NHL Prospects Buyers Will Consider Moving at the 2023 Trade DeadlineFebruary 3, 2023
NHL Prospects Buyers Will Consider Moving at the 2023 Trade Deadline
A well-timed trading deadline addition can be the difference between an early playoff exit and a Stanley Cup banner. Every contender is looking to add, so you better participate in the arm's race.
This trading deadline is particularly important. The Connor Bedard sweepstakes have created a scenario in which a number of teams are, let's say, amenable to losing. At the other end of the spectrum, the Bruins sit atop the standings but there are otherwise a number of teams who are either clear-cut contenders or ready to at least take the next step and show well.
Typically, draft picks are the common currency at the deadline. Some teams lack a strong compilation of draft picks at their disposal, while sellers might require prospects who are closer to beginning an NHL career. GMs typically subscribe to the Endowment Effect—they hate to lose the prospects they've already drafted. Sometimes, they have no choice. Undoubtedly, young players will be on the move prior to the March 3rd deadline.
Identifying which prospects might be moved requires towing a fine line. On one hand, the prospect has to be good enough that the acquiring team finds him acceptable compensation. On the other, the trading team can't be married to that player. Finding the in-between depends on organizational context and the type of player each buyer is pursuing.
Here are the best prospects who could be traded by 17 buying NHL teams.
New Jersey Devils: Alexander Holtz (Right Wing)
The top player realistically available at the trading deadline is San Jose Sharks winger Timo Meier. That was true before Bo Horvat's move to Long Island, and it's definitely accurate today.
The wings are where General Manager Tom Fitzgerald needs to find an upgrade. So they might as well get the best one available. The Devils, who are competitive this season and on the rise toward a long contention window, are a logical match for the Swiss winger.
Typically, prospects included in deadline moves are of the middling type. This scenario is different. Meier is 26 years old and ranks 14th among all forwards by goals scored over the past two seasons. He'll be a restricted free agent after this season. Meier is not a rental nor even a short-term addition. Acquiring him likely means adding a star for the next five-plus seasons.
You have to give to get in this rare scenario. In this case, the player with whom the Devils would likely have to part with is Alexander Holtz. Drafted seventh overall in 2020, the Swedish right-winger is a goal scorer with high upside. Holtz was a point-per-game player in the AHL last season and has scored three goals in limited playing time over 18 games in New Jersey this season. He's not Timo Meier, but he a highly intriguing prospect who will likely turn into a top-six NHL winger. Usually, a prospect of this caliber wouldn't go anywhere, but acquiring Meier would make this the exception to the rule.
Other Candidates: Seamus Casey (RD), Nolan Foote (LW)
New York Rangers: Zac Jones (Left Defense)
The New York Rangers are the league's safest bet for executing a pre-deadline trade of substance. The team is comfortably in playoff position, signal a win-now ethos, and have a decent allocation of assets with which to work, including two 2023 first-round picks.
Their best young player presumably available is left defenseman Zac Jones. The 22-year-old defenseman has thrived in the AHL both this and last year; he currently sits with six goals and 11 assists through 25 games. He will participate in the AHL All-Star Game on February 6th.
That success hasn't quite translated to the NHL level yet. His eight points in 38 NHL games over the course of three seasons is far removed from the production one would expect from an offensive defenseman. And while Jones does have some tools that could lead to a decent defensive game — anticipation, puck retrievals, and footwork — he will sink or swim by whether he helps his team put the puck in the net.
The Rangers demoted Jones to the AHL in early December and, given his age and the repeated NHL trials, it's reasonable to assume that their hope for his future with the team has greatly diminished. Another team, however would be wise to bet on his clever touch with the puck and vision in the offensive zone. If another GM requires a young player with potential as part of a bigger package for a top-line forward such as Timo Meier, Patrick Kane, or Vladimir Tarasenko, Jones is the heavy favorite to be that inclusion.
Other Candidates: Vitali Kravtsov (Right Wing), Matthew Robertson (Left Defense)
Toronto Maple Leafs: Matthew Knies (Left Wing)
There is little doubt that Toronto will bring in reinforcements prior to March 3. For one, the team is a clear-cut contender. They enter the NHL All-Star break with the fifth-best record in the NHL by points percentage (.673). The time for improvements would be now even if management wasn't under immense pressure to finally get past the first round of the playoffs.
