Kasperi Kapanen at the 2014 Draft. He will reunite with Jim Rutherford, the GM that drafted him in Pittsburgh. Photo courtesy of Bruce Bennett
The Toronto Maple Leafs and Pittsburgh Penguins hooked up for a trade that sent Kasperi Kapanen back to the team that drafted him at 22nd overall in 2014. The full details of the trade are as follows:
Penguins Recieve: RW Kasperi Kapanen, D Jesper Lindgren, LW Pontus Aberg
Maple Leafs receive: 2020 first-round pick (15 overall), LW Evan Rodrigues, C/W Filip Hållander, D David Warsofsky
The initial read on this trade is that Leafs GM Kyle Dubas was able to get Penguins GM Jim Rutherford to agree to a deal on his terms. Dubas was able to not only clear the cap space that the Leafs will desperately need in the next couple of seasons with a flat cap, especially if they have any chance at improving their roster in any significant way. The Penguins again use their prospects and picks to try and extend the Crosby/Malkin era window and push for another cup.
The Penguins are getting a speedy winger in Kapanen. He was actually the first pick of Rutherford’s tenure with Pittsburgh and was traded to Toronto in the Phil Kessel trade. He injects speed into the lineup instantly and likely gets worked in on their penalty kill. He hasn’t ever able to thrive in the Toronto top-six and has looked his best on the Leafs third line, often with Kerfoot this season. The skillset that Kapanen has could be an interesting fit with the Penguins as he instantly becomes one of, if not the fastest player on the roster. He doesn’t mind throwing the body and has a bit of a nasty streak at times. One criticism of his game is that he often lets his feet get ahead of his hands and mind, skating himself into corners or battles that he isn’t able to come out of with the puck. He could be the latest of a long line of plug-and-play wingers in the Pittsburgh top-six that gains success because of the opportunity to play with Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin.
Jesper Lindgren is a player who hasn’t really found much success and had an unspectacular first full season in the AHL with 9 points in 31 games. He is a better real-life player than he is a fantasy asset so this is more of a depth move for the Penguins. He could get some NHL time with the Penguins next year if injuries arrive as they seemingly do every year with the Pens. Lindgren is a decent prospect but he is starting to come into the stage of his development where it will be time to show what he is.
Pontus Aberg actually recently signed a one-year deal in the KHL with Traktor Chelyabinsk. He has had a few shots at securing an NHL job and hasn’t been able to in multiple organizations. This is likely just a paperwork transaction.
Overall, the Penguins are looking to extend their window as previously mentioned. They trade another first-round pick and a prospect for help on the wing for their elite centers. The question becomes ‘Is Kapanen the answer?’ because he’s been unable to secure a spot in Toronto’s top-six. When given the opportunity, he struggles to keep up with high IQ players like Matthews and Tavares so assuming he will fit in with Crosby or Malkin may be a bit of a stretch. The Penguins drafted Kapanen at 22 in 2014 then traded him for Kessel. They traded the 15th overall pick in 2020 for Kapanen. It may just be a goofy footnote in this trade but it’s a fact not lost on Penguins fans.
Filip Hållander was the Penguins second-round pick, 58th overall in 2018 and he has been playing in the SHL the last two seasons and has shown the ability to produce at a decent clip. He played for Luleå HF last season, putting up 18 points in 33 games between SHL play and Champions Hockey League play. He has good measurables at 6’2″ and 188lbs while being a player who can play all three forward positions. He likely profiles as a winger at the next level. He likes to drive the net and get to the slot to generate dangerous chances on the opposition. He is a dual-threat offensive player who can finishes plays when given the chance and set his teammates up when they are in good spots. He is a good skater who uses his size and has the requisite skill to project as a top-six winger. He was a first-round talent in the eyes of many evaluators in the draft analysis prior to the 2018 NHL Draft with the Penguins garnering a good amount of praise for snagging him in the mid-second round.
