Since the beginning of free agency in July, the Vancouver Canucks have not made any moves to further bolster their roster. While the forward group looks deep and ready to compete in the somewhat muddy Pacific Division, the defence corps is still a question mark going into the 2022-23 season. With a lack of depth beyond Jack Rathbone, it could be a major problem should the injury bug strike one of Tyler Myers, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Luke Schenn, Tucker Poolman or god forbid, Quinn Hughes.
That means the management group led by Jim Rutherford and Patrik Allvin will be keeping their ears open looking for potential trade partners as training camps get going in a few weeks. Ideally, the Canucks want to add a young right-handed defenceman that could potentially grow into a top-four option in the future. Well, it so happens that one just became available in the form of New York Rangers 22-year-old Swede Nils Lundkvist (from ‘Rangers trying to trade frustrated Nils Lundkvist’ New York Post, 9/1/22). Coincidentally, he was also reportedly involved in the trade proposal the Rangers put forth in their bid to acquire J.T. Miller last season.
Except, that trade never materialized, and Lundkvist is now on the market after apparently requesting a trade a year ago. As such, the Canucks should definitely be entertaining a trade for him – but not involving Miller – rather using some of their other assets. However, before we get to that, let’s take a look at what the Canucks would be getting in Lundkvist if they acquired him.
Lundkvist Would Add Speed to the Canucks Defence Corps
Selected 28th overall by the Rangers at the 2018 NHL Draft, Lundkvist is exactly what the Canucks need more of on their back end, speed, mobility and the ability to get the puck out of the defensive zone with little to no effort. While he is not the defenceman everyone and their dog wants from the Rangers – that would be Braden Schneider – he is still a good consolation prize that would hopefully upgrade the defence currently anchored by Hughes.
Before coming over to the NHL and debuting with the Rangers in 2021-22, Lundkvist broke the record for points by an under-20 defenceman in the Swedish Hockey League (SHL) with 31 (which he bested in 2020-21 with 32) and starred at both the 2020 World Juniors and 2021 World Championship where he put up a combined 13 points in 10 games. He also won the Salming Trophy given to the Swedish Defenceman of the Year and scored the most goals in the SHL with 14 at the end of the 2020-21 season. Suffice it to say, he’s pretty good offensively, which would another dangerous dynamic to a Canucks defence that doesn’t really have anything on the right side remotely resembling his potential.
Lundkvist Would Help Solidify the Right Side
With the Canucks, Lundkvist would hopefully help solidify the right side after Schenn and Myers, while also providing insurance should injuries ravage the defence like it has almost every season. His age is also ideal since he falls within the window of “developing” rather than “developed”. That means, there is still a lot of growth to come in his game both offensively and defensively. After a season of adjusting to the North American game and the smaller rinks, he should be an improved player in 2022-23. As it is with most European defencemen – or defencemen alone for that matter – they need at least a year or two to adjust to the pro game before they feel comfortable. Unless you’re elite like Moritz Seider, that is.
Similar to Travis Dermott in Toronto, Lundkvist is stuck in a log jam with the Rangers that makes him at best a sixth or seventh defenceman behind the likes of Adam Fox, Jacob Trouba, Ryan Lindgren, K’Andre Miller, and the aforementioned Schneider. In fact, when you look at Elite Prospects’ depth chart, they have him listed as the eighth option behind Zac Jones and Libor Hajek. Basically, he would have to outperform quite a few players to be a regular next season, even if he does take a major step in his development.
A lot of people will likely point out that Lundkvist isn’t exactly what the Canucks need, that being a tough two-way right-hander like Schneider, but when a mobile offensively-gifted defenceman becomes available, Allvin would be negligent to look the other way. Especially when he could be had for someone other than Miller or Conor Garland.
Could the Canucks Potentially Give Lundkvist What He Wants?
The crowded depth chart mentioned above is exactly why Lundkvist requested a trade out of New York. That and the fact that he wanted to play on the power play consistently – something that wasn’t going to happen with Fox, Trouba and Schneider patrolling the blue line on the right side. Would the Canucks be a team that could give him that? Possibly, but he would of course have to earn it.
It remains to be seen what Bruce Boudreau does with his power play units considering the additions of Ilya Mikheyev and Andrei Kuzmenko to the mix. It is also unclear whether Hughes will take up his usual residence on the first unit. Towards the end of last season, Ekman-Larsson was used there in place of him and it garnered some positive results – at least in the short term. So, there could be an opening on the second unit for Lundkvist to team up with Hughes and form a rover-big shot combination. Regardless, there appears to be a lot more room on the depth chart in Vancouver for upward growth than there is in New York right now.
What Should the Canucks Offer Instead of Miller?
Now comes the hard part, what should the Canucks offer in exchange for Lundkvist? While his value is now lightyears behind Miller, the Rangers still reportedly want a young asset in return for him. Rangers general manager Chris Drury will be hard-pressed to get that given Lundkvist won’t report to camp without a trade, but I’m sure he still wants something of value.
If I was in Allvin’s shoes, I would try offering a second or third-round draft pick first to gauge the market. If that doesn’t work, up the ante with a veteran like Jason Dickinson or Tanner Pearson along with it. Unfortunately, I don’t see a package like that working either since Lundkvist is still a young defenceman with a lot of potential. The Rangers also don’t have a lot of cap space to work with, making a cap dump trade almost impossible.
The more likely scenario is the Canucks offering up Nils Hoglander in this hypothetical deal. As much as I love him as a player, I feel he’s not in the plans of the team moving forward – at least not as long as Boudreau is behind the bench, as he fell out of favor with the new head coach because of his mediocre defensive game. He might be enough to entice the Rangers to take the deal as a one-for-one, barring better offers from the league’s other 30 teams, of course.
If the Canucks can avoid trading someone like Hoglander, by all means, they should. However, if the Rangers don’t take the bait of a draft pick(s), then he might have to be their next offer. As everyone knows, you have to give up something to get something, and Lundkvist could be one of the missing pieces to a defence that desperately needs to get better at moving the puck quickly and decisively out of their own zone. To me, Hoglander is a small price to pay for someone with the potential to do that and put up 40-plus points in his prime.
In the end, the Canucks should throw their hat in the ring for Lundkvist and see what happens. Now that he’s not worth the price of Miller, maybe they can get lucky and acquire that elusive young right-handed defenceman without giving up a major asset. If that doesn’t include Hoglander, then that’s even better.