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Photo Credit: © Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

11 third line centre trade targets for the Vancouver Canucks: Exploiting the Expansion Draft part three

Welcome back to the next edition of our Exploiting the Expansion Draft series, in which we aim to pilfer talent for the Vancouver Canucks from the overstuffed rosters of the NHL before the Seattle Kraken can get their inky tentacles on it.

In our first two episodes, we took a run at fixing the right side of the Vancouver blueline. Today, we’ll start with a shoutout to @DSto2 from Twitter for dubbing what we’re now calling the “Riddle in the Middle” — also known as the Canucks’ seemingly endless quest for an actual third line centre.

To make a long story short, the basic idea here is that the Canucks have protection slots to burn, and so it might behoove them to seek out those players who other teams are unable to protect and offer something in return for them before Seattle snags them for free. Such players would not be without cost, as dealing them only ensures that the Kraken will select someone else, but they should be cheaper than they might be under ordinary circumstances, and that’s why the Canucks should be ready to pounce.

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We maintain both that the Canucks have more room for acquisition — with only Nate Schmidt truly deserving of protection — and should be primarily focusing on defence, but there’s opportunity up front, too. Only Elias Pettersson, Brock Boeser, Bo Horvat, and JT Miller are locks to be protected up front, leaving all of Tanner Pearson, Tyler Motte, Zack MacEwen, Kole Lind, and Jonah Gadjovich to fight over the remaining three slots — along with anyone else they trade for before July 21.

In searching for a 3C, we’re looking for a classic “checking line” pivot; one capable of lining up behind Pettersson and Horvat and eating all the tough minutes and matchups so that they don’t have to. Size, skating ability, penalty killing experience, and at least a little bit of offensive production would be required — along with a salary capable of fitting under the flat cap.

All stats courtesy of NaturalStatTrick and reflect even-strength play. Italicized names indicate possible/tentative additions to protection lists. Reminder: teams will have the option of selecting seven forwards, three defenders, and one goaltender or eight skaters of any kind and one goaltender.

Anaheim Ducks

Projected Protection List (Forward): Rickard Rakell, Jakob Silfverberg, Isac Lundestrom, Sam Steel, Max Jones, Sonny Milano, Troy Terry, Derek Grant, Alexander Volkov

The Ducks have some tough decisions to make all over the roster when it comes to the Expansion Draft, and that’s because of a hodgepodge of very similar players on their bottom-end.

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There’s really only one player on the list of potential protectees that the Canucks should be interested in, and he’s quite likely to be protected, but one never knows. There’s also the chance that Anaheim goes 8-1 so as to protect both Josh Manson and Haydn Fleury, and that definitely increase the Canucks’ odds of getting who they want.

Poachable: Troy Terry

23, RH, 6’1”, 178lb, Two years left @ $1.45 million (RFA)

  Games Goals Assists Points Avg. TOI Faceoffs Def. Zone Starts Corsi% xG% Scoring Chances High-Danger Chances
2021 48 7 13 20 14:42 50% 42.2% 52.88% 48.48% 52.46% 50.72%

Terry arrived in the NHL with clutch notoriety from his WJC days, along with a reputation for strong two-way play. Two-and-a-half seasons later, he’s yet to escape the confines of sheltered deployment, even though the early returns on his limited opportunities are very encouraging.

Terry played all over the lineup in 2021, including as a top-six winger, but his future may still be in the middle. He’s got the defensive conscience to perhaps evolve into a hybrid-style checking center, but that evolution would have to start soon.

As of now, he’s yet to kill penalties or see much ice-time against opponents’ top lines. The offence, however, is starting to come. Terry was reportedly on the block at the Trade Deadline, which may be an indicator that the Ducks do not intend on protecting him.

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Deployment data from HockeyViz.com

Boston Bruins

Projected Protection List (Forward): Patrice Bergeron, David Pastrnak, Brad Marchand, Charlie Coyle, Jake Debrusk, Craig Smith, Nick Ritchie, Ondrej Kase, Taylor Hall, Trent Frederic, Chris Wagner

The Bruins’ first four forward protection slots are easy, and then it quickly gets complicated — and even more so if Taylor Hall chooses to re-sign pre-expansion. Strong playoff showings from Jake DeBrusk, Craig Smith, and Nick Ritchie thus far make them the most likely to be protected, but the Bruins won’t be able to avoid leaving a valuable forward exposed.