If General Manager Kyle Dubas is to go all-in, then Matthew Knies is the best asset at his disposal. Drafted late in the second round of the 2021 draft, Knies quickly proved that he deserved to go much higher. He was an standout at the 2021 World Junior Summer Showcase for Team USA and tallied 15 goals and 18 assists in 33 NCAA games for the Minnesota Gophers. Those are highly impressive numbers for a true freshman in the Big-10 conference. He's in the midst of yet another strong season for Minnesota and most scouts will be comfortable projecting him as a future NHLer.
Knies does a bit of everything. The Arizona native is 6'3" and 210 pounds, which lends well to a power forward game. But Knies also is composed with the puck and possesses a great wrist shot. There isn't much wow-worthy about his game, but he is a well-rounded winger who doesn't look too far off from a role as a middle-six NHL winger.
For sure, Dubas will be open-minded as the deadline approaches; he can't afford to be anything else. But even despite a building towards what could be a make-or-break season for his job in Toronto, the 37-year-old GM is a big believer in "The Process." Knies is the Leafs' top prospect and the Leafs, with a top-heavy roster, will need effective forwards with cheap contracts going forward. In fact, Knies himself may very well sign with the Leafs following the end of the college season and immediately jump into the lineup.
Would Dubas move Knies as the clincher in a trade for a young defenseman like Jakub Chychrun? Maybe. More likely than not, Knies is a piece that the Leafs keep. Nonetheless, he is management's top trade chip if the juice is worth the squeeze.
Other Candidates: Fraser Minten, Roni Hirvonen
Boston: Jakub Lauko (Right Wing)
The Boston Bruins are not only posturing as the best team in the league, but maybe even the best of the salary cap era. The Bruins are running away from the pack in the standings; their 83 points are well ahead of the Carolina Hurricanes, who sit second with 76. The core is aging and every season is potentially the last for Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci.
The Bruins are going to have a difficult time building a contender a few years from now, so they might as well go for broke while the stars are aligning. General Manager Don Sweeney's problem will be making enticing enough offers. The Bruins' prospect pool is among the worst in the league both second-round picks in 2023 and 2024 respectively were already sent elsewhere. Swedish winger Fabian Lysell is the organization's top prospect but, even given the situation, Sweeney will have a very hard time moving the one player in the organization under the age of 24 with high upside.
The best fit for this exercise is winger Jakub Lauko. Drafted in the 2018 third-round, Lauko has suffered multiple injuries in four seasons in the AHL and his production has gone up-and-down—from 23 points in 29 games in 2020-21 to just 16 in 54 games the next season. Lauko hasn't quite matched the early expectations but he's kept himself in the NHL picture, earning his first handful of NHL games at the start of the season.
The 22-year-old is strong and skates well north-south. He has the capacity to turn into a depth grinder who chips in the occasional goal. That's not going to drive a trade, but he could be the clinching piece when packaged with a first-round pick.
Other Candidates: Matthew Poitras (C), Brett Harrison (C)
Carolina Hurricanes: Jack Drury (Center)
The Hurricanes are going to make a notable move or two. Management isn't feeling the burden of job security or a closing window, but they are top-tier Stanley Cup contender. Plus, Max Pacioretty's unfortunate Achilles injury opens up a hole in the lineup as well as an excess of salary-cap room. It's only reasonable that they'd make at least one sizable addition.
General manager Don Waddell also has one of the best prospect pools in the league at his disposal. The scouting team has done an exceptional job grabbing both high-end talent and depth, meaning Waddell will be able to pull from the youth ranks without damaging the team's future.
There are a number of good options here, and the ultimate trade pieces (if any) will come down to situation fit and valuation.
Let's go with Jack Drury. Drafted by Carolina in the second round of the 2018 draft, the New York native was a standout at Harvard University during his freshman and sophomore seasons as a well as in the Swedish Hockey League during the 2020-21 COVID hiatus. Drury was also exceptional in his first AHL season in 2021-22, producing 52 points in 68 games. He scored twice in his first two NHL games.
