The Reverse Cody Hodgson: Three Young Forwards the Canucks Should Target

Perhaps the Canucks should pursue Nino Niederreiter this summer.
Image via wikimedia commons.

Looking over the data – as I did yesterday – I remain unconvinced that the Sedin twins are in any sort of "rapid decline" as a result of advancing age. But that shouldn’t obscure the fact that Vancouver’s club is getting long in the tooth, and due respect to the likes of Zack Kassian, Brendan Gaunce and Nicklas Jensen, the organization don’t appear to have any slam dunk top-line caliber prospects in the pipeline. 

With the salary cap falling, it’s ovious that the Canucks roster needs to get cheaper. Mike Gillis has been explicit about the teams need to get bigger and tougher as well. While Jeff Angus is dead right  that the Canucks should forget about working on any one particular area and just focus on getting better more generally, I tend to think that if the Canucks hope to avoid the fate that befell the Calgary Flames over the past half decade, it’s imperative that they find a way to get younger.

Trading for former first round picks is demonstrably a risky game, but it’s a risky game the Canucks should be willing to try their hand at this summer. Here’s a list of three young forwards, with top-ten pick pedigree who, for whatever reason, appear to have fallen out of favour within their organizations. These players won’t come free, or even cheap, but could help the Canucks jump-start a youth movement going forward.

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Read past the jump.

Alex Burmistrov – Winnipeg Jets

The fraying relationship between Burmistrov and Jets head coach Claude Noel has been a subplot in Winnipeg for months now. It’s a situation that appears to be reaching a critical juncture heading into this offseason, as Burmistrov is a restricted free-agent and reportedly isn’t particularly interested in re-upping with the Jets.

Per Gary Lawless of the Winnipeg Sun:

Maybe it’s posturing, maybe it’s reality, but at this juncture it doesn’t appear Alex Burmistrov is prepared to extend his time with the Winnipeg Jets.

Two league sources have told the Free Press Burmistrov, due to become a restricted free agent on July 5, has no intention of re-signing with the Jets.

Burmistrov wished to be dealt at the trade deadline and the Jets worked in vain to move him. It appears a trade is still the preferred course of action.

Burmistrov and head coach Claude Noel beefed on and off over the past two seasons and the relationship hit an all-time low when the player was a healthy scratch four straight games in March.

The Jets attempted to trade Burmistrov and reportedly had discussions with the Ottawa Senators, Buffalo Sabres and New York Islanders at the deadline. The names Jakob Silfverberg, Drew Stafford and Kyle Okposo have all been attached to Burmistrov trade rumours.

Seeing as how the Jets have already burned Burmistrov’s entry-level contract, it’s obvious the talented Russian forward won’t come cheap. Based on the names listed by Lawless (two young power forwards in Okposo and Stafford, and a bluechip wing prospect in Silfverberg) he doesn’t project to be altogether that affordable on the trade market either. But if the wafting "rift between the Jets and Burmistrov" smoke hints at the existence of a fire, then it’s certainly likely that Burmistrov will be shopped this summer.

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If he is, the Canucks should be making calls to True North, their old partner when True North ran the Manitoba Moose. Hilariously the Jets, who desperately need above average goaltending, would be an ideal landing spot for Roberto Luongo but I doubt they understand that. More likely Vancouver would need to dangle a young defenceman in such a prospective deal.

It’s a long shot but Burmistrov could prove worth it. The speedy Russian forward is only twenty-one, has ridiculous hands and has managed to be a decent puck-possession forward over the past couple of seasons. Burmistrov also draws penalties at a solid clip, and is certainly the sort of player one can envision morphing into a dynamic NHL presence as he nears his mid-20s. 

If the Canucks are looking for their version of Logan Couture, namely a young player who can realistically extend the team’s championship window, Alexandre Burmistrov would seem to be an intriguing place to start.

Ryan Johansen – Columbus Blue Jackets

Up until this season, Ryan Johansen’s development had been brutally mismanaged by an inept Columbus management team. Johansen, the fourth overall pick in the 2010 NHL entry draft, has only one year remaining on his entry-level contract and the Jackets have only managed to extract 107 games (and just a hair over 30 points) from the first two years of Johansen’s ELC. That’s brutal.

After being jerked around a bit for a couple of seasons, Johansen seemed to find his footing this year and was trusted to play legitimate "tough minutes" on a line with former disgruntled Canucks prospect R.J. Umberger and Nick Foligno. But Johansen’s season, and possibly his relationship with the Jackets, hit a snag when he was recently scratched by the BlueJackets AHL affiliate in the postseason. From the Columbus Dispatch:

Johansen, playing for the Blue Jackets’ top minor-league affiliate in Springfield, Mass., was a healthy scratch when the Falcons were swept from the American Hockey League playoffs in four games by Syracuse over the weekend.

“It’s not something I enjoyed doing or wanted to do,” Springfield coach Brad Larsen said. “But, to be honest with you, it wasn’t all that hard of a decision. “We talked after Game 2, and I tried to ramp him up. In Game 3, we just felt like he wasn’t all there, like he wasn’t invested 100 percent.”