Their one saving grace may be that the defender they leave exposed is even more valuable, but there still might be a trade to be made here. If Terry’s not available for a third round pick or less, however, the Canucks have better options.

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Poachable: Trent Frederic

23, LH, 6’2”, 203lb, RFA

  Games Goals Assists Points Avg. TOI Faceoffs Def. Zone Starts Corsi% xG% Scoring Chances High-Danger Chances
2021 42 4 1 5 11:15 52.9% 59.3% 47.2% 45.15% 42.51% 41.59%

Trading for Frederic with the intention of making him your 3C would constitute making a big bet on him becoming something that he hasn’t yet. As of right now, Frederic looks like your prototypical fourth-line center — albeit a pretty good one. He’s as feisty as they come, loves to get into the grill of the best opposition players, and brings heaps of energy on a nightly basis.

With the Bruins still in Cup-chasing mode, Frederic hasn’t had much chance to climb higher in the lineup, or to take on any of the normal duties assigned to a checking center. He hasn’t killed a ton of penalties, nor has he matched up excessively against top lines. Frederic was, however, drafted with such a role in mind, and is still young enough to take that next step if given the opportunity — something that Vancouver can definitely afford him.

Frederic’s intangibles, which include being one of the few players capable of tussling with the Tom Wilsons of the league, should bring his price-tag up a bit, but the Canucks shouldn’t be willing to invest more than a third and change in him.

Deployment data from HockeyViz.com

Colorado Avalanche

Projected Protection List (Forward): Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, Andre Burakovsky, Gabriel Landeskog, Nazem Kadri, Joonas Donskoi, Valeri Nichushkin, Tyson Jost

For a team that entered the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs as the favourites, the Avalanche are set up fairly decently for the Expansion Draft. This is assuming, of course, that Erik Johnson either waives his NMC or is bought out, allowing them to protect all of Cale Makar, Sam Girard, and Devon Toews on the backend.

If they don’t re-sign and protect captain Gabriel Landeskog, the Avs will be able to get by with only exposing one forward of any real significance. Fortunately, one forward is all that the Canucks need!

Poachable: Tyson Jost

23, LH, 5’11”, 187lb, RFA

  Games Goals Assists Points Avg. TOI Faceoffs Def. Zone Starts Corsi% xG% Scoring Chances High-Danger Chances
2021 54 7 10 17 14:07 46.8% 49.8% 58.36% 60.47% 60.27% 55.71%

Before this season, the notion of Jost as an ideal checking line center would have been nigh-laughable — but now he’s fulfilling that role for the best team in the league, and nobody’s laughing. Though Jost’s point-production dipped slightly, 2021 was a breakout campaign for him in every other sense. He took on tough minutes against tough matchups and came away with some of the best possession metrics in the NHL.

As if that wasn’t impressive enough, Jost also became Colorado’s top penalty killer and added an element of peskiness to his game.

Jost’s offence might never pop to those same levels that saw him drafted tenth overall in 2016, but he’s now carved out a niche for himself as a dedicated defence-first center — and that’s conveniently enough what the Canucks need most. A second round pick in exchange for his services might seem exorbitant, but it would be an asset well spent. If you’re going to steal forwards from another roster, why not make it the best roster in the league?

Deployment data from HockeyViz.com

Poachable: Nazem Kadri

30, LH, 6’0”, 192lb, One year left @ $4.5 million (UFA)

  Games Goals Assists Points Avg. TOI Faceoffs Def. Zone Starts Corsi% xG% Scoring Chances High-Danger Chances
2021 56 11 21 32 16:28 52.8% 44.4% 57.27% 53.71% 56.37% 55.43%

Poachable or punchable? Yes, if Kadri wasn’t the most hated player in the league before his latest lengthy playoff suspension, he’s got to be getting close now. But that could very well work in the Canucks favour if they decide to make Kadri a trade target this offseason.

