Ranking The 2021 NHL Unrestricted Free Agents – Top 5 Centers
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is one of the more highly sought centers in free agency.
© Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports Ryan Nugent-Hopkins — centers of attention.

The 2021 NHL Free Agent class for centers features a few high-end players but most players of a complementary caliber. Also, some of these centers are on the other side of their primes so contract lengths could be skewed.

The quality in this class is more of the short-term realm sprinkled with some good two-way centers that might take the next step. There is some debate as to dollar amounts and terms. Anyway, let’s dive in!

NHL Unrestricted Free Agent Centers
5. Blake Coleman (Tampa Bay Lightning)

Coleman benefits from playing in the middle-six with Yanni Gourde and Barclay Goodrow. That cannot hurt. His start is not surprising as he did this with New Jersey two seasons ago. Currently, he has three goals and seven points in just 11 contests.

One has to ask if this start is a fluke again. The center is on a 40-plus point pace and the feeling is maybe the offensive burst is possible to be somewhat sustained. The better question may be could this happen somewhere other than Tampa Bay? Hey, it worked in New Jersey for a while.

The $1.8 million AAV figures to go up no matter where he ends up. Coleman re-signing in Tampa Bay remains a possibility too. For all the categories he fills in the stat column and his two-way play, Coleman brings much intensity. He belongs as one of the top centers of attention.

4. Mattias Janmark (Chicago Blackhawks)

It will be a hotly contested free-agent offseason because of this one question. Will teams want Janmark because of his speed? Will they just worry about the streaky finishing ability down the road?

He tallied nine points and five goals on the young season and a solid amount of blocks and shots on goal. Janmark becomes a hotter commodity for his ability to stretch defenses and drive opposing coaches batty. Also, Janmark is just 28 and entering free agency with a currently affordable AAV. That expects to change a little this summer.

That is if he can keep up his current pace and role in Chicago’s top-six. He is one of those centers a team needs to be successful.

3. Alex Wennberg (Florida Panthers)

Now is the time to cause more debate. Wennberg exiled out of Columbus basically lands in Florida and magically finds his way again. While no one will ever confuse him as a top-shooter. He can net 15-20 goals in a season. Wennberg has six points on the young season in 11 games.

Unfortunately, the question always is with Wennberg is this. Can the center sustain this level of production? If he can the UFA will cash in from his current $2.25 million salary. If not, Wennberg may be searching for a team and another one-year deal for the 2021-22 season.

2. David Krejci (Boston Bruins)

Krejci helps make the Boston second line so much better and the special teams as well. He is the glue where no matter what wingers may come and go, Krejci is the constant. Goals have been difficult to come but he has ten assists on the young season already.

The center is one of our top centers on this list because his salary does stick out at $7.25 million. That limits his ceiling and his likely term due to his age being in the mid 30’s.

Someone will pay Krejci but it may not be Boston due to the pandemic. Is the center will to take a pay cut to stay in Boston? Those are unresolved questions but Krejci will be highly sought after on the free-agent market. The reality is a deal of one or two years being more likely than three or four.

1. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (Edmonton Oilers)

Are the rumors true that Nugent-Hopkins is one of those centers pre-destined to test the free-agent market this summer? We are likely to find out in short order once Edmonton’s season ends.

Is it a guarantee that Edmonton could afford more than $6 million for Nugent-Hopkins? Most think that he will test the market. Honestly, the center is young enough to go for that big 5-7 year deal. An eight seems out of the question, especially in Edmonton. He has 11 points on the young season which just adds to his potential value as the glue (second center). Call him a possible younger version of David Krejci.

Nugent-Hopkins nears the age of 29 and could easily get a six or seven-year deal in that $6-$7 million AAV range. There may be room for more dollars also. This depends on how much teams are willing to pay and if they feel that Nugent-Hopkins could even be their top center.