Much like his uncle, Chris, Jack plays a complete 200-foot game. He'll fit into a variety of tactical setups, he is versatile offensively both with and without the puck. He probably has an NHL future, and skills development will determine whether he spends his career on the second line or the fourth line.
Drury struggled in 21 games for the Hurricanes this season, with only two assists in 21 games. He's taken a step back in the AHL as well, and Rod Brind'Amour already has a strong center depth chart. If the Hurricanes have soured on him, then they could be amenable to trading him. At the same time, he's very close to NHL-ready and has enough upside to intrigue another team.
Centers are always sought after. Waddell won't give him away, but if an impact player is involved, Drury could be a satisfactory inclusion for both teams.
Other Candidates: Jamieson Rees (C/W), Jackson Blake (RW)
Colorado Avalanche: Ben Meyers (Center)
General manager Joe Sakic milked most of the team's prospects and draft picks in the past two seasons, but the 2022 Stanley Cup made it all worth it. Despite the Avalanche's regular-season struggles, any sensible person will consider them a realistic Cup contender.
Sakic is going to add to the team, with the glaring need being a second-line center following Nazem Kadri's departure and the failure to replace him. A move is coming. While most teams would prefer to part with draft picks, the Avalanche's depletion of mid-round draft picks in 2023 and 2024 make the inclusion of a prospect likely, if not preferable.
There are a few options, but the best realistic "prospect" at Sakic's disposal is center Ben Meyers. Typically, a 24-year-old would not qualify, but Meyers was signed last April following three seasons playing collegiate hockey at Minnesota.
Meyers has been a trustworthy presence defensively on the Avalanche fourth line, but he's been a black hole offensively with only one point in 28 games. Meyers is on the outside looking in and is now playing in the AHL. If that's the case now, then it will only get worse following deadline additions. Moving on from Meyers less than a year after signing him would be anticlimactic, but if head coach Jared Bednar doesn't see Meyers as a piece of the puzzle as a 24-year-old, then when would he?
Still, Meyers was the most highly sought-after undrafted NCAA free agent last spring, and his reliable defensive game should at least buy him time to prove himself. A worse team with a hole in the bottom six and room for immediate growing pains could see him as the perfect depth piece.
Other Candidates: Jean-Luc Foudy (C), Sampo Ranta (LW)
Washington Capitals: Vincent Iorio (Right Defense)
The Washington Capitals are in a bit of a bind. If you believe models built by Evolving Hockey and The Athletic, the team is coin flip to make the NHL playoffs in a deep Eastern Conference. John Carlson is out with a long-term injury, and if they do get in, the Caps going to be a long shot to make a serious run.
But the playoffs are the playoffs. Alexander Ovechkin is 37 years old, and Nicklas Bäckström is on his last legs. You have to do something.
If the Capitals want to make a big move, then former first-round pick Connor McMichael, whom the Caps demoted to the AHL this season after 68 games in the NHL last season, is their top asset. That is unlikely. Depth center Aliaksei Protas fits the mold of a deadline trade chip, but with Nic Dowd's recent injury, head coach Pete Laviolette needs him for shutdown minutes.
There are no great candidates here. One option could be Vincent Iorio. The 20-year-old defenseman was a second-round pick in 2021. He had a good-but-not-great junior career in the Western Hockey League, and he now has two goals and 12 assists in 41 games. Those aren't inspiring numbers, but they're not disqualifying for a 20-year-old, either.
Iorio won't be a point-producer in the NHL, but he has enough ability to move the puck from the back end and, with decent mobility despite his 6'4" frame, the British Columbia native could make his way to the NHL in a third-pairing, shutdown role. That's not the type of prospect who will land the Capitals a major trade target, but if general manager Brian MacLellan is searching for a mid-tier acquisition, then Iorio could be a decent prospect to dangle.
Other Candidates: Aliaksei Protas (C), Ludwig Persson (LW)
Calgary Flames: Dustin Wolf (Goaltender)
How bold will the Calgary Flames go? Last season, they were the second-best team in the Western Conference. This season, following the losses of Johnny Gaudreau and Matthew Tkachuk, the situation is murkier. The Flames are a playoff team and are a realistic option to win the Stanley Cup, but they have downgraded to the second tier of contenders.
