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Photo Credit: © James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

Ten under-the-radar UFAs for the Canucks to consider this offseason

Though it still feels like a supremely strange statement to make in September, the NHL’s free agent frenzy is nearly upon us. Unrestricted free agency will open up on October 9, and all early indications are that Jim Benning and Co. intend to take a run at extending all three of the Canucks’ big-ticket UFAS; goaltender Jacob Markstrom; defenceman Chris Tanev; and winger Tyler Toffoli.

If they succeed, that will probably be it for the Canucks and free agency, because there simply won’t be any more room under the flat cap to sign anyone else. But if they miss out on retaining one or more of their own, there’s a good chance they’ll go looking for replacements on the open market, and cheap ones at that.

Our own Jason “Doug” Jhutti has already given you a glimpse at some potential goaltenders that could be signed to platoon with Thatcher Demko if Jacob Markstrom were to move on this offseason.

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Here are ten more under-the-radar UFAs that Vancouver could look at to fill the roles played by Tanev and Toffoli if they depart — namely, defensive help on the right-side and scoring depth anywhere else in the lineup.

Dylan DeMelo, RHD

  Age Games Goals Assists Points Corsi For Expected Goals For Scoring Chances For
2019/20 27 59 0 10 10 52.47% 53.97% 54.3%

DeMelo isn’t going to add much offensive punch to the Canucks’ back end. If anything, he brings even less scoring potential than Tanev did. But, like Tanev, he’s a steading presence on the right-side who can be deployed against an opponents’ top players and still counted on to not get buried in his own end.

That DeMelo’s possession statline has been consistently positive over the years is remarkable, given the bluelines he’s been part of. No one should be posting a strong Corsi in Ottawa, and yet DeMelo did, which raises the question of what his numbers might look like paired with someone like Quinn Hughes.

Carson Soucy, LHD

  Age Games Goals Assists Points Corsi For Expected Goals For Scoring Chances For
2019/20 26 55 7 7 14 46.76% 51.33% 50.00%

The last thing the Canucks — who will go into next season with all of Hughes, Alex Edler, Jordie Benn, Olli Juolevi, and Jack Rathbone fighting for spots — need is another left-handed defender. So why is Soucy on the list?

Soucy spent the majority of 2019/20 on his off-side, frequently pairing with Jonas Brodin, and Minnesota fans will attest he’s better there than on the left. An all-around talent with plenty of jam and some untapped scoring potential, the 26-year-old Soucy is quite young for a UFA. Through a quirk in the CBA, he’s just coming out of his rookie season, so signing him to a deal with a decent amount of term should get you the best years of his career.

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Jesper Fast, RW

  Age Games Goals Assists Points Corsi For Expected Goals For Scoring Chances For
2019/20 28 69 12 17 29 48.02% 51.35% 49.76%

Fast has been described as an elite third-liner. Playing for the youthful and inexperienced New York Rangers last season, he was deployed in a multitude of ways, as a real “Swiss Army Knife” type of a forward.

At times, Fast skated alongside Artemi Panarin and Ryan Strome on a scoring line, where he contributed defensive steadiness and a not-insignificant amount of offence. Other times, he took that defensive steadiness further down the lineup to help give some of the younger Rangers a boost and a helping hand in their own end. The Canucks could use a utility player to slide up and down the roster as needed, and Fast might be the best on the market.

Trevor van Riemsdyk, RHD

  Age Games Goals Assists Points Corsi For Expected Goals For Scoring Chances For
2019/20 29 49 1 7 8 53.22% 52.12% 54.51%

Affectionately referred to as “TVR,” the younger brother of James van Riemsdyk looks to be another Tanev-esque defender on the open market. At 29, it seems certain that the offensive growth that was once expected of him is not going to occur, but he’s still spent the last three years of his career lining up alongside some excellent defencemen in Carolina and finding success.

If Tanev moves on, the Canucks are going to need someone capable of pairing with their superstar on the left side. Having regularly paired with the likes of Jaccob Slavin, Brett Pesce, and Dougie Hamilton, TVR looks to be a fine candidate for the job.

