Combine Chatter: Thoughts on Kessel, Crouse, & Columbus

The focus was on the prospects, but the real good stuff was behind the scenes.

The NHL Combine is now behind us; the prospects have been weighed, measured and tested.  All that is left now is the NHL Draft, which is just under three weeks away.

This is when the real fun begins.  Teams will gather in the days leading up to the draft.  They will discuss many things, including which prospects stood out, and what the plan will be on draft night.  For some teams, trades could be a real possibility.  But we’re not just talking any trade. We are talking potential blockbuster deals involving superstars and multiple draft picks.

Phil Kessel’s Future

Kessel’s name came up a lot over the weekend in Buffalo.  Is he a part of the long-term plans of the Maple Leafs?  If not, will he be a part of a major blockbuster deal?  Our James Tanner recently wrote that Kessel must be traded.  I can tell you this much, it is certainly being discussed.

Let’s look at this situation.  Kessel is 27 years old.  If the Maple Leafs are in a rebuilding mode, which they are, they have to consider a trade.  Given his recent offensive output, he is a very valuable piece.  Even in a “down year”, Kessel still scored 25 goals.

The return the Maple Leafs would get for him is just the thing they need given the current state of the team.  It’s not unrealistic that the Leafs would get a player, a pick, and a prospect back in that kind of deal.

By the time the Leafs are a playoff contender, Kessel will be out of his prime, if five years is the window.  I’m just not sure what good it would do the Leafs if they kept him at this point.  At no other point in time will he have this much value.

The Leafs might get another 1st rounder back as part of a deal involving Kessel.  That would open up a variety of creative possibilities.  Could they land another Top 10 pick in this draft?  It’s certainly possible.  Is Carolina locked into picking 5th?  How would Kessel look in a Hurricanes jersey?

This situation is worth monitoring.  As much as Kessel has gone through the last couple of seasons, acquiring him will instantly make your offense better.  He’s a difference maker, on the right team.  Given the rebuilding state of the Leafs, Kessel’s days in Toronto might soon come to an end.

What Do We Make Of Lawson Crouse?

There is no more polarizing draft prospect this year than Crouse.  Depending on who you talk you, he is ranked anywhere from the Top 5 to the end of the 1st round.  Why such a difference of opinion?

It comes down to what you value.  Crouse is one of the better defensively minded forwards in this draft.  He plays a very physical style that teams highly value.  But his offensive numbers are down.  This has led many to question if he is worth the high investment.

Those that believe the offense will come have him in the Top 5-10.  Others have him going as late as the mid 20’s.  Where will he go?  It depends on many factors.

The first team that I believe will look at him is Carolina at 5th.  He would be a welcome addition to a Hurricanes team that needs a strong power forward.  But what could muddy this situation is if Carolina gets involved in a major trade.  A trade would involve the 5th pick most likely.  If Crouse gets past Carolina, New Jersey and Philadelphia will consider.

If he gets past the Flyers at 7th, Crouse could fall signficantly.  A team like the Bruins could look at him at 14th.  If not there, then he could fall to the late first round, and become a potential steal for a playoff team.

There’s no denying his size and defensive skill.  It’s his offense that’s being questioned.  Which team takes the chance on him?  I believe it’s either Carolina or Philadelphia.

Lawson Crouse combine
Opinions on Lawson Crouse vary. It depends on what you value in a player. (OHL Images)

What Could Columbus Be Up To?

The Blue Jackets will be an interesting team to watch in the days leading up to the draft.  As a team who was not expected to draft in the Top 10 this season, Columbus has some options open if they want to take them.

If they do not trade their pick, my expectation is that they will take Zach Werenski in that spot.  I believe Noah Hanifin and Ivan Provorov are gone by the time Columbus picks at 8th.  Talk about things breaking the right way.  I believe Werenski is the best defensemen in this draft, over Hanifin and Provorov.

At the Combine, Werenski measured 6’2″ and weighed just over 210 pounds.  That’s four pounds more than what is listed on  Werenski is bigger than Provorov is.  Many believe Provorov is the most NHL ready defensemen.  My expectation is that Provorov lands in New Jersey or Philadelphia.  That leaves Werenski for the Blue Jackets, who desperately need a defenseman.

Some have brought up the possibility of the Blue Jackets trading up.  This makes no sense.  Columbus has an abundance of forwards.  The only reason the Blue Jackets would trade up is to get Hanifin.  But how much would you have to give up?  It’s too costly given that Werenski should be available at 8th overall.

Speaking of trades, pay attention to anything coming out regarding the Blue Jackets and Devils.  At the Combine on Saturday, I saw GM’s Jarmo Kekalainen and Ray Shero talking one-on-one.  They even left the Combine floor together while chatting.  These teams talking make sense, given their current situations.  The Devils have extra defensemen.  The Blue Jackets have extra forwards.  A swap would make sense for both teams.

Finally, Columbus should have strong interest in Boston’s Dougie Hamilton.  Hamilton is an RFA.  But according to CSN New England reporter Joe Haggerty, there is no significant progress to report in talks between Hamilton and the Bruins.  Haggerty mentioned to me that Hamilton is looking for “a big contract.”

Hamilton is said to be looking for a big contract. Will Columbus or someone else present an offer sheet? (Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports)

Given the Bruins cap situation, they might not be in position to make that happen.  Haggerty said to look out for Columbus, and the possibility of an offer sheet.  The Blue Jackets have all the required draft picks to make that happen.  They also have the cap room.  That would fill a huge void on right defense for Columbus if that worked out.

Regardless of what happens, expect the unexpected.  If the salary cap dips under $70 million, strap in and hold on tight.  Teams will be more desperate to make moves if that happens.   This has the makings to be a very unforgettable draft night.