It’s no guarantee the Lightning move Jonathan Drouin, but if they fulfill his trade request, which teams should be first in line to nab him?
The 2015-16 NHL season has taught us smoke rarely yields fire in the trade rumor mill, at least so far. Plenty of names have been tossed out as highly likely candidates to be dealt, from Ryan Johansen to Matt Duchene, and nothing has happened. Heck, Travis Hamonic requested a trade from the New York Islanders to help him with a personal family matter, and even he hasn’t changed addresses almost two months later. The Johnny Boychuk injury makes a deal next to impossible now, too.
So just because Jonathan Drouin, via agent Allan Walsh, formally requested a trade from the Tampa Bay Lightning doesn’t guarantee Drouin will be moved. General manager Steve Yzerman has made it clear he’ll do what’s best for his team before he’ll do what’s best for Drouin, so it’s possible Tampa searches for a way to mend fences and retain the youngster. That said, Drouin should attract a ton of interest on the trade front. He’s only 20. He carries the type of raw talent expected of a player taken third overall in the 2013 draft. Whether his early-career struggles are the result of injury, poor play on his part or not getting a proper opportunity on a stacked team, he has plenty of time to make good on his potential. He has another year left on his deal at an $894,166 cap hit, albeit with performance bonuses worth up to $2.3 million.
Bottom line: Drouin is affordable for virtually any team at the moment, as he’s not a restricted free agent until summer 2017, and he’s young enough to appeal to rebuilding teams and buying teams alike. He carries risk in that he still has a high enough ceiling to command a significant return, but we can expect a ton of interest in him.
Who, then, is the ideal fit for a Drouin acquisition? Consider these five candidates.
The Ducks have had a devil of a time scoring this season despite being an offensive powerhouse as recently as last year and despite having Bruce Boudreau, a.k.a. scoring incarnate, as a coach. Rickard Rakell has looked decent playing the left wing with Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry, but Rakell is a natural center – a championship-caliber third-line center. Drouin, who is much more of a one-way, purely offensive weapon, would be an interesting long-term fit for that top line. He could wind up being the best complement to Getzlaf and Perry since Bobby Ryan.
The Ducks are stacked with promising young blueliners and the Lightning could use another to pad their system, which includes Slater Koekkoek and Anthony DeAngelo. Might Yzerman target Shea Theodore?
Columbus Blue Jackets
This one isn’t too difficult to figure out. If only the Blue Jackets had a coveted player of their own to trade…ah, yes, Mr. Ryan Johansen. He’s done too much in the NHL already to be worth only Drouin straight up, so the Bolts would have to toss in something extra. Johansen isn’t necessarily what the Lightning need, of course. They’re loaded at center as long as Steven Stamkos remains part of their long-term plans. But figuring out what to do with ‘Stammer’ and Tyler Johnson and Johansen would be a nice problem to have anyway. And, hey, if the Lightning knew they were going to lose Stamkos to unrestricted free agency this summer, Johansen would help plug the void up the middle.
Nashville makes sense for Drouin just as it makes sense for Johansen, even though the pair play different positions. The Preds’ committee scoring approach up front is admirable but, aside from Filip Forsberg and Kevin Fiala, their organization lacks elite offensive weapons top to bottom among its 25-and-younger crowd. Drouin would change that. And Nashville has so much blueline depth that it could spare a D-man in a trade.
The Blackhawks just acquired left/right winger Richard Panik from Toronto, and it’s possible Panik gets a shot on Chicago’s top line alongside Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa. But, with all due respect to Panik, Drouin would constitute a significant upgrade at what has been a problem position for the team.
The Hawks have next to no cap space but wouldn’t have to worry about a major jump in Drouin’s pay until the 2017-18 season. And it’s safe to say there’s no cap problem too big for GM Stan Bowman to solve at this point. The main challenge would be determining what to give Tampa Bay for Drouin. The Hawks don’t have enough defensive depth to spare a starter, their forwards range from too valuable to too expensive, and they don’t have an elite group of prospects to draw from.
New Jersey Devils
The Devils rank near the bottom of the NHL in offense, and that’s even with their ragtag veteran group playing way over its head. This is still one of the most talent-deficient teams in the NHL at the forward position, at least among its prospects save for Pavel Zacha. New Jersey is starved for a player with pure puckhandling and scoring ability, and it could hand Drouin a top-six opportunity right away.
Deciding what to send back to Tampa Bay wouldn’t be easy, as the Devils’ cupboard isn’t bursting. It does have a solid crop of young blueliners, though. Perhaps GM Ray Shero could surrender someone like Jon Merrill or Eric Gelinas or Damon Severson as part of a package for Drouin.
Other teams to watch: Carolina Hurricanes, Toronto Maple Leafs, Pittsburgh Penguins, Boston Bruins
Matt Larkin is an associate editor at The Hockey News and a regular contributor to the thn.com Post-To-Post blog. For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Matt Larkin on Twitter at @THNMattLarkin