Defender David Warsofsky is an AHL addition to the Marlies who essentially replaces Lindgren in the AHL lineup. He is a bit older and brings some experience to a typically young Marlies blueline. Evan Rodrigues is a restricted free agent when the 2019-20 season ends and while the Leafs could bring him back, they are unlikely to give him a qualifying offer which allows them to try and limit his cap hit if they want to bring him back. Darren Dreger has reported that the Leafs have an affinity for Rodrigues so the possibility of bringing him in is certainly prevalent.
The first-round pick that the Leafs get in the deal is 15th overall, two spots later than the pick that the Carolina Hurricanes get from the Leafs in the Patrick Marleau cap-dump trade last offseason. They give themselves some draft capital in a draft that many people find very strong. The top-end of the 2020 NHL Draft is very strong and should a player fall, they could come out of this deal with a major steal. The opportunities for this pick are very intriguing.
Lottery Ticket or Trade Chip?
The Leafs have been in need of a defender inserted into their lineup for years now. The reality is that if they do decide to use the pick (and they should), they won’t be inserting that player into the lineup for two to three years. There is a chance that they make a trade for a defender in this spot. Who that could be is an even bigger question. The reality is that it is another asset for Kyle Dubas to try and use to acquire a top-pair defender. There is also the reality that the 15th overall pick alone is unlikely to get them that defenseman so they will have to move other assets with the pick. Whether it be a player that #LeafsTwitter has been pining over like Aaron Ekblad or a more realistic option like one of the plethora of defenders that Carolina has built up, the possibility remains that the Leafs don’t actually make the 15th overall pick.
The other scenario that would involve the Leafs not making the pick is a classic Kyle Dubas trade back. He’s done it before and he will likely do it again at some point. Dubas is a numbers guy and the numbers point to there being real value to trading back because the player you get at 15 may not be all that different from the player you get in the 20s and you likely get an additional asset such as a mid-round pick. The draft pick value chart below shows that this scenario may be the most logical and realistic considering Dubas’ track record.
The final option for the 15th overall pick is that they make the pick. There are a multitude of options that the Leafs could consider in this spot and it could range from a player falling to the Leafs swinging on talent a bit higher than the player was originally expected to go. While it’s completely uncertain as to what Dubas and the Maple Leafs do, here are a few options for players they could take at 15th overall.
Guys Who Could Drop (but probably not)
Yaroslav Askarov, G, SKA-Neva St. Petersburg (VHL)
This was the first name someone mentioned when the trade was announced. The Leafs will be pressed to make a decision on Frederik Anderson with his contract set to expire after next season. Bringing the best netminding prospect in over a decade could mean that that decision is a bit easier with the knowledge that a longterm commitment to netminders is often a mistake, especially after the age of 30. Askarov has all the talent in the world and playing under a microscope hasn’t been an issue for the Russian netminder. Whether it be international tournaments such as the U18s where he shut down the Jack Hughes-led NTDP team or his track record of playing against men in the VHL, the second-tier league in his native Russia. Askarov has even shown well in limited KHL action. From his fluidity in his crease and his movement laterally to his poise and anticipatory nature in net, Askarov is advanced in his development and shouldn’t be a long wait like most netminders.
Anton Lundell, C, HIFK (Liiga)
This is another unlikely situation but it is not impossible if the teams in the 8-14 range feel the way that some evaluators do about Lundell. While concerns of his offensive upside do have some merit, Lundell has an excellent shot and high IQ. He is known for his defensive presence having been compared to players like Ryan O’Reilly or Patrice Bergeron and while those are absolute best-case scenarios, the potential for Lundell to develop into a high-end second-line center is there. He could bring a defensive presence to the Leafs that they’ve been missing from their forward corps for years. He is also more NHL ready than most players in this class and could jump into the Leafs lineup in a sheltered role behind Matthews and Tavares as soon as the 2021-22 season. As he develops and Tavares ages, the Leafs could have a stacked top-three centers with Lundell picking up the slack as Tavares regresses as he moves into his 30s.