Of course, a lot will depend on which players are within reach. Timo Meier will require the inclusion of at least one of former first-round picks Matthew Coronato, Jakob Pelletier, and Connor Zary. Save for a surprise player who gets moved at the deadline, no other players are worth that cost.
In a vacuum, this would leave Dustin Wolf as the Flames' top prospect. The 6'0" goaltender has proven doubters wrong at every level. He was a back-to-back Goaltender of the Year winner in the Western Hockey League. He won the AHL's best goaltender award last season as a 20-year-old rookie. This season, the former seventh-round pick sports a .928 save percentage for the Flames' AHL affiliate. But with goaltenders Jacob Markstrom and Daniel Vladar locked in for the next three and two seasons, respectively, does Wolf have a future in Calgary?
The problem the Flames face is exactly why Wolf might be a sub-optimal trade piece. For all of the Philadelphia Flyers' needs, Carter Hart makes goaltending help redundant. A similar case can be made for the Florida Panthers thanks to Spencer Knight.
The vast majority of recognizable sellers could use a goaltender, and there are two spots available on each team. Wolf is not the perfect trade asset, but for the right team, he would be a welcome addition.
Other Candidates: Jeremie Poirier (LD), Topi Rönni (C)
Dallas Stars: Thomas Harley (Left Defense)
The Stars' most likely trade asset is Dennis Gurianov. The Russian winger started his career well during the 2019-20 season, but he's endured a decline in play since. He has the talent to be a capable NHL player, but he isn't getting it done and now looks like he needs a change in scenery.
In terms of prospects, the Stars' best asset is Thomas Harley. Dallas drafted the now 21-year-old with the 18th overall pick in the 2019 NHL draft. The 6'3" defenseman played well in his draft-plus-one season in the Ontario Hockey League, scoring 18 goals and adding 39 assists in 59 games. He has since made the transition to professional hockey and has shown no red flags at the AHL level.
Harley still has not been able to get over the hump, logging 34 uninspiring games with Dallas last season. Defensively, he was not a disaster, but he did lag behind. Offensively, he registered only one goal and three assists. The Stars eventually sent Harley down to the AHL, where he has spent the entire 2022-23 season. Harley has scored eight goals plus 15 assists in 42 games so far.
Miro Heiskanen and Esa Lindell make a formidable one-two punch on left defense, and Dallas selected Swiss left defenseman Lian Bichsel in the first round last summer. Harley's window of opportunity in Dallas is running out.
It's way too early to count him out as an NHL player, however. Harley has been productive at every other level, and he doesn't turn 22 until August. He is one of Dallas' top prospects, and the same would be true on many teams. The vast majority of rebuilding teams will see Harley as a talented defenseman who needs an opportunity to play on a less crowded blue line.
Other Candidates: Riley Damiani (F), Ayrton Martino (LW)
Pittsburgh Penguins: Filip Hållander (C/W)
President Brian Burke and general manager Ron Hextall are in a bit of a bind. The organization took a half-baked approach to the trade deadline over the past two years, moving out second- and third-round picks for players who were insufficient in pushing Pittsburgh past the first round of the playoffs.
The prospect pool was depleted to begin with, but the lack of substantial draft picks has completely undermined any ability to restock the cupboard. The team's best prospect is defenseman Kevin Pickering by a wide margin. Teams would be greatly interested, but he's close to untouchable.
After him, the pickings are slim. Filip Hållander is actually a strong choice, as he fits the mold of the type of compromise prospect that both teams can settle on. The 22-year-old Swedish forward plays an intelligent and active two-way game. He won't be an offensive driver at the NHL level, but there's enough there to be a contributor evidenced by his 25 points in 27 games in the AHL. He's close to—if not already—capable of a bottom-six NHL role.
On most teams, he'd be an expendable prospect. Pittsburgh needs all the help they can get in terms of cheap, young talent, so they can't really afford to transfer him elsewhere. But the Penguins' contending window is closing and, at some point, they need to decide to go for it.
Other Candidates: Tyler Smith (LD), Samuel Poulin (RW)
Edmonton Oilers: Xavier Bourgault (Right Wing)
Despite a trip to the 2022 Western Conference Final in which the team's top players dragged the entire team forward, the Edmonton Oilers have wasted enough of Connor McDavid's and Leon Draisaitl's prime years. The Oilers are currently 12th in the league by points percentage, and that doesn't fully cover the turbulence of this season.
