The Detroit Red Wings enter the week before the trade deadline with a variety of options available to them as the deadline approaches. Their playoff chances are all but gone, but that doesn’t mean their trade deadline strategy is as cut and dry as other teams that are locks to miss the playoffs. While they won’t be making moves to add significant pieces like Stanley Cup contenders across the league, that doesn’t preclude them from finding players they could add to their organization.
Sometimes, adding a young player into those types of deals not only offers the team some future upside, but it also gives that player a second lease on life in the NHL, or just a bigger opportunity than the one they had with their former team. For an example of this, look no further than the Red Wings’ request acquisition of defenseman Olli Juolevi from waivers.
With the Red Wings’ rebuild humming along, it makes sense for general manager Steve Yzerman to bring in a few more young players that fit this description to see if they can blossom in “Hockeytown”. The Red Wings have holes that prospects need time before they can fill. In the meantime, these young players can potentially fill those holes, and maybe even develop into the player their current teams projected them to be.
When the Boston Bruins selected this forward with the 53rd pick of the 2017 draft, there was serious optimism that he would become a top-nine forward for them. Entering the 2021-22 season, the 6-foot-2 center was supposed to grab a hold of a roster spot and cement himself as an NHL player. The Bruins’ window to win is closing, and young players like Jack Studnicka were supposed to help them keep the window open for another year or so.
In 32 NHL games so far, Studnicka has one goal and six points, including one point in 10 games this season. Meanwhile, in 108 games at the American Hockey League (AHL) level, he has a solid 32 goals and 89 points. With the Bruins having a glaring need for a second line center behind Patrice Bergeron, the opportunity for Studnicka to make the jump and fit into a key role in Boston was there. For one reason or another, however, he just hasn’t made it work with the Bruins.
Now Studnicka sits as one of the Bruins’ most tradable assets. While they try to work a balancing act between augmenting their current lineup without hindering the inevitable “retool” they will have to go through, a 23-year-old like him isn’t “too young” to give up on, especially if they’re filling their needs in return for his services.
The Red Wings have a need in their system for a potential top six center, and Studnicka could be exactly what they’re looking for. He’s young enough to fit into what Yzerman is building in Detroit, and he shouldn’t cost an arm and a leg to acquire. In fact, the Bruins have a need for both a left-handed defenseman and a middle-six forward – needs that could be filled with current Red Wings Nick Leddy and Vladislav Namestnikov. If Yzerman and Bruins GM Don Sweeney were able to work out a deal that sent Leddy and Namestnikov to Boston in exchange for Studnicka and maybe a mid-round pick (let’s say a third-rounder), that should be a deal that would help both parties achieve their respective goals.
Drafted 16th overall in 2017, the Calgary Flames have fallen in and out of love with Juuso Välimäki since he officially joined the organization in 2018. With 81 NHL regular season games to his credit, it’s not like the Flames haven’t given him a proper look; his 49 games during last season’s campaign was supposed to signal that the Finnish defenseman had finally arrived. That’s why in August of 2021, they signed him to a two-year deal worth $3.1 million ($1.55 million cap hit).
However, Välimäki has played more games in the AHL this season (19) than in the NHL (eight). With the rise of Oliver Kylington this season, Välimäki found himself on the outside looking in, and Flames head coach Darryl Sutter never seemed overly-eager to get him on the ice when he was playing (his average ice-time this season is just 15:51.) For a player drafted as high as he was, the Flames undoubtedly have to be wishing they were getting more from the 6-foot-2 defenseman.
Despite having Välimäki on-hand, one of the Flames’ biggest needs heading into the trade deadline is on the blue line. While they have often been linked to their former captain, Mark Giordano, a player like Leddy should come at a cheaper cost in terms of assets and cap-hit (especially if the Red Wings are willing to eat half of his salary for the remainder of the season.) Swapping Leddy with Välimäki (and maybe some additional assets on the side) would give Calgary a solid, veteran defenseman to fill in on their left side, and it would give the talented Finn a clean slate to work with. The Red Wings would continue their youth movement while also potentially adding some security to the left side of their defense via the second year remaining on Välimäki’s deal.
With one team aiming for the Stanley Cup and the other building for next season, this is a potential deal that could definitely help both sides.
Months ago, I wrote about how the Red Wings should ask the New York Rangers about acquiring Russian winger Vitali Kravtsov, who submitted a trade request after he was left off the Rangers’ opening night roster. Since then, the 22-year-old winger has had a strong season in the Kontinental Hockey League, posting 13 points in 19 games. His trade request remains in place, and the Rangers find themselves entrenched in one of the Metropolitan Division’s three playoff seeds. They should be looking to buy, and Kravtsov should be one of their biggest trade chips.
