Scouting the Scouts: Prospecting the Trade Deadline

Which teams are potentially targeting the Senators as trade partners, and what do they have to offer?

It’s trade deadline season! 3:00 p.m on February 26th is approaching quickly, and Pierre Dorion’s wasted no time, making two moves already, with more likely to come.

The Senators have been a hot topic for trade rumours this season, as a lowly record combined with a money-troubled owner have made them the league’s #1 source for selling big assets. They’ve already traded away one of their top four defencemen, with rumours surrounding countless others. That list includes *deep breath*...

Mike Hoffman, Derick Brassard, Bobby Ryan, Zack Smith, Jean-Gabriel Pageau, Johnny Oduya, Cody Ceci, and god forbid, Erik Karlsson.

The Ottawa Sun’s Bruce Garrioch has been posting to Twitter the lists of scouts attending Sens games, and although there are a few games missing, we can make inferences as to which teams are potentially targeting the Sens as trading partners. By looking at the trends (scouts seeing multiple games, bonus points for travelling with the team), we’ve come up with three tiers:

(If you’re interested in the compiled list, here is the spreadheet link.)

Today we focus on the top two tiers, looking at prospects that Pierre Dorion and company could be targeting as a potential return from each team.

Calgary Flames

The Scouts: Although the Flames haven’t been watching the Sens in their last few games, they sent Don Maloney, their VP of Hockey Operations, to watch the Sens on the road against the Flyers and Maple Leafs. Derek MacKinnon (Director of Player Personnel) and Craig Conroy (Assistant General Manager) have also popped in to see a home game each.

Who to Target: A Western Conference playoff threat with the pieces to win the conference, the Calgary Flames are entering what looks like an extended cup window. 24-year-old Gaudreau is locked up for the next four seasons, while 23-year-old Monahan has five more ahead of him; on defence, Brodie, Giordano, and Hamilton all are around for the next two to four seasons.

Given this, I’m going to assume that the Flames aren’t going to want to lose any young pieces currently playing for them (which means 2013 first-round pick Mark Jankowski and backup goaltender David Rittich are off the table). Moreover, I doubt they’ll want to send 16th overall pick Juuso Välimäki anywhere as he puts up point-per-game seasons in the WHL and is Giordano’s heir apparent.

Don’t fear though, Sens fans. GM Brad Treliving has cultivated an extremely solid prospect pool with a number of pieces that are close to NHL ready. We’ll start with 6-foot-6 goaltender Jon Gillies — a former star at Providence (NCAA) where he put up back-to-back-to-back .930 sv% seasons to win almost every award a goaltender can. Rittich’s emergence has made Gillies expendable, and at 24 years old, he could slot right into an NHL spot assuming the Sens are able to shed one of Mike Condon or Craig Anderson. His .915 sv% this year in the AHL has him ranked 16th among goaltenders with 10+ starts — a respectable number. If you’re looking for a goaltender younger than Gillies, Calgary also has 20-year-old Tyler Parsons in their system. Parsons won the Memorial Cup in 2015-16 with the London Knights, and followed it up with a World Juniors gold medal (with Colin White!) and the OHL’s best save percentage at .925% in 2016-17. Given Calgary’s depth at the position, Parsons — like current prospect Marcus Hogberg — has gotten a majority of his starts at the ECHL. He’d be a couple years away, but could push Hogberg to be a one-two combination in the AHL next year.

If the Sens are looking for prospects on defence (as they should be!), Calgary has three potential top-four talents in wings. The most NHL ready of the trio is Swede Rasmus Andersson. A second round pick in 2015, Andersson put up back-to-back 60 point seasons with Barrie (OHL) and currently ranks 6th among AHL defenders with 0.71 points-per-game this season. If Andersson isn’t your jam, Adam Fox is a year younger but has an even greater pedigree. Named the best defenceman at the U18s two year ago, Fox was over point-per-game as a rookie in the NCAA (40 points in 35 games) and this season, starred on the United States’ blueline as they won bronze at the U20s. Andersson and Fox both have something that the other prospect — Oliver Kylington — doesn’t have in that they’re both right-shot defencemen. With Erik Karlsson’s future uncertain and Cody Ceci’s ceiling questionable, obtaining one of those two would do Ottawa a world of good.

