An Alternative, Youthful, Trade Deadline Approach

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Mike Valvano

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With poor play over the last few weeks and a brutal West Coast trip before the All-Star break, the Rangers are trending towards deadline seller territory. It’s too early to definitively say that, especially in a weak Metropolitan division, but it’s getting harder to see Alain Vigneault’s squad buying at the deadline. But regardless of this season’s aspirations, moving to get younger and more talented without giving up premium assets should be a goal.

Fortunately for General Manager Jeff Gorton, there may be a few young guys needing a change of scenery, so to speak, who could contribute to his “rebuild on the fly” mantra without costing premium picks. Around the league, there are a handful of guys, like Anthony Duclair, who are young but either haven’t reached their potential or may be expendable to their current organizations who could contribute to the Rangers immediately while providing more building blocks for the future.

We’ve seen New York capitalize on players, specifically Michael Grabner, who weren’t quite working elsewhere, and they’d be wise to take that approach with youngsters this year at the deadline. There’s a sweet spot somewhere in between the Ethan Werek-for-Oscar Lindberg and Derick Brassard-for-Mika Zibanejad trades where the Rangers may find real value. While they’ll have to pass a risk/reward analysis, these players have high ceilings that warrant a bit of risk.

Sam Reinhart

Now 22, Sam Reinhart hasn’t come close to being the top center the Buffalo Sabres hoped for when they drafted him third overall. Though he had back-to-back seasons of more than 40 points at ages 20 and 21, Reinhart has struggled to show much star power, let alone any proclivity to perform as a top-six center. In some sense, that can be blamed on the fact that the talent he hasn’t played with many talents, to be generous. But there are questions about his game—notably his lack of physicality and compete level—that have disappointed regardless of point production.

At this point, given that he’s moved full-time to the wing and doesn’t seem to be clicking anywhere in the lineup as Buffalo head coach Phil Housley has moved him around, it might be time for the Sabres to cut their losses. For a Rangers squad that depends on intelligence and precision more than force, Reinhart could be a nice fit.

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“He’s a heck of a player, he thinks the game better than a lot of guys in this league,” Kyle Okposo said. “He can play anywhere, he can play with anybody because he’s so smart. He’s just got to stick with being a pro.”

Versatility has made J.T. Miller invaluable and Reinhart, even with his red flags, has enough skill and intelligence to fill a similar role. Buffalo fans are frustrated with the low return on investment (ROI)—rightfully so—and Reinhart has really fallen off of the map of top-tier NHL youngsters. But his ceiling and declining value could make him a smart target for Gorton.

Sam Bennett

Despite probably being the most costly of this group, Sam Bennett has had a disappointing third campaign with Calgary. Entrenched as the Flames’ third center, the soon-to-be 22-year-old hasn’t been dynamic enough offensively to take any of the scoring responsibilities from Sean Monahan, nor good enough defensively to prevent Mikael Backlund from leading all Flames’ forwards in ice time. As sort of an odd man out, Bennett could be dangled as trade bait.

“I just know his compete level, and I’m sure he’s frustrated, and I’m sure he’s trying to do too much. As a player I know it’s a cliché, but ‘less is more,’” Doug Gilmour told Eric Francis of the Calgary Sun. “He’ll come out of it. I know it’s going to affect him mentally because he’s such a strong-willed kid and he wants to succeed, so he’ll come through it.”

This is the type of comment that bodes well for a young player’s ability to turn things around, but it also screams a need for a change of scenery. Maybe that’s why teams were calling about him early this year.

As Joey Alfieri noted for NBC Sports, “According to TSN hockey insider Bob McKenzie, Bennett’s slow start has prompted other general managers to pick up the phone and check in on his availability. On the most recent Insider Trading segment, McKenzie stated that the Flames don’t want to part ways with Bennett, but they also aren’t hanging up when other teams call about him.”

If Gorton thinks there’s any potential of Bennett being a long-term contributor to the Rangers, where he’d immediately play in a similar role but with more talent on his wings, he should be one of those callers. And, now pick depleted after the Dougie Hamilton and Travis Hamonic acquisitions, a couple of picks might be more appealing to Calgary than other organizations.