In 2021, thanks largely to the contributions of the aforementioned Jost, Kadri enjoyed fewer defensive duties than usually and was allowed to just be a traditional 2C. The result was, strangely enough, a step back in production, but Kadri still put up his usual sparkling analytics.

History tells us that, although Kadri has never been a penalty killer, he’s capable of matching up with opponents’ top lines at even-strength and shutting them down to an extent.

His salary is a minor impediment to a trade, and so is the fact that he’s a year away from unrestricted free agency. Unless the Avalanche want to get rid of him, expect him to cost more than a second rounder, which is the utmost that the Canucks should give up in return.

Deployment data from HockeyViz.com

Dallas Stars

Projected Protection List (Forward): Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn, Alexander Radulov, Roope Hintz, Denis Gurianov, Joe Pavelski, Radek Faksa, Jason Dickinson

This season was undoubtedly a disappointing one for the defending Western Conference Champs, and it’s going to get a little more disappointing come the Expansion Draft. The Stars are simply too loaded up with forwards in their prime to escape unscathed, and it will all basically boil down to a choice between Joe Pavelski, Radek Faksa, and Jason Dickinson — two of whom the Canucks should be very interested in.

Poachable: Jason Dickinson

25, LH, 6’2”, 200lb, RFA

  Games Goals Assists Points Avg. TOI Faceoffs Def. Zone Starts Corsi% xG% Scoring Chances High-Danger Chances
2021 51 7 8 15 16:12 46.3% 55.9% 55.33% 56.15% 57.83% 56.09%

The Stars are one of the few teams around with a trio of strong two-way centers, and they’ll have to expose at least one of them — unless they trade them first.

Dickinson is the youngest of the bunch, and thus has the most upward potential, but he’s already shown quite well through parts of five seasons. Dickinson spent some time on the Stars’ top line this year, but he also started a good chunk of his shifts in his own end and against the best the opposition has to offer, and he still managed to come away with a boffo advanced statline.

Dickinson kills penalties with aplomb, and has the size and strength to match up with just about anyone. Even better, he’s yet to put up the sort of numbers that will result in a big salary increase, but he still could in the years to come. All of these are good reasons for the Stars to just keep him, so there may be some prying required on the Canucks end — start with a second round pick and add some loose change from there.

Deployment data from HockeyViz.com

Poachable: Radek Faksa

27, LH, 6’3”, 220lb, Four years left @ $3.25 million (UFA)

  Games Goals Assists Points

Avg. TOI

 

Faceoffs Def. Zone Starts Corsi% xG% Scoring Chances High-Danger Chances
2021 55 6 8 14 17:26 55.8% 64.4% 46.62% 44.35% 46.03% 45.96%

On the surface, this looks like a down year for Faksa. But consider that almost all of his considerable ice-time came against top-six opponents, started in his own defensive end, and featured a wide-variety of linemates, and it starts to look a little more impressive.

The value of Faksa’s defensive dedication was proven in Dallas’ run to the Cup Finals last year. He’s big, ornery, and can often frustrate opponents into taking stupid penalties. It thus might seem counterintuitive for the Stars to give up on him, but it’d also be tough to expose either the aforementioned Dickinson or Pavelski, their top scorer in 2021. Faksa might just be the odd man out, and that would be decidedly to the Canucks fortune.

Faksa is locked up for four more years, right through his prime, at a price-tag that comes out to just a hair above what the Canucks are currently paying in cap recapture penalty. If his offence can bounce-back slightly to his previous 30-point range, he’s an absolute bargain, and even if not he’s probably worth it. Invest a second and a decent prospect in Faksa, and you won’t regret it.

Deployment data from HockeyViz.com

Ottawa Senators

Projected Protection List (Forward): Brady Tkachuk, Colin White, Drake Batherson, Connor Brown, Nick Paul, Evgeni Dadonov, Logan Brown, Vitaly Abramov, Austin Watson, Chris Tierney

It should come as no real surprise that even the Senators have more to lose than the Canucks in the 2021 Expansion Draft — after all, they did finish higher in the standings. Ottawa will end up having to choose between some unpolished young talent and some veteran role-players, and it’s the vets that the Canucks should have their eye on.

