With free agency right around the corner, there are plenty of rumours surrounding the Canucks and who they could target July 1st.

With the Canucks trading for J.T. Miller at the 2019 NHL Draft, there’s a chance they don’t even sign a forward in free agency this year. GM Jim Benning, however, has said that if the team signs a UFA it’s going to be with the intent that they think they’re a top-four defenseman or top-six forward.

If the Canucks do decide to make a splash on the forward front, here are a few UFA options that could make sense.

(Note: Projected contracts are courtesy of EvolvingWild’s Contract Projections Model. Corsi stats are via Natural Stat Trick and for 5-on-5 situations only.) 

Artemi Panarin

Position: Left Wing

Age: 27

Height/ Weight: 5′ 11″, 168 lbs

2018-19 Stats: 79 GP, 28 G, 59 A, 87 points, 54.76 CF%

Previous Contract: Two years, $6,000,000 Cap Hit

Projected Contract: Eight years, $11,172,683 Cap Hit

Artemi Panarin is the biggest name on the free agent market — and for good measure. The Russian winger is an incredibly skilled player who has hovered around the 30-goal, 80-point mark in each of his four NHL seasons to date.

Panarin would obviously be a complete game changer for the Canucks if they were to win the sweepstakes. If the team is truly counting on their young players to grow into bigger roles and round out their supporting cast, Panarin is the player to splurge on to solidify their top six as one of the best in the NHL for the foreseeable future.

With the Canucks acquiring J.T. Miller at the Draft, you almost get the sense that they won’t target a big-name forward in free agency. Given the drop off in skill after the top few forwards, if the Canucks truly wanted to splurge and spend money on offensive talent, their best bet for value may be taking a run at the top dog.

Aside from Vancouver being a Canadian city of interest for Panarin back in February, there has been no talk of him being linked to the Canucks. He’s been spending time with some Eastern Conference teams, including most recently the New York Rangers. Landing Panarin may be a longshot, but you have to ponder if the Canucks would be better off throwing their money at Panarin instead of a combination of blueliner Tyler Myers and another forward listed below.

Gustav Nyquist

Position: Center

Age: 29

Height/ Weight: 5′ 11″, 184 lbs

2018-19 Stats: 81 GP, 22 G, 38 A, 60 points, 56.38 CF%

Previous Contract: Four years, $4,750,000 Cap Hit

Projected Contract: Six years, $5,649,366 Cap Hit

Nyquist is one of the lone UFA forwards the Canucks reportedly have interest in.

Nyquist’s speed and skill would make him a nice fit in Vancouver’s top-six. He consistently produces in the 20-goal, 40-50 point range and has the potential to take over on a given night. The concern with Nyquist is the type of contract given his age. There’s no denying he would look good alongside talented and speedy forwards Elias Pettersson, Brock Boeser and recently acquired J.T. Miller, but some team is going to pay a lot of money for a talented player who has played 500 NHL games yet only hit 60 points once (2018-19).

Wayne Simmonds

Position: Right Wing

Age: 30

Height/ Weight: 6’2″, 185 lbs

2018-19 Stats: 79 GP, 17 G, 13 A, 30 points, 46.1 CF%

Previous Contract: Six years, $3,975,000 Cap Hit

Projected Contract: Five years, $4,956,863 Cap Hit

Simmonds is a fiesty power forward who plays a mean game. He was a reliable 30-goal-scorer during his time in Philadelphia and became one of the best power-play forwards in the NHL. He was was acquired as a rental at the trade deadline by the Predators and failed to make much of an impact with his new team.

Simmonds is the type of player that the Canucks could use. He plays with an edge every shift and could bring a net-front presence to a power play that finished 22nd in the NHL in 2018-19.

Considering Simmonds was underpaid in his previous contract, he’s going to be expecting a pay raise this time around. Given his physical play style and a lower body injury that cut his 2018-19 campaign short, a Simmonds signing comes with plenty of wear and tear. Simmonds’ best days are most likely behind him, but there’s still things to like about his game if you can can get him at the right price.

Marcus Johansson

Position: Left Wing

Age: 28

Height/Weight: 6’1″, 205 lbs

2018-19 Stats: 58 GP, 13 G, 17 A, 30 points, 51.87 CF%

Previous Contract: Three years, $4,583,333 Cap Hit

Projected Contract: Four years, $4,576,765 Cap Hit

Johansson was acquired by the Bruins at the 2019 Trade Deadline from the Devils and ended up being a solid complementary piece for Boston on their run to the Stanley Cup Final. He finished with four goals and 11 points in 22 playoff games.

He’s had trouble staying healthy over the last couple of years but does have two 20-goal seasons to his name. Johansson also brings a strong defensive element to his game. He doesn’t necessarily have game-breaking offensive talent, but he certainly displayed some nice skill in the postseason that would make him a decent fit on Vancouver’s second or third line at the right cost.

