We're just over a week away from the NHL trade deadline, so cue the hysteria.
Prospects are always popular currency around this time, especially if it means landing a coveted veteran to push a team over the hump.
Not every team is going to be among the movers and shakers at the deadline. Vegas made their move getting Eichel and they have no cap space to make another move. Is Los Angeles really going to make a move this year or let their young core see what they’re made of? Tampa Bay is tight up against the cap and already has a loaded roster.
Let's look at some quality prospects that could be used as trade bait over the next week:
RW Owen Tippett and LW Gregori Denisenko, Florida Panthers
It feels like we’ve been waiting forever for Tippett and Denisenko to break into the NHL and unleash their offensive potential on the league but it just hasn’t happened yet. The 23-year-old Tippett is just about at put-up or shut-up time in his prospect timeline. He’s been given an extended look in the NHL this season but wasn’t put in a prime offensive role because of the loaded Panthers roster. A fresh start with a team where roster goal-scoring is needed could be what it takes for the sniper to find his footing.
Denisenko has been given cups of coffee at the NHL level the last two years but has found it difficult to latch on as well. At 21-years-old, he may be ripe for a breakout quite soon. The highly skilled dual-threat forward has the ability to be a precise playmaker as well as a legitimate goal-scorer. A rebuilding team may look to bring Denisenko in to join a young group and provide some solid offensive abilities to compliment high-end draft picks that they are likely to be infused into their roster over the next couple of seasons.
D Juuso Välimäki and D Jérémie Poirier, Calgary Flames
The Calgary Flames already made one impact trade prior to the deadline by acquiring Tyler Toffoli from Montreal, but they might not be done.
Välimäki played in the NHL last season but found himself on the outside looking in this year, only getting into nine games thus far. His talent has never really been in question, especially as a puck-mover, but there seems to be a lack of consistency at this point. Having turned 23 just prior to the season, Välimäki is going to need to step his game up and work his way onto an NHL roster. It just might not be in Calgary.
Poirier was a divisive prospect in his draft year and he continues to be divisive a year and a half later. His offensive abilities have never been questioned as he has been consistently a point-per-game blueliner in the QMJHL. His defensive game is a bit of a mess, though, which isn't completely ideal for a defenseman. Acquiring Poirier would likely mean a team is willing to wait and hope their bet on the upside is worth it.
D Topi Niemelä and F Nick Abruzzese, Toronto Maple Leafs
Niemelä is arguably the Leafs' top prospect, so parting with him would likely mean that the team is bringing in an impact piece. The poised and skilled rearguard has passed nearly every test he’s been given since his draft day. Niemelä was the top defenseman at the 2021 World Junior Championship and has been excellent in the top Finnish league His defensive game has grown this year as well with an emphasis on positioning and working to out-skill his opponent with stick work and excellent reads.
Abruzzese is a bit more of a reasonable trade piece for Toronto. His progression in the NCAA has been impressive. He missed all of last season because Harvard didn’t play, but he has picked up where he left off after a successful freshman year. The Harvard captain sits second on team scoring despite leaving for a period of time to play a role on the American Olympic squad where he was a point-per-game player. Abruzzese should be an intriguing piece for teams looking to add some efficient skill to the middle of the lineup.
D Sean Behrens and D Drew Helleson, Colorado Avalanche
The Colorado Avalanche are stacked as it is, but that doesn't mean they won't seek out further help. They have a young core on the backend so trading from their blueline prospects makes a ton of sense and the two names that pop out immediately are NTDP alums Behrens and Helleson. Separated by two years with the U.S. U-18 program, they bring different playing styles and attributes depending on what the acquiring team is looking for.
Behrens is an undersized offensive blueliner with a boatload of skill. His ability to attack space and create offensively with his vision and passing ability are what make him special. Behrens' defensive game has always been based on intelligent reads and cutting play off before it develops and he’s carried that over to the University of Denver quite nicely.
Helleson has seen a bit of an offensive explosion this year as he has hovered around 0.75 points per game this season but it’s his defensive work that he’s known for. The 6-foot-3 blueliner uses his length effectively defensively, getting his stick into passing lanes and tying up his opponents. Helleson’s defensive reads are a step ahead of the competition. The Boston College top pair defender is not the kind of flashy defenseman that will lead a rush on his own but he will make the smart pass just about every time. He plays a simple yet effective game with the puck on his stick, utilizing his more skilled teammates, putting them in positions to succeed. Helleson is very much the modern defensive defenseman that teams are looking for.
