.
24. PATRIC HORNQVIST, RW, FLORIDA PANTHERS
Hornqvist is a 14-year veteran in the league who has spent the previous two seasons playing with the Florida Panthers. He's never been an elite goal-scorer or assists manufacturer but he can get the job done when it matters. The 35-year-old winger has double-digit goals in 13 of his 14 years in the league and gets his opportunity limited on a deeply talented Panthers roster. If he receives an offer to skate more minutes and score more goals from another team in 2023, expect Hornqvist to return to 20-plus goals in 2023.
25. PATRICE BERGERON, C, BOSTON BRUINS
After a couple of weeks, Patrice Bergeron inked a one-year deal to return to Boston for his 18th season. Bergeron could be 36 years old but he's a talented center, scoring 25 goals and adding 40 assists for the Bruins in 2022. He has not been held under 20 goals since missing 40 games back in 2013 while centering the Bruins' top attack line for well over a decade. Bergeron might be destined to stay in Boston for the entirety of his career but if a big contract is thrown his direction from another team, expect the veteran to pounce.
Matt is an avid writer, editor, and researcher. He enjoys analyzing the game within the game which is fantasy sports and sports betting. Music is another constant in his daily life. Matt loves spending time with his wife and three pets. He likes to read, listen to podcasts, and is constantly motivated to create the most accurate and engaging content in the sports betting industry.