Poachable: Chris Tierney

26, LH, 6’1”, 195lb, One year left @ $3.5 million (UFA)

  Games Goals Assists Points Avg. TOI Faceoffs Def. Zone Starts Corsi% xG% Scoring Chances High-Danger Chances
2021 55 6 13 19 14:59 45.6% 66.9% 47.92% 42.90% 46.22% 40.28%

Every list like this needs a budget option, and Tierney is definitely it. With one year remaining before UFA and on a crowded Ottawa depth chart, Tierney could be had for a mid-round pick or two — but do the Canucks even want him if the Senators don’t?

Given the context of his teammates, Tierney’s 2021 performance was actually noteworthy. He took on all of Ottawa’s tough forward matchups and the bulk of their defensive zone faceoffs, and still managed to keep his possession metrics from reaching embarrassing lows. His offence cratered a bit, but that’s to be expected.

Tierney is a player the Canucks might acquire if they really trusted in an internal 3C option — like Kole Lind — taking the job full-time within a year or so. In other words, he’s a stop-gap, but he’s not a bad one.

Deployment data from HockeyViz.com

Tampa Bay Lightning

Projected Protection List (Forward): Nikita Kucherov, Steven Stamkos, Brayden Point, Anthony Cirelli, Yanni Gourde, Ondrej Palat, Alex Killorn, Ross Colton, Mathieu Joseph

Everyone and their dog knows how difficult the Seattle Expansion Draft promises to be on the defending Stanley Cup Champions. Even if they went 7-3-1, they’d have to expose at least one key piece of their current roster up front, and there’s a really good chance they go 8-1, leaving even more forwards exposed.

That might not be the end of the world for a franchise looking to shed salary, and perhaps there’s an opportunity for another mutually beneficial trade between they and the Canucks, in the same vein as the JT Miller transaction.

Poachable: Yanni Gourde

29, LH, 5’9”, 172lb, Four years left @ $5.17 million

  Games Goals Assists Points Avg. TOI Faceoffs Def. Zone Starts Corsi% xG% Scoring Chances High-Danger Chances
2021 56 17 19 36 17:04 48.7% 51.2% 55.67% 59.42% 55.48% 56.62%

Judge Gourde not by his size. His ability to skate tough matchups and be a general nuisance to the other team’s best players has allowed for Anthony Cirelli to focus more on offence, to the overall betterment of the entire Tampa Bay roster.

A down season in 2019/20 had Gourde slated for exposure, but his production has picked right back up in 2021, and the truculence never left. We’ve gone this long without calling anyone an “analytics darling,” but that’s exactly what Gourde is at even-strength — and he’s pretty damn handy shorthanded, too.

With the impending cap crunch coming to Tampa, one might hold out hope for the Lightning to actually pay the Canucks to take on Gourde’s contract. The recent history of the Miller trade suggests this might be a pipe-dream, but Gourde should at the very least be available for a lot less than Miller was. A second round pick is probably digestible, but making enough room for Gourde under the cap is another matter entirely.

Deployment data from HockeyViz.com

Washington Capitals

Projected Protection List (Forward): Nicklas Backstrom, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Anthony Mantha, Tom Wilson, Conor Sheary, TJ Oshie, Lars Eller, Alex Ovechkin, Daniel Sprong, Garnet Hathaway

Few teams’ paths toward the Expansion Draft are harder to pin down than that of the Washington Capitals. To let Alexander Ovechkin go that long without a new contract seems unlikely, and so he may end up occupying one of their protection slots after all — resulting in precious few left over for his teammates.

Rumours persist that TJ Oshie will return home to the Pacific Northwest by joining the Kraken, but Washington could prevent that from happening if they wished. These occupied slots raise the possibility of one Vancouver target getting exposed — and the other should be available no matter what happens.

