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Making sense of the Morgan Klimchuk and Cody Goloubef acquisitions

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Consistent point producers help bolster Belleville in their fight to make the playoffs

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The Ottawa Senators completed two minor-league trades on Friday. First, they flipped 2015 second round pick Gabriel Gagné to the Toronto Maple Leafs for left-winger Morgan Klimchuk. Then, Belleville’s leading point scorer — Paul Careygot moved to Boston in exchange for right-handed defenceman, Cody Goloubef.

Let’s walk through both transactions:

Klimchuk for Gagné

The more intriguing trade with future implications, especially given where both prospects and organizations are at in their development.

To say Gabriel Gagné has struggled this season would be an understatement. After a team-leading 20 goals last season without much powerplay time, Gagné found himself in new head coach Troy Mann’s doghouse on most nights, receiving third- and fourth-line minutes and unable to produce on most nights. It’s hard to say whether he received a fair shot, as one would expect that he’d be slotted for a top-nine role and second powerplay minutes given his deadly release and production last season. But watching Gagné most nights, it was hard to say that he deserved more of an opportunity as he generally stayed on the perimeter and did not display the deception required to release his shot consistently. Hence, after putting up a respectable 2.60 shots per game on a weak team in just his second pro season, Gagné’s shot totals were down to just 1.79 per game.

The Senators traded up for Gagné in 2015, parting with a third round pick in 2016 and their second rounder from Dallas in the Jason Spezza trade (#42 overall) to acquire the 36th pick from New Jersey — reportedly afraid that Patrick Roy’s Colorado Avalanche were going to draft him at 39 or 40 after his strong 35 goal, 59 point year for Victoriaville. The entire second round that year looks like a relatively weak one, but it doesn’t look good for Dorion or his talent evaluators that the two best players taken that round were at 35 (Sebastian Aho) and 37 (Brandon Carlo), sandwiching Gagné. He was injured in his Draft+1 year, and in hindsight, the decision to pull him from his final year of junior eligibility to “get used” to the AHL — resulting in 6 points in 41 games — looks like a poor one.

Morgan Klimchuk is 18 months older than Gagné, and was drafted in the first round by the Calgary Flames in 2013 — about where he was projected by most scouting units. Unlike Gagné, he was above a point-per-game in his draft season (36 goals, 76 points in 72 games), and contributed 8 points in 7 games to help lead Canada to a Gold medal at the U18s. He was also given time to properly develop, finishing out his WHL career with 1.3 points-per-game in his Draft+1 year, and 1.33 points-per-game in his overage season. All-in-all, Klimchuk had three 30-goal seasons in four years, and although he didn’t dominate in his final season like one would expect a first-round pick to do, he could still turn into a solid top-nine forward.

Like Gagné, he struggled in his rookie season (9 points in 55 games), but is coming off of back-to-back 19-goal, 40+ point years. Traded by Calgary to acquire a similar prospect in an area of higher need — ex-Leaf Andrew Nielsen — Klimchuk has 12 points in 32 games this season. There are similar warning signs in that he’s also shooting less, but the Senators hope that he can get back to his consistent brand of two-way play.

Ultimately, the Senators are trading away a player with a higher ceiling and an elite skill — his shot — for a player with a higher floor and more consistent play. Gagné wasn’t helping this season, and in the short-term, I can understand how trading for a player like Klimchuk can make sense. With a ton of expiring contracts at both levels, Klimchuk — an RFA after this year — may get an opportunity to stick around for a bit either in a depth role for Ottawa or as a middle-aged leader in Belleville. For the Toronto Maple Leafs, a team with an abundance of talent, rolling the dice on a boom/bust player like Gagné also fits. If he turns out? Wonderful, you have a player with an elite shot to add to your already-skilled forward group. If he doesn’t, ah, well, there are many other players to replace him.

Goloubef for Carey

Given what I said earlier about the team trying to make the playoffs, trading your leading scorer would... not be on my list. However, with the team’s biggest weakness being an inability to move the puck from the defensive end — especially with Christian Wolanin up in Ottawa — I can see the rationale in swapping an established AHL scorer like Carey for an established AHL right-handed defenceman in Goloubef.

My issue with this trade is that I don’t know if it actually makes Belleville a better team, and I worry that the Senators have bought high on Goloubef: his 0.75 points-per-game this season with Providence is miles higher than his best full-season total (0.45 PPG five seasons ago) or career average (0.39 PPG). Like Stefan Elliott, the Sens may have just trusted the fact that other hockey executives think that Goloubef is good, given that they both made the non-NHLer Canadian Olympic team.

There’s no way the Sens could’ve foreseen the sheer amount of injuries that have befallen them at both organizational levels, but I think heading into the season, it was clear that Belleville’s issue would have been on the defensive side of things, and that there’s room for both a Carey and Goloubef in this team’s lineup. Overall, though? This trade isn’t anything to get too fussy about, as the team’s strength still lies in their offence — especially with producers like Chlapik and Batherson — and the emergence of Logan Brown (17 points in 26 games).