Guentzel Skjei Pesce CAR UFAs

RALEIGH, N.C. -- The Carolina Hurricanes will try to re-sign forward Jake Guentzel and key members of their defense among a group of nine unrestricted free agents this offseason.

Guentzel was acquired in a trade with the Pittsburgh Penguins on March 7 for forward Michael Bunting, three prospects, a conditional first-round pick in the 2024 NHL Draft and a conditional fifth-round pick in the 2024 draft.

"With Jake, I think he played a good role here," general manager Don Waddell said. "I know Sebastian (Aho) talked about how much he liked playing with him. We have begun those talks. We'll talk to him also."

Guentzel added nine points (four goals, five assists) in 11 games in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but the Hurricanes lost the Eastern Conference Second Round to the New York Rangers in six games, the final loss coming at home on Thursday.

"No. 1, he's a great player," Hurricanes coach Rod Brind'Amour said. "We want good people that are good players, and he's checked both boxes. And in the short time he's been here, I think he enjoyed the group and the way we do things, so that gives us hope that maybe we can make this work."

Brett Pesce and Brady Skjei, who made up the second defense pair, are other potential UFAs, including forwards Teuvo Teravainen, Stefan Noesen and Jordan Martinook, defensemen Jalen Chatfield and Tony DeAngelo, and goalie Antti Raanta.

"Players play for a long time to become unrestricted and find out what the marketplace is going to pay them," Waddell said. "We're hoping we can nip that a little bit with a few of the guys, but certainly there's going to be guys going to unrestricted free agency, that's for sure, on July 1."

The Hurricanes will also look for a right-shot center to play with Aho, Jordan Staal, Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Jack Drury and Evgeny Kuznetsov.

"The depth of our centers is good, but they're all left-hand shots," Waddell said. "We'd love to get a right-hand shot to balance our left shots. As we know, there's just not a lot of those guys out there. If we could find one of those guys who could win face-offs on the right side, I think that's what [Rod] would like."

The Hurricanes used four goalies this season after Frederik Andersen missed 50 games with blood-clotting issues. Andersen, Pyotr Kochetkov and Spencer Martin are under contract for next season.

"They all have contracts, but our goal is always to try to improve at any position," Waddell said. "If there is something that makes sense for us there, we have to explore it. Everybody's got contracts. They're going to be playing someplace, hopefully most of them here, but it's our job to explore opportunities."

The Hurricanes' efforts to bring defenseman prospect Alexander Nikishin to the NHL before next season are a work in progress. The 22-year-old was chosen in the third round (No. 69) of the 2020 NHL Draft. He had 56 points (17 goals, 39 assists) in 67 games for SKA of the Kontinental Hockey League.

"I'm not going to say it's dead for next year," Waddell said. "We're still talking with the people we need to be chatting with. We're hoping for something, one way or another, in the next 3-4 weeks.

"Before the draft, we will have a good feeling whether he is coming out. The goal is obviously to know before we get to free agency because he could be a big impact for our team. One way or another, we will probably get him signed, whether he's got a commitment to stay (in Russia) or not, for next year."

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