Finding a good deal isn't always easy in free agency.
But that doesn't mean signing a top-end player isn't worth it. The NHL team that signs forward Artemi Panarin is going to get a difference-maker, and the team that signs defenseman Jake Gardiner will find it much easier to get out of its own end next season. There is a reason each of those players is expected to be among the most sought-after and highest paid on the market.
At the same time, finding value in free agency can be a team's other path to success.
Here are some pending unrestricted free agents who should be able to provide value based on their underlying statistical numbers.
Brett Connolly, RW, Washington Capitals
A veteran forward who has played for the Tampa Lightning, Boston Bruins, and Capitals, Connolly had an NHL career high in goals (22) and points (46) this season. However, 44 of those points came at even strength, which was tied for 69th in the League. His 1.22 goals per 60 minutes was tied for 53rd among players to play at least 40 games, and although it's possible his shooting percentage could decrease from 15.8, he could also see a bigger role somewhere else and play more than the 13:20 of ice time he had in Washington this season (eighth among Capitals forwards).
Video: WSH@CAR, Gm6: Connolly goes top shelf for early lead
Gustav Nyquist, C, San Jose Sharks
Nyquist had an NHL career high in assists (38) and points (60) in 81 games this season for the Detroit Red Wings and Sharks. It was the sixth straight season he has had at least 40 points, and there is some safety when considering his performance. In the past four seasons, Nyquist has a relative SAT percentage of plus-3.41, which ranks 46th among skaters to play at least 200 games in that span. Nyquist's team consistently fares better in terms of shot attempts with him on the ice, and even if he shouldn't be counted on to score 60 points on a regular basis, Nyquist should be able to find a spot in which he continues to drive the play and produce offensively.
Brandon Pirri, C, Vegas Golden Knights
Pirri played 33 regular-season games for the Golden Knights in the past two seasons but scored 15 goals in that span, including 12 in 31 games this season. Although that may come as a surprise considering he spent most of his tenure with Vegas playing for Chicago in the American Hockey League, it can't be ignored. Since the 2014-2015 season, Pirri has scored 1.25 goals per 60 minutes, which ranks 26th in the NHL among skaters to play at least 200 games. In a League that has seen an increase in goal production, that should provide Pirri with plenty of interest.
Video: VGK@LAK: Pirri spins and rifles one past Quick
Joonas Donskoi, RW, San Jose Sharks
Perhaps a slightly lesser version of Nyquist, Donskoi had an NHL career-high 37 points (14 goals, 23 assists) in 80 games this season with 34 coming at even strength, a very appealing statistic for a wing in a supporting role. Furthermore, the puck consistently moves the right way with Donskoi on the ice; he has a relative SAT percentage of plus-2.65 since his rookie season in 2015-2016.
Video: COL@SJS, Gm7: Donskoi rips in wrister from the circle
Curtis McElhinney, G, Carolina Hurricanes
The 36-year-old played an NHL career-high 33 games this season, going 20-11-2 with a 2.58 goals-against average and .912 save percentage. In the past three seasons, McElhinney has an even-strength save percentage of .928, which ranks seventh among goalies to play at least 50 games. Although he shouldn't be counted on to be a No. 1, McElhinney could still provide teams with a reliable backup.
Taylor Fedun, D, Dallas Stars
A 31-year-old right-shot defenseman who has played 100 NHL games should not be expensive in free agency, but Fedun could still be a nice addition for defensive depth. Since 2016-2017, his relative SAT percentage is plus-5.61, fourth among defensemen to play at least 50 games. However, his on-ice shooting percentage this season was 4.9 percent, which was the worst among defensemen to play at least 50 games. A percentage that low is due for improvement no matter where he plays next season.
Dmitrij Jaskin, RW, Washington Capitals
Jaskin has scored 27 goals in 303 NHL games, so he isn't likely to generate a lot of buzz, but he does have a strong defensive track record. Since 2014-2015, his relative SAT percentage is plus-2.97, which ranks 51st among forwards to play at least 200 games. What makes that notable is that he started 45.30% of his shifts in the offensive zone. A player who can push play the right way while starting more shifts in the defensive zone is worth adding, even if his scoring rate is less than ideal.
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