General manager Ken Holland can't be patient and stay the course forever. At some point, it's put up or shut up time. He doesn't need to sell the farm, but he needs to keep his superstars happy amid another underachieving season.
The Oilers have enough draft capital to make a big move without involving a notable prospect. But if they must, then Xavier Bourgault is their best resource. The Oilers drafted the Québécois center 18th overall in 2021 and, aside from Dylan Holloway, he is the organization's best prospect. Playing on the wing, Bourgault's upside definitively lays in his skill game. He is agile with the puck and can make plays with the puck glued to his stick. Bourgault scored 36 goals and added 39 assists in 43 QMJHL games last season. As a 20-year-old rookie in the AHL, Bourgault has produced a respectable 10 goals and 11 assists in 41 games for a Bakersfield Condors team completely bereft of veteran help.
No, the Oilers should not move Bourgault just to move him, and especially not for a rental, but Holland can no longer cling to a philosophy of patience. He needs to make a move to put the team in a position to realistically win, and if that means moving Bourgault for a big-time player, then so be it.
Other Candidates: Reid Schaefer (LW), Tyler Tullio (RW)
Los Angeles Kings: Alex Turcotte (Center)
The Los Angeles Kings don't look like a serious Stanley Cup contender. They aren't. They aren't the obvious candidate for a big trade-deadline move.
Here are two truths: First, general manager Rob Blake owes it to his locker room to reward them for a competitive season and improve their odds of earning a spot in the playoffs. More importantly, the Kings are a team on the rise. The organization is in position where it can afford to part with a few prospects or draft picks to add a player who can make an immediate impact.
The Kings have a plethora of movable prospects, but the best of the realistic options is center Alex Turcotte. L.A. drafted him fifth overall in 2019, and the Illinois native produced a fantastic freshman season at the University of Wisconsin. The Kings signed him after that season, and he's been lukewarm since. His 30 points in 46 AHL games over the past two seasons is perfectly fine, but they do not reflect the numbers of a future superstar. His performances in 12 total NHL games were pedestrian. He turns 22 in late February, and he still has plenty of time to develop into an impact player.
Maybe the Kings should let another team figure that out. They are already stacked at center both at the NHL level and in the minors. He'd be a central piece of a big trade that few, if any, teams could match. Should Blake move him for a rental? Absolutely not. For a young player with term such as Jakob Chychrun? That's a worthwhile move.
Other Candidates: Jordan Spence (RD), Akil Thomas (C)
Minnesota Wild: Jack Peart (Left Defense)
The Wild are going to make the playoffs, and they have enough talent to make a run, particularly with a deadline boost. General manager Bill Guerin will make a move.
Minnesota's problem is not a lack of assets. The very top of their prospect pool is among the best in the league. Those guys are probably going nowhere, especially since Guerin has prospect depth to play with. The most likely prospect to move is winger Adam Beckman, who is close to NHL-ready and has decent bottom-six upside.
The best prospect who realistically could move is likely Jack Peart. The 2021 second-round pick has built a respectable NCAA resume thus far. He's an intelligent defender who can move the puck from the back end and defend the rush. Peart, who turns 20 in May, has two goals and 18 assists in 26 games for St. Cloud State. The Michigan native has upside as a second- or third-pairing defenseman who gets the puck up the ice and garners his share of assists.
Guerin might be willing to part with Peart, because he's not particularly close to NHL-ready and the team has multiple young defensemen ahead of him on the depth chart. Calen Addison (22), Carson Lambos (20) and Brock Faber (20) hold more value.
Other Candidates: Adam Beckman (LW), Ryan O'Rourke (LD)
Seattle Kraken: Jani Nyman (Right Wing)
The Kraken are ill-equipped for this type of analysis. General manager Ron Francis has overseen only two drafts. Two of those picks were Shane Wright and Matty Beniers, who are going nowhere.
That leaves an extremely limited prospect pool. What the Kraken do have is an assembly of draft picks. Thanks to various moves, the Kraken have all of their original picks plus two additional second-round picks, a fourth-round pick and a 2024 third-round pick. When Francis makes his splash, it will be draft-pick heavy.
