Earlier this week, news broke that the New York Rangers and 22-year-old RHD Nils Lundkvist were mutually seeking a trade before the outset of the 2022/23 season.
Though no public statements have been made as of yet, the rumour makes more than enough sense as to be instantly believable. For one, Lundkvist is stuck behind all three of Adam Fox, Jacob Trouba, and Braden Schneider on the right side of New York’s blueline. Try as he might, Lundkvist isn’t cracking into that top-three anytime soon.
For two, the Rangers have already tried to trade Lundkvist away on at least one occasion, if a different set of rumours are to be believed. He was at the centre of the Rangers’ reported offer for J.T. Miller at the 2022 Trade Deadline, along with Filip Chytil and a first round pick.
"It was essentially Nils Lundkvist, a first round pick, and Filip Chytil."@SatiarShah and @danriccio_ discussed the potential offer the Rangers had on the table for JT Miller in hour 1 of #Canucks Central!
— Sportsnet 650 (@Sportsnet650) May 20, 2022
In other words, it makes perfect sense for Lundkvist to be interested in a trade out of New York, and for the Rangers to be okay with shipping him elsewhere in exchange for some non-RHD talent.
But does it make sense for Lundkvist’s potential destination to be Vancouver, as it almost was at the Trade Deadline?
Nils Lundkvist: The Player
Right off the bat, there’s plenty of appeal just in Lundkvist’s basic demographics.
He’s a right-handed defender with top-four potential and all of his best years still ahead of him. That’s something that the Canucks have exactly zero of in the organization, and something that they desperately need as they rebuild their troubled blueline.
In his fourth season after being drafted, Lundkvist debuted in North America for 2022/23, with admittedly mixed results. He started strong, beating out Schneider and others for a roster spot out of Training Camp, and stayed in the lineup throughout October and November. By mid-December, however, Lundkvist was beginning to be healthy-scratched on the regular, and by early January he was sent down to Hartford, only to return as a postseason black ace.
Lundkvist was deployed almost exclusively as a bottom-pairing defender, lining up against mostly bottom-six competition and in generally limited minutes. Even then, the transition from the speed of the SHL was difficult for him to manage.
Scoring Chance Control
From NaturalStatTrick, 5v5 play
In all honestly, Lundkvist’s advanced statline looks putrid, especially for someone playing on a contending team. But it’s important to keep in mind that we’re only really talking about 300 odd minutes of ice-time here — Lundkvist’s first 300 minutes on North American ice, at that. As always, such a small sample size should be taken with a heavy dose of contextual salt.
Keep in mind that, for all those rates and ratios, Lundkvist only actually allowed nine goals against at 5v5 (to go along with the 13 goals the Rangers scored with him on the ice). The analytics might have said he was supposed to bleed goals, but he didn’t really.
Still, Lundkvist is not a player without some flaws in his scouting report. Like many young Swedish defenders, Lundkvist is praised for his highly-mobile skating, his offensive vision, and his ability to make crisp first and subsequent passes. If he has one headline trait, it’s his shot, which allowed him to rack up double-digit goal totals in the SHL as a teenager.
But Lundkvist does only stand at 5’11” and a few pounds short of 190, and there are some questions related to his play in his own end. Lundkvist does not provide much of a physical element himself, and he’s definitely struggled to handle the increased physical pressure applied against him in the NHL and AHL. It’s not an obvious and immediate issue, but it is a weakness that will need to be worked on if it’s not going to be exploited for the rest of his career.
As was previously alluded to, Lundkvist had issues with his defensive positioning and coverage even under sheltered minutes. One hopes that he’ll continue to develop these skills, and he’s never been touted as an “offense-only” blueliner — but it’s also not entirely out of the realm of possibility that he only ever tops at as a power play specialist.
Which brings us, neatly enough, to the fit.
Is Lundkvist a fit for the Vancouver Canucks?
There’s no doubt that the Canucks are on the lookout for any and all RHD. Truly, there’s not a single right-handed defender who the Canucks can count on to still be skating on their NHL roster in two seasons’ time, and that’s a serious problem.