At forward, the Flames have five (!) key players that I’d target in a trade. Let me made this clear: if I was Ottawa, I’d target a goaltender or defenceman as my primary return from Calgary, but there’s certainly some good forwards to be had. The most NHL ready is probably their best — Andrew Mangiapane had consecutive 100+ point seasons with Barrie, had 40 points as an AHL rookie, and currently ranks 17th in league scoring as he puts up above point-per-game for Stockton. Taken as a sixth round pick in 2015, Mangiapane is a bit undersized, but oozes skill. He’d immediately become the team’s most NHL ready forward prospect (yes, above Colin White and Filip Chlapik) and could likely play a full-time role next season. Over in the CHL, 6-foot-3 D’Artagnan Joly currently ranks 18th in points-per-game in the Q; 6-foot-4 Adam Ruzicka ranks 26th in points-per-game in the O; and the pair of Dillon Dube (13th) and Matt Phillips (9th) are lighting up the WHL.

Over the last few seasons, the Flames have become one of the best run teams in the NHL. If the Sens are looking to trade their best assets, Calgary has the capital to acquire them.

Vegas Golden Knights

The Scouts: There have been a few scouts in the mix for Vegas who are travelling to watch the Sens. Pro scout David Conte has been to two home games, Director of Player Personnel Vaugh Karpan saw them at home then followed them to Philadelphia to join another scout, and Kelly Kisio travelled with them from Ottawa to Toronto to see them twice. The Golden Knights are one of three teams to be known to have sent multiple scouts to watch a single Sens game, and they’ve done so twice.

Who to Target: The surprising Vegas Golden Knights have been sniffing around the Sens a fair bit. Pierre Dorion has spoken about his good relationship with George McPhee, and the two teams must’ve talked a ton around the expansion draft given that the organization didn’t want to lose Marc Methot. Although what Vegas has in excess are draft picks, they have a number of solid prospects acquired in the 2017 Draft that could be flipped to Ottawa for some veteran pieces to help them in their first ever playoff run. Again, I’m assuming that they won’t want to remove young players currently on their roster (sorry, Shea Theodore and Alex Tuch fans). Moreover, their four top picks in 2017 (Cody Class, Nick Suzuki, Erik Brannstrom, and Nic Hague) are likely off the table as they appear to be Vegas’ pillars for the future.

In net, 6-foot-3 Maxim Zhukov was one of the youngest players taken in the 2017 Draft. Born in Russia, Zhukov crossed the pond early into his career, and is on pace to put up his second straight T10 sv% performance in the USHL — a tough league for an U19 player. Over in Europe, Vegas has two forwards that look to have a special quality to them. Dane Jonas Rjøndberg is only 18-years-old, but has 11 points in 35 games in the SHL this year (9th in points-per-game among U20s). A star for Denmark in international competition, Rjøndberg played in both the U18s and U20s last year, and was named one of his team’s three best players in this year’s edition of the tournament. Ranked just beneath him among SHL juniors is fifth round pick Lukas Elvenes. Elvenes put up the most points among U18 players in Sweden’s top U20 league last season, and went point-per-game in Jonathan Dahlen’s Allsvenskan on loan this year. In 21 games in Rögle in the SHL, Elvenes has 10 points — all positives.

Over in North America, Jack Dugan leads a talented trio of Vegas prospects. Dugan is the USHL’s second leading scorer at the moment, has good size (6-foot-2, 185 pounds), and will suit up for a good program in Providence next year. In the CHL, reliable centre Ben Jones has 61 points in 55 games, and talented right-shot defender Dylan Coghlan ranks eighth among WHL defenders in points-per-game.

St. Louis Blues

The Scouts: Although the rumours between Ottawa and St. Louis have been around for what seems like a long time, they only started scouting the Sens in the last two home games, where they sent Director of Player Personnel Rob DiMaio.

