There is a pretty good crop of outstanding young restricted free agents left without deals heading into September and with training camps just around the corner, it will be important to take note of where they are and even have an idea of where you want them to be, if they do sign in time.
The breakout season for Columbus' Ryan Johansen has really put some sting in the discussions between player and team on a new deal this Summer. There have been a number of reports in the last few days in August, which were suggesting that the two camps were miles apart in their negotiations and that there is a pretty solid chance that Johansen won't be at Blue Jackets camp, when it opens in a couple weeks. It is really disappointing, because this kid has all kinds of potential and can certainly improve upon the 33-goal & 63-point year he had in 2014. I have boosted his numbers, but they are dependent on whether or not he'll be ready to go.
Another youngster with a tremendous amount of offensive upside that is unsigned is St. Louis forward Jaden Schwartz. On the plus side, the 25-goal man from last season has had positive reports out of the off-season reports, as they draw closer and closer to a deal, leading up to camp. Given the Blues' overall team-oriented offense, I don't think the sky is quite the limit for Schwartz, because the system doesn't necessarily allow him to spread his wings, but he does have the talent to make the most of the opportunities given to him. Once the pens hit paper, he could be a decent 3rd round pick or a great 4th round pick.
Boy, did the Boston Bruins ever hit a home run with the acquisition of Reilly Smith from the Dallas Stars, which saw Tyler Seguin head the other way. Sure, Smith isn't the Seguin type and probably won't be, but he is the Bruins' type and that works out, likely even better, for the team than Seguin may have. With that home run swing though, it came with a kid that only had one year left on his entry-level deal and now the Bruins have to figure out how much he's worth to their system. 20 goals and 51 points last season would suggest he has some value, but with limited salary cap resources, the Bruins will have trouble giving him his market value and that could be troubling. Tread carefully, if you wanted to sneak him onto your pool team unsigned.
With how the last few seasons have gone in the draft pool, defensemen have been clutch and key components to a winning team. The Colorado Avalanche have a future dynamo in the making in Tyson Barrie, but his 2015 season may be hiccuped by salary talks of his own. Barrie finished 28th among all blueliners in scoring and the Avalanche are a team that will thrive on his offense, as well as the tools he can use in the offensive zone to generate assists. There doesn't seem to be a lot of optimism that Barrie will be locked in right away, but there is still time and that seems to be the consensus. No time to panic yet, but I would imagine that the Avs want him in as much as us poolies do.
Quietly going about his business in the Big D, forward Cody Eakin may emerge as a decent late round forward pick in this year's draft, assuming that he is signed on as well. Eakin was good for 35 points last year and with the improvements in the Stars' line-up, he is a kid that could see some jumps in production. The latest reports out on the interwebs suggest that Eakin and teammate Brenden Dillon, are not terribly far off getting some deals done, which would be a certain plus for both players and team, but the team isn't playing with a great deal of cap space, which may hurt negotiations in the end. This is one of those situations where a team would certainly appreciate their youth helping out with some possible hometown discounts.
Much like Barrie above, there should be a lot of hockey pool love for Bruins defenseman Torey Krug, but that love indeed translates into dollars, which takes up cap space, something that Boston just doesn't have in this off-season. Krug was better than Barrie in 2014 scoring, but the upside for Barrie is better and now that Oilers defenseman Justin Schultz has a deal in the $3.7 million range, the Bruins will struggle to keep Krug under their roof... or another player or two to make room for both him and Smith. If the numbers don't add up in Boston, it will remain to be one of the more interesting stories in training camp.
Now out of his entry-level deal and a year into his tenure with the Minnesota Wild, it will be time for Nino Niederreiter to finally bust out of his shell, relatively speaking. Niederreiter showed some offensive flashes in his first three NHL seasons, but those flashes were just that. Yes, the kid has all kinds of speed to burn, but he is also learning how to play a more responsible game. Year number four could be good for that, but where the negotiations land is anyone's guess. This is a guy that needs a bridge deal, because he hasn't earned anything for the long-term, nor has he put up numbers for big money. Why this deal isn't done yet is beyond me. I am looking for him to improve his numbers, based solely on physical maturity, but I still don't see them being big numbers.
It may have taken some time, but Nashville Predators defenseman Ryan Ellis joins an ever-growing list of blueline prospects that have made good on their potential or better. Okay, Ellis hasn't quite done that yet, but he has overcome the questions about his size in the NHL and he managed to play in 80 games last year, picking up a 27-point season. Now out of his entry-level deal, Ellis is poised to re-join a fairly potent blueline corps, which already boasts some excellent young talent. If Ellis can get a new deal done, which shouldn't be too difficult, given the Preds' cap space, I think he could emerge as a quality hockey pool option in 2015.
There is definitely some wiggle room for defenseman Eric Gelinas to push through in the Devils blueline depth chart, especially if he can put up the numbers he did in 2014, 29 points in 60 games, for 80+ games in 2015. The 23-year old had a hard time staying in the line-up, but when he did jump in, he made up what he lacked in the physicality department with some offense. You may not have heard too much about him last season, but if he can generate a full year in Jersey, I think he has some real potential to be a bargain player in the later rounds.
In Detroit, there is one last piece that the organization is concerned about going into camp and that is defenseman Dan DeKeyser, their NCAA-signing from a couple seasons ago. DeKeyser has shown the team that he is capable of being an everyday defenseman in the NHL and with 23 points in 65 games last season, he has shown a bit of an offensive upside, which some people were saying was a long ways away in his game, depending more on his defensive prowess. The Red Wings have cap space for him, but with the injury problems they had last year, they may need all the cap space they can get, which may hurt DeKeyser's chance of a long-term deal.