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8 top-six centre trade targets as the Canucks look to keep the Lotto Line together

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Photo credit:© Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
Stephan Roget
1 month ago
About a week ago, we published an article entitled “The Lotto Line is fun, but the Canucks can’t afford to put all their eggs in one basket for long.”
The basic premise was that as enjoyable as the concept of The Return of the Lotto might be, the Canucks just didn’t have the staff on hand to put together a competent second line with their first line so stacked up.
That much remains an issue. But what’s happened in the week since has us mostly convinced that the Lotto Line is worth keeping together, and specifically worth GM Patrik Allvin and Co. solving the issue of that second line for the express purpose of keeping them together.
Elias Pettersson (12), JT Miller (8), and Brock Boeser (7) have combined for 27 points in five games since being reunited. That’s success worth sticking to, and that leads us to the central idea of our article.
If the Canucks keep the Lotto Line together, the second line needs work. There’s some pieces there – Ilya Mikheyev, Pius Suter, Andrei Kuzmenko, and so on – but no one who truly works as a centrepiece, or even someone who should realistically be “the best player on a scoring line.”
With both Pettersson and Miller on a single line, the most apparent missing piece would seem to be a 2C. Suter’s a multifaceted player, but playing a 2C role on a playoff-bound team is a bit beyond him. To wit, he, Mikheyev, and Kuzmenko have been held to just two cumulative points since being thrown together as a second line.
So, an upgrade at 2C would thus go a long way toward allowing the Canucks to feel comfortable keeping the Lotto Line together. But an upgrade at 2C is much easier said than done.
There’s the cost of acquisition to consider, with prospects and picks almost certainly headed the other way in compensation.
Even more difficult to manage will be the cap constraints. The Canucks are tight up against the cap, and unless there’s a well-timed injury in their future, they will remain so right up until the March 8 Trade Deadline. Any acquisition of a 2C (or anyone, really) will require cap being moved out, either ahead of time or in the same transaction.
For the purposes of this article, you can safely imagine Kuzmenko being thrown into each package as a cap ballast and a little bit of additional value.
But before we get to any of that, we first need to identify some targets. Please find below a list of potentially-available 2Cs  (or better) that the Canucks could pursue in their quest to keep the Lotto Line together.
 
Elias Lindholm, Calgary Flames
C, 29, 6’1”, 202lb, $4.85 million AAV expiring in 2024 (UFA)
 GamesGoalsAssistsPointsAvg. TOICorsi
2023/24438202820:4447.5%
Why not start with the gold standard?
With the possible exception of this season, Lindholm has not just been a player of 2C quality, he’s been a de facto 1C, and a darn good one at that. Last year, he picked up 64 points in 80 games on a middling Calgary squad, and the year before that he went PPG and picked up a Selke nomination.
Whether the Canucks want their prospective new 2C to be a scoring presence or a defensive conscience on the second line, Lindholm is probably their best option in either regard. The most important quality that Lindholm brings is his ability to carry a line, which would be vital for the Canucks with their three top scorers all stuffed onto one unit.
Of course, with quality comes cost, and Lindholm projects to be the most expensive forward traded at this year’s deadline, and that’s to say nothing of the cost of any potential extension.
Projected Cost: A first round pick, a B+ prospect, and Andrei Kuzmenko…at a bare minimum.
 
Sean Monahan, Montreal Canadiens
C, 29, 6’2”, 196lb, $1.985 million AAV expiring in 2024 (UFA)
 GamesGoalsAssistsPointsAvg. TOICorsi
2023/244211132418:2445.6%
Monahan and Lindholm are the same age, and even played as teammates in the Calgary Flames organization for a number of years, but Monahan has a lot more miles on his odometer. Injuries have taken and continue to take their toll, but there’s still an abundance of skill in Monahan, and he can still thrive under the right circumstances.
Monahan, at this point, tops out as a 2C and might be a better fit for 3C duties, but that all depends on linemates. He hasn’t had all that much to work with in Montreal, and one has to imagine he’d score more in Vancouver, almost by default. Monahan’s two-way play, once a strength of his game, is still respectable, albeit hampered.
As a bonus, Monahan’s salary is a manageable one, especially if the Canadiens can be convinced to retain salary on him.
All those aforementioned injury issues also make Monahan a risky acquisition in general, and that has to be taken into consideration.
Projected Cost: A second or third round pick, perhaps with an additional sweetener in return for 50% retention.
 