Poachable: Lars Eller

32, LH, 6’2”, 205lb, Two years left @ $3.5 million (UFA)

  Games Goals Assists Points Avg. TOI Faceoffs Def. Zone Starts Corsi% xG% Scoring Chances High-Danger Chances
2021 44 8 15 23 16:21 50.4% 42.9% 54.69% 58.85% 55.83% 57.51%

Eller has been doing this 3C job for the Capitals for a long while now, and he’s just had one of his best seasons ever at it. He skates tough minutes, matches up well with superstars, kills penalties with cold efficiency, and paced for close to the best production of his career.

So, why on Earth would Washington part with him?

Well, they won’t want to, but they might have to. If the Caps re-sign and/or protect Ovechkin, and decide that they’d rather hang on to Oshie, Eller is on the outside looking in. If not, they’ll gladly keep him.

As such, expect Eller to either not be available at all or available for a surprisingly reasonable price. We might sound like a broken record here, but a second rounder and some loose change sounds about right — and maybe even less than that if the Caps sign Ovechkin late and are feeling the Seattle squeeze.

Deployment data from HockeyViz.com

Poachable: Nic Dowd

30, RH, 6’1”, 195lb, One year left @ $750K (UFA)

  Games Goals Assists Points Avg. TOI Faceoffs Def. Zone Starts Corsi% xG% Scoring Chances High-Danger Chances
2021 56 11 4 15 14:22 56.3% 84.3% 46.3% 52.54% 50.09% 51.77%

Okay, maybe we lied about Tierney being the budget option. But don’t laugh, because Dowd is a very valid trade target for what the Canucks are seeking.

That defensive zone starts stat is not a typo: Dowd really did take nearly 85% of his faceoffs in his own zone. That his possession numbers still came out positive is thus nothing short of remarkable. That he did all that while skating the majority of his minutes against opponents’ top lines — tougher matchups than even Eller faced — and now we’re entering mind-boggling territory.

Despite his inherent value, there’s next-to-no chance that the Capitals protect Dowd, but he’s going to be a free agent in a year anyway, so Seattle probably won’t select him, either. That means that the most likely outcome is that Washington exposes Dowd and then happily keeps him thereafter, so there’s no real impetus to trade him for anything but an overpayment.

For the Canucks to overpay for a player they once gave away for free would hurt. Really, Dowd is just on this list to demonstrate what might have been — and on that note, we’ll conclude by stating the Dowd’s 15 points would have had him ranked ninth on the Canucks in 2021.

Deployment data from HockeyViz.com

Winnipeg Jets

Projected Protection List (Forward): Mark Schiefele, Kyle Connor, Nikolaj Ehlers, Blake Wheeler, Pierre-Luc Dubois, Adam Lowry, Andrew Copp, Mason Appleton, Jansen Harkins

Admittedly, this one is a bit of a longshot. In all likelihood, the Jets are simply going to protect their seven best forwards and their three best defenders and call it a day.

But there remains a slight possibility that Andrew Copp prices himself out of Manitoba with his RFA demands, and is thus exposed in favour of a younger forward, and that’s something the Canucks should be hoping for.

Poachable: Andrew Copp

26, LH, 6’1”, 206lb, RFA

  Games Goals Assists Points Avg. TOI Faceoffs Def. Zone Starts Corsi% xG% Scoring Chances High-Danger Chances
2021 55 15 24 39 18:15 53% 53% 48.37% 46.93% 48.73% 44.06%

As we already noted, Copp becoming available is unlikely, and that might be for the best. He wasn’t the Jets’ go-to checking center — that’s Adam Lowry — but he did still face difficult matchups with moderate results when it came to analytics and he’s still a penalty killer extraordinaire.

The far more important numbers when it comes to discussing Copp are his raw point totals. They’re undeniably impressive, and will no doubt give him great bargaining power this offseason, but it’s worth noting that nearly a third of his goals came in a single game against the Canucks, so there may be a bit of a mirage effect.

Expect Copp to be out of the Canucks’ price-range, both in terms of his salary demands and the assets it would cost to acquire him, and you won’t be set up for disappointment.

Deployment data from HockeyViz.com