In the first three games, Johansen had no goals, one assist and a minus-8 rating.

The Dispatch report adds that head-coach Todd Richards and Columbus General Manager Jarmo Kekalainen were in on the decision, and quotes Kekalainen as saying "I think this is probably going to be a disappointment (to him), to say the least, maybe even a bit embarrassing," and adding “I don’t have any indication that he’d be unhappy, I really don’t care if he was unhappy."

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Ryan Johnansen is a local kid from Port Moody, and he possesses NHL wheels, hands and size. He’ll also turn twenty-one this summer, and already has a season under his belt playing really difficult competition at the NHL level. Johansen’s probably not ready to soak up tough minutes and consistently win matchups yet, but he’s certainly a more credible two-way forward already than Cody Hodgson, and has far more defensive upside.

Back in the day, when we all still assumed that Roberto Luongo would remain in Vancouver long-term, our dream package for Cory Schneider included Derek Dorsett, Nikitia Nikitin and Ryan Johansen. Whenever we count scoring chances against the Blue Jackets, Johansen seems to have a big game (partly, perhaps, because he’s playing in front of friends and family at Rogers Arena). Anyway, I doubt Johansen is available at all, and much less for a bargain bin price, but he’s certainly the sort of player who could change the trajectory of this Canucks franchise…

Nino Niederreiter – New York Islanders

Nino Niederreiter was recently left of the Islanders playoff roster, but he played major minutes for the silver medalist Swiss National Team at the World Hockey Championships this past month. Niederreiter is a massive forward with a powerful game, an NHL shot, and a bit of an odd skating stride. 

Lack of NHL production aside, he’d be one hell of a get for any team acquiring him, and we know that he’s requested a trade in the recent past. This is from a January 22nd report via Katie Strang of ESPN:

His agent informed Islanders general manager Garth Snow of the request last week, the source said, although Snow is not believed to be amenable to doing a deal — at least at the moment.

There has been growing concern about Niederreiter’s development since last season. Although the young prospect appeared in 55 games for the Islanders, he was used in a limited role. He managed only one goal, causing many to feel he’d be better off playing in Bridgeport and to speculate that the team could be keeping him around for cap purposes (i.e. his entry-level contract bonuses helped the team hover slightly above the cap floor).

During the lockout, Niederreiter began the year in Bridgeport and has flourished, leaving him and his camp baffled as to why he didn’t get a chance to crack the roster.

The Islanders have already burned the first two years of Niederreiter’s entry-level contract, turning those years into 64 games and a measley three points. The Islanders took a big step forward this past season without Niederreiter in the lineup and it’s concievable that the club could look to rid themselves of a distraction, and recoup some value for Niederreiter’s services this summer.

In fifty-five NHL games a season ago. Niederreiter had a single goal. That’s ugly, but his 1.4% personal shooting percentage and his 0.84% on-ice shooting percentage suggests to me that his lack of production was a complete fluke. This past year playing with the Bridgeport Tigers of the AHL, Niederreiter scored twenty-eight goals and fifty points and he doesn’t turn twenty-one until September. So, yeah, trading for his services would be a worthwhile gamble (depending on the price).

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We know that Niederreiter has requested a trade in the recent past, so he might be the most likely of the three guys listed here to be moved this offseason. Mike Gillis and the Canucks should be pestering Garth Snow on the Niederreiter front, and they have some solid blueline pieces to offer the Islanders in a trade.

  • antro

    Niederreiter seems like the perfect description for Mike Gillis’ year end press conference, though I have no idea what sort of trade value he’d command.

    Is there any way a team can only retain salary in a deal and not cap space? Because if that were in any way possible, maybe the Islanders would be a fit for Luongo!

  • You’re proposing a bunch of reclamation projects, and I’m not sure that’s what we need right now.

    I think we’d be better off pursuing players that legitimately project to be top-6 players, rather than continuing to put our money on marginal players who may or may not be useful for us.

    Trading Elder should net is some quality pieces. I think he’s expendable and valuable, and could get us something worth trading for.

  • Agreed with cale, mostly. While I think that Niederreiter is interesting, Burmistrov is slight (5’11 170lbs) and apparently a real defensive liability. Not exactly the direction Gillis was mentioning the team needs to take, and these gambles speak more of a rebuild than a reset.

    It’s important to note that the Canucks will be skating Kassian, Booth (I believe he will start the season – he has has too many desirable characteristics the Canucks are looking for to not give a final shot before next year’s trade deadline) and possibly Shroeder or Jensen. None of them have shown reliable scoring for their own varying reasons.

    With such limited assets I think the Canucks should go for guys like David Clarkson or Sean Couterier.

  • Why exactly should we trust Gillis to make a good trade?

    1 (very) good trade of note for Ehrhoff

    6 bad trades of note for Bernier, Alberts, Ballard, Booth, Kassian & Roy

    1 pending bad trade as soon as Luongo is given away for cap space instead of trading Schneider.

    The Higgins & Lapierre trades were fine. But the extensions are not part of the trade so they weren’t really Canuck wins.

