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(Chase Agnello-Dean/NHLI via Getty Images)

7 RFAs Who Were Not Qualified That Could Be Key Contributors In 2022-23

Dylan Strome has talent and some very productive seasons under his resume. But the 25-year old will hit unrestricted free agency for the first time after Chicago did not tender him a qualifying offer by Monday’s deadline. (Chase Agnello-Dean/NHLI via Getty Images)

7 RFAs Who Were Not Qualified That Could Be Key Contributors In 2022-23

It’s a busy time in the NHL. The draft just came and went last week, with 255 new players putting on one of the league’s 32 sweaters, achieving a dream they’ve had since before they can remember. And on Wednesday, unrestricted free agency opens at noon EST. Stars like Johnny Gaudreau, John Klingberg, and other veterans can officially find a new home in less than 48 hours. But a sneaky important deadline arrived at 5 PM on Monday. Qualifying offers for restricted free agents (RFAs), players whose entry-level or other contracts have expired but haven’t accrued enough service time to become UFAs, were due by that time.

Most of the time, an RFA with even a shred of value receives that qualifying offer and remains with their existing team. But that isn’t always the case. Players like Carter Verhaeghe, Anthony Duclair and more are a few of several who went on to thrive in new places after not being qualified in recent years. And there are a few intriguing players who didn’t receive qualifying offers on Monday who could be useful additions for even the best of teams to make this summer. Here are four of the newest soon-to-be unrestricted free agents whose old teams may be kicking themselves down the line.

C Dylan Strome, Chicago (Qualifying Offer: $3.6 Million)

2021-22 (69 GP): 22 G, 26 A, 48.28% Corsi, 48.87% Expected Goals

Being a high first-round pick is always a good think for a prospective free agent. Strome is just that, going No. 3 overall to Arizona in 2015, right after Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel. Strome instantly fit in with Chicago after being traded there in 2018, scoring 51 points in 58 games in his first year in the Windy City. In fact, Strome has scored at least at a 50-point pace in three of his four seasons in Chicago, with only the weird 2020-21 season serving as an exception.

Yet somehow, Strome has worked his way out of favor in Chicago. Yes, his entire 2021 year was brutal; Strome scored just 24 points in 60 games that calendar year. And maybe he isn’t the best defensively. And Strome has missed at least 13 games each of the last three seasons. But he’s still a very valuable skilled playmaking center who is good at entering the zone with control and has driven play relative to his teammates by Corsi and Expected Goals share three years running. It’s the second straight summer Chicago has failed to qualify a solid middle-six center; Pius Suter last year, Strome this time around. The latter even has a bit more upside thanks to his natural talent and versatility, as he can play left wing as well.

LW Dominik Kubalík, Chicago ($4 Million)

2021-22 (78 GP): 15 G, 17 A, 45.21% Corsi, 44.73% Expected Goals

Speaking of unqualified left wingers from Chicago, here’s another player who should at least be a solid third-liner with upside. Kubalík lit the world on fire in 2019-20, scoring 30 goals in just 68 games and finishing third behind Cale Makar and Quinn Hughes. However, he’s been unable to maintain that stellar production over the last few years. After scoring on 19.3% of his shots as a rookie, Kubalík has finished on just 10.1% of his shots over the last two seasons. His underlying numbers and microstats don’t paint as pretty a picture as Strome’s, either.

That said, there’s still value in a player scoring 32 points in what’s clearly a down year by Kubalík’s standards. His 2019-20 season is probably a one-off. But maybe something closer to 2020-21, when he drove play relative to his teammates and scored at a 56-point pace. He’s a very solid third-line option who can play either wing. As long as he gets back to firing the puck more (his 7.4 shots per 60 were a career-low), he’s a very solid low-risk, high-reward play.

RW Nicolas Aubé-Kubel, Colorado (Qualifying Offer: $1.225 Million)

2021-22 (67 GP): 11 G, 11 A, 48.95% Expected Goals, 48.34% Expected Goals

Aubé-Kubel’s already had a very up and down professional career. He cleared waivers at the start of the year, only to be gifted a mid-season call-up due to a massive wave of injuries to the team that drafted him (the Flyers) and run with the opportunity. Aubé-Kubel chipped in 15 points in just 36 games and was one of the team’s best forecheckers. The 2014 2nd round pick was never expected to be a top-six player after turning pro. But he seemed all but a lock to become a very solid bottom-sixer for Philadelphia for years to come.