Who to Target: The team most linked to top sniper Mike Hoffman, the St. Louis Blues are in an interesting and enviable position. A contender currently, the Blues have a wealth of young talent currently on their NHL roster while simultaneously having a T5 prospect pool in the game. Unlike the other teams previewed on this list, the Blues AHL depth is so good that they could do away with a young player off their current roster — like defenceman Vince Dunn or forward Ivan Barbashev. They also have two bonafide top prospects in Jordan Kyrou (second in OHL points-per-game) and Robert Thomas — both of whom starred for Canada in their gold medal victory at the U20s this year. If Hoffman was going the other way, I’d expect at least one or two of these players to be coming back.

In terms of other prospects who might be available, 23-year-old 6-foot-3 goaltender Ville Husso has got to be near the top of the Sens list. Husso has been a top Finnish netminder at both the U18s and U20s where he’s won a Bronze, Gold, and was named a T3 player on his team. Even more impressive, Husso was named the SM-Liiga’s top goaltender as a 21-year-old when he put up a .927 sv% and followed it up with a .935 sv% over 15 playoff games for HIFK. In North America, Husso had a .920 sv% as an AHL rookie and currently sports a .928 sv% — the fourth highest in the league. Husso would immediately become the Sens’ goaltender of the future, and could play in the AHL or the NHL in his final year of his entry-level contract. On defence, offensive dynamo Jake Walman won an NCAA Championship and was an all-star for two years at Providence College. In his rookie AHL campaign, the 21-year-old Walman has a respectable 14 points in 43 games and would likely need at least another year of AHL seasoning before challenging for an NHL spot.

At forward, the Blues have a trio of intriguing talents. Let’s start with 6-foot-5 20-year-old Tage Thompson — a right-shooting centre that was a frequent teammate of Logan Brown with the United States. Thompson played two years for UConn (NCAA), where his 0.91 points-per-game put him just under the pace of Sens prospect Colin White (1.09). This year, Thompson has split time between the Blues (6 points in 24 games) and the Rampage (18 points in 29 games). I’d probably give Thompson a full AHL year to round out his complete game, but could be an intriguing fit in the Sens top-nine where the right-wingers are currently Stone, Ryan, and a bunch of question marks. A sixth round pick in 2014, speedy Sammy Blais is undersized, but full of puns. A teammate of Gabriel Gagné in Victoriaville (QMJHL), Blais had 26 goals and 43 points as an AHL rookie, and currently ranks 13th among U24 forwards in points-per-game (min. 20 GP). Unlike other undersized QMJHL forwards (*cough*), Blais has been able to translate his game using his smarts. I’d be willing to give him an NHL spot as early as next year. We’ll wrap the Blues up with Nolan Stevens — a 6-foot-3 centre who’s currently finishing up his senior year at Northeastern University. Playing on a stacked team that includes the league’s two top scorers, Stevens has already won an NCAA Championship and is going for another this year. A centre through and through, Stevens would likely need a couple seasons in Belleville, but could fill Jean-Gabriel Pageau’s third-line centre spot when the Sens are ready to compete again.

Dallas Stars

The Scouts: Alex LePore, who once served as the Sens’ Team Manager in the early 2000’s, has been stationed in Ottawa for a long time as one of the Stars’ scouts. For all five home games where we know which scouts were in attendance, LePore was there for all of them.

Who to Target: In a fight with the Blues and the Flames for a playoff spot, the Stars have made big trades with the Sens before (Spezza!) and are looking for pieces to bolster their depth for a run. Third overall pick Miro Heiskanen is one of the best prospects in the game, and is untouchable. So to are other top prospects, Jason Robertson, and current owner of the top save percentage in the NCAA, Colton Point. Now, this means that I wouldn’t trade Mike Hoffman to Dallas, as if I did, I’d expect Robertson or Point coming the other way. However, the Stars have a number of prospects — especially those playing in Europe — that interest me.

The closest to the NHL is a player who’s been a bubble player for the Stars all year — 2014 first-round pick, Julius Honka. The components are all there for Honka: he suited up at the U18s and U20s as a junior for Finland, he came over to North America early and put up a 50+ point year in the WHL, and he has three 30+ point seasons in the AHL. For some reason, he just hasn’t found his groove this year. Some of that has to do with playing for Ken Hitchcock; another has to do with Dallas’ depth on defence. In 30 NHL games this season, he only has four points. Honka, another right-shot defender, would be a potential buy-low candidate that has the potential for high-reward, and is definitely someone I’d target if I was trading with the Stars.

