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Which UFA Centers Should Sharks Target?



Credit: Lisa Gansky from New York, NY, USA (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Doug Wilson couldn’t have been clearer in his exit interview.

“The 3C spot,” Wilson said last month, “certainly we have to look at and explore.”

Exit Interview: Doug Wilson Plans to Add 3C, Address Goaltending | SJHN+

It’s a good off-season for the San Jose Sharks to do that: There’s a relatively-deep class of middle-six centermen in free agency this summer.

San Jose Hockey Now spoke with three NHL scouts and identified 17 potential UFAs — some more likely than others — who might be able to play third-line center for the Sharks next year.

David Krejci and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins will likely be too expensive (and too good) for a 3C role in San Jose.

Phillip Danault, Mikael Granlund, Alex Wennberg, Nick Foligno, Tyler Bozak, Nick Bonino, and Barclay Goodrow might be more realistic targets to skate 3C with the San Jose Sharks — though the cost will vary.

Paul Stastny and Ryan Getzlaf are fading stars who can still help a team in a top-nine role.

Carl Soderberg, Derick Brassard, Derek Stepan, Travis Zajac, and Brandon Sutter appear to be reaches for this high-leverage job.

Before we get to what the scouts think — we’ll hear more from them next week — let’s look at some interesting numbers from this group of centers.

  • Per Evolving Hockey, Bonino, Sutter, Zajac (in New Jersey), Foligno (in Columbus), and Bozak experienced the highest percentage of Defensive Zone Faceoffs at 5-on-5. Danault and Haula were also up there. On the flip side, Krejci, Zajac (in New York), Nugent-Hopkins, Granlund, and Stastny benefitted from the highest percentage of Offensive Zone Faceoffs.
  • Seven centers here averaged more than 13 minutes a night at 5-on-5: Nugent-Hopkins, Stastny, Krejci, Foligno, Granlund, Getzlaf, and Danault.
  • Buyer beware on the 27-year-old Nugent-Hopkins? He averaged just 1.06 Points Per 60 at 5-on-5. This was the second-lowest mark among all eligible centers. This, despite Connor McDavid being Nugent-Hopkins’s most common teammate at 5-on-5. 57% of Nugent Hopkins’s 35 points came off the power play, where he played mostly with McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. 1.06, by the way, is considered fourth-line production. For what it’s worth, from 2017-20, Nugent-Hopkins averaged a healthy 1.96 Points Per 60 at 5-on-5.
  • Foligno (in Columbus) was last in this group with a dismal 0.85 Points Per 60 at 5-on-5.
  • Only two of these pivots averaged one or more Primary Assists Per 60 at 5-on-5: Krejci (1.22) and Danault (1.1). Danault had a tough offensive season, on the balance, but that’s a promising figure.
  • Zajac, Krejci, Bonino, Danault, Granlund, Bozak, Wennberg, and Stastny are the only centermen in this group to average 1.5 or more Points Per 60 at 5-on-5.
  • Brassard is the only center here who averaged less than one shot block Per 60 at 5-on-5: That probably won’t play in San Jose.
  • Nugent-Hopkins, Stepan, Stastny, Foligno (in Columbus), and Haula led this group in Individual Expected Goals Per 60. This speaks to the quality of chances they were earning, even if the finish wasn’t always there.
  • Zajac and Wennberg both scored well above expectation: They topped this group with a +0.54 and +0.44 Actual Goals over Expected Goals at 5-on-5. Wennberg is especially tempting — he’s just 26 — but his 20.7 Shooting % is more than double his previous career average of 8.0 %.
  • Sutter and Wennberg tied for best in this group with a +8 Penalty Differential. Goodrow was worst at -10.
  • Bozak, Zajac, Sutter, Haula, Stastny, Krejci, Danault, Bonino, Getzlaf, Brassard, Soderberg, and Granlund all won more than 50% of their faceoffs last year.
  • Krejci, Zajac, Getzlaf, Bozak, Stepan, and Sutter are the righties in this group.
  • Danault, Sutter, and Goodrow earned little power play time this year; on the other hand, Getzlaf, Brassard, Krejci, and Stastny saw little penalty kill time.

So who should the San Jose Sharks target? The scouts will offer their two cents next week.

Based on Wilson’s exit interview, it sounds like they’d love someone more defensively-oriented to take the load off of Logan Couture.

For now, check out Evolving Hockey’s contract predictions for this cadre of centers:

PlayerProjected TermProjected Cap Hit
Alex Wennberg5$4,933,000
Barclay Goodrow4$3,150,000
Brandon Sutter1$990,100
Carl Soderberg1$1,188,000
David Krejci2$4,688,000
Derek Stepan1$1,113,000
Derick Brassard1$1,124,000
Erik Haula4$3,827,000
Mikael Granlund3$5,036,000
Nick Bonino2$2,552,000
Nick Foligno2$2,918,000
Paul Stastny1$2,076,000
Phillip Danault7$6,236,000
Ryan Getzlaf1$2,182,000
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins7$8,121,000
Travis Zajac1$1,433,000
Tyler Bozak1$1,268,000
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