Since I'm forced to pick one, I'll choose Jani Nyman. The Kraken drafted him 49th overall last summer. Nyman has a respectable 10 goals and four assists in 28 games for Ilves of Liiga, which is Finland's top league. He is a big body—6'3" and 212 pounds—and has nimble hands to complement that frame. Nyman has a definite path toward an NHL career on the third line.
He's a player the Kraken wouldn't make untouchable, and other teams would also rate him given his projectable makeup. If he's the piece that clinches a deal for a top player, then Francis may be willing to acquiesce, especially given the three second-round picks in 2023 that could immediately refill the talent void.
Other Candidates: Ryan Winterton (RW), Ty Nelson (RD)
Tampa Bay Lightning: Jack Thompson (Right Defense)
The Lightning are going to do what they always do. General manager Julien BriseBois will work the phone and crunch the numbers. He'll find a way to get the most out of the least and make an addition that accentuates an already high-caliber roster.
It will be particularly difficult this season. According to Cap Friendly, the Lightning project to have less than $800K in cap space available. The Brandon Hagel trade from last season cost their first-round picks in 2023 and 2024, and they also lack this year's second-round pick.
Any trade BriseBois makes will likely be of a complementary nature. A good bet for inclusion in such a deal is Jack Thompson. Thompson, whom the Lightning drafted in the 2020 third round, is a mobile defenseman who makes a good first pass out of the defensive zone. He lacks meaningful offensive upside and his defensive game, while fine, doesn't make him a slam dunk to make the NHL. He is 20 years old, and with a year or two of further seasoning, he could turn into a third-pairing defenseman.
Other Candidates: Dylan Duke (LW), Gage Goncalves (C)
Vegas Golden Knights: Jordan Gustafson (Center)
The Golden Knights started the season hot, but they've struggled of late with only two wins in their past eight games. With Edmonton heating up and Calgary on their heels, they can't afford to drop in the Pacific Division. It would have been unimaginable in November, but Vegas is a genuine candidate to miss the playoffs.
The good news for general manager Kelly McCrimmon is that he does have cap space available to him. Though the Golden Knights are missing their second-round pick in 2023, they have an extra third from Buffalo. He'll prefer to move draft picks if he can for a tweak to the roster—at least in the short term.
If McCrimmon wishes to bring in a major reinforcement and a prospect is required, then Jordan Gustafson fits the profile of a prospect inclusion. Vegas drafted Gustafson in the third round last summer, and he has 35 points in 38 games. Gustafson plays at a high tempo and contributes in every facet of the game. He forechecks and battles for pucks, supports the play, will get dirty around the front of the net and can play a role in the cycle. Gustafson has shown defensive intelligence and will put his body on the line.
Gustafson isn't going to hit the highlight reel, but he could be an asset to an NHL roster. Gustafson projects as a bottom-six forward who chips in 20 points and kills penalties. That's a good player to have, but not one to keep off the table in trade discussions.
Honorable Mentions: Pavel Dorofeyev (LW/RW), Kaedan Korczak (RD)
Winnipeg Jets: Ville Heinola (Left Defense)
The Jets fumbled away the entire 2021-22 season. Under new head coach Rick Bowness, they're back on track. The Jets have layers of forward talent, and the renaissance of defenseman Josh Morrissey adds a new dimension. Plus, goaltender Connor Hellebuyck is one of the best in the league. This is a team ready to contend.
General manager Kevin Cheveldayoff has one young player who is transparently expendable. Defenseman Ville Heinola, 21, has yoyo-ed between the AHL and NHL the past few seasons, but most of that time has been in the minors. The 20th overall pick in the 2019 draft, Heinola has an immense offensive skillset but has failed to make the most of it. He has registered 11 points in 35 career NHL games, and his AHL stats aren't inspirational, either.
When the Finnish defenseman is on his game, he makes confident plays carrying the puck up the ice. If all goes well, he could still turn into a second-pairing defenseman who plays on the second power-play unit. But now having failed to stick in four different NHL stints, a fresh start may be just what the Finnish defenseman needs. He'd be a very good project for another team to take on.
Other Candidates: Nikita Chibrikov (RW), Dmitri Kuzmin (LD)