Dallas has three other European defenders of interest. 23-year-old right-shot defender Niklas Hansson had a 20+ point season as a 21-year-old in the SHL, and is currently playing in his first AHL season. John Nyberg, currently 21, is playing his second full season for Frölunda in the SHL and is an assistant captain on a perennial contender. Finally, Jakob Stenqvist is a 19-year-old RD who leads all U20 defencemen in points-per-game with 0.50 in Sweden’s second-tier men’s league.

At forward, 2016 first round pick Riley Tufte has a ton of potential as a 6-foot-6 winger. Tufte is currently playing his second season at Minnesota-Duluth, and is third on his team in scoring with 21 points in 30 games. Roope Hintz, a Finnish left-winger, is currently in the midst of his first AHL season and has a respectable 0.5 points-per-game like Filip Chlapik. Hintz had 30 points in 44 games in Finland’s top men’s league last year, and went point-per-game in the playoffs to lead all forwards. Lastly, 20-year-old centre Fredrik Karlstrom was Mr. Reliable for Sweden at his second straight U20s. He currently plays for Linköping in the SHL (home of Marcus Hogberg).

Colorado Avalanche

The Scouts: Like the Blues, Colorado has only started scouting Ottawa recently, sending their senior pro scout Garth Joy to watch their home victories against the Sabres and Rangers.

Who to Target: It’s a bit surprising to see the Avalanche show up among this group of teams, as they aren’y primed to be buyers at this deadline. They aren’t completely out of the playoff hunt — five points back of the second wild card spot with games in hand — although they’ve been very mediocre since coming off their improbable ten game winning streak. Losing Nathan MacKinnon will do that, although the 22-year-old superstar is back and ready to continue dominating.

Despite coming off of one of the worst seasons in modern NHL history, the Avalanche only managed to snag seven picks at the 2017 draft. They still have a decent cupboard of prospects, however, that the Sens may be able to acquire in a deadline deal.

Moving past the untouchables (Jost, Girard, Makar), the Avs have Conor Timmins, who they drafted with the first pick of the 2nd round in 2017 (32nd overall). Timmins, a right-shot defenceman from St. Catharines, Ontario, played an increased role on Team Canada at the World Juniors. He was named a top three player on the team, alongside fellow Avs defence prospect Cale Makar, and Sens prospect Drake Batherson. Currently playing with the Soo Greyhounds, he’s one of only five defenceman in the OHL playing above point-per-game. Besides Christian Jaros and the recently acquired Ville Pokka, the Sens’ prospect depth on right defence is one of their weakest positions.

Past Timmins, Colorado has a few other prospects that might have the Sens’ interest. They’ve likely seen plenty Travis Barron, the captain of the Ottawa 67’s, although he’s an infrequent scorer for an overage forward (44 points in 54 games). A more dominant CHL overager is Ty Lewis, who has 82 points in 58 games for the Brandon Wheat Kings. After going undrafted in 2017 despite being ranked as high as a 4th round pick by some services, he was signed to an entry-level contract in October.

Nick Henry is another intriguing name, although there are plenty of red flags. Scouts around the league recognized that his 81 points in 72 games last season had a lot to do with generous time next to elite teammates (Sam Steel and Adam Brooks), having him fall all the way to the fourth round. His point totals have also fallen off a cliff, as his points-per-game rate is half of what it was last season.

And who knows, maybe Ottawa wants Shane Bowers back. He leads all Hockey East freshmen with 26 points in 32 games.

Nashville Predators

The Scouts: Two pro scouts from Nashville have been following the Sens: Nick Beverley for the home games and Shawn Dineen on the road. They’ve had at least two viewings each, with plenty more staff members watching them during their two February matchups.

Who to Target: Although no direct trade rumours have been made between the Sens and Preds, the compatibility between these two teams for a trade is quite strong. Nashville’s in the hunt for the Stanley Cup, Ottawa’s selling off assets. Nashville has some cap flexibility, Ottawa’s looking to shed some salary. The Sens already traded them a centre Turris, although it’s not out of the realm of possibility that someone like Brassard or Pageau could be headed there as well.

