Take a look at the 10 unheralded players who are providing the best bang-for-the-buck goal-scoring in the NHL this season.
There once was a time when Tyler Ennis was projected to be a star forward in the NHL. And early on, he impressed. He had nine points in a 10-game stint with Buffalo a decade ago and 49 points as a rookie the following year. At the very least, the Sabres could rely on him to be a 40-point guy, and he was until injuries limited his playing time by the end of his tenure in Western New York.
Since then, Ennis hasn’t been the dynamic speedster that made him a coveted prospect in the Sabres organization, but he has added value to teams in other ways. Last year, Ennis wasn’t an everyday contributor for the Toronto Maple Leafs as the team tried out a host of different fourth-liners throughout the season. Despite that, he still had a 2.13 points-per-60, 1.42 goals-per-60 and 9.59 shots-per-60 – numbers that suggest that he was a high-value player in a low-risk role, and it paid off.
With the Ottawa Senators this season, Ennis has bounced around the lineup with 13 goals and 30 points on an $800,000 cap hit – good for a cost-per-goal rate of $65,538. That isn’t a salary afforded to goal-scorers, and while he’ll likely max out at 20 goals, that’s still incredible value for a struggling Senators team and not far off of Ennis’ prime totals.
Using qualifiers that players must be a UFA on their next deal (no rookies or players on ELC’s allowed) and have recorded at least 10 goals this season, here’s a look at nine other budget-friendly players giving teams great offensive value for their money, with numbers coming from Cap Friendly:
Derek Grant, RW (Anaheim – $700,000 AAV)
When he signed a one-year, league-minimum deal last summer, the expectations for Grant were quite low – with just one full-time NHL season under his belt since turning pro in 2011, Grant wasn’t expected to have an offensive impact. But through 38 games for the struggling Ducks, Grant is one of just five players on the Ducks to record at least 10 goals – sitting at 11 goals and a $63,636/goal pace – while doing so in a fourth-line role. Grant had 12 goals and 24 points during his first stint with the Ducks in 2017-18, but he’s on pace to pass that in the near future.
Noel Acciari, RW (Florida – $1.66 million AAV)
Right off the bat, Acciari’s three-year deal at $1.66 million looked like an incredible steal – six months later, that couldn’t be truer. A good utility player in the bottom-six, Acciari is a wrecking ball, hitting anything and everything he possibly can but without putting his team down a man. He’s more of a shooter than a playmaker: in 2017-18, he scored 10 goals and had one assist. This year, 18 of his 21 points have been goals, putting him on a pace for 31 on the season. With a $92,593/goal pace right now, the Panthers can be happy with their investment.
Blake Coleman, LW (New Jersey – $1.66 million AAV)
What a revelation Coleman has been this season. Playing on a Devils team chasing the first overall pick for the third time since 2017, Coleman is just three goals off of tying his previous career high of 22 set a year ago, with the Devils paying him $94,737/goal through 51 games. Coleman has manned the second line with Travis Zajac and Nikita Gusev which, at least in 2020, has been New Jersey’s most dangerous line on any given night. If Coleman hits 30 goals, what a budget steal.
Zack Kassian, RW (Edmonton – $1.95 million AAV)
Yeah, yeah. He has spent most of the season with Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. Those two could make anyone a star, but Kassian also brings toughness to the lineup in a similar fashion that Tom Wilson brings to Washington’s top line. Kassian’s deal will be a little less budget-friendly next season after signing a four-year extension this week, but with 14 goals and a $139,286/goal cost right now, he’s been an inexpensive member of the Oilers team chasing the post-season for the second time in McDavid’s career.
Jean-Gabriel Pageau, C (Ottawa – $3.1 million AAV)
A pending UFA, Pageau is set to earn a raise from his $3.1-million cap hit this summer as one of the better options available. Which team he’ll go to, of course, is a different story. Despite being Ottawa’s most consistent forward this season, Pageau is expected to take his talents elsewhere ahead of the Feb. 24 trade deadline, with teams lining up for the services of the 20-goal scorer. Pageau brings tremendous value at $155,000/goal, but will he still be as valuable on a better team where opportunities could be more scarce?
Bryan Rust, RW (Pittsburgh – $3.5 million AAV)
The Penguins’ season should have been dead months ago. Injuries to just about every key player and poor goaltending from the team’s No. 1 netminder haven’t seemed to slow this team down, though, and Rust is a big reason why. Rust has 22 goals and 44 points to match Jarnkrok’s $159,091/goal rate, all while doing so as Evgeni Malkin’s sidekick. Rust has already obliterated his previous career high of 38 points from two seasons ago to fill in for the missing Penguins’ offense we’re used to seeing,
Zach Hyman, LW (Toronto – $2.25 million AAV)
The argument can be made that Hyman is a product of linemates Mitch Marner and John Tavares, but Hyman is still quite the value option in the bottom-six. Hyman missed the start of the season with an injury but still has 14 goals and 24 points in 32 games, giving him a $160,714/goal rate heading into February. While he isn’t much more than a 40-point guy, Hyman is tracking towards a 30-goal pace with 30 games left on the calendar – on a team filled with expensive stars, Hyman’s deal is nice to have.
Calle Jarnkrok, LW (Nashville – $2 million AAV)
Fans were confused when the Predators signed Jarnkrok to a six-year deal back in 2016 – Jarnkrok was a good middle-six guy, but a six-year deal? It’s safe to say, though, in a tough season for the franchise, that Jarnkrok has at least held up his end of the bargain. With 12 goals and a $166,667/goal rate, Jarnkrok is on pace for 20 goals this season – the most of his career. Nashville’s biggest strength early in the season was the team’s scoring depth, and while that hasn’t remained the case over the past couple months, Jarnkrok is playing his best statistical hockey to date.
Alex Iafallo, LW (Los Angeles – $2.43 million AAV)
Few things have gone well for the bottom-feeding Kings this season, but Iafallo’s breakout season is definitely a positive. Iafallo should pass his previous career high of 31 points quite soon and with 14 goals and a rate of $173,214/goal, at least something is going write for a team chasing a rebuild. Iafallo has one more year on his deal and by then, the Kings will have much of its young core ready to go – not bad for an undrafted forward out of the NCAA.