Morgan Frost, Philadelphia Flyers
C, 24, 6’0”, 193lb, $2.1 million AAV expiring in 2025 (RFA)
 GamesGoalsAssistsPointsAvg. TOICorsi
2023/2432781515:1951.0%
The Canucks have suffered for John Tortorella’s cantankerousness before. Maybe it’s time that they benefitted from it?
Frost has been in Tort’s doghouse ever since the head coach arrived in Philadelphia, and this season that has translated to time in the pressbox. Still, Frost isn’t that far removed from being a first round pick, and last season he managed 46 points in his second full NHL season without an abundance of ice-time. This is a classic buy-low arrangement.
Frost is a strong skater and a good playmaker, with solid defensive awareness, to boot. His salary is reasonable and manageable, although it might be difficult to convince the Flyers to retain on two years of it, so some cutting would still be required.
Projected Cost: A second round pick or so.
 
Trevor Zegras, Anaheim Ducks
C/LW, 22, 6’0”, 185lb, $5.75 million AAV expiring in 2026 (RFA)
 GamesGoalsAssistsPointsAvg. TOICorsi
2023/242043717:2048.6%
We all already know a little too much about Zegras, so we won’t get too into the scouting report. Suffice it to say that he’s probably the most talented player on our list today, but not necessarily the best at hockey, and that really says it all.
Zegras has all the skill in the world, but can be a frustrating and mercurial player, which has led to him being surpassed by younger and more well-rounded forwards in Anaheim, which has in turn led to him showing up in trade rumours.
In Zegras, the Canucks could count on someone capable of making their second line more dangerous than Pius Suter…both to the opposition, but also to the Canucks themselves.
It’s an intriguing idea, but perhaps not a great fit. And that’s doubly true once the high cost of acquisition that Anaheim would surely demand is factored in.
Here’s the one potentially neat thing about trading for Zegras: he just broke his ankle a couple of days ago and is projected to be out for up to eight weeks. There’s maybe a possibility for cap shenanigans there, as in the Canucks trading for him, placing him on LTIR, and keeping him there until Game One of the playoffs. But that’s a bit of a longshot…
Projected Cost: Anaheim has done enough rebuilding, so they’re probably more in the market for young, NHL-ready pieces. They’d almost certainly have their eyes on a Tom Willander, and if not him than on an Elias Pettersson II or Jonathan Lekkerimäki, and those aren’t really items the Canucks should be eager to part with.
 
Adam Henrique, Anaheim Ducks
C/LW, 33, 6’0”, 195lb, $5.85 million AAV expiring in 2024 (UFA)
 GamesGoalsAssistsPointsAvg. TOICorsi
2023/244110122217:0147.2%
If Zegras is the luxury option (in more ways than one), Henrique is the Ducks’ budget-conscious alternative. He’s a smart, savvy veteran who has been around the block and done it all, and his most positive trait vis-à-vis the Canucks is his ability to play any sort of game that is asked of him.
Henrique can drive a second line offensively, and he can be the defensive presence on a line, even if he isn’t of A+ quality at either task. His limited playoff experience is one strike against him, but Henrique is respected for his competitive nature and could probably figure the whole postseason thing out pretty quick.
Projected Cost: This is where it gets tricky to figure. The Ducks wouldn’t mind retaining on Henrique, surely, but that both carries an extra cost and still requires the Canucks to cut additional cap. Throw the likes of Kuzmenko into a trade for Henrique, however, and you’re at almost fair value…or maybe even in excess. It’s hard to imagine exactly how such a trade would happen.
 