Even better for Ottawa, is that Nashville has quite the source of prospects to draw from. The most talked about names has been Eeli Tolvanen, who was chosen two picks after Bowers at the 2017 draft. He’s been dominating the KHL as an 18-year-old, as his 34 points in 47 games is far and away the leader amongst U20 players. He’s a small player at 5’10”, although his deadly accurate shot has been his biggest weapon. He’s cooled down considerably over the last couple months, although if things go right, he could potentially be playing NHL games as soon as this season.

Another Swede in Nashville’s system is Pontus Aberg, who’s been playing in the NHL since November. He hasn’t been especially successful, and at 24 he may already be done developing. However, he’s been a scoring star in the AHL, and the former top-40 pick has shown that he can utilize he speed to be offensively creative.

The Preds may not have any prospects at the top of the CHL leaderboards, although they make up for it with strong drafting from the NCAA. Touted for their ability to draft and develop defencemen, their big name coming up is Dante Fabbro, a scoring two-way player who’s become the go-to blueliner for Boston University. A trio of forwards are also putting up big numbers for their schools: Patrick Harper (also on Boston University), and University of Minnesota teammates Thomas Novak and Rem Pitlick. They also have David Farrance, who although plays defence has been experimented as a forward. The offensively inclined player is having a hard time finding the back of the net in his freshman year (still looking for his first goal through 23 games), although his top level skating still keeps his NHL potential afloat.

Winnipeg Jets

The Scouts: All five of the Jets’ viewings of Ottawa have been on the road. First was Mark White against Philadelphia, although his official title is an amateur scout.  Then they sent two scouts to see them play Toronto, Peter Ratchuk and Jack Birch, with Ratchuk following them to Pittsburgh for the next game. There he was joined by Larry Simmons, who’s their VP of Hockey Operations on top of being an Assistant General Manager. Like Vegas, they’ve also had two occurrences of sending multiple scouts.

Who to Target: Elliotte Friedman recently shared in his 31 Thoughts column that the Jets were in pursuit of Mike Hoffman, although the trade talks were shut down because the Jets were on Hoffman’s 10-team no-trade list. That said, the Winnipeg Jets are legitimate contenders this year, and may potentially make a move or two to potentially give them that extra boost for the playoffs.

The good news for both teams is that they have one of the deepest prospect pools in the league, as the Manitoba Moose (their AHL affiliate) holding the third best record in the league. One player who’s emerged through all this has been Mason Appleton, a former 6th round pick from 2015 who leads the team in scoring (47 points in 53 games). Dobber Prospects ranked him as the top rising prospect at the end of January, as he’s a good skater with excellent playmaking. Nic Petan and Jack Roslovic have also been key contributors for Manitoba, although it’s hard to see the Jets dealing them as they’ve recently been given extended time in the NHL.

Past those players, the Moose also have prospects Sami Niku, Brendan Lemieux, Chase De Leo, Michael Spacek, and Jansen Harkins lurking around. Not all of them are top quality, although it goes to show how they have expendable assets they can use for trades at the deadline.

With the emergence of Connor Hellebuyck as an NHL starting goalie and Michael Hutchinson stopping everything in the AHL, the 22-year-old Eric Comrie has become an expendable asset. He has a .921 save percentage in 25 AHL games, which is far above the numbers of any current Sens goalie prospect. Although it would likely require moving out one of Danny Taylor or Chris Driedger, this would target a need for Ottawa. The Jets might be the team to make that happen.

The big prospect that’s rumoured to be on the table, however, is 2017 1st round pick Kristian Vesalainen. The Finnish forward is putting up historic numbers in the Liiga, as since the turn of the century, only four players have had a better U19 season in terms of points-per-game (Aho, Pulkkinen, Granlund & Barkov). His team HPK may not be the best, ranking 12th in a league with 15 teams. Although his combination of size and skill (his shot especially) have made him a prospect to watch out for in the near future. He plans on transitioning to North America next season.

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