But Aubé-Kubel’s game regressed hard in 2021. His scoring numbers went down, his penalty minutes went up, and he wasn’t as effective on the forecheck. As a result, he was placed on waivers in December and claimed by Colorado. Aubé-Kubel was somewhere in the middle of his two versions in Philadelphia. He did tally 22 points in 67 games for Colorado, but bad penalties was sometimes still an issue. The tenacious 26-year old is still a decent fourth-line option and should come pretty cheap as well.

LW Danton Heinen, Pittsburgh (Qualifying Offer: $1.1 Million)

2021-22 (76 GP): 18 G, 15 A, 54.14% Corsi, 56.8% Expected Goals

Heinen strikes me as the rare unqualified player who could get more on the open market than his qualifying offer. His career-arc is Aubé-Kubel’s on steroids. Heinen burst onto the scene with a 47-point rookie 2017-18 campaign in Boston. But his numbers fell off shortly thereafter. Heinen actually could have made this list last year after his Ducks career lasted just nine games following a 2020 trade. He did enjoy a bit of a renaissance in Pittsburgh in 2021-22, though. Heinen tallied a career-high 18 goals and drove play to a very strong degree. He’s played center before, although he’s probably best served as a winger and isn’t great on face-offs. But he’s still a solid bottom-sixer who is good enough for a consistent depth role on any team.

RW Ondřej Kaše, Toronto (Qualifying Offer: $1.25 Million)

2021-22 (50 GP): 14 G, 13 A, 50.8% Corsi, 48.79% Expected Goals

Injuries have thrown Kaše’s career for a loop, although last season did offer some promise. Kaše was an analytical darling and productive middle-sixer early in his career, scoring 20 goals in 66 games for Anaheim in 2017-18. But then the injury bug bit; Kaše played just 30 games the next year, then 55 the next year, and then only three games in 2020-21. A player who the Bruins thought highly enough of in February 2019 to trade a 1st round pick and the team’s second round pick the year prior (plus David Backes’s albatross contract) wasn’t even qualified by them just over two years later. And given Kaše’s long history with head injuries and concussions, his NHL future was in jeopardy last summer.

Kaše’s first (and now likely only) year in Toronto offered both a mix of his potential and, sadly, another head injury, one that sidelined him for the final two months of the regular season. Before that, however, Kaše scored at a 44-point clip, albeit with middling underlying numbers. Still, it was progress for a player with just 14 games under his belt since March 2020. Even better, Kaše was thankfully able to return to the Maple Leafs’ lineup for the playoffs. He could be the perfect fit for an analytically inclined team looking for some extra offense on its third line or/and second power-play unit.

G Ilya Samsonov, Washington (Qualifying Offer: $2 Million)

2021-22 (44 GP): .896 SV%, -12.1 Goals Saved Above Expected

Just a few years ago, Samsonov was regarded as one of the league’s top goalie prospects. He was mentioned in the same breath as names like Carter Hart and fellow Russians Igor Shesterkin and Ilya Samsonov. He looked solid as Braden Holtby’s backup with a .913 save percentage in 26 games in 2019-20. However, Samsonov has regressed fairly heavily since.

Save PercentageGoals Saved Above Expected

That being said, it’s still a major surprise this year. Goalies are both very valuable and notoriously late bloomers compared to skaters. Samsonov is only 25, and has first round pedigree. Plus, he looked much better in the playoffs, albeit in a very small sample size. Either a team with an established, high-end starter or a rebuilding team could be a great opportunity to give Samsonov a chance to live up to his potential.

If you’re looking for some content to tide you over until Wednesday, check out Emma Brown’s review of the much hyped documentary covering the legendary Red Wings-Avalanche rivalry of the 1990s.

LW Sonny Milano, Anaheim (Qualifying Offer: $1.8 Million)

2021-22 (66 GP): 14 G, 20 A, 52.02% Corsi, 52.75% Expected Goals

Milano had a very rocky end to his time in Columbus, who drafted him 16th overall in 2014. He and an AHL teammate were arrested for third degree assault in 2019, with Milano being traded to Anaheim next season. He was very productive alongside Trevor Zegras (you may remember their finest moment together), scoring 34 points in 66 games while driving play to a strong degree. It’s not hard to see the right team harnessing his talent, especially if he’s in another “support winger for a star center” type of role.

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*All Advanced Stats are 5-on-5 and via Natural Stat Trick or All Three Zones unless otherwise stated; Goals Saved Above Expected via

**All Salary Cap Information via CapFriendly

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