Entering 2017-18, the Columbus Blue Jackets faced questions over their depth at center. Nearly a month into the season, it remains a nagging issue.
The Jackets are employing Nick Foligno at center to balance their scoring lines but he’s more effective at left wing. Veteran Brandon Dubinsky is off to a slow start and was recently stripped of his duties as an alternate captain. Alexander Wennberg’s difficulties against top-line opponents has him relegated to third-line duty. The offseason loss of William Karlsson to the Vegas Golden Knights in the expansion draft also weakened their depth at that position.
Since July, trade rumors linked the Columbus Blue Jackets to Colorado Avalanche center Matt Duchene. The recent sidelining of fourth-line center Lukas Sedlak with an ankle injury stoked the speculation. After Sedlak was placed on injured reserve, Michael Arace of the Columbus Dispatch wondered if Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen might revisit his rumored interest in Duchene. Noting the Avs’ asking price is high, Arace said defenseman Ryan Murray and young winger Sonny Milano were part of Kekalainen’s rumored offer.
In a recent mailbag segment, The Athletic’s Aaron Portzline was asked if the Jacket might consider dealing for Montreal Canadiens forward Alex Galchenyuk. While Portzline doesn’t rule out the possibility, he notes the 23-year-old has yet to prove himself as a center.
The Vegas Golden Knights attempted to move center Vadim Shipachyov via trade but Kekalainen wasn’t interested. While Shipachyov had chemistry with Jackets winger Artemi Panarin when the duo played for Russia at the 2016 World Championships, the 30-year-old’s difficulties adjusting to the NHL game doesn’t make him a good fit in Columbus.
With significant early season trades a rarity in today’s NHL, Kekalainen will have to remain patient with his roster. If he’s seriously interested in Duchene, he could be forced to wait until the Avalanche lower their asking price. It’s doubtful he’ll pursue a deal for Alex Galchenyuk, as the Canadiens’ asking price could be one of the Jackets’ scoring forwards. If this issue persists, expect Kekalainen to monitor the trade market. While he might have to wait until next summer to find a long-term solution, some decent short-terms options could become available from non-playoff clubs near the Feb. 26 trade deadline.
OILERS SEEKING SPEED, SCORING
Having entered this season considered a Stanley Cup contender, the Edmonton Oilers finished October with only three victories in their first 10 games. Among the factors behind their disappointing start was a lack of team speed and depth at right wing.
Sportsnet’s Nick Kypreos reports the Oilers are looking for a scoring right winger. He said they’re also disappointed in the play of Ryan Strome, who was acquired from the New York Islanders last June. Kypreos believes they would be open to trading the 23-year-old Strome but questions if they could get anything of value in return. His colleague Elliotte Friedman wonders if New York Rangers right wing Chris Kreider might be a fit.
With only three points in 10 games, Strome bounced around the Oilers lineup through October. Though he was swapped for Jordan Eberle, his stock has declined since the summer. The Oilers will be lucky to get a serviceable roster player for him now.
Like most of his Rangers teammates, Kreider is struggling this season, with just five points in 12 games. Despite his inconsistency, his speed and 6-foot-3, 224-pound frame would be enticing to the Oilers. However, the Rangers need help at center and that’s a commodity the Oilers have in short supply. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins was frequently the subject of trade chatter over the last two years, but the Rangers can’t afford his $6-million annual salary through 2020-21.
Sportsnet’s Mark Spector report sources claiming Oilers GM Peter Chiarelli could be willing to move forwards Jussi Jokinen and Anton Slephshev. Meanwhile, Chris Johnston said said one team has expressed interest in blueliner Matt Benning. It’s doubtful, however, the Oilers will get a return for any of those players that would have an immediate positive effect upon their roster.
The Toronto Sun’s Steve Simmons notes the New York Islanders recently demoted winger Joshua Ho-Sang. He suggests the Oilers look into the 21-year-old’s availability. Ho-Sang’s struggled to crack the Islanders’ lineup and could be an affordable gamble for the Oilers. But after watching Nino Niederreiter blossom with the Minnesota Wild after he also had difficulty sticking with the Isles, GM Garth Snow could be reluctant to repeat that mistake.
Rumor Roundup appears regularly only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Eishockey News and The Guardian (P.E.I.).
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