While Tampa Bay Lightning prospect Jonathan Drouin has requested a trade, it’s clear that this will be a difficult trade to make. General Manager Steve Yzerman’s comments indicate that the Lightning aren’t overly eager to make a move and the 2015-16 season hasn’t been a booming trade year.
Add to this that Drouin is difficult to put a price on. His production in the NHL so far hasn’t been impressive, but his potential is very high. Putting a price on potential is always tricky and it will be very difficult for Yzerman to get good value on him.
Additionally, the cap-strapped Lightning won’t be looking for a rental in exchange for a player on his RFA, but have very little space on the cap to bring in more players, particularly if there’s any hope remaining that they’ll sign Steven Stamkos before he becomes an unrestricted free agent.
Nonetheless, almost every GM in the NHL should have reason to make the call and find out the price on Drouin. Rebuilding teams and teams playing for this year have plenty of reasons to grab him.
With another year left on his ELC he’s affordable and there’s little reason so far to assume that he can’t deliver on his promise. He crossed 100 points in under 50 games in two straight seasons in the QMJHL, posted a point per game in two World Junior Championship appearances, best a point per game in three straight QMJHL playoffs and hit nearly three points per game in his final Q playoffs.
So while 28 teams should have interest (the Panthers reportedly have no interest), what teams might make the most sense and be willing to pursue the hardest?
1. Columbus Blue Jackets
This one is kind of a no brainer. Columbus is looking for everything in the midst of a season where things have not gone as expected. They’re interested in moving Ryan Johansen (and maybe Kerby Rychel). Drouin makes sense for them.
It’s likely to have to be some kind of package deal one way or another, but having a star player they have suggested they’d move and a prospect who has asked out is a pretty solid starting place.
2. Nashville Predators
The Predators and Lightning may make nice trade partners. Nashville has an embarrassment of riches on the blue line and is without a serious elite scoring threat on offense. They’re hoping that Kevin Fiala or Filip Forsberg will be that player, but since they’re currently without that offensive threat, they have to be looking. It’s the same reason it was suggested that they should have an interest in Johansen.
The hang up may be that the Lightning’s needs on the blue line aren’t great. They need affordable options up front that may help them solve their pending cap problems.
3. Pittsburgh Penguins
The Penguins have frequently traded away their top draft picks in order to win now, putting themselves in a situation like they were at this year’s draft where they needed to go with Daniel Sprong, a high-upside, high-risk pick in the 2nd round. Making moves for high-upside prospects should be in their wheelhouse with the lack of top picks they’ve had.
Drouin is also a NHL player right now, even if he’s not quite Aleksander Barkov. That means the Penguins would also gain a NHL-ready player at a very cap-friendly price, which they should like. They also give a guy who tore up major junior a couple of the world’s best offensive threats to learn from and work with, which could help his development.
4. Anaheim Ducks
The Ducks have long done a good job bringing up the next generation under the guidance of some very talented players, but they don’t seem to have an heir apparent to the spots held by Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf. The Ducks have just two forwards under 25 on the roster right now. They have just three under 27.
That lack of top-end talent in their prospect pool may have led to questionable contract with Ryan Kesler over the summer. Anaheim has a lot of young talent on the blue line that might be a good match for Tampa. But, like with Nashville, it remains to be seen how interested the Ducks are in acquiring defensemen.
5. New Jersey Devils
New Jersey is in rebuild mode. They can afford to spend to pull in a high-upside prospect, especially a forward. Their blue line is impressive and deep. They need to stock up on forward right now. Adding Drouin to a shallow forward prospect pool that’s just being built up with the like of John Quenneville and Pavel Zacha would be a boon.
The Devils are experiencing a lot of success this season, but it’s clear that this roster isn’t the roster for three years down the road, they should be willing to spend and Drouin is a player worth taking a gamble on in that sitaution.
6. Toronto Maple Leafs
The Leafs’ situation is well known. They’re looking to the future and willing to pull in as many lottery tickets as they can get. Drouin’s pedigree may be interesting to a team that has a lot of players on one-year contracts and longer-term players that are clearly not a part of the team’s plan for the future. They also have draft picks to spare right now.
They have all the tools to put together a package that could interest Tampa, no matter what Tampa is looking for. They also have the ability to overpay if Tampa isn’t interested in parting with Drouin.
With Toronto’s development going as it has recently, Drouin may have to accept time developing in the AHL this season to make it work.
7. New York Rangers
This makes a lot of sense and not just because the Rangers have been in on Drouin since before the news became public. The team has cap issues and lack of an elite-level scoring forward. Drouin would be a lottery ticket toward that end.
The complication for them: You’d hate to see them trade away more top picks. They have pieces they could move like Keith Yandle and other defensemen, but cap space in Tampa and whether they’d move a top prospect for a rental call the feasibility of that trade into question.
Others who could make a run on Drouin: Carolina Hurricanes, Chicago Blackhawks, Montreal Canadiens, Vancouver Canucks
Dustin Nelson writes about news and the Minnesota Wild for The Hockey Writers.