The Florida Panthers are sitting atop the NHL standings and heading into the trade deadline, that only means one thing: they’re going to be buyers. With Aaron Ekblad out for the season and a lot of options on the board that could bolster the forward core, the ball is in Bill Zito’s court to make upgrades.
The trade deadline is less than a week away and teams are already dangling trade bait around. With the Panthers loaded on picks and prospects, they should be a destination for a multitude of the top players on the market. Here are three players the Cats may look at trading for.
Rickard Rakell (C, Anaheim Ducks)
One trade that makes a lot of sense for the Panthers is trading for Anaheim Ducks center Rickard Rakell. The 27-year-old has seven goals and 22 points in 36 games for the Ducks and is on a team-friendly $3.9 million contract that expires in 2022. With the Ducks in the middle of a rebuild, Rakell is on the trade block and could fit in quite nicely on the Panthers’ roster.
The Panthers could use a bona fide second-line center to play with Jonathan Huberdeau, and Rakell is just the guy they need down the stretch. When he’s hot, he could be a very effective option, as he is a two-time, 30-goal scorer in his career, including a 2017-18 season where he totaled 34 goals and 69 points.
While he has dropped off since, he could find a career revival playing alongside Huberdeau and Patric Hornqvist, who have been two of the Panthers’ most effective players this season. But at what cost would Rakell come at?
Given his favorable contract situation, he could be one of the most expensive targets at the deadline. He would probably cost the Panthers their 2021 first-round draft pick and center prospect Henrik Borgstrom at the very least. While that is a steep price, it could be very much worth it for Florida.
Sam Bennett (C, Calgary Flames)
Sam Bennett fits in on the Panthers’ roster similarly to how Rakell fits, given that Florida has a center depth issue, but he does come at less of a cost. The 24-year-old has just four goals and 10 points in 37 games this season, and he just hasn’t panned out for the Calgary Flames since he was drafted fourth overall in the 2014 NHL Draft. With a recent trade request filed, Bennett could be on his way out.
A change of scenery could be to Bennett’s benefit because he has shown flashes of being a solid NHL player, but things just haven’t worked out in Calgary. While his regular season totals haven’t looked stellar (67 goals, 138 points in 401 career games), his playoff numbers show bits and pieces of promise.
In 30 career playoff games, Bennett scored 11 goals and 19 points, and he looked really good in the bubble playoffs last year, scoring five goals and eight points in 10 games. With the Panthers looking to make a deep Cup run, Bennet’s playoff numbers could really help them.
But what would it cost to bring Bennett in? Given that he is a restricted free agent after the season, Calgary seems ready to move on from their former top-five pick rather than pay him, so he might come at a cheaper cost than Rakell. My best bet would be that the Panthers send a third-round pick to Calgary for Bennett.
Josh Manson (D, Anaheim Ducks)
The Ducks appear on this list yet again, and this time it’s to give the Panthers an Ekblad replacement. With a season left on Josh Manson’s contract, the 29-year-old defenseman can play a role on the Panthers’ roster next season, too.
Manson can be a solid two-way defenseman when given the chance, with his best season coming in 2017-18 when he scored seven goals and 37 points in 80 games, but his production has slowed down since the Ducks have fallen into a rebuild. This season, in 13 games, Manson has one goal and two points.
With the right side of the Panthers’ defense thin without Ekblad, he should have ample opportunity to return to form alongside MacKenzie Weegar on the top pair. Alongside elite offensive talents on the Panthers’ roster, his offensive numbers can see a renaissance while being a valuable asset on the defensive end.
As a potential return for Manson, the Panthers could send Anaheim a package consisting of forward prospect Patrick Bajkov, Samuel Montembeault, and a second-round pick.
As the NHL Trade Deadline approaches on April 12, the Panthers may be able to swing a deal for one of these players and turn themselves into a true contender.
Colby Guy is a writer for the Florida Panthers department here at THW. He’s a senior at Florida Atlantic University and currently serves as a football contributor, social media contributor and photographer for FAU Owls Nest.
Previously, Colby has written for FanSided as a New York Islanders, Florida Panthers, and Nashville Predators writer. He also served as Editor-In-Chief for FAU’s University Press. You can find him on Twitter at @ColbyDGuy.