C Jack Drury and D Anttoni Honka, Carolina Hurricanes
A bunch of jerks walk into the draft and continuously load up on prospects. There’s no joke here, that’s just what happens every summer it seems when the draft rolls around so while Drury and Honka are highlighted here, the Canes have a prospect pool littered with players that opposing teams may covet. From Ville Koivunen to Scott Morrow, Carolina has a little bit of everything in their system.
Drury looks like an intriguing piece as he is right on the precipice of finding a consistent NHL role. Drury went overseas to play in Sweden last year after Harvard canceled their NCAA season and helped lead the Växjö Lakers to the SHL championship, tallying 30 points in 41 regular-season games before adding 11 in 14 games on their championship run in the playoffs. This year, he has brought his solid two-way game to the AHL and hasn’t looked out of place for a minute, earning a brief call-up to the Canes in December where he scored a goal in each of his two games.
Honka is a bit more of a high-risk/high-reward gamble type of prospect. His offensive skill has never been a question. He has improved every year in the Liiga since his draft year. Honka is quite adept with the puck on his stick, showcasing the ability to lead or support the rush-up ice and make plays in the offensive zone. The 5-foot-10 defenseman is an excellent puck distributor from the point and has powerplay quarterback written all over him with his dynamism from the blueline. His defensive woes will need to be worked out but the upside is intriguing and could help a rebuilding team in a year or two.
C Dylan Peterson and C Zachary Bolduc, St. Louis Blues
The Blues may not belong on this list considering they have a cap situation that is a bit worrisome but they also feel like a team that could use a piece to get them into true contender status. They will require some creativity, possibly moving out a contract to free up some space. With that said, they likely won’t be able to add a major piece so trading Jake Neighbours wouldn’t make a ton of sense. That’s where some of the team's other assets come into play.
Peterson has the physical tools that teams covet in size and skating ability but has been a bit limited offensively. He has shown flashes of potential but projects as a solid two-way middle-six center with some goal-scoring touch. He showed that at the Beanpot tournament where he came up clutch by scoring with just under three minutes to go in regulation to win the coveted Beanpot tournament. Although his ceiling could be a bit limited, Peterson looks like a player that will fill an NHL role one day pretty safely.
There is a bit more upside with Bolduc, a top-ten scorer in the QMJHL this year. Bolduc brings a package that includes quick and precise hands that can dangle defenders when challenged and the ability to attack the middle of the ice in the offensive zone thanks to his skating combined with his puck skills. Bolduc has the tools to be an upper-echelon point producer but needs to become more comfortable with using his teammates more consistently and scanning the ice a bit more. The offensive potential is clearly evident, but it's all about rounding it all into form.
D Mason Lohrei and C Jack Studnicka, Boston Bruins
The Bruins will be an interesting team come deadline day as they look to improve their roster for yet another Stanley Cup run. When will the Bergeron and Marchand-led Bruins finally teeter off and become less dangerous come playoff time? Maybe never, which is exactly why they may look to trade for an upgrade, particularly on their blueline.
Studnicka has been waiting to break into this roster for a couple of seasons now but hasn’t found a way to impress thus far at the NHL level. His AHL play has been strong as he inches closer to a point-per-game so there is still quite a bit of hope that he can become a regular NHLer in good time.
Defender Mason Lohrei has impressed with Ohio State University this year, flirting with a point-per-game as a freshman blueliner in the BIG-10. He boasts a big, strong frame standing 6-foot-4 and 194 pounds and is willing to throw his body around a bit. His puck skills are decent and he can make a solid first pass. His offensive weapons are not overly impressive but he does have a snappy wrister from the blue line and he finds shooting lanes fairly well. Lohrei projects as a two-way defenseman who can make an impact as a second-pair blueliner. Lohrei has become a prospect that Bruins fans have become a bit infatuated with because he fits what a Bruin is in many ways so trading him may be something that only happens if there is a real difference-maker coming back.