Perhaps the Canucks should pursue Nino Niederreiter this summer.
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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.
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.
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.
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."
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).
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.