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Six Group 6 NHL UFAs worth considering for the Vancouver Canucks

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Photo credit:© Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
Stephan Roget
18 days ago
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Gird yourselves.
We are officially in the final week of the countdown leading up to the beginning of the Free Agent Frenzy of 2024. Within the next week, we’ll see the buyout window open and close, the NHL Awards handed out, the NHL Entry Draft occur, and then the opening of the unrestricted free agent market – one in which the Vancouver Canucks promise to be very active, both in terms of departures and arrivals.
With half their active roster potentially leaving, the Canucks may just need replacements at every position in their lineup. But as is always the case, not all available UFAs are created equal. Today, rather than looking at a specific position or playstyle, we’re going to take a look at a particular type of UFA: the Group VI unrestricted free agents.
Under most ordinary circumstances, a player can only hit UFA status if they have a contract expire at the age of 27 or greater (or are let go unqualified by an NHL team.)
Occasionally, though, players can hit the open market at an earlier age as a Group VI UFA. In order to do so, a player must be 25, have completed three or more professional seasons (defined as 11 or more pro games for 18- and 19-year-olds and just one pro game for everyone else), and have played in fewer than 80 NHL games over that time (with this number pro-rated for pandemic-truncated seasons.)
These circumstances generally result in those players who hit Group VI status being of middling quality, because if they were any good, why wouldn’t they have played 80 games already?
Every now and then, however, some gems appear on the list of Group VIs Maybe they’re players stuck down the depth chart of deep organizations. Maybe they’re late-bloomers. Maybe they’ve lagged behind due to injuries.
In times like these, the Group VI market can be a source of undervalued underdog UFAs that have the added bonus of being a little younger than the average UFA. And that’s why they’re always worth at least a look, including these six names this year:
 
Nick Blankenburg, Columbus Blue Jackets
RHD, 26, 5’9”, 177lb
2023/24 Cap HitGamesGoalsAssistsPointsAvg. TOICorsi
$825K1210116:1345.7%
Blankenburg has one thing not going for him, and it’s not that difficult to figure out what it is. Blankenburg is a right-handed D who is very physical, can dish out large open-ice checks, and has good vision and on-ice cleverness to keep the puck out of trouble. In most cases, such a player would be a prize UFA. The issue? Blankenburg’s listed as 5’9”, and in reality is probably a few notches shorter than that.
His height, combined with Columbus having brought in a lot of RHDs of late, have combined to push Blankenburg largely out of their NHL roster. And no one is going to suggest that, if he can’t crack the Blue Jackets, he has any business cracking the Canucks. At best, he’s a smaller Noah Juulsen, and that’s not all that enticing. But for a team, like Vancouver, that has just five healthy RHD signed in the entire organization for next season, Blankenburg could be seen as a decent depth addition with a smidgen of upside.
 
Oskar Steen, Boston Bruins
RW/C, 26, 5’9”, 199lb
2023/24 Cap HitGamesGoalsAssistsPointsAvg. TOICorsi
$800K341019:0443.4%
Steen was a big point producer at lower levels, including the SHL, before coming to North America and having to adapt his game to more that of a role-player. He’s undersized, but feisty and competitive, which is something someone needs to survive that long in the Boston organization. Clearly, there was something to his game that led to Bruins to dress him in 34 contests this year without any real production to speak of.
Steen is one of those safe players who isn’t particularly great at any one thing, but is good enough at everything to at least get by in any on-ice situation. He’s lauded for his work ethic and drive, and those could lead to him still finding another gear. But in all likelihood, Steen is a classic boring bottom-end move that might compete for a spot in training camp, but is likely destined to start in the AHL and fill in.
 
Kole Lind, Seattle Kraken
RW, 25, 6’1”, 178lb
2023/24 Cap HitGamesGoalsAssistsPointsAvg. TOICorsi
$775K10005:5941.2%
We’re not going to make the obvious jokes here. Why isn’t anyone realizing they’ve gotten a bit stale?
Yes, Lind was once a draft pick of the Vancouver Canucks, selected 33rd overall in 2017. He was then taken away by the Seattle Kraken in their Expansion Draft. Prior to that, Lind was showing signs of becoming, at the very least, a strong pro player with the Utica Comets, and that trend has definitely continued in the Seattle organization.
Lind put up 62 points in 72 games for the Coachella Valley Firebirds last season, and bettered that with 65 points in 69 games this year. Even better, he’s gone on two consecutive lengthy and productive AHL playoff runs, scoring 31 points in 26 games last year and up to 11 points in 15 games this year.
Lind has struggled to find NHL ice-time in an organization that is, quite honestly, jam-packed with middling talents. But he’s continued to refine his rough-around-the-edges game all the same, and he now looks even more ready for prime-time, albeit most likely with a different franchise. Could that different franchise be Lind’s original one? There is room to be had on the fourth line.
 
Ben Meyers, Anaheim Ducks
LW, 25, 5’11”, 194lb 
2023/24 Cap HitGamesGoalsAssistsPointsAvg. TOICorsi
$775K2312310:0748.3%
Meyers was a highly-sought-after NCAA free agent who signed with Colorado in 2022, but who never really caught on there despite a great AHL rookie season the following year. This past season, Meyers was flipped to the Ducks for a fifth round pick, but they only managed to get him into 14 games past that date, and thus he’s a UFA just two seasons and change into his NHL career.
Meyers has a lot of offensive talent, and has received accolades for his quick work to become defensively-sound at the pro level. There’s an element here of a player who hasn’t quite put it all together yet, but also of one who won’t receive that many more chances to do so. His speed and tenacity, combined with a history of being a leader at lower levels, might give him a touch more upside than the average player in his position, and that could make him an intriguing fringe-of-the-lineup addition.
 
Riley Tufte, Colorado Avalanche
LW, 26, 6’6”, 230lb
2023/24 Cap HitGamesGoalsAssistsPointsAvg. TOICorsi
$775K511211:0738.3%
By now, you’ve no doubt heard Tufte’s name thrown around often enough as a potential Dakota Joshua replacement. That’s largely based on his size and his draft history, having been a first round selection of Dallas back in 2016. Tufte isn’t just big, he knows how to use it to create space and take it away out there, and that will no doubt lead to him getting a chance somewhere this summer. Tufte is said to move well for his frame, and has shown upside as a net-front presence, drawing more Joshua comparisons.
Tufte’s been a bit unfortunate to spend his entire career thus far in two pretty deep organizations in Dallas and Colorado. But he’s been able to show off peeks of big league potential in limited ice-time all the same, and now someone is going to see if he can unlock it with a more dedicated NHL role. Could that team be the Vancouver Canucks? One has to imagine they will at least inquire.
 
Reilly Walsh, Boston Bruins
RHD, 25, 6’0”, 185lb
2023/24 Cap HitGamesGoalsAssistsPointsAvg. TOICorsi
$775K101114:2364.0%
Again, we return to that general need for additional RHDs throughout the organization. Walsh is another player who has been caught up in some deep depth charts between New Jersey and Boston, but who still maintains some NHL upside at age 25, especially with his handedness.
Walsh isn’t the biggest blueliner, but he is described as tenacious and shifty, and has used his talents to develop a pretty good base of production at the AHL level. He’s got a rifle of a shot, and has used it to score nine goals in each of his past three pro seasons.
The question remains as to whether any of that can translate to the big league, and especially if Walsh can figure out how to defend at that level. He’s largely an unknown at this point, but with the league-wide dearth of players at his position, expect someone to try to find out this summer.
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