Josh Ho-Sang

Is there a more disappointing player in the league right now than Josh Ho-Sang? There’s no doubt about his talent, but, with the Islanders, he’s failed to gain any traction. Perhaps that means his value is down and, at a lower cost, would be worth a flyer for any team looking to infuse talent into its system.

“It’s a crying shame he’s not playing with John Tavares when [Josh Bailey] goes down,” General Manager Doug Weight said. “We had six guys out. It was a perfect opportunity. And Josh should be upset with himself.

“The fact is, we need to be able to look at how some guys are laying it on the line [in Bridgeport] and he’s a healthy scratch. So to go from that to the first lineup here, where is he learning from that? That’s a big, big part of this.”

Ho-Sang has been productive in the AHL this year, with 15 points in 20 games, but being a healthy scratch in a developmental league is a bad look, especially for a guy who is 22, not 18. He’s got NHL talent, and an opportunity in a new organization, especially one that puts a premium on skill, could make a big difference for him. The Isles might be more prone to trading Ho-Sang, too, if they think they can pry a roster player from the Rangers to support John Tavares on what might be his last run with the organization.

Sonny Milano

Milano, who turns 22 in May, exploded onto the scene this year with four goals in Columbus’ first three games. He then proceeded to score just one in his next 25 while playing less than 10:00 per game nearly half the time. As the Blue Jackets prepare for a playoff run, even as they slump, perhaps he’s their best chip in terms of value and expendability.

“I don’t know if it’s fair, quite honestly,” coach John Tortorella said. “Sonny and I had a good talk [Sunday]. Our management talked to him. I talked to him. These are tough decisions, but the makeup of our lines…I have a number of people that I think are struggling offensively, that I’ve got to get them in better offensive positions.”

If Torts doesn’t think it’s fair that Milano is the odd man out, then he recognizes the kid’s talent. But at the same time, if other players, particularly Oliver Bjorkstrand, are getting priority, maybe that means Milano, the Massapequa native, is at least semi-expendable. He would, almost immediately, slot into the Rangers’ top-nine.

Dylan Strome

Buyer beware when entering the Strome market, but going back to the Arizona Coyotes trade well could be a savvy move for Gorton. Dylan Strome, the former #3 overall draft pick is just 21 but hasn’t been productive or able to stick on a Coyotes roster that’s committed to youth during a rebuild. That doesn’t bode particularly well for General Manager John Chayka’s opinion of Strome and could suggest that he’s willing to part ways with the youngster.

Strome has been showcasing top talent in the AHL and is producing at a scorching 1.39 points per game in Tucson. As is often the case with young players, the lack of a strong two-way game has held him back, in some sense, but he’s been better in that department lately as well, it seems.

Like Reinhart, Strome won’t be a throwaway for Arizona, and draft-pick pedigree alone dictates that the Rangers would have to pay to receive. But, in collaboration with Lias Andersson and Filip Chytil, he’d give the Rangers a high-upside, dynamic young set of center prospects that would change the complexion of the organization’s talent pool almost overnight.

Nick Merkley

If the Rangers would prefer to bolster their organizational wing depth instead of pursue another center, but still want to work with Arizona, Nick Merkley, picked 30th in the same year as Strome, would add similar value. The ‘Yotes have five wingers who are 22 or younger that have played at least 11 games this season, while Merkley has only played one. So, like Strome, he may be expendable and a piece that Chayka could leverage to alter his prospect pool.

Despite missing some games this year due to injury, Merkley has produced at a clip of 1.25 points per game and shown a willingness to score with both his shot and in the dirty areas.

https://twitter.com/RoadrunnersAHL/status/949465209642430464

New York sorely lacks talented wingers in its system, and a guy like Merkley would be a nice compliment to Andersson and Chytil. He won’t be 21 until May and has plenty of time to grow alongside them. If Gorton could pull the trigger, it’d be a lot of fun to see the trio play together in Hartford, if not with the big club.

Andreas Athanasiou

The only non-first rounder on this list, Andreas Athanasiou is also different in that he may be available for contract reasons. He missed the early part of the season trying to negotiate a new contract and, as the Red Wings’ cap situation isn’t set to drastically improve next year, he could be a deadline cap casualty of sorts.

