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Top 10 free agents from Central Division

Ladd, Backes, Boedker best among group of potential UFAs

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / NHL.com Senior Writer

A former captain and a potentially soon-to-be former captain, a still-young-enough top-line left wing who hasn't quite hit his potential yet, a couple of solid defensemen and a whole lot of depth forwards highlight the potential unrestricted free agents from the Central Division.

Here are the top 10:

1. Andrew Ladd, LW, Chicago Blackhawks

It's unlikely that Ladd will return to the Blackhawks because of their salary-cap constraints. He's 30 years old, a former captain of the Winnipeg Jets and a two-time Stanley Cup champion who is in the win-now, or rather win-again, part of his career. He had eight goals and 12 points in 19 games with the Blackhawks after they acquired him in a trade from the Jets on Feb. 25. Ladd also had 17 goals and 34 points in 58 games with the Jets. He has scored 20 or more goals in five straight full NHL seasons and had 18 in the 48-game lockout-shortened 2012-13 season.

Potential suitors: Boston Bruins, St. Louis Blues, New York Islanders, Tampa Bay Lightning, Dallas Stars

2. David Backes, C, St. Louis Blues

A return to the Blues isn't out of the question, but Backes is expected to hit the market Friday. Backes plays a hard, heavy game and he's 32 years old, so it's fair to question how much longer he can play at a reasonably high level. He had 21 goals and 45 points this season, solid numbers in the Blues' checking system, but it was the first time he was below 50 points in a full season since 2009-10. That said, he's the ideal player for a team looking for a high-character guy who still has some miles left on him, can play on any of the top three lines and on each special-teams unit.

Potential suitors: St. Louis Blues, New York Islanders, Montreal Canadiens, Los Angeles Kings, Columbus Blue Jackets

3. Mikkel Boedker, LW, Colorado Avalanche

Boedker checks off a lot of boxes for what a team is looking for in today's NHL. He's experienced (463 games) but still young (turns 27 on Dec. 16). He's fast and elusive. He can produce (225 points), but he hasn't had a breakout offensive season yet (NHL career-high 19 goals in 2013-14), perhaps because he hasn't played with an elite center yet. He appears to have his sights set on free agency and a longer-term contract makes sense since he's played on two short-term contracts during the past three seasons.

Potential suitors: Detroit Red Wings, Boston Bruins, Colorado Avalanche, New York Islanders, Nashville Predators, Dallas Stars

Video: COL@NSH: Boedker puts Avalanche on the board

4. Jason Demers, D, Dallas Stars

If the Stars don't re-sign him by Friday, Demers would be hitting the market at the right time because there aren't too many capable under-30 (he's 28), all-situation defensemen who can play on any team's top pair, or at least in the top four, available this summer. Demers can use his body, play the possession game, join the rush and produce all while playing a reliable defensive game. A return to Dallas is a possibility, especially since the Stars traded defenseman Alex Goligoski to the Arizona Coyotes.

Potential suitors: Dallas Stars, Philadelphia Flyers, Toronto Maple Leafs, Boston Bruins, Vancouver Canucks, Chicago Blackhawks

5. Troy Brouwer, RW, St. Louis Blues

Brouwer, 30, is coming off a strong performance during the Stanley Cup Playoffs that should help him cash in if he hits the open market. He scored eight goals, including three on the power play, and had 13 points in 20 postseason games, helping the Blues reach Game 6 of the Western Conference Final. He has played significant roles on successful teams wherever he has gone, including winning the Stanley Cup with the Blackhawks in 2010. Brouwer is a prototypical power forward who can score 20 goals and play a versatile role up and down the lineup. His Stanley Cup Playoff experience is a bonus. He has 15 goals and 32 points in 98 postseason games.

Potential suitors: St. Louis Blues, Detroit Red Wings, New York Islanders, Vancouver Canucks, Dallas Stars, Columbus Blue Jackets

6. Kris Russell, D, Dallas Stars

Like Demers, Russell is hitting the market at the right time. He might not be a top-pair defenseman who can eat 23-25 minutes per game for an entire season, but he might get paid like one because teams are so desperate for dependable, no-frills defensemen. He's small (5-foot-10, 170 pounds), but he's known for being a gritty shot-blocker who can skate and move the puck when needed. The problem is Russell, 29, became known as a shot-blocker while with the Calgary Flames because he was playing too much in the defensive zone. He had a tough run in the playoffs paired with Demers, but part of that could have been Demers was slow coming back from an injury. He's an interesting case study, but he will be signed to a big contract.

Potential suitors: Colorado Avalanche, Vancouver Canucks, Chicago Blackhawks, Boston Bruins, Dallas Stars

7. Dale Weise, RW, Chicago Blackhawks

Weise was a dependable top-nine forward who scored 14 goals in 56 games with the Montreal Canadiens this season before he got traded to the Blackhawks, where he was a disappointment in a smaller role. He didn't score and had one assist while averaging 9:56 of ice time in 15 regular-season games for the Blackhawks; he had one goal in four playoff games. Weise, who turns 28 on Aug. 5, could be a solid depth forward in the right situation. The good news is he won't come with a hefty price tag, and that could make him an attractive commodity. He could be targeted for a third-line role with some penalty-killing responsibility.

Potential suitors: New York Rangers, New York Islanders, New Jersey Devils, Montreal Canadiens, Toronto Maple Leafs

Video: STL@CHI, Gm6: Weise's one-timer gives Blackhawks lead

8. Shawn Matthias, C, Colorado Avalanche

Matthias signed a tradeable contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs last summer and got traded to the Avalanche. He was unreliable offensively with the Maple Leafs but started to produce with the Avalanche. He had six goals and 11 points in 20 games with the Avalanche, after he had six goals and 17 points in 51 games with the Maple Leafs. In the right situation it's reasonable to expect the 28-year-old to score around 15 goals (his NHL career-high was 18 with the Vancouver Canucks in 2014-15). He's another third-line, versatile depth forward who likely won't cost too much but could serve a real purpose on a contending team. He can play center or wing.

Potential suitors: Colorado Avalanche, New York Rangers, New York Islanders, Florida Panthers, Arizona Coyotes

9. Paul Gaustad, C, Nashville Predators

Gaustad is 34 and was paid $3 million this season. He won't get paid that much on his next contract considering his age and the fact that he's a fourth-line center coming off a six-point season. His best skill is winning faceoffs, particularly in the defensive zone. The problem is Gaustad won 55.1 percent of his faceoffs but had a 38.4 shot-attempts percentage. So he might have been winning the faceoffs, but the Predators weren't holding on to the puck after he did. Gaustad still could have an impact on a contending team that needs a depth center who can win big faceoffs.

Potential suitors: New York Rangers, Chicago Blackhawks, Pittsburgh Penguins, Washington Capitals, Buffalo Sabres

10. Patrick Eaves, RW, Dallas Stars

Eaves scored 25 goals in 101 games for the Stars the past two seasons. Health was a problem for him; he played 54 games in 2014-15 and 47 this season. But he provided a jolt of offense in a bottom-six role when healthy. He's 32 and is a second- or third-tier free agent who likely will have to wait to find his next team. But he could be a consistent player wherever he goes.

Potential suitors:Detroit Red Wings, Ottawa Senators, New York Islanders, Chicago Blackhawks, Nashville Predators

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