Justin Braun, RHD

  Age Games Goals Assists Points Corsi For Expected Goals For Scoring Chances For
2019/20 33 62 3 16 19 52.05% 50.52% 51.28%

Braun is an interesting case. Though he is right-handed, he’s played the vast majority of his career on the left side. Much of that can be attributed to him suiting up for two consecutive franchises — San Jose and Philadelphia — with a ton of depth and talent on the right, but there’s no real way of knowing how well he’d perform on his natural side.

At 33 and coming off a strong offensive showing, Braun might be looking for a long-term deal, and if that’s the case he should be avoided. But if he’s willing to take a one or two-year contract, and the Canucks’ pro scouts think he can succeed on the right, he might just be worth a look.

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Erik Haula, C/LW

  Age Games Goals Assists Points Corsi For Expected Goals For Scoring Chances For
2019/20 29 48 12 12 24 49.80% 47.00% 48.09%

Haula is another utility player in the mould of Jesper Fast. He’s coming off a couple of tough injury-plagued seasons that also included two trades, but in 2017/18 he put up 29 goals and 55 points in 76 games.

Able to play center or on the wing, Haula is a fit anywhere in the lineup, including spot-duty in the top-six. After wearing out his welcome with three consecutive franchises, he’s probably not in line for excessive term or salary, and has all the makings of a high-payoff reclamation project.

Radko Gudas, RHD

  Age Games Goals Assists Points Corsi For Expected Goals For Scoring Chances For
2019/20 30 63 2 13 15 51.43% 49.44% 49.93%

After a few good years as an analytics darling, Gudas has fallen off a bit of a cliff lately. Despite being part of a strong D-corps in Washington, Gudas struggled to re-establish himself, and was even healthy-scratched on multiple occasions.

He’s not going to add any more offence than Tanev did, but he does bring an entirely different style of defensive defending to the table. Gudas may not crush opponents in open ice with the same frequency he used to, but he’s still very much a physical threat, and that’s something the Canucks have lacked on their blueline in recent years.

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Patrick Marleau, LW

  Age Games Goals Assists Points Corsi For Expected Goals For Scoring Chances For
2019/20 41 66 11 11 22 49.80% 49.08% 50.00%

This one is a bit of a sentimental pick. If he plays this upcoming season, there’s every chance that Marleau will surpass all of Ron Francis, Jaromir Jagr, Mark Messier, and Gordie Howe as the NHL record-holder for games played — and, really, do we need more of a reason to sign the guy than sticking it to Messier?

At 41, Marleau is clearly on his last legs, but they’re a mighty fine set of legs, and he can still fly. If he’s willing to sign again for league-minimum, he’d certainly add more offence to the lineup than any other player in that salary range, and if he’s looking to return to the west coast and stay competitive, where else could he go but Vancouver?

Luke Schenn, RHD

  Age Games Goals Assists Points Corsi For Expected Goals For Scoring Chances For
2019/20 30 25 1 2 3 47.70% 35.71% 45.31%

Schenn is a real champion of the eye-test. He looked effective alongside Hughes during his brief stint in Vancouver, but it wasn’t enough for the team to retain him. His statline this year would seem to indicate that the Canucks made the right choice there, but Schenn is now skating regular shifts for the Tampa Bay Lightning as they’ve made their way to the Stanley Cup Final.

He’s not anyone you’d want pencilled into your opening night roster, but as a depth option on the right side, he has a certain appeal.

Josh Leivo, LW/RW

  Age Games Goals Assists Points Corsi For Expected Goals For Scoring Chances For
2019/20 27 36 7 12 19 52.45% 49.95% 52.53%

This last one is a bit of a cheat, but one thing became glaringly obvious while doing the research for this article: Josh Leivo is one of the best free agents available this offseason and has the potential to be the very best bang-for-your-buck signing in the entire league.

If he’s willing to sign for anything under $2 million, the Canucks would be foolish not to take him up on it, provided he receives a clean bill of health first. Doing so would perhaps allow the Canucks to move another, higher-priced forward who, if we’re being totally honest, Leivo would almost certainly outperform anyway.