We went back-and-forth on signing him to an offer sheet before the season started, but as the Red Wings are almost certain to be deadline sellers and the Rangers will, presumably, need to replace Grabner’s speed next year, the two teams could be a match.

As a player, Athanasiou provides the same explosive skating as Grabner and a shot that can give the PP a boost. While he won’t replace Grabner on the penalty kill, at least not right away, he has seen his defensive zone start rate rise from 37.9% to 52% this year, suggesting, at the very least, a greater commitment to a 200-foot game.

If that’s the case, the Rangers could tap on Athanasiou to provide a seamless transition to the post-Grabner era. His upside is certainly in the 25-goal range and, while he doesn’t boast Grabner’s defensive prowess, the right system, usage, and, in all reality, responsible linemates (like Kevin Hayes), could allow him to thrive after a low-cost acquisition that gives the Rangers leverage in contract negotiations.

The Blueshirts have 15 games left before the trade deadline, so we’ll know in a couple of weeks just how committed they are to being sellers or not. If they are, Grabner and Rick Nash could certainly be leveraged to get one of these young guys, and, if not, the picks they bring back should offset acquisition costs. But even without the additional assets, Gorton should be putting mid-tier prospects and picks in play for a run at these types of players. They’ll expedite the rebuild while still allowing the Rangers to get younger and much less expensive.

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  1. Quote Originally Posted by Sod16
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    I'm of the opinion that highly touted high draft picks who aren't clicking in the NHL by the end of about their second full season are probably not going to pan out.



    Well, they might not pan out to where they were drafted - Reinhart at #3 not being a top center is a miss.

    But if he can be a middle-six, 45-point winger who the Rangers could acquire for a mid-tier prospect and a pick, that's great value. I don't really think the goal is to sign these guys with the thought that they'll reach their ceiling, the idea is that you can buy low on them BECAUSE they aren't going to reach their ceiling and still get productive players. So while they might not totally "pan out" relative to their draft position, they could work in a different role and environment.

    Use Dylan McIlrath as a potential example. In New York, he was a busted #10 overall defenseman. Florida traded a 7th-round pick and non-impact player, Kampfer, for him. Even if McIlrath didn't sniff being a top-4 defenseman there, if he could give them 13:00 good a night, that's tremendous value for Florida.





    Quote Originally Posted by Mr.wiskers
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    What about Puljujarvi, Ryan Stome and/or Caleb Jones from Edmonton


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    Puljujarvi would be way too expensive and Strome is almost 25. Caleb Jones is a good thought, but he's a little too early in his career to think that anything is really going wrong. Nothing has happened to decrease his value since he was drafted.

    The point is to buy on prospects who are kind of lower value now than what their ceiling might be. The Sams aren't having particularly good years, Strome and Merkley can't crack ARZ's lineup while Milano can't get in for CBJ.
    I know you’re probably not saying them, more talking busts like filatov but Reinhart is not that. He’s actually very much like brassard and Zibanejad at lest at this stage





    Quote Originally Posted by Sod16
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    I'm of the opinion that highly touted high draft picks who aren't clicking in the NHL by the end of about their second full season are probably not going to pan out. Yes, there are exceptions, but I believe most of the players listed are simply going to turn out to be disappointments. Grabner is not an example in favor of trading for any of these guys. Mind you, he previously had a 30 goal year in the NHL, so what we are seeing is not totally new. That a 31 year old has turned it around does not promote the idea that a 21 year old who has been a disappointment will do so. The rest of the league pretty much subscribes to my "two year rule" described above. That's why Anthony Duclair commanded a high price as a rookie and after roughly two years of NHL action was recently traded for a used puck bag.



    Brassard and Zibanejad are two that come to mind of not living up to the hype but both are very good. Sometimes the hype is to big but it doesn’t take away from what they are. Top 6 forwards that produce.





    Quote Originally Posted by Phil in Absentia
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    Plus, like Mike pointed out on AA, he might be an ideal replacement if and when Grabner signs a bigger deal elsewhere.