Shane Pinto, Ottawa Senators
C, 23, 6’3”, 201lb, Currently unsigned RFA
 GamesGoalsAssistsPointsAvg. TOICorsi
2023/240000N/AN/A
Call this our “out of left field” suggestion for the day. Pinto has not played at all this year, and is still serving his 41-game suspension for gambling-related activities. He’s scheduled to return on January 21.
Now, we’re speculating here, but it wouldn’t be entirely surprising for the relationship between Pinto and the Senators to have soured over the course of this whole incident. It’s possible that both sides will be looking to move on, and if that’s so, then Pinto automatically becomes one of the best 2C options on the market.
Even better, he’s reportedly going to be signing a deal at or near his qualifying offer of $874K for the remainder of the season.
Pinto has yet to break out at the NHL level, but that’s to be expected. Last season was his first full year in the big leagues, and he managed 20 goals and 35 points through 82 games. He’s said to be a rare shoot-first centre who excels at possessing and protecting the puck, and thus could work out as a miniature version of Pettersson to throw on a second line with Kuzmenko and Mikheyev.
Projected Cost: Really, it depends on how sour that relationship has become. Even then, plenty of teams would be in on Pinto’s services. Ottawa probably wants NHL-ready prospects or young players. Maybe a package of Vasily Podkolzin and Lekkerimäki gets the job done?
 
Mikael Granlund, San Jose Sharks
C/LW, 31, 5’10”, 185lb, $5 million AAV expiring in 2025 (UFA)
 GamesGoalsAssistsPointsAvg. TOICorsi
2023/24365242920:4540.6%
One more bargain option for the road. Granlund has spent the last couple of seasons borderline playing himself out of the league, but he’s back in a big way in 2023/24. Granlund is scoring at a 0.81 PPG pace, which is his highest rate since the 2016/17 season in Minnesota.
Is that largely a result of his receiving an abundance of ice-time in a low-pressure situation in San Jose? Almost certainly! But if Granlund could keep his roll going onto a new team, he could be a low-key effective Trade Deadline acquisition…even if he was one of the deadline’s biggest busts last year. Granlund trades have worked out okay for the Canucks in the past.
It’s that extra year of contract, however, that probably kills any realistic deal for Granlund.
Projected Cost: The extra year should hurt Granlund’s value, really, but it’s of no consequence to the rebuilding Sharks, so they may not see it as a reason to lower their asking price. Granlund went for a second round pick at the deadline last year, and we think he could probably be had for about the same this year with his uptick in production.
 
Joel Eriksson Ek, Minnesota Wild
C, 26, 6’3”, 207lb, $5.25 million AAV expiring in 2029 (UFA)
 GamesGoalsAssistsPointsAvg. TOICorsi
2023/244215132820:3652.5%
Full disclosure: We’ve only included Eriksson Ek here because his name has come up so frequently this week in Canucks-related trade chatter.
Fuller disclosure: We’re just going to use this space to explain why Eriksson Ek is almost certainly not available.
Of all the players on this list, he’s undoubtedly the best option a team could find at 2C, even over and above Lindholm. Eriksson Ek has been one of the top defensive centres in the league for a few years running now, and his offensive game has blossomed of late, too. He was up to a 0.78 PPG rate last season, and although that’s a bit down this year, Eriksson Ek remains the very definition of a two-way force.
On top of all that, he’s signed to an absolute bargain rate from now until the end of the decade.
It’s true that the Wild have some cap issues on the go. But they just have to squeeze through another season. After 2024/25, Zach Parise and Ryan Suter’s twin buyout penalties drop from $7.37 million down to $833K each.
The Wild can just play it cheap this offseason, hang on to their top talent, and reboot in 2025/26. Don’t believe the hype, Eriksson Ek is staying put and the Canucks will have to settle for someone else on the list.
Projected Cost: Fuhgeddaboudit.

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