Last month, the list of players eligible for Group Six unrestricted free agency this offseason was made available. There were four players who could still potentially avoid that designation; although, the pause has stopped any progress in that regard even though Blues winger Mackenzie MacEachern’s last game reverted him to restricted free-agent status. It isn’t the strongest of classes to choose from, but there are a handful of players who will certainly generate some interest on the open market whenever the free-agent period winds up beginning.
To be eligible, players must be 25 or 26, have three years of professional experience, and have fewer than 80 games played for skaters and fewer than 28 games for goalies (with a minimum of 30 minutes per appearance). Here is a quick look at some of the players who should garner some attention.
Gavin Bayreuther (Dallas)
A plethora of injuries last season forced the 25-year-old blueliner into 19 NHL games with the Stars, where he wound up holding his own rather well, logging over 18 minutes a night while chipping in with two goals and three assists. Those injuries haven’t been as prevalent this season. He hasn’t had an NHL stint this year, but he has been productive in the minors with 29 points in 59 games. He should get enough interest to land with a team that will give him a legitimate shot at a full-time roster spot.
Colby Cave (Edmonton)
In 2018-19, he was basically an NHL regular and split time between the Bruins and Oilers. His offensive upside isn’t overly high, but he can hold his own on a fourth line at center. Teams looking to bring in competition for the final spot or two up front should have some interest. He could still avoid hitting the open market, but that’s looking less likely now with the return of regular-season games in question.
Jon Gillies (Calgary)
It was only a couple of years ago that the Flames envisioned him as a goalie of the future, as they gave him a one-way salary for the 2019-20 season. However, he was passed on the depth chart by David Rittich and has been in the AHL ever since. At 6-foot-5, he has the size that many teams are coveting between the pipes. With the Flames having other prospects in need of ice time, he’ll welcome a chance to hit the market and try to catch on as an AHL starter elsewhere.
Tyler Lewington (Washington)
With his cap hit being below the league minimum this season, Lewington has been up with the Capitals for more than a quarter of the 2019-20 campaign. But he has spent a lot of that time as a reserve player, as he has just six NHL games played over his 43 days on the roster. He’s a throwback third-pairing player who provides some toughness but not a lot else. There is usually still a market for those types of blueliners, though. After not getting much of a chance this year, he’ll likely look for an opportunity to compete for an end-of-roster spot elsewhere.
Boo Nieves (NY Rangers)
After spending more than half of 2018-19 on New York’s fourth line and signing an early one-way contract extension to avoid this designation a year ago, it looked as if Nieves had made it. However, he cleared waivers in training camp and has spent all but four games this season in the minors, where he continues to show an ability to set up goals. But scoring them has been a challenge. If the season resumes, the Rangers can still secure his rights for next year if they play him in four more games.
Andrew Poturalski (Anaheim)
This will be his second trip through this type of free agency after hitting the open market last summer coming off a stellar season with Carolina’s farm team. A broken wrist limited him to just 17 games with Anaheim’s AHL affiliate, and they weren’t the most productive. However, his time with the Hurricanes showed that he can at least put up points in the AHL on a regular basis when healthy. With top AHL players garnering more guaranteed money seemingly every year, he should be poised to take advantage.
Carson Soucy (Minnesota)
He has the most NHL action of this season with 55 games on the third pairing for the Wild. His playing time has been more limited since Dean Evason took over behind the bench, which may not bode well for his future there. But he has done enough this year to draw some interest in a sixth or seventh defenseman role.
Valentin Zykov (Vegas)
His first season with the Golden Knights hasn’t been one to remember. Zykov tested positive for a banned substance, which caused him to be suspended for the first 20 games of the season. That set him back. His offensive numbers in the AHL weren’t as high as they usually are, and he only picked up four points in 15 NHL games with the Golden Knights. He has shown the ability to be an impact player at the AHL level in the past. With 55 career NHL contests under his belt, there should be several teams interested in him as a top AHL player who gets recalled a few times when injuries strike.
While it’s true that none of these free agents project to be impact NHL players, they can still represent a depth upgrade. We’ve seen how important depth can be as injuries strike. Accordingly, while these players won’t show up on any top free-agents lists, they should still receive a lot of interest when they get to the open market.