As we get closer to the 2023 Trade Deadline, the Chicago Blackhawks will be the most-talked-about team in the NHL. This is entirely understandable, as they are in a full-on rebuild and have several notable pending unrestricted free agents (UFA) who are expected to be moved. The New York Rangers, on the other hand, are expected to be major buyers, so it seems quite likely that these two teams could end up doing business together. Chicago has some rather intriguing trade targets from the Rangers that they should consider pursuing. Let’s look at them now.
The Rangers shocked the hockey world when they scratched 2020 first-overall pick, Alexis Lafreniere, for Thursday’s (Dec. 29) contest against the Tampa Bay Lightning. Before being scratched, Lafreniere had seven points over his last 10 games, so he was making an impact offensively. Yet, head coach Gerard Gallant still had him sit in the press box for the contest. After this polarizing move, I naturally am wondering if the Rangers could be open to moving Lafreniere. If so, he should immediately be the Blackhawks’ primary trade target.
Although Lafreniere has yet to develop into a star, there’s no question that he still has the potential to become one. After all, he is only 21 years old, and he has not been given a long-term chance in the Rangers’ top six since his arrival. However, things would change on that front if he was moved to the Blackhawks, as their forward depth is significantly weaker. Furthermore, Lafreniere would stand a very good shot of receiving minutes on Chicago’s top power-play unit.
With the Rangers being viewed as a potential landing spot for Patrick Kane, I wonder if the Blackhawks could try to land Lafreniere as a piece the other way. Lafreniere’s trade value has certainly dropped compared to his beginning days in the NHL, so New York would also likely need to add a first-round pick along with him. This is especially true if an extension between the Rangers and Kane is agreed upon as a part of the trade.
If Rangers general manager (GM) Chris Drury would rather keep Lafreniere around, Kaapo Kakko would be the Blackhawks’ next-best trade target. Similar to Lafreniere, Kakko has yet to become a top-six forward and reach his full potential. He is having a decent 2022-23 season thus far, as he has nine goals and 15 points in 37 contests. Although Kakko is probably best described as a third-line winger, there is reason to believe that he could still take that next step in his development. Keep in mind, like Lafreniere, he is still only 21 years old.
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If the Blackhawks were to acquire Kakko, he would easily fit in their top six when looking at their forward depth. Furthermore, he also would be an upgrade to their power play and could even see time on their penalty kill. This increased playing time could be exactly what helps Kakko finally break out and become a legitimate first-line winger.
Kakko could very well be the young player that the Blackhawks want to be added in a trade for Kane. Since Kakko and Lafreniere have similar trade values, a first-round pick would also likely need to be a part of the deal to help this move come to fruition.
One defenseman from the Rangers who could grab the Blackhawks’ attention is Zac Jones. The 22-year-old is viewed as having top-four potential, but he has had trouble cementing himself a permanent role on their NHL roster. In 16 games this season with the Rangers, the Virginia native has one goal, one assist, and a minus-2 rating. Due to his underwhelming play at the NHL level this season, he is currently in the American Hockey League (AHL) with the Hartford Wolf Pack, where he has two goals and three assists.
With the Rangers’ defensive depth being so strong, perhaps a change of scenery could benefit Jones’ development. When looking at the Blackhawks’ roster, it is quite apparent that he would easily fit on their bottom pairing at least. However, Chicago’s left side is not particularly strong, so he could even compete for top-four minutes if he were to impress upon his arrival. Furthermore, Jones’ offensive upside would likely allow him to receive plenty of chances on their power play, too. Keep in mind, he did record a 35-point campaign in 52 games with Hartford last season.
I could see Jones being a player who the Blackhawks target in a hypothetical Kane trade, too. However, perhaps he could even be the return for a rental like Max Domi. Either way, he is a solid young defenseman who could thrive on a rebuilding squad like Chicago.
Nevertheless, the Blackhawks have some strong trade targets from the Rangers that they should consider making a push for. Bringing in Lafreniere or Kakko has the potential to be massive for Chicago, but I’d argue that Jones could also be a very good addition. Alas, we will have to wait and see if these two clubs strike a deal before the deadline passes.