Players in the Range of 15th Overall
Noel Gunler, RW, Luleå HF (SHL)
Maybe the most divisive player in the 2020 draft class, Noel Gunler is a highly-skilled forward who has a ton of tools. He is an improving skater who has plus-speed but doesn’t always use it. His shot is impressive, picking corners with an impressive release. His playmaking is good but not great, making him a capable dual-threat player who can burn opponents with his shot or by finding a teammate in position to score. The biggest question mark with Gunler is his motor. He has a top-10 skill set but doesn’t display it enough to really validate putting him in the top-10 because there are just as many times where he looks like a player who could be drafted in the late-20s. This is a bit of a swing but the Leafs don’t mind taking chances.
Seth Jarvis, RW, Portland Winterhawks (WHL)
One of the most electric players in the draft, Jarvis had a monster second half. He was one of the top producing CHL players eligible for the 2020 draft. The Portland forward was the offensive catalyst on one of the better teams in the WHL and he showed it nearly every night. His ability to skate and make plays at high-speed in impressive. More of a playmaker than a goalscorer, Jarvis has a good shot but scores his goals with good accuracy. There is a ton of potential with Jarvis and he could end up being one of the top-10 players from this draft when all is said and done. Picking Jarvis could mean Leaf fans get to add to their plethora of offensive talent.
Helge Grans, D, Malmö Redhawks (SHL)
A big, strong defender who can skate. Just what the doctor ordered. This is the pick that I would likely make with the 15th pick if I were in the position that Dubas is. The young Swede has a full tool chest and still has room to grow with some refinement to his game. The potential is there for Grans to be an above-average defender in his own zone but the calling card of the Redhawks defender is his offensive ability and IQ. He is a good passer who can move the puck up ice or around the offensive zone. His skating is high level which will allow him to keep up in today’s NHL and his size and frame are what Toronto’s front office has been dreaming of.
Kaiden Guhle, D, Prince Albert Raiders (WHL)
This is a player who seems to have all of the tools but still needs to organize his toolbox. He is an excellent skater who moves up ice with ease. His lateral mobility and turns need a bit of work but moving up ice and in the defensive zone, Guhle excels. He likely projects as a transitional defender rather than an offensive player but he has the bite that teams seem to love. He steps up on guys all over the ice, rarely refraining from throwing the big hit. This does become an issue at times as he can get himself out of position at times. He is a capable puck mover and shows off a high-end shot from time to time. With some refinement, Guhle could be a solid NHL top-four defender.
Dawson Mercer, RW, Chicoutimi Saguenéens (QMJHL)
Some players are pegged into one role. Others are a bit more versatile. Mercer is a chameleon. He has the ability to truly play up and down the lineup and be effective in whatever minutes he is given, as evidenced from his effective, yet unspectacular, World Junior performance as a draft-eligible player on the gold medal-winning Canadian squad. Mercer is a reliable finisher and high-IQ playmaker. He doesn’t drive the play all the time but he is a more than capable complimentary player. There is little reason to believe that he isn’t going to be an NHL player in a few years but the questions come when figuring out exactly what kind of NHL player he is going to be.
These may be a reach
Jacob Perreault, RW, Sarnia Sting (OHL)
Boom or bust potential is real with Perreault. He may be one of the rawest talents in the class but oozes upside. He put up big numbers on a rough Sarnia team that was constantly plagued by injuries this year. He has a top-five shot in the draft class and is a player who can truly score from anywhere in the offensive zone. He is creative offensively and could be one of the best playmakers from below the goal line from the 2020 group. It’s not likely that the Leafs take a swing like this, but if they do, Dubas could look like the smartest guy in the room.
Braden Schneider, D, Brandon Wheat Kings (WHL)
A defensive presence who has shown well in Team Canada camps at all ages, including the World Junior Summer Showcase in Plymouth, Michigan last summer where he put on a solid showing as a freshly turned 17-year-old at the U20 event. He is a player who uses his frame and doesn’t hesitate to close out along the boards. He is a capable passer from his own end and can move pucks up the ice. He doesn’t really have a ton to give offensively but he isn’t a black hole either. The intrigue of Schneider is that he isn’t very far from being NHL ready, he fits what the Leafs need in a defensive rearguard and he is a very projectable player who looks like a surefire second-pairing defender. Schneider knows his role, plays it well, and does his job. Not much more you can ask from a defensive blueliner.