Trade rumors have surrounded Jack Eichel all offseason, but so far the Buffalo Sabres have held on to their star center. Given that center is a weakness for the Rangers, and they have a lot of talented young players, they could make a trade for him. However, Kaapo Kakko, Alexis Lafreniere, Nils Lundkvist, and Braden Schneider should not be included in any trade offers.
Kaapo Kakko and Alexis Lafreniere
The Rangers drafted Kakko second overall in the 2019 NHL Draft, and the Finnish winger showed flashes of his potential during his rookie season in 2019-20. He didn’t play to his potential, but made a few highlight-reel plays, scored an overtime goal against the Pittsburgh Penguins and finished the season with 10 goals and 13 assists in 66 games. The numbers weren’t bad at all, but his play was inconsistent, and he struggled defensively.
Last season, Kakko improved dramatically. He went from one of New York’s worst forwards defensively, to one of its best, showing strength with the puck with a Corsi-For percentage (CF%) of 56.1.
Kakko finished with nine goals and eight assists in 48 games, and created lots of scoring opportunities, but struggled to capitalize on them. However, this season was a big step in the right direction for him, and the Rangers should be hopeful that he will break out next season. After the Rangers traded Pavel Buchnevich, Kakko will likely get more playing time, as well as the opportunity to play with stars like Mika Zibanejad and Artemi Panarin, which bodes well for him.
Another young winger who should get more ice time for the Blueshirts next season is Alexis Lafreniere, the first pick of the 2020 NHL Draft. He got off to a slow start with just one goal (an overtime goal against the Sabres) and no assists in his first 15 games, but improved throughout the season.
Lafreniere formed chemistry on a line with Kakko and young center Filip Chytil, and the three proved to be an effective line. Lafreniere showed quick hands in front of the net, and even though he is just 19-years-old, he showed that he wasn’t afraid to drive to the net and battle with older, stronger players. Despite his slow start, he ended the season with 12 goals and nine assists while playing in all 56 games. He should have plenty of momentum heading into next season.
Nils Lundkvist and Braden Schneider
The Rangers selected defenseman Lundkvist late in the first round of the 2018 NHL Draft. At the time, he had already spent the 2017-18 season playing professionally for Lulea HF in the Swedish Hockey League (SHL,) finishing with two goals and three assists in 28 games. He has gotten physically stronger and more confident, and aggressive offensively since the 2017-18 season.
Lundkvist has become a dominant offensive force for Lulea HF in his past two seasons. He finished with 11 goals and 20 assists in 45 games during the 2019-20 season and finished with 14 goals and 18 assists in 52 games last season. He won the Salming Trophy, as the SHL’s best defenseman this season. While he is known for his playmaking ability, he is also a very intelligent player, and has been effective defensively too. He is still just 21-years-old, and is expected to compete for a spot in the Rangers’ lineup this season.
Two years after selecting Lundkvist, the Blueshirts selected Braden Schneider in the first round of the 2020 NHL Draft. He was known for his strong defensive play, but he also had offensive upside. He finished with seven goals and 35 assists in 60 games while playing for the Brandon Wheat Kings of the Western Hockey League (WHL) during the 2019-20 season.
Last season was an unusual one, and the WHL played a limited schedule due to the coronavirus pandemic. However, when Schneider did have the opportunity to play, he continued to impress, playing with physicality, making clean passes out of the defensive zone, and showing that he has a heavy shot.
Schneider finished the 2020-21 season with five goals and 22 assists in just 22 games with the Brandon Wheat Kings. He also played professionally for the first time, playing two games with the Hartford Wolf Pack in the AHL, finishing with one assist.
While Eichel is a highly talented center, the Rangers aren’t in a position where they desperately need to trade for him. He is also dealing with a potentially career-altering neck injury which makes trading for him risky. Trading for him may also create salary cap issues, as star center Mika Zibanejad and second-line center Ryan Strome are set to become unrestricted free agents after the 2021-22 season.
The Rangers have a lot of talented young players that they could include in a deal for Eichel while still keeping Kakko, Lafreniere, Lundkvist and Schneider. Chytil has plenty of NHL experience, but is still just 21-years-old, and Vitali Kravtsov, Zac Jones, and Matthew Robertson are all prospects with plenty of upside. These players could certainly draw interest from the Sabres.
The Rangers should not cave to Buffalo’s demands in a potential Eichel trade, and that means Kakko, Lafreniere, Lundkvist and Schneider should be considered untouchable.
I grew up in Brooklyn, New York, rooting for the Rangers, Yankees, Giants, and Knicks. When my dream of playing shortstop for the Yankees fell short, I started writing about sports instead. I’m a proud graduate of the Philip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland.