Even though the Vancouver Canucks have had some moderate success recently, that hasn’t stopped the trade rumors from flying around. Everyone not named Quinn Hughes and Elias Pettersson is apparently available for the right price (according to Elliotte Friedman) – including leading scorer Bo Horvat and starting goaltender Thatcher Demko.
Related: NHL Trade Bait List
Continuing the series I started with the Columbus Blue Jackets, I am moving on to another speculated suitor for Horvat in the Colorado Avalanche, who have struggled to find a replacement this season for former second-line center Nazem Kadri. They have tried Alex Newhook, J.T. Compher, and most recently Evan Rodrigues (as of Nov. 21) with moderate success, but on a team that just won the Stanley Cup and is gunning for another one, those options are mediocre at best.
Enter Horvat. He would not only shore up their top six but also give them a solid one-two punch down the middle with Nathan MacKinnon. Of course, to get the most assets out of any trade involving him, an extension would have to be in place with the Avalanche before a deal is consummated. So without further ado, here are three targets the Canucks should be looking at.
With the emergence of Bowen Byram in the playoffs last year and his continued rise up the depth chart this season (averaging 20:47 a night), Samuel Girard has become somewhat expendable. While the Avalanche would probably prefer not to trade him, he’s an asset they could use to address their weakness at center ice. Capable of playing both sides, he is the type of mobile, puck moving defenceman that many teams would want on their roster, so if he does in fact become available, the Canucks likely won’t be the only team interested.
Having said that, Horvat isn’t just any player. He’s a guy that would exponentially increase the Avalanche’s chances at winning a second-straight Cup. As such, I’m sure the Canucks would be a team that could outbid a lot of potential suitors. At $5 million in average annual value (AAV) for another five seasons, Girard’s contract is a bit pricey, but considering he’s only 24 years old with his prime yet to come, there’s still a lot of upside in his game. Basically, what I am saying is, that $5 million AAV could be a bargain in a few years.
I’ve said in the past that the Canucks need more defencemen like Quinn Hughes. Well, Girard checks a lot of those boxes and could anchor a second pairing, giving Bruce Boudreau (or whoever the next coach is) the freedom to implement a high-flying system based on rush chances and quick puck movement.
Compared to the Blue Jackets, the Avalanche’s prospect pool pales in comparison given they have been Stanley Cup contenders for the last few seasons. However, president Joe Sakic has still been able to cultivate some significant talent in the late first and second rounds. One being Swedish forward Oskar Olausson, who was selected 28th overall in the 2021 Draft.
The 6-foot-2 winger/center oozes offensive potential and was ranked as high as 14th overall by Elite Prospects before the draft. Now playing in the American Hockey League (AHL) with the Colorado Eagles, he is off to a decent start with four goals and eight points in 16 games. Before debuting in the AHL this season, he played for the Oshawa Generals and Barrie Colts in the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) where he had 26 goals and 49 points in 55 games.
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Olausson’s strengths lie in his lethal shot and forechecking abilities. Two things he displayed during his strong outing at the rescheduled World Juniors in August where he helped Team Sweden win a bronze medal. But to succeed at the highest level in the NHL, he has to get better defensively, which should come with coaching and experience. All in all, since he’s Swedish, he was probably on the radar of Allvin and his staff during the draft, so he likely would be a target in any hypothetical Horvat trade package.
In that same 2021 Draft, the Avalanche snagged defenceman Sean Behrens in the second round (61st overall). He was ranked as high as 23rd by Elite Prospects and as low as 56th by FC Hockey, so getting him at 61 was a bit of a coup for Sakic and company. Now into his sophomore season in the NCAA with the University of Denver, Behrens has become one of his team’s most important defencemen. Playing on the top pairing last season and finishing with three goals and 29 points in 37 games and a National Championship, he will be looking to lead Denver to another one this year.
Undersized at 5-foot-10, but blessed with elite skating, vision, and creativity, Behrens is exactly the type of defenceman the Canucks need more of in their prospect pool.
“Behrens’ patience, vision, and creativity in the offensive zone are the reasons for his high assist totals. His decision-making is superb, knowing when and when not to hold onto the puck in both the defensive and offensive zones. Because of his strong decision-making, Behrens can at times break the stereotype that small defensemen cannot be defensively reliable.” – Josh Frojelin, The Hockey Writers
Like Josh said, Behrens isn’t only good offensively, he’s also very good in his own zone and surprisingly physical for his size. Described in his draft year as “one of the best rush defenders…and one of the best in recent draft memory” by Alex Taxman of Future Scope Hockey, he could be a Devon Toews-like defender in the NHL. Now tell me that isn’t something the Canucks would like in their system right now.
Canucks Should Also Be Asking for a First-Round Pick
In addition to one of these targets, the Canucks should be testing the waters with general manager Chris MacFarland on adding a first-round pick to the package. With how strong the 2023 Draft class is, it might be difficult to pry this year’s selection away from him, but 2024 and 2025 should be on the table. Basically, in any trade involving Horvat, young players (25 and under), high-end prospects or draft picks have to be included.
Of course, like I mentioned off the top, an extension would have to be negotiated as part of the deal or none of the above players will be available. I don’t think Sakic and MacFarland would risk losing premium assets for a player that could get up and leave at the end of the playoffs. Stranger things have happened, but the Avs’ front office doesn’t strike me as a group that would spend a lot on a rental, even it’s someone as valuable as Horvat.
In the end, if it does come down to trading Horvat instead of re-signing him, Allvin and Rutherford need to get the best deal they can get. It will be interesting to see if Horvat is at the top of the Avalanche’s list of targets when the trade deadline comes around – more importantly, if they will be willing to meet the high cost the Canucks should be demanding.
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.