Trade Deadline: Bottom-Six Forwards The Minnesota Wild Could Target

ANAHEIM, CALIFORNIA - OCTOBER 31: Artturi Lehkonen #62 of the Montreal Canadiens looks on during the first period of a game against the Anaheim Ducks at Honda Center on October 31, 2021 in Anaheim, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
ANAHEIM, CALIFORNIA - OCTOBER 31: Artturi Lehkonen #62 of the Montreal Canadiens looks on during the first period of a game against the Anaheim Ducks at Honda Center on October 31, 2021 in Anaheim, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images) /

The NHL trade deadline is just 16 days away and with the Minnesota Wild slipping as of late, I have put together a list of players the Wild could target to improve their team. In this article, we will go over five bottom-six forward options that could improve this team. In the next installment, we will go over a couple of defensemen the Wild could target as well.

The Wild made their first trade of the season back in 2021 on December 29th, sending AHL prospect Will Bitten to the St. Louis Blues for Nolan Stevens just a couple of days before the 2022 Winter Classic.

They made their second trade of the year on February 12th trading goaltender Andrew Hammond to Montreal for forward Brandon Baddock. With the Wild 3-7-0 in their last 10 and currently being outscored 51 to 39, Wild general manager Bill Guerin may want to add another depth piece on the forward group. But who should it be?

LW/C. Zach Aston-Reese. 1. player. 92. Scouting Report. Pick Analysis.

The 27-year old has been one of the best defensive forwards if not the best in the NHL the last three to four years. It comes as no surprise Aston-Reese is amongst the league’s best in all defensive metrics again this season. The current Pittsburgh Penguin has 162 hits in 48 games this season which ranks him seventh in the NHL amongst forwards. He also ranks third in the NHL in fewest giveaways and third in fewest defensive zone giveaways.

The 6-foot-1 forward carries a $1,800,000 cap hit and is on an expiring deal. He currently ranks first on the Penguins in GA/60 and xGA/60 which are defensive metrics. This essentially means Aston-Reese is the Penguins’ best defensive forward. If you implanted Aston-Reese on the Wild his GA/60 and xGA/60 would still rank first ahead of second-place Marcus Foligno.

Aston-Reese has played 49 out of the Penguins’ 57 and has been healthy scratched a couple of times this year. He recently played on the Penguins’ fourth line alongside Brian Boye and Dominik Simon for their game against the Hurricanes where he had five hits and one blocked shot. It is likely once the Penguins get Teddy Blueger and Jason Zucker back in the lineup, Aston-Reese will find his way back in the press box. So, I don’t believe the Wild would have to give a lot up to acquire the gritty defensive specialist.

player. 152. 2. Pick Analysis. LW/RW. . Artturi Lehkonen. Scouting Report

Lehkonen plays on a struggling Montreal Canadians team but hasn’t allowed his teammates’ struggles affect his game. The Canadians hold a 14-34-7 record, good for 31st in the NHL with a minus 78 goal differential. With how horrible the Canadians have been it may seem hard to believe that Lehkonen has actually been one of the most complete players in the NHL. He provides steady offense every night for his teammates but also plays a shutdown defensive role.

The Canadians seem to have made it clear they will listen to trades for Lehkonen and would consider trading him despite him being only 26-years old. Lehkonen ranks 12th on TSN’s trade bait list amongst forwards and 24th overall. 

Lehkonen like Aston-Reese is one of the best defensive forwards in the NHL right now but his game isn’t just defense. If you implanted Artturi Lehkonen on the Wild right now and took the stats he has put up on the struggling Canadians team, he would rank first in xGF/60 ahead of Kevin Fiala, Ryan Hartman, and Kirill Kaprizov. He would also rank first in xGA/60 behind Marcus Foligno.

Now Lehkonen is not worth a first-round pick but I would think about moving a second-round pick for him considering the Wild may pick up a second if they don’t sign Filip Johansson this offseason. Lehkonen’s stats are exceptional considering he plays on the Canadians and with only a $2,300,000 cap hit on him and an expiring RFA, Lehkonen could be an interesting pickup for the Wild to boost the bottom-six’s offensive production and defensive production.

LW/RW. 3. player. 19. Scouting Report. Pick Analysis. . Garnet Hathaway

Garnet Hathaway is an interesting player. The two previous players are bottom-six players and have been played like such for quite some time. Hathaway on the other hand has spent time on the top line with Alex Ovechkin but has also spent time with Connor Sheary and Nic Dowd on the third line.

Hathaway ranks fifth in the NHL in hits amongst forwards and sixth overall with 171. The 6-foot-3 forward also has ten goals and ten assists in 51 games for the Capitals. Hathaway’s CF/60 would rank second behind Foligno for team lead if you combined the two teams. His xGF/60 would rank fourth behind Ovechkin, Hartman, and Fiala.

