5 players with fantasy value heading into contract years
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Few things motivate people to produce at a high level like the thought of a big payday.

A number of players will be looking to prove their value this season in hopes of putting pen to paper on a multimillion-dollar deal next July.

Let's take a look at five players who should boost their production as they seek bigger deals - leaving out some superstars entering their contract years. Not only are Tyler Seguin, Sergei Bobrovsky, Erik Karlsson, and their ilk likely to enjoy continued success this season, they're probably set to cash in regardless of their performance.

Artemi Panarin, Blue Jackets

Panarin's days as a member of the Blue Jackets seem to be numbered.

The 26-year-old reportedly told the team he wasn't ready to sign an extension in June and said in July that he won't talk business once training camp opens. It looks like he'll be playing his final year in Columbus this season, and could potentially be traded.

Related - Report: Panarin would seriously consider return to Blackhawks in free agency

Over the last two years, he's posted 156 points, good for seventh league-wide and tied with Alex Ovechkin for the second-most among left wingers. Another strong year would give him the opportunity to write his ticket to the team of his choosing, which appears to be what he wants most. An eight-digit contract wouldn't hurt either. Do you need more motivation than that?

Jeff Skinner, Sabres

After a down 2017-18 campaign, Skinner is poised to bounce back.

The 26-year-old joins the Sabres after largely playing on the Carolina Hurricanes' third line last season. Luckily for him, he's expected to slot into Buffalo's top trio alongside Jack Eichel.

This could be just what Skinner needs to get his numbers back up to snuff. In his impressive 2016-17 campaign, he recorded a career-high 37 goals and matched his career best of 63 points while averaging the most minutes among the team's forwards on the power play and at even strength. One should expect this kind of heavy volume in Buffalo.

Skinner is entering the last season of a six-year, $34.35-million deal, and he'll be playing more minutes alongside an elite talent with what could be his last big contract on the horizon.

Ryan Ellis, Predators

(Note: Ellis has since signed an eight-year, $50-million contract extension with the Predators)

There's no getting around it, Ellis is currently playing on one of the most team-friendly contracts in the league.

The Predators blue-liner is going into the final year of a five-year, $12.5-million contract, a deal that pays him just $2.5 million annually.

Ellis comes into this season after posting nine goals and 32 points in just 44 games a year ago.

Over the last two years, he's had the 17th highest points per game total among all defensemen with at least 60 games played.

Ellis' production continues to improve and with his first and potentially only long-term contract of his career on the line, expect him to further showcase himself as one of the league's premier offensive defensemen.

Jake Gardiner, Maple Leafs

Gardiner is coming off a season that will be remembered for featuring both the best and worst of what the young defenseman has to offer.

The 28-year-old set a career high with 52 points in 82 games while potting a career-best 15 power-play points. He had a strong regular season, but shouldered much of the blame for the Maple Leafs' collapse in the third period of Game 7 against the Boston Bruins.

He averaged the most ice time on the team during the regular season and finished with the ninth highest point total by a Maple Leafs defender since the 1991 campaign.

Gardiner now enters a pivotal season, as many pundits still point to the club's blue line as their weakness. If he can prove to be a dependable defenseman at both ends of the ice, he will be in line for a big payday.

William Karlsson, Golden Knights

Can Karlsson repeat his production?

After managing just 18 goals across 183 career games heading into his first season with the Golden Knights, Karlsson went off. The Swede finished third overall with 43 goals while besting his previous career high in points by 53, tallying 78 in 82 contests.

Prior to signing a one-year, $5.25-million contract, Karlsson was reportedly asking for $6.5 million from Vegas heading into arbitration, while the Golden Knights had countered with a $3.5-million ask.

Karlsson eventually got the Golden Knights to come up nearly $2 million from their original price, suggesting they understand his worth. It's now on him to replicate that success.

(Photos courtesy: Getty Images)

5 players with fantasy value heading into contract years
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