    Well the kid has some resemblance to the young Grabner on the Island. He seems like he may develop a scoring touch sooner.

    As for Reinhart, was saying on another thread that he's looked decent recently. Finally. Buff looks better in general, as Eichel gets more dominant. Think Buff would trade him, but possibly not cheap enough for you me or Gorton. Buff is not motivated to sell now or sell low, anyway.

    Bottom line, he won't be expensive, but won't be cheap. Trading Miller or Zuc or anything like that for him is too risky.





    Quote Originally Posted by Giacomin
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    Athanasiou is the man and does not belong in this group, as you mentioned. I think we should target him in the offseason, maybe during draft day. Too much bad blood, not enough cap in Detroit. Besides gamebreakers, we need more of this kind of player, young, fast, upside, who can slot up and down the lineup. If you liked Hags or Grabs, hello Athanasiou.



    Plus, like Mike pointed out on AA, he might be an ideal replacement if and when Grabner signs a bigger deal elsewhere.
    Mike, I like the idea of finding a young talented reclamation project or slow maturer. However, many of those names are fraught with a bit too much risk. I think we all want to think Sam Bennett is going to eventually live up to his draft status, one day it will click. Yet, everytime I see him he can't seem to control or keep the puck long enough to make a play. It seems like the offense will never come to him. Calgary will likely hold him than take the peanuts he's worth.

    Unlike most, I think Reinhart has the best chance to turn it around. He is soft like Bennett, but he can still control the puck and looks to make plays. Feels more like a skilled possession player than Bennett. Maybe he will be the slow maturer and find his game over time. At least he had a nice rookie year.

    Strome and Ho Sang are disasters for different reasons. Isn't Ho Sang an attitude problem? Strome is a failure, what a shit trade, we best not make that mistake.

    Milano would be a fun kid to work into the lineup, but Columbus would want a legit asset in return. How could we make this work? We need Milano for a 3rd or something and Columbus isn't doing that.

    Athanasiou is the man and does not belong in this group, as you mentioned. I think we should target him in the offseason, maybe during draft day. Too much bad blood, not enough cap in Detroit. Besides gamebreakers, we need more of this kind of player, young, fast, upside, who can slot up and down the lineup. If you liked Hags or Grabs, hello Athanasiou.
    Yeah, I'm with ThirtyONE here. I'm not sure any lasting damage can really be done by the Rangers' dealings. Not for free agency. They may lose one or two guys who they make offers to, but generally speaking, the market sells itself.





    Quote Originally Posted by josh
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    Callahan, Dubinsky, Anisimov, Stepan, Talbot

    I'll give you Del Zotto



    I'm not sure what you're getting at with these names?





    Quote Originally Posted by josh
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    sure, but everyone wants a little stability in their job. If everyone is lasting 2-3 seasons, at most, it will result in a drop of interest in signing with the organization.



    If you don't want to be traded, perform. It really is that simple. Hank has been here for damn near an eternity. Same with Staal and Mac. If you play well, you stay. If you don't, you go. Rangers can't worry about keeping trash players. This is NY. People will always want to play here.





    Quote Originally Posted by ThirtyONE
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    I mean... should they really worry about that? You could say that for any UFA too, right? Hayes and Vesey are not impressive players. If they go, they go.



    sure, but everyone wants a little stability in their job. If everyone is lasting 2-3 seasons, at most, it will result in a drop of interest in signing with the organization.





    Quote Originally Posted by leetchy2
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    I'd rather not trade Hayes or Vesey. The Rangers have done rather well in the sub-category of UFA's that just graduated college but haven't signed with the team that drafted them. If we start trading those players that elected to come to the Rangers then that may be a deterrent for similar UFA's to pick the Rangers in the future.



    I mean... should they really worry about that? You could say that for any UFA too, right? Hayes and Vesey are not impressive players. If they go, they go.





    Quote Originally Posted by Mr.wiskers
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    What about Puljujarvi, Ryan Stome and/or Caleb Jones from Edmonton


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    They can be lumped in with the group mentioned. Just not sure Edmonton will pull the trigger being outside a playoff spot. It gives them another season to evaluate talent before trading them away for a deep playoff run.