With the trade deadline less than a month away and the Vancouver Canucks still outside of the playoff picture in the Pacific Division, a decision will have to be made soon about whether they will be sellers or buyers come Mar. 21. Everyone not named Elias Pettersson, Quinn Hughes and Thatcher Demko has been discussed as potential trade bait at one point or another, so it will be interesting to see which players are still part of the team when the clock strikes 3 pm ET.
In the last part of this series, I explored the possibility of the Canucks acquiring one of the many talented right-defencemen the Los Angeles Kings have in their pipeline. This time, defencemen will remain a target as we move from the Pacific to the Central Division.
Travelling from the bright lights of Hollywood to the heights of the Rocky Mountains, here are a couple of youngsters the Canucks should target from the surprisingly deep pool of the Colorado Avalanche.
Bowen Byram has had a difficult run to this point in his career with concussions. His first one came in February of 2021 and his latest after an elbow from Bo Horvat in a game in November against the Canucks. He returned for two games a few weeks later and five in January, but ultimately took a leave of absence from the Avalanche because of lingering symptoms.
I can’t do it. I can’t play and feel like this.Bowen Byram reportedly told his parents before taking a leave of absence
Fortunately, according to a report by Adrian Dater of Colorado Hockey Now, Byram has resumed skating and looks like he is on the road back to the NHL (from ‘Avs Wrap: Byram Keeps Skating, How Much Should Kuemper Play Down the Stretch?’, Colorado Hockey Now, 3/2/22). For his sake, I hope these concussion issues are a thing of the past and he can resume doing what he loves, and that’s playing hockey.
Before his latest concussion – his third overall, Byram was in the early conversation for the Calder Trophy after recording five goals and 11 points in his first 18 games. He was the fourth-overall pick by the Avalanche in the 2019 Draft, the same year the Canucks selected Vasily Podkolzin 10th. Vancouver hockey fans will also likely remember him from his time with the Vancouver Giants in the Western Hockey League (WHL) where he accumulated 46 goals and 150 points in 188 games including a career-high 26 goals and 71 points during his draft year in 2018-19.
As for the Canucks’ interest in Byram, he is exactly the type of defenceman they need more of in their lineup. He’s not of the right-hand variety, but that shouldn’t deter them from targeting him in a trade. Along with the added bonus of being a BC-native from nearby Cranbrook, he has tremendous mobility, a superb slapshot and, of course, size standing at 6-foot-1, 190 pounds. Not to mention, he’s also great defensively.
With the Avalanche’s glutton of young two-way defencemen, both on the roster (Cale Makar and Sam Girard) and in their system (Drew Helleson, Justin Barron and Sean Behrens), they can probably afford to trade someone like Byram for help up front. Acquiring him could be a risk though, considering his history with concussions. While the hope is that he will come back healthy and have a dominant career, brain injuries don’t just go away. He might have to deal with them not just for his entire career, but his life as well. Like Daniel Wagner of Vancouver Is Awesome said, “The Canucks can only trade J.T. Miller once — or Brock Boeser or Bo Horvat, for that matter. The return has to be worth it.”
If the Canucks can’t pry Byram away from the Avs’ grasp, Drew Helleson would be a good consolation prize. As a right-shot defenceman, he would also fill a desperate need in the system. Selected 47th overall by the Avalanche in the 2019 Draft, he appears to be another defenceman in the mould of a Chris Tanev or Luke Schenn, just with one big difference, speed.
He’s (Helleson) an efficient and fluid skater who is capable of acceleration quickly and generates plus straight-line speed.HockeyProspect.com, 2019
Like his comparables, Helleson has size at 6-foot-3, 190 pounds, supreme work ethic and a propensity to always do the right thing defensively. Known more as a defensive defenceman before joining Boston College in 2019-20, he has emerged as more of a two-way defender in recent seasons. With three goals and 22 points in 28 games this season and a three-game appearance at the 2022 Olympics, he could have more potential than everyone first thought when he was drafted back in 2019.
With the Canucks looking for a permanent partner for the more offensively-inclined Quinn Hughes, Helleson could be the perfect fit considering his elite defensive game and matchup abilities. He could very well be who Toews is to Makar and partner with Hughes one day on a two-way first pairing that plays 30 minutes a night.
What Would the Avalanche Want From the Canucks?
According to Thomas Drance and Rick Dhaliwal of The Athletic, Byram’s name has been linked to the Canucks in recent days because of the Avalanche’s interest in everyone’s favorite trade target, J.T. Miller (from ‘What we’re hearing about the Canucks’ priorities 17 days out from the NHL trade deadline’, The Athletic, 3/4/22). Despite reports from several sources indicating that interest around him has died down, there are still lingering rumours and speculation about teams like the Toronto Maple Leafs and New York Rangers sniffing around the superstar forward.
So, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone to see the Avalanche enter the fray. Arguably one of the early favourites to win the Stanley Cup in 2022, they will be looking to bolster their lineup for what promises to be a long run in the Spring. Miller would absolutely do that and then some. Though to get him, it will likely cost them a blue-chip defenceman like Byram…or it should anyway.
Another player garnering interest around the league is Brock Boeser. Recently connected to the New Jersey Devils, the 25-year-old forward is on pace for his fourth 20-goal season and could demand upwards of $6 million on his next contract. That, as everyone knows by now, is a problem for the cap-strapped Canucks. President Jim Rutherford and general manager Patrik Allvin are in the process of trying to figure out that situation as we speak, hence all the rumours concerning almost every high-priced contract on the team. Save for Pettersson, Hughes and Demko, they are listening to all offers.
Like Miller, Boeser would be a huge addition to the Avalanche’s forward corps. He could slot in beside Nazem Kadri on the second line and create a second wave behind the uber line of Gabriel Landeskog, Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen. Byram might be too much of an ask, but Helleson or Barron along with a forward like Alex Newhook could be a good starting point.
Canucks Need To Be In on Byram
Until Dhaliwal and Drance mentioned Byram’s name in their latest article at The Athletic, he was not rumoured to be one of the prime targets traded by the deadline. It will be interesting to see how it all plays out because with the Canucks’ interest in improving their defence core now and in the future, he would fit the 20-25 age range they are searching for.
I’m sure the rumours will continue to fly as the March 21 deadline gets closer and closer. If the Avalanche are interested in Miller or Boeser and the Canucks are truly willing to move them for the right price, Byram needs to be discussed as being included in any trade. Young top-pairing defencemen don’t grow on trees, especially in the trade market, so if the rumours are true and he is available, then they need to be all over it. Yes, the risk is there with his concussion history, but with his talent and potential, I think the risk is definitely worth the potential reward.
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Matthew Zator is the assistant managing editor at THW and a writer who lives and breathes Vancouver Canucks hockey, the NHL Draft, and prospects in general. He loves talking about young players and their potential. Matthew is a must-read for Canucks fans and fans of the NHL Draft and its prospects. For interview requests or content information, you can follow Matthew through his social media accounts which are listed under his photo at the conclusion of articles like this one about Tyler Motte.