On his youth and handedness alone, Lundkvist has plenty of appeal.
That being said, Lundkvist’s profile does not exactly match what the Canucks are looking for beyond those basic traits.
Lundkvist is believed to have a big future on the power play, but the Canucks already have Quinn Hughes and Oliver Ekman-Larsson as the lynchpins of their man advantage units, and they’re not going to be displaced anytime soon. Sure, Lundkvist could join either one of them on a power play blueline, but then a forward is getting kicked out of the mix, and that’s not ideal. Needless to say, another power play-centric defender is not exactly a priority.
If Lundkvist is able to round out his game more — and most believe that he will, at least to some extent — and develops into a top-four-quality two-way type, there’s plenty for the Canucks to like. After all, going from no top-four RHDS to one top-four RHD is an improvement, any way you slice it.
But while they say beggar’s can’t be choosers, it’s understandable for the Canucks to be a little choosy in this scenario. Lundkvist’s weakness on the physical side of the game would seem to make him a poor potential partner for Quinn Hughes, who has traditionally succeeded alongside rough-and-tumble defensive stalwarts like Luke Schenn.
It also seems unlikely that Lundkvist winds up as a suitable partner for OEL, who is increasingly transitioning into a shutdown-esque role.
Partnering Lundkvist with a rookie like Jack Rathbone seems like a disaster waiting to happen.
So, while Lundkvist may have a future as a top-four defender, that doesn’t necessarily mean he has a future in Vancouver’s top-four.
Still, if the price were right…
What might a trade look like?
The Rangers are apparently interested in trading Lundkvist prior to Training Camp 2022, but don’t expect them to be desperate enough to give him away for free. Lundkvist is still waivers-exempt for another season, meaning that New York can assign him to Hartford without any fear of him being claimed.
In seeking a swap, the Rangers would be looking at one of three things: A) future assets, B) roster forwards, or C) equivalent LHD prospects.
The Canucks cannot and should not be offering up any future assets, and so we’re left with options B and C. Here are some potential offers for Lundkvist’s services.
If there’s an extra forward to be found on the Canucks’ roster, it’s probably Nils Höglander, who had issues cracking Bruce Boudreau’s top-nine last year and will have a tough time getting back into it in 2022/23. Höglander and Lundkvist were drafted just a year and a couple of picks apart, and have developed at a relatively even pace since, with Höglander probably having a slight lead.
This is a transaction that would almost certainly be agreed to from a Rangers’ perspective, but would also constitute the Canucks giving up a lot of unrealized potential in Höglander. For a less-than-ideal fit, that’s questionable.
If the Rangers wanted to swap Lundkvist out for an equivalent LHD prospect, where they have ample depth but not quite as much as they have on RHD, they could do a lot worse than Rathbone. He’s only a year older than Lundkvist, and still retains a year of waivers-exemption. His path to the New York blueline would certainly be clearer than Lundkvist’s currently is.
Again, though, we run into the issue of blown potential. Rathbone’s rookie numbers in the AHL were far better than Lundkvist’s, and his all-around game is already stronger. Is such a swap really worth making just because of the handedness?
A Retained Tanner Pearson
The Rangers can’t afford to add Tanner Pearson at full price, nor would they want to. But if the Canucks were able and willing to retain 50% of Pearson’s salary? Two years of Pearson at a $1.625 million AAV might have some appeal to a Rangers’ team looking to add veteran presence. Enough appeal for them to give up Lundkvist in exchange? That’s hard to say.
Remember that at least one Miller-for-Lundkvist trade (with several additional pieces) has been discussed. For the moment, that door seems to have closed, with the Rangers signing Vincent Trocheck as a free agent and now generally low on cap space. Toward the 2023 Trade Deadline, however, maybe something opens up again…and maybe Lundkvist continues to be involved in those talks. He’s still not a Miller-worth centrepiece, but he’s also not an insignificant throw-in.