Often, NHL players have years of career, they have to sign a new check the next offseason. Money is hugely motivating not just for NHL athletes, but for everyone in the world. Last season we saw players like Johnny Gaudreau, Filip Forsberg, Nazem Kadri and Kevin Fiala all having career years as they needed to sign a new contract.
Sign motivated players to fuel your fantasy team
When determining who to draft in fantasy hockey, it’s a great idea to focus on certain players who are under contract. This means players whose contracts are entering their final year where they have not yet signed an extension. This also includes Restricted Free Agents and Unrestricted Free Agents. That being said, who are the top 10 players to watch?
1. Nathan MacKinnon – C – Colorado Avalanche
Fresh off of a Stanley Cup win, Nathan MacKinnon is going for big money. MacKinnon is by no means a contender for rebounding, he is a top 5 player in the NHL and a talent at the franchise level. However, with arguably one of the most valuable contracts in the league, you can bet MacKinnon will be looking to set career highs across the board to secure a better contract.
MacKinnon was on track to produce 111 points in 82 games in 2021-22. What more could MacKinnon do in a contract year? It wouldn’t be out of the question to see MacKinnon challenge McDavid for the Art Ross Trophy next year. MacKinnon is a lock to get into the top 5, however, if you have a top 3 pick, it might be worth picking him up early.
2. David Pastrnak – RW – Boston Bruins
Boston is a team that seems to have valuable contracts left, right and center. However, with David Pastrnak one of the league’s biggest young stars and Boston appearing to be making a final push to challenge for the Stanley Cup, Pastrnak will be looking to fill the scoresheet to lead the Bruins to a championship. Pastrnak is 26 years old, and once his contract expires, it will be his only big chance to get a long-term contract with big money.
Pastrnak has been a point-per-game player since 2017-18, and being ranked as the 25th best player to draft seems like a lot of value. Pastrnak has the ability to be a 50+ goal scorer, and if all goes well in Boston, he could definitely score 100 points and be one of the most valuable players the league has to own.
3. Alex DeBrincat – LW – Ottawa Senators
The Ottawa Senators have made great strides this offseason. Trading for Alex DeBrincat, then signing Claude Giroux, Ottawa is trying to turn the page and compete this coming season. As for DeBrincat, in his best seasons he looked like one of the league’s top scorers, while playing for an awful Chicago hockey team. DeBrincat has shown the league the great game he is capable of.
At 24, DeBrincat will become RFA at the end of the year, and if he wants to sign a long-term extension with big money, I’m sure Ottawa – and many other teams – will be extremely interested. Along with wingers in Brady Tkachuk, Drake Batherson and Claude Giroux, DeBrincat will play with plenty of talent around him. Ranked 32nd in the NHL standings, DeBrincat should be a player fantasy owners are considering reaching in the draft.
4. Timo Meier – LW/RW – San Jose Sharks
If there’s one thing San Jose loves, it’s signing players to long, big contracts. Timo Meier has shown in the 2021-2022 season that he is worth one of those big raises. Meier is currently under contract with a cap of $6 million. In the same season that Meier recorded 76 points in 77 games, Tomas Hertl was re-signed by the Sharks to an eight-year, $8 million deal.
Look for Meier to try and secure an even bigger contract than the Sharks front office. It’s no secret that the Sharks are in a tough spot when it comes to the salary cap. However, whether the Sharks can afford Meier or not, he will receive a pay day. Meier is ranked as the 45th most valuable fantasy player.
5. Jordan Kyrou – RW – St. Louis Blues
Last season, Jordan Kyrou really made a name for himself. He broke out and produced at a point-per-game pace in just 16 minutes of ice time. He’s a rising star, there’s no other way around it. His teammate Robert Thomas just got a payday from the Blues, signing an $8.13 million extension for eogjt years after also having a breakout season.
Kyrou should be looking for roughly the same amount next year, and the best way to do that is for Kyrou to keep the Blues in contention and show that last season wasn’t a fluke. Kyrou is ranked the 110th best fantasy hockey player.
6. Dylan Larkin – C – Detroit Red Wings
Dylan Larkin was seen as a very promising player who was unable to produce to his potential. Much of that is because the Red Wings have been rebuilding since he joined the team. However, based on Steve Yzerman’s offseason, that seems to be changing this year.
Larkin is going to play on a much better team and finally have the ability to show the world his true potential with a solid cast around him. Larkin is 26, and if he wants to sign a long-term contract, now is the time for him to get away. Dylan Larkin is ranked #90.
7. Mathew Barzal – C – New York Islanders
Mathew Barzal is in a very similar situation is Dylan Larkin. A very promising player, who seems to have fans and fantasy owners wanting a little more. Barzal is also 26, and despite being in his prime, there’s no better time than now to capitalize on a big year to land a big contract. He is one of the fastest skaters in the league and played a key role with the Islanders. The team has playoff hopes, and Barzal will have to lead this team if they want to succeed in the playoffs.
8. Roope Hintz – C, LW – Dallas All-Stars
In my opinion, Roope Hintz has been one of the most underrated fantasy players for a few years now. Although he had some injury issues, Hintz managed to be around a point per game for two consecutive years. Add to that the fact that he’s playing with young star Jason Robertson, and Hintz is sure to take off. Expect Hintz to have another strong year, and despite being ranked 95th, he could easily be one of the steals of the year.
9. Michael Bunting – LW – Toronto Maple Leafs
Is he a newbie or isn’t he? Although some fans still debate it, no one should debate Michael Bunting’s effectiveness with the Leafs. To score 63 points in 79 games on a $950,000 contract is spectacular. Bunting is on a line with Matthews and Marner, who are among the game’s biggest stars.
After getting such a high total, Bunting is really in the perfect position to really increase his paycheck. Despite consistent first-round starts, the Leafs show each season that they are capable of being one of the most elite teams in the league. And when you have Matthews and Marner by your side, you’re bound to be set for success. Look for Bunting to be close to a point per game again next year, and with him ranked at 158, there’s tremendous value if you’re able to draft him that low.
10. Tyler Bertuzzi – LW, RW – Detroit Red Wings
It really depends on Tyler Bertuzzi’s ability to stay healthy and his ability to play games in Canada. Bertuzzi showed incredible chemistry with Larkin and Raymond on Detroit’s front row. It’s almost a guarantee that the top line will stick together this coming season.
While currently paid $4.8 million per season, Bertuzzi managed to score 30 goals and 62 points in just 68 games. Now, with a much improved roster, the same talented top line and the possibility of a raise, it’s hard not to see Bertuzzi enjoying it.
The tricky part, though, is if he can’t play any games in Canada, is he still worth drafting where he’s ranked? It is something to consider. However, as Bertuzzi is ranked 168th, there is obvious value attached to his name, although he may not be able to play every game in Canada.
show me the money
That’s the mindset of all NHL players when they’re in a contract year. Players will be betting on themselves and fantasy owners should take note of who these players are. Players in contract years will find a way to set career highs and take the words out of Troy Bolton’s mouth: “You know you can bet on it (bet on it, bet on it, bet on it).”