Most of my time with the NHL series is spent in franchise mode, specifically the fantasy draft version of franchise mode. However, it doesn’t matter how many different times I do an NHL 21 fantasy draft because the results are always the exact same. At the end of every fantasy draft, the same experienced but older full-time NHL players always go undrafted — finding their way to the crowded free agent pool to begin the NHL season.
Furthermore, it gets even worse from there. These NHL players who do not get drafted more times than not do not even get signed by a team once the season starts. You would expect forwards like Corey Perry and Cody Eakin to garner at minimal some attention, but they seemingly do not. Additionally, older reliable goaltenders also get forgotten about. Legitimate backups like Ryan Miller, Cam Talbot, and Brian Elliott are usually never signed by an NHL team either. Now, granted none of these free agents are going to make or break any one team, but there is still a deflating feeling I get when seeing the lengthy list of dependable full-time NHL free agents.
Having said all of that, the free agent pool post-fantasy draft in NHL 21 is indeed lengthy, but the list below will solely focus on some of the more productive players that are still available.
Free Agents To Add After A Fantasy Draft In NHL 21
Pure goal scores are always a coveted asset for an NHL team, and during the course of his career Carter has been in high demand because he is a proven sniper. Yet, Carter finds himself as a free agent most likely because of his age and his trouble staying healthy the last few seasons. However, Carter is a proven goal scorer who you can consistently count on for about 20 goals every year. The days of Carter scoring 40 goals, like he did in the 2008-2009 season when he notched a career high of 46 goals, are long gone. But on the right team in the right roster spot, 20 goals should be a lock. Having said all that, when healthy Carter can still be counted on as a offensive threat with the puck on his stick even at his age of 36.
At 5-foot-11, somewhat undersized for an NHL forward, Parise was selected six picks after the aforementioned Jeff Carter in the 2003 NHL Draft. During Parise’s NHL career, he has proven himself to be a gifted goal scorer with great speed. Furthermore, what Parise lacks in size he more than makes up for with his tenacity and determination, earning himself a reputation for being one of the toughest players in the NHL to play against. Pound for pound, there are few players who would have an edge over Parise even at his 36 years of age now.
“Jumbo Joe” Joe Thornton
There is no denying the man known as Jumbo will be a first ballot hall of famer when he finally decides to hang ’em up and becomes eligible. Now, at 41 years of age, Thornton is still chasing that elusive Stanley Cup victory and has taken on a lesser role offensively in the process. In other words, his experience and stature far outweigh his production at this point in his career. Heading into this season, Jumbo Joe sits seventh in NHL history in assists with 1,089. To be able to add someone of Thornton’s experience post-draft should almost be a no brainer. Yes, the point totals won’t be what they used to be, but plug Thornton in on your third line and give him first line powerplay opportunities, and you should be rewarded more times than not.
“Big Z” Zdeno Chara
As veteran as they come — and perhaps as big as they come — Zdeno Chara is still one of the most feared players in the entire NHL despite being 43 years of age. The offensive statistics are not what they used to be, and he has definitely lost a step or two speed wise, but he can still be a depth defenseman and a penalty kill specialist. If you sign Chara after a fantasy draft, you could shore up your bottom pairing on defense and add depth for the grind that is the NHL regular season. Also, perhaps striking some fear into your opponents with Chara’s 6-foot-9 frame is reason alone to sign the veteran.
Perhaps one of the free agents that jumps out the least, Anton Stralman is a reliable defensive defenseman who doesn’t do any one thing particularly flashy, but he does a little of everything pretty well. Stralman, a veteran of 800-plus NHL games at 34 years of age, is still relatively young given the rest of the free agents on this list. The former seventh round draft pick has made a nice career for himself being counted on as a player who will sacrifice his body and get in the way of shots directed at his net. If you’re looking for a boost for your penalty killing, signing Stralman and inserting him onto your bottom pairing and penalty killing lines should help.
One of the best puck handling goalies to ever play the game, Smith is 38 years of age now and better relegated to backup duties (Hello, Edmonton). However, Smith would be a good backup option if you have a legitimate starter and are just searching for some veteran stability.
As I previously stated, none of these players will single-handedly put your team on their shoulders and lead your team to success like they once did when they were in their primes. However, if you missed out on any of the players you were targeting during the fantasy draft, any of the players above could definitely fill in a depth role on your team. Furthermore, if at any time during the course of your season your team gets hit with the injury bug and you don’t have the assets to facilitate a trade — nor do you have players you feel confident about in the minors — these players will be available to sign from the free agent pool.