Selected ninth overall in the 2018 draft, the Rangers aren’t going to give Kravtsov away for a rental piece, a la Namestnikov or Leddy. If they’re trading away a top prospect like that, they’ll need some cost assurance – either a game-changing rental piece or a player that could potentially play with in New York for more than one year. The Red Wings have a couple players that fit that description, though those two players would accomplish two completely different things for the Rangers.
If the Rangers want to essentially replace Kravtsov with another young winger, Filip Zadina might be the way to go. Zadina was selected three spots before Kravtsov, and they were both top-10 picks based on the offensive skill they showed during their draft seasons. This would essentially be a “underperformer for an underperformer” trade, though it probably wouldn’t be as simple as a one-for-one swap.
The other player the Rangers could be interested in is winger Tyler Bertuzzi, who plays a brand of hockey that is tailor-made for the playoffs, and fits into what the Rangers set out to become this season: a team with skill and finesse that is hard to play against. Kravtsov could be the centerpiece of a deal that sends Bertuzzi to the Big Apple, and the Red Wings could demand an additional asset or two on top of the Russian forward. This would be a bold move for both sides, but with the Rangers looking to make some noise in this year’s playoffs and the Red Wings looking to load up for a playoff run in a few years, this is the exact type of move that could benefit both teams.
Gabriel Vilardi or Alex Turcotte
The Los Angeles Kings’ prospect pool is absolutely filled with quality forward prospects, especially down the middle. On their NHL roster, you’ll find the likes of Anze Kopitar, Phillip Danault and 2020 second-overall selection Quinton Byfield, as well as a few other players that are capable of playing the center position. While some of their center prospects will be converted to the wing, others seem destined to be used as trade bait as there simply isn’t enough room on the roster for every single one of their prospects to play for the Kings. Two such players are former first-round picks: Gabriel Vilardi (11th overall, 2017) and Alex Turcotte (fifth overall, 2019).
The Red Wings and the Kings actually seem to fit quite well as potential trade partners as Detroit holds a bounty of defensive talent in their prospect pool, as well as some highly capable wingers that may be of interest to the Kings. Meanwhile, the biggest need in their system is down the middle as the Red Wings are still in search of a center prospect with top six potential. There are a few different routes the Red Wings could go to acquire Vilardi or Turcotte, and both should be of interest to Yzerman and the Red Wings’ front office.
Vilardi was selected just two spots after the Red Wings snagged Michael Rasmussen with the ninth pick of the 2017 draft. At 6-foot-3 and 200 pounds, Vilardi has good size for a centerman, and has sometimes looked lost when the Kings have played him on the wing before. He was drafted as a center, and you can tell that that is where he is most comfortable. After playing in 54 games with the Kings last season (where he put up a respectable 23 points). he has only appeared in eight games in the NHL this season. Through 39 games with the AHL’s Ontario Reign this season, he has 15 goals and 38 points, cementing that fact that he is probably too good for the AHL at this point in his young career. The 22-year-old needs an opportunity to break out, and there’s an opportunity waiting in Detroit.
Meanwhile, Turcotte seems somewhat lost in the mix as he was selected to become Los Angeles’s top center of the future, and then one year later they added Byfield after the lottery awarded them the second overall pick. At best, he projects as their second line center of the future, but even that seems like less of a foregone conclusion at this point. The 21-year-old has 39 points through 58 career AHL games. While that total isn’t bad by any means, it also doesn’t necessarily live up to the draft hype that surrounds a fifth overall pick. Due to the Kings’ depth down the middle, he may never get the opportunity to blossom into an NHL top six center. With this in mind, he may very well be LA’s best trading chip, especially if they want to put together a package to acquire somebody like Bertuzzi to help their chances in this year’s playoffs.
Red Wings Should Target Prospects Instead of Picks
Make no mistake, the Red Wings could use as many draft picks as they can get their hands on in order to keep their prospect pool stocked through the end of their rebuild. However, after staying in the thick of the playoff race through the first half of the season, they have an equally pressing need to find and add good, young players that could potentially contribute now or next season. Adding players like that could be the difference between completing this rebuild in two years as opposed to four or more years.
The time for the Red Wings to act as a “second chance” for unproven young players is starting to run out. Before long, they’ll shift their attention to adding proven NHL veterans to supplement their existing core. If the Red Wings want to take a chance on another team’s unproven player(s), now is the time, and the players listed above would all undoubtedly appreciate the opportunity to realize their NHL potential.
All it takes is one good offer.
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I am a Western Michigan University alum whose passion for hockey knows no limits. Dr. Pepper enthusiast. Catch me and my fellow Red Wings writers’ YouTube show “The Hockey Writers Grind Line” which drops every Saturday.