Ryan Dzingel

Position: Center

Age: 27

Height/Weight: 6’0″, 190 lbs

2018-19 Stats: 78 GP, 26 G, 30 A, 56 points, 47.19 CF%

Previous Contract: Two years, $1,800,000 Cap Hit

Projected Contract: Four years, $4,256,526 Cap Hit

Dzingel was a trade deadline acquisition by the Blue Jackets as Ottawa became big-time sellers at the deadline. The Sens dealt away Matt Duchene, Mark Stone and Dzingel as part of their rebuild.

Dzingel had a strong year with Ottawa but managed just four goals in 21 games after arriving in Columbus. He also failed to make an impact in the postseason for the Blue Jackets — highlighted by being a healthy scratch in Game 2 of the Blue Jacket’s second round series vs. Boston.

Dzingel’s year didn’t end on the right note, but he’s put up back-to-back 20-goal-seasons and is entering just his fifth career NHL season. The crafty forward has enough speed and skill to turn into a quality free agent signing this offseason.

Michael Ferland

Position: Right Wing

Age: 27

Height/Weight: 6’1″, 217 lbs

2018-19 Stats: 71 GP, 17 G, 23 A, 40 points, 53.60 CF%

Previous Contract: Two years, $1,750,000 Cap Hit

Projected Contract: Four years, $4,106,404 Cap Hit

Ferland was one of the players the Hurricanes acquired in a trade at the 2018 Draft that sent Noah Hanifin and Elias Lindholm to the Flames.

While Ferland has proven to be an effective power forward, the Hurricanes need to prioritize signing their top players such as Sebastian Aho, so Ferland is left on the outside looking in. The Canucks have been linked to Ferland in the past because of his aggressive play style. He’s a big body who brings energy every shift and can net you 15-20 goals.

Ferland has been quite effective the last three seasons and is going to want to cash in on that. He was an absolute monster in the 2015 playoff series between the Canucks and Flames and it showcased just how effective he can be when it matters most.

Ferland is a good player, but he’s going to be looking for solid term and a significant pay bump on his next deal. Ferland has value that would suit the Canucks, but it would almost certainly take an overpayment of some kind.

Corey Perry

Position: Right Wing

Age: 34

Height/ Weight: 6′ 3″, 206 lbs

2018-19 Stats: 31 GP, 6 G, 4 A, 10 points, 47.28 CF%

Previous Contract: Eight years, $8,625,000 Cap Hit

Projected Contract: —

It’s hard to imagine Corey Perry playing anywhere but Anaheim — yet that’s exactly what will be happening in 2019-20 after the Ducks elected to buy out the remainder of Perry’s contract in June. The longtime Duck has played 988 career games for Anaheim and is coming off a disastrous injury-riddled 10-point season.

If the Canucks were to target Perry, they’re counting on him returning to the 30-goal effective scorer he was just a few seasons ago. Perry is a pest and is hated by many players and fans across the NHL. Despite his old age, Perry still has value to offer, especially on the power play. He’s a proven goal-scorer who is out to prove doubters wrong.

Of course, when you start talking a long-term contract for an aging veteran whose best days are behind him, that’s when it gets very dangerous. But a short term contract for Perry would likely provide some value if the Canucks went down that route.

The direction the Canucks are heading in, however, doesn’t really fit with where Perry is at in his career. If it’s anything more than a couple years for the Canucks, you’re looking at hindering the development and growth of the younger players, especially forwards Adam Gaudette and Jake Virtanen, who are expected to grow into bigger roles in the near-future.

Joonas Donskoi

Position: Right Wing

Age: 27

Height/ Weight: 6’0″, 190 lbs

2018-19 Stats: 80 GP, 14 G, 23 A, 37 points, 54.46 CF%

Previous Contract: Two years, $1,900,000 Cap Hit

Projected Contract: Three years, $2,796,060 Cap Hit

Donskoi is going to be a likely casualty of San Jose’s salary-cap crunch after defenseman Erik Karlsson signed a massive eight-year, $92M extension.

Donskoi tied a career high with 14 goals this season and has been a solid supporting scorer in each of his four NHL seasons to date. He has incredibly filthy hands to go with a strong shot. He’s shown the ability to play anywhere in the lineup and could be a good boost to Vancouver’s second or third line.

When you compare Donskoi to his San Jose teammate Nyquist with some advanced stats, Donskoi holds an edge in many categories, including zone entries and exits. He might not supply the same amount of offensive production as Nyquist, but when you take into consideration age, term and the potential cap hit, Donskoi would likely provide you with better value.

Things will be heating up in the NHL beginning July 1st, and the Canucks will have plenty of options if they want to improve their roster up front. You can view a list of the top available free agents here.