Hathaway is a big forward who uses his size well. He ranks first in the NHL in GA/60 which is all goals the opponent(s) have scored when Hathaway was on the ice per 60 minutes. Before Carl Hagelin’s eye injury, that line of Hagelin-Dowd-Hathaway was one of the best lines in the NHL. That line currently ranks sixth in expected goals against (min 300 tol) and seventh in expected goals for.

Being the Capitals are a Stanley cup contender with a 91.2% chance of making the playoffs, they would likely not elect to move Hathaway at the deadline unless the deal was too good to pass up on. The Wild wouldn’t want to overpay for Hathaway either but these stats, his $1,500,000 contract for this year and the following, and the way Hathaway plays was too good not to consider him and put him on this list.

C. Nick Paul. 4. player. Scouting Report. Pick Analysis. 91.

Last season Nick Paul was the best defensive forward in the NHL. Although he isn’t currently the best this year, his metrics still suggest he is hovering over the elite tier for his defensive ability. Paul isn’t the most physical forward in the league like the others on this list, but he is a responsible bottom-six forward who plays the right way. He isn’t going to chase hits or try to make the big open-ice collision, but he uses his stick and his 6-foot-3 frame well.

Paul has a great defensive stick and nacks for making the right defensive play, his xGF/60 and GF/60 rank above league average. Paul plays a little more than 17 minutes a night, his 49.1 faceoff percentage would rank second on the Wild behind Nico Sturm’s 52.23 faceoff percentage but ahead of Joel Eriksson Ek, Fredrick Gaudreau, and Ryan Hartman.

The former 2021 IIHF World Champion scored the “golden goal to earn team Canada the gold medal at the 2021 IIHF World Championship. The reason I bring this up is, the goal came after Paul won the faceoff in the defensive zone.

Nick Paul and his $1,350,000 cap hit for the remaining year, ranks 18th on TSN’s trade bait list. Paul is also known as a penalty kill specialist which could help the Wild down the stretch. Paul would provide size and a great defensive stick to the Wild’s lineup which in the playoffs, size is much needed.

113. . Sean Kuraly. player. 5. Scouting Report. Pick Analysis. C

Now I debated putting Nashville’s Nick Cousins at five instead of Kuraly but one of the reasons I didn’t was because according to MoneyPuck’s model the Predators have about a 44% higher chance than the Blue Jackets do at making the playoffs.

Kuraly ranks second in the NHL in percentage of starts in the defensive zone, which is likely because of his 48.58 faceoff percentage and his outstanding 57.39 faceoff percentage last year. The 29-year old ranks first in the NHL in hits amongst centers with 163 and eighth in the NHL overall.

The 6-foot-2 center has 18 points in 54 games for the Blue Jackets and ranks fourth on the team in GA/60 and first in xGA/60 amongst forwards (min 20 GP). Kuraly has gained trust from his head coach Brad Larson as one of the most responsible forwards on the team.

The former 2011 fifth-round selection carries a $2,500,000 cap hit for the next three seasons following this year. Kuraly was signed by the Blue Jackets over the offseason after he spent the last five seasons with the Boston Bruins.

Although Kuraly brings a responsible defensive game, his cap hit and term would likely be too much for the Wild to take on for this year and the years to follow. You don’t need to be a mathematician to figure out being locked into a bottom-six forward at $2.5 Million a year for the next three seasons, just wouldn’t work for the Wild. Especially if they want to keep any of their expiring RFA’s and UFA’s. But Kuraly’s stats and faceoff success were too good to keep him off the list.

Now could you trade for Kuraly? You would likely have to include Victor Rask and his $4,000,000 to make it work, but as I said in the Artturi Lehkonen segment you could include a second round-pick if the Wild decide not to sign former first-round pick Filip Johansson.

Honorable Mentions

Nick Cousins, Nashville | C | 5′ 11″ | 192 lb | Age: 28 | $1,500,000 1 year left UFA

First in xGF/60 on the Predators and ranks second on the team xGA/60. Also ranks first on the Predators in faceoff winning percentage in the defensive zone.

Michael McLeod, New Jersey | C | 6′ 2″ | 190 lb | Age: 24 | $1,000,000 1 year left RFA

Third in GA/60 and xGA/60 on the Devils. First in the NHL in percentage of starts in the defensive zone, 12th in the NHL in hits amongst centers, and third in the NHL in defensive zone faceoff wins. (min 100 attempts) Also ranks ninth in the NHL in faceoff percentage with 58.12.

Nathan Bastian, New Jersey | RW | 6′ 4″ | 205