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Rent-a-goal: Five forwards who will be highly sought at the NHL trade deadline

This time last season, the first trade dominoes ahead of the NHL trade deadline began to fall. So, as we gear up for the trade frenzy, here are five forwards who could draw the most interest as rentals.

It seems as though it was only a few weeks back the NHL campaign was getting underway, but in little more than one month's time, the trade deadline will be upon us with the league’s contenders and pretenders, buyers and sellers, taking part in the annual pre-playoff roster shuffle.

At this time last season, the first moves leading up to the deadline had happened. It wasn’t a major deal, but in a move that brought the Nashville Predators, the eventual Western Conference champions, more depth, Cody McLeod left the Colorado Avalanche with a one-way ticket to Music City, with forward prospect Felix Girard going the other way. From that point on, nearly 50 deals were completed. Some, like swaps of players such as Joe Cannatta, Mike McKenna and Taylor Beck, were forgettable. But others, such as trades that saw Kevin Shattenkirk and Martin Hanzal on the move, were headline worthy in that they brought key players on expiring contracts — rentals, as they’ve become known — to teams with Stanley Cup contention in mind.

This season, there are a fair number of notable players who fit into the rental category, ranging from top talents to veterans who can contribute with a wealth of experience and some offensive or defensive prowess. Here are five forwards who fit the bill:

Evander Kane, Buffalo Sabres

Aside from John Tavares and Josh Bailey, a pair of New York Islanders who are going to be staying put through the deadline, there’s no pending unrestricted free agent with more points than Kane. In 44 games, the Sabres winger has accumulated 16 goals and 36 points and he’s skating big minutes in Buffalo, too. His combination of speed, skill and physicality makes him a unique piece on the rental, the type of power forward who seems to be pure playoff material, and teams in the hunt for some additional scoring are going to be calling about Kane come February, if they haven’t started the bidding already.

That said, as the top prize on the rental market, Kane, 26, will be expensive — prohibitively, in some cases — to acquire. According to a recent report from TSN’s Darren Dreger, prying Kane away from the Sabres could cost as much as four assets, including a first-round pick, conditional pick and prospect, with Buffalo GM Jason Botterill also potentially chasing an NHL-ready roster player. That’s not exactly an unprecedented ask, mind you. Last season, both Shattenkirk and Hanzal, while traded along with other pieces, brought four assets to the St. Louis Blues and Arizona Coyotes, respectively. Likewise, trading Matt Duchene earlier this campaign — and then moving Kyle Turris in a secondary move — landed the Colorado Avalanche a total of seven assets, including picks in the first, second and third rounds of the upcoming draft.

Thomas Vanek, Vancouver Canucks

Vanek should be getting used to this by now. In 2014, he was dealt to the Montreal Canadiens by the New York Islanders for a pick and prospect Sebastien Collberg. In 2017, the Detroit Red Wings shipped him off to the Florida Panthers for a third-round selection and Dylan McIlrath. And this time around, the Canucks seem primed to send the 33-year-old to the highest bidder as they seek to add a few assets in order to stock the cupboard and build around a new-look core that includes Bo Horvat and Brock Boeser.

Despite the fact Vanek has 13 goals and 32 points, he won’t have the appeal, nor will he bring back the assets, of a Kane. Given his production, though, it wouldn’t be farfetched to see teams pay a much higher price than the Panthers did last season to acquire Vanek. And who could be after him? Well, there are currently four teams holding down playoff spots with power plays in the bottom one-third of the league: Columbus, St. Louis, Vegas and Los Angeles. It would be advisable for each, depending on the cost, to ask about Vanek, too. Yes, he’s playing on one of the league’s more effective power plays, but Vanek has 13 points with the man advantage this season. That’s tied for 31st in the league among all forwards, and that kind of special teams production can come in handy.

Patrick Maroon, Edmonton Oilers

Across what has been nearly two full seasons with the Oilers, Maroon, 29, has been an unexpected source of offense, which is to say few would have seen the physical forward racking up 38 goals across his past 125 games in Edmonton. But despite his production, the Oilers need to start taking next season into consideration and should have an eye on improving team speed. Thus, Maroon, who isn’t exactly fleet of foot, is expendable — especially on a roster that already includes Zack Kassian and Milan Lucic — as he heads into the final year of his contract.

The positives are evident when it comes to Maroon. He can play a physical game, he’s shown an ability to play and succeed alongside highly skilled linemates and his nose for the net can create the kind of havoc that some deem necessary come the post-season. There’s also the matter of his contract, which carries a palatable $1.5-million cap hit this season. The negatives, however, are that, as noted, Maroon isn’t a burner. He’s not going to win many footraces and against a pure north-south, run-and-gun opponent, Maroon might lose some of his effectiveness. Teams looking for a cost-effective depth option, though, would do well to pry Maroon out of Edmonton and see if he can repeat his three-goal, eight-point performance from last season’s playoffs.

Mark Letestu, Edmonton Oilers

Edmonton’s downturn this season opens them up to be sellers, thus a second Oiler appears among the top rental forwards. Letestu is a much different player than Maroon, but one who could draw some interest, nevertheless. Offensively, he might not blow anyone’s hair back, but Letestu, 32, can still chip in and produce in a pinch. His eight goals and 16 points this season put him on pace to flirt with 15 goals by the end of the campaign, but the most intriguing aspect of Letestu’s production is that it isn’t restricted to one aspect of the game. He’s an all-situations type, with a shot that can be utilized on the power play and a mind that makes him a useful asset on the penalty kill. 

Letestu is similar to Maroon in that both carry cap hits that make them easy acquisitions, though. He’s earning $1.8 million this season in both salary and cap hit and the price tag to acquire him likely won’t be all that large. A pick or two, maybe even one mid-round selection and a conditional selection, could be more than enough to pry him out of Edmonton. Depth is important in the post-season, and Letestu can certainly offer that.

Patrick Sharp, Chicago Blackhawks

Let’s be honest here: those looking for the Patrick Sharp of old will be disappointed if they acquire the Blackhawks winger expecting anything that even resembles his two 10-goal playoff performances, both of which resulted in Stanley Cups in Chicago. But teams looking for a veteran presence who can play on the power play, chip in a goal or two down the stretch and kill some penalties in a pinch could do worse than bringing Sharp aboard. We know how much teams value past Stanley Cup experience, too, and Sharp has three of those on his resume. Acquiring Sharp is also a potentially cost-effective move, too. Signed to a sweetheart of a deal — he carries an $800,000 cap hit — it’s not going to be tough for any team to fit him into their salary structure.

There are two caveats here, though. The first is that Sharp has a no-trade clause, which could limit the options for teams seeking to acquire the 36-year-old. The second is the Blackhawks probably won’t be willing to admit they’re out of the playoff race until deadline day, and even then Chicago might be in denial. If GM Stan Bowman sees Sharp as a player who can help keep the Blackhawks’ playoff streak alive, he’s likely in Chicago until the end of the campaign.

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