7 free agent third-line centre targets for the Vancouver Canucks
Photo credit:© Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports
By Noah Strang14 days ago
After trading captain Bo Horvat earlier this year, the Vancouver Canucks are left with Elias Pettersson and J.T. Miller as their top two centres.
Pettersson has firmly entrenched himself as an elite number-one option, leaving no doubt that he can excel at both ends of the ice. While Miller has had some growing pains transitioning to the middle, he has shown he can be a top-six centre and put up a lot of points in that role.
Beyond those two, the Canucks lack organizational depth at the centre position. Nils Aman and Sheldon Dries have been filling the third-line centre position, solid stopgap options, but not long-term solutions by any means. Heading into this offseason, acquiring another centre is sure to be near the top of the Canucks’ list of priorities.
Free agency offers the Canucks a chance to add a player that can be an effective contributor immediately. They can go after a proven veteran or look for another reclamation project to fill this spot.
The Canucks aren’t going to have a ton of money to spend on filling this role as they already have a significant number of cap commitments for next season. Here are seven players that will be free agents this summer that the Canucks could target for their 3C role without breaking the bank.
Ivan Barbashev, 27 years old, Vegas Golden Knights
2022-23 NHL Stats: 67 GP, 12 G, 23 A, 35 PTS
Ivan Barbashev was traded from the St. Louis Blues to the Vegas Golden Knights at the NHL trade deadline. Since arriving in Las Vegas, he has six points in eight games, playing significant minutes as a top-line winger. However, Barabashev has played plenty of centre during his career and could fit in a middle-six role as a versatile forward for the Canucks.
Barbashev is represented by agent Dan Millstein. Millstein also represents current Canucks Andrei Kuzmenko and Ilya Mikheyev. He clearly has a great relationship with the organization and it wouldn’t be surprising to see another Gold Star Hockey client come to Vancouver.
Barbashev might be too expensive for the Canucks. His versatility and strong production, especially if he continues to produce as he has during his brief Vegas stint, could result in him being very desirable this offseason. However, if the Canucks are looking for an impact player, contacting Milstein could be the first course of action.
Oskar Sundqvist, 28 years old, Minnesota Wild
2022-23 NHL Stats: 56 GP, 7G, 13 A, 20 PTS
Oskar Sundqvist was another upcoming UFA traded at this year’s deadline as he made his way to Minnesota from Detroit in exchange for a fourth-round pick. While he’s only broken the 30-point mark once in his career, Sundqvist plays an all-around game that is attractive to many teams.
At 6’3″ and 220 pounds, Sundqvist is a big body that can wear down opponents. He has a Stanley Cup ring and has played on both the power play and penalty kill during his NHL career, although he would likely only fit on the latter with the Canucks. Sundqvist’s lack of offensive production means that he likely wouldn’t be too expensive, ideally falling around an AAV of $2 million.
David Kampf, 28 years old, Toronto Maple Leafs
2022-23 NHL Stats: 65 GP, 7G, 17 A, 24 PTS
After signing Ilya Mikheyev from the Toronto Maple Leafs last summer, the Canucks could look to add another forward from out east in Kampf. The Czech forward has proven to be great in the faceoff circle, winning 52.1% of his draws so far this season, and is a very effective penalty killer.
There will be plenty of teams interested in Kampf this offseason and a bidding war could ensue. If the Canucks can get a solid price, Kampf would be an amazing fit in the bottom-six as a fast, relentless forechecker. This would be a great pickup for the Canucks, especially if they could get him between $2-3 million AAV.
Erik Haula, 31 years old, New Jersey Devils
2022-23 NHL Stats: 66 GP, 8G, 25 A, 33 PTS
Erik Haula has enjoyed a long NHL career and would be a veteran option for the Canucks. He’s currently filling the third-line centre position for the very good New Jersey Devils and the Canucks would hope that he could replicate that success. Haula is contributing to the Devils’ powerplay and penalty kill, though he’s not a top player on either unit.
Haula is scoring half a point-per-game while winning more than 55% of his faceoffs. He contributes on both ends of the ice and would fit nicely in the Canucks bottom-six. While not a long-term fix, Haula would provide some stability down the middle in the short-term. He could likely be had on a one-to-three-year contract with an AAV of around $2.5 million.
Tyson Jost, 25 years old, Buffalo Sabres
2022-23 NHL Stats: 58 GP, 6G, 15 A, 21 PTS
If the Canucks wanted to go in a different direction, they could take a bet on Jost, a player that was once a highly-rated prospect but who has struggled to put it all together at the NHL level. Jost played three seasons with the Penticton Vees in the BCHL so he does have ties to the province.
Jost would be an interesting pickup as he doesn’t fit the mold of a traditional third-line centre. He’s only 5’11”, although he has proven himself a solid penalty killer. However, the hope would be that the Canucks could help Jost unleash some untapped potential and turn him into an offensively productive middle-six player.
Jost is in the last year of a two-year contract carrying an AAV of $2 million. He’s not due for a major raise, perhaps going up to $2.25-$2.5 million at the most.
Alexander Kerfoot, 28 years old, Toronto Maple Leafs
2022-23 NHL Stats: 65 GP, 7G, 19 A, 26 PTS
Kerfoot was born in Vancouver and is a name that has been linked with the Canucks multiple times over the past few years. Could this summer finally be the time when the 28-year-old centre returns to the west coast? He’s averaged almost exactly 0.5 points per game over his 425 career NHL games thus far.
Kerfoot carries a cap hit of $3.5 million and it seems likely that he’s too rich for the Maple Leafs to re-sign this summer. The Canucks could offer Kerfoot plenty of opportunity and some power play time back in his hometown. He’d be more of an offensive option but one that the Canucks might be able to get on a hometown discount. If the team is looking to add more depth scoring, Kerfoot at around $3 million would not be a bad option.
Vincent Hinostroza, 28 years old, Buffalo Sabres
2022-23 NHL Stats: 25 GP, 2G, 9 A, 11 PTS
One under-the-radar option for the Canucks could be Hinostroza. The 5’11” forward has never managed to find a long-term NHL home despite showing some nice scoring touch throughout his career. Hinostroza even managed to score 16 goals and had 39 points for the Coyotes in 72 games during the 2018-19 season.
However, Hinostroza might be too similar to depth forwards already in the organization. He’s not a great option for the penalty kill and provides a similar skillset to players like Sheldon Dries. Hinostroza has also played a significant amount of time at winger this year, again meaning he might not be the best fit in Vancouver.
Hinostroza would not be very expensive at all. The cap commitment would be under $2 million per season and potentially closer to $1 million, making this a cost-effective option.
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