Big contracts always steal the thunder when free agency hits, and rightfully so.
NHL.com has already run through the fantasy implications of the biggest July 1 signings, including Kyle Okposo to the Buffalo Sabres, Milan Lucic to the Edmonton Oilers, Loui Eriksson to the Vancouver Canucks, David Backes to the Boston Bruins, James Reimer to the Florida Panthers, Frans Nielsen to the Detroit Red Wings, Andrew Ladd to the New York Islanders, Troy Brouwer to the Calgary Flames, Eric Staal to the Minnesota Wild, Mikkel Boedker to the San Jose Sharks and Alexander Radulov to the Montreal Canadiens.
Each of those players will be drafted in standard Yahoo leagues, but the fantasy puck shouldn't stop there. Here are some dark-horse signings who could exceed expectations with a new team, based on production trends and projected lineups. The players listed will almost certainly go undrafted on average but could emerge as late-round steals in deeper formats or waiver-wire commodities.
Video: VAN@ANA: Hamhuis beats Gibson to tie the game in 3rd
Dan Hamhuis, D, Dallas Stars: Defenseman Alex Goligoski scored 37 points and was plus-21 with the Stars as a secondary offensive option last season, so Hamhuis easily could bounce back from injury to do the same. The 33-year-old left-shot defenseman is off the fantasy grid but likely will find himself on either the first pair with right-shooting John Klingberg (fifth among NHL defensemen last season with 58 points) or on the second pair for Dallas, which lost Goligoski and Jason Demers in free agency. Hamhuis, who signed a two-year contract, was limited to 58 games last season (three goals, 10 assists, three PPP) but was a plus-minus specialist for much of his time with the Vancouver Canucks and scored 37 points as recently as 2011-12. Don't be surprised to see him become fantasy-relevant again if he stays healthy for Dallas, which led the League in goals per game (3.23) last season and reached Game 7 of the Western Conference Second Round despite the injury absence of elite forward Tyler Seguin.
PA Parenteau, RW, New York Islanders: Parenteau hasn't been the same point producer since his breakout season with the Islanders in 2011-12, so how about a reunion? Parenteau signed a one-year contract with the Islanders, meaning he could end up on John Tavares' right wing again. Playing mostly with Tavares in 2011-12, Parenteau had NHL career highs in assists (49) and points (67), with 19 points on the power play. The Islanders will be relying heavily on the development of forward prospects Michael Dal Colle, Mathew Barzal and Joshua Ho-Sang to fill one or more top-six spots, but they now have a short-term fix with Parenteau at right wing after losing Kyle Okposo in free agency. Parenteau tied his NHL career high in goals (20) last season with the Toronto Maple Leafs and had 21 assists for his first 20-20 season since 2010-11 with the Islanders. He quietly finished 130th in Yahoo's performance-based rankings last season, touching on shots on goal and penalty minutes. He's worth taking with the final pick in a standard draft, just in case he and Tavares rekindle their chemistry.
Video: LAK@ANA: Perron nets turnover for two-goal lead
David Perron, LW/RW, St. Louis Blues: The Blues' top-six forward group has its share of talented wings -- Vladimir Tarasenko, Alexander Steen, Robby Fabbri, Jaden Schwartz -- but three of them are left wings, including Steen, who can play center. With forwards Troy Brouwer and David Backes out of the picture, there could be some lineup restructuring by coach Ken Hitchcock in training camp. Perron, who returns to his former team on a two-year contract after stops with the Edmonton Oilers, Pittsburgh Penguins and Anaheim Ducks, can play either wing and could find himself at right wing on the second line with Paul Stastny or Jori Lehtera. Perron, who finished 184th in Yahoo's performance-based rankings last season, proved he can still run with the League's most talented forwards by scoring 19 points in a 22-game stretch, mostly with Ryan Getzlaf, after being traded to Anaheim.
Thomas Vanek, LW/RW, Detroit Red Wings: The Red Wings have an even more crowded top-six equation than the Blues, so Vanek, who signed a one-year contract, likely is looking at a third-line role similar to his time last season with the Minnesota Wild. That said, he was a healthy scratch late in the season and could benefit from a fresh start, especially if injuries open the door for him to enter the top six. Once a 30-40 goal scorer, Vanek's output has declined in each of the past three seasons, from 27 in 2013-14 to 21 in 2014-15 to 18 in 2015-16. He did score 17 goals and 44 points in 47 games with the Islanders three seasons ago in his stint with John Tavares. At the very least, Vanek should be utilized as a power-play specialist on Detroit's first or second unit, considering he has at least 14 power-play points in each of the past three seasons despite inconsistent usage and playing for four teams in that span.
Radim Vrbata, RW, Arizona Coyotes: Vrbata has bounce-back potential after signing a one-year contract with the Coyotes, a team he has already played two separate stints for in his career. The 35-year-old right wing has scored 30 or more goals in two of the past four full seasons; he had 35 with the Coyotes in 2011-12 and 31 with the Vancouver Canucks in 2014-15. He was limited to 63 games last season because of injury, and his career-worst minus-30 made him a fantasy liability when healthy. Vrbata did not play nearly as often with forwards Henrik Sedin and Daniel Sedin as he did two seasons ago, the first 30-goal, 30-assist campaign of his career. His less favorable spot in the lineup at even strength yielded an extremely low shooting rate (6.5 percent; tied for fourth-worst in NHL among forwards with minimum 190 shots on goal). He played 2:51 per game on the power play, but only had nine power-play points as the Canucks finished tied for the third-worst man-advantage efficiency. But with a fresh start and shooting percentage correction, he could bring veteran savvy to a young roster, which sports one of the best power-play defensemen in the game in Oliver Ekman-Larsson, two of last season's top rookies in Max Domi and Anthony Duclair, and likely touted prospect Dylan Strome. Vrbata has to compete with experienced wings Shane Doan and Jamie McGinn for top-six and power-play minutes, but could feasibly score 40-50 points with 10-15 on the power play and more than 200 shots on goal if he plays a full season. Forward Tobias Rieder, a restricted free agent, poses a threat to Vrbata being the Coyotes' second-line right wing.