Lightning Should Target Coyotes’ Kessel to Fill Kucherov Void

There just seems to be no luck during the regular season for Tampa Bay Lightning‘s Nikita Kucherov. He missed the entire 2020-21 regular season with an injury but luckily managed to be healthy in time for the Stanley Cup run. It didn’t seem like much, but everyone had good reason to be concerned when reports surfaced that he sustained an injury in only the third game of the season.

It would be a huge missed opportunity if the Arizona Coyotes don’t elect to trade right wing Phil Kessel before this season’s trade deadline, as he is in the last year of his contract. Kucherov isn’t expected to be out for the entire regular season, so the Coyotes may have to eat a chunk of Kessel’s money or find a third trading partner to enter the conversation since the Lightning won’t be able to afford Kessel if there isn’t salary retained.

Jim Parsons says Kessel’s final cost in salary could be down to $1 million for the Lightning, which would work great. The window for the Lightning to win is still wide open with their top players still in their primes. And selling off the future is always worth it to bring another Stanley Cup home.

Lightning Need Immediate Scoring Help

It looks like the Lightning need more scoring help and depth after losing their entire third line this past offseason. The Lightning’s bottom-six wingers include Pat Maroon, Corey Perry, Boris Katchouk, Taylor Raddysh, and Alex Barre-Boulet. Kessel would be an immediate upgrade to any one of these and can slot in on the second or third line and be effective on the power play.

The Lightning have struggled early and could look to acquire a replacement sooner than later. Everyone not named Steven Stamkos or Victor Hedman has struggled to score early, as the team has 16 goals scored in six games. It took until game No. 6 for the team to score a goal in the first period, a game in which they only managed one goal against the Buffalo Sabres.

Phil Kessel Arizona Coyotes
Phil Kessel, Arizona Coyotes (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Kessel is a known goal-scorer and isn’t done yet. He had his 11-year streak of 20 plus goal seasons snapped when the NHL shut down due to COVID-19 in his first season with the Coyotes. A team that is known more for their defensive capabilities, Kessel still managed to bounce back last season and score 20 goals once again in only 56 games.

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Kessel is a model of health and is close behind Keith Yandle, who is also closing in on Doug Jarvis’ consecutive games played record. Health and scoring are two things the Lightning are in dire need of, and he can be a fresh breath of air.

Coyotes Can Add to an Already Impressive Number of Draft Picks

The Coyotes went into full rebuild mode this season. Not only did they acquire a high first-round pick from Vancouver to make up for the draft pick they lost, but they also welcomed any bad contracts teams needed to get rid of if they also got draft picks or prospects along with it. They have done the rebuild perfectly, allowing the opportunity for young players to get more playing time and learn off of the veterans who came in and have something left to prove (“Coyotes rebuild is just beginning, but it’s off to a brilliant start”, NBC Sports, Sept. 6, 2021).

This upcoming draft has the Coyotes picking three times in the first round, five in the second round, and 12 in total. Of those first eight picks, their own and the Montreal Canadiens’ look to be very high in a great draft year. As far as the second-round picks go, the Coyotes’ pick should be in the low 30s, while the pick they acquired from the San Jose Sharks could also be sitting around the high 30s or low 40s. This could see the Coyotes have almost five selections that could be first-round caliber players in this draft alone.

In 2023, they have one extra third-round draft pick, while 2024 has them selecting eight times in the first four rounds, including three in the second. The Coyotes also acquired Conor Timmins to add to that young and talented defence group.

The Lightning have exhausted their high draft picks in the second, third, and fourth rounds this season, but still hold their first. The earlier they choose to go after a replacement for Kucherov, the higher price they will have to pay. It is a possibility that they may have to give that up to acquire Kessel, as it projects to be late in the first round once again.

Nikita Kucherov Tampa Bay Lightning
Nikita Kucherov, Tampa Bay Lightning (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

If they elect to keep the draft pick because they think it’s too steep of a price, they have top prospects that the Coyotes may be interested in as they can slot right into the lineup and get playing time. These names include Barre-Boulet, Raddysh, Katchouk, or maybe Cal Foote. Foote is the best prospect the Lightning have, so they may be wary of trading him, but their defence is still very solid without him in the lineup. The Coyotes could also look to the future and ask about Dylan Duke or Hugo Alnefelt.

However this plays out, Kessel may be the best possible target for the Lightning to acquire for another deep Cup run. While the Coyotes need to trade him and continue to focus on drafting and developing what they have. Making a deal with the Lightning could help that along.

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