    Based on past performance, the Canucks would be better off by simply maintaining the status quo (minus a goalie, Ballard & Roy for cap reasons) instead of allowing Gillis to get his hands on the team.

  • Could Luongo accept a trade to New York? The Isles have a good team, lots of cap space, need of a good goaltender, and a historical connection with Luongo. If they’ve got a young prospect demanding a trade it seems like a swap that could benefit both teams.

  • @NM00 I don’t think the Alberts, Roy, Booth or Kassian traded were unequivocally “bad”. Alberts has logged a lot of ice responsibly and only cost a third, Booth hasn’t worked out but was essentially acquired for nothing of value, the Roy trade filled a need and was necessary even if it flopped, and it’s too soon to tell on the Kassian deal.

    • A 2nd round pick and an okay prospect is a ridiculous price to pay for a few games of Derek Roy.

      That link pertains to baseball but the logic applies just as well to hockey. A 2nd round pick and a B/C prospect for a rental is absolutely terrible asset management.

      A 3rd round pick for a little over a year of a #7 defenseman is, again, a terrible trade. I’m sure you remember how brutal Alberts was during his first season with Vancouver.

      He has improved up to a #6 defenseman. But, again, contract extensions are NOT a part of the trade unless the trade includes a window to negotiate.

      Booth has been a waste of cap space since he arrived. Although I think he is better than most Canuck fans give him credit, there was a reason Tallon gave him up (see your link above to the Spector article).

      The Kassian trade is the worst. Hodgson has far greater value right now than Kassian. Put differently, if Kassian were made available he would bring back much, much less than Hodgson.

      I had zero issue trading Hodgson. But the return was and continues to be underwhelming.

      I repeat: people should not have confidence in Gillis to fix the mess he created. He inherited a solid roster and farm system and has done a terrible job supplementing what he inherited.

  • Fred-65

    Before any one starts listing players we’d some how like ( does this sound like the Leafs ) you have to list what you are willing to let go.

    So it looks like Luongo ( MG over played his hand ) and won’t return a lot now.

    Raymond a 2nd round pick from a team maybe like Columbus/Islanders who are a couple of players from getting into the play-offs next season

    Edler, while a good player, defense is likely the Canucks strongest depth, with out him we still have a respectable top 4

    Who knows maybe Ballard can be thrown in on a deal or he’ll be bought out.

    As much as we want the skill factors lets hope we look at their character before we trade for a future player. As much as any thing we need a mind reset on the roster

  • antro

    I read an article this year (no idea where) which showed that most high draft picks traded early in their careers tended not to do well at their new club, who almost always lost the trade. Why not just offer sheet Burmistrov and give up a 2nd?

  • Fred-65

    I don’t think Gillis would take on a russian player – even in a parallel universe. Esp not one who pulled a Cody Hodgson on his team. But I like the idea of acquiring a young cetnre, they clearly need 1 or two.

  • Fred-65

    Next year the NYI, the team that drafted Luongo, move to the Barclays centre. I have a hunch that Lu would accept a trade back to the Islanders, a team led by John Tavares and poised to make some noise in a new building… i would venture to say that if the Canucks took back Rick De Pietro (then promptly bought him out) they could land El Nino + some, and its a win for both sides.

    Remember bluefiSh said it first.

  • Gunnar

    bluefish, I couldn’t agree with you more. This is the kind of gutsy move Gillis needs to be making, excellent use of the buyout clause and is probably the only way to extract value for Lou.

    This still leaves the Elder for Couturier pipe dream alive, a move that address’s both teams needs so well that of course it will never happen damn it. This is the Kesler insurance that Drance is looking for and is a move Gillis must make.

    Even if both of these moves happen I think the naucks should go for Johansen, people are wrong to sour on this guy. Just as a fourth line centre he would be a huge improvement/influx of talent for the canucks. Adds to depth at centre and more Kesler insurance. Would Tanev straight up be enough. Our first and Schroeder, maybe the canucks swallow half of Ballards salary and our first.

    These moves are not pie in the sky never going to happen kind of moves, and would increase the canucks skill, youth, and window for winning.

  • Gunnar

    Here’s what I would do. I think that the Canucks need a tough guy as a coach. Someone who encourages players to play a physical style of game. I think that they need to get more scarier.

    So here’s what I would do…

    – Get rid of total plugs like Alberts and Ebbett.
    – Let go of Mason Raymond. He’s a good player, just needs a fresh start.
    – Trade Luongo and 3rd to Panthers for either Nick Bjugstad or Erik Gudbranson.
    – Also go for a guy like Wayne Simmonds… not sure if Flyers want to give him up though.
    – Kassian. He’s got more than enough potential to be a real legit power forward. However, they should send him to the minors for a little more training, and then he’ll be ready.
    – Free agents that they should go for: Matt Hendricks (fighter, shootout specialist, good replacement for Malhotra), Danny Briere (playoff performer, maybe getting bought out by Flyers), Doug Murray (solid hitter, size and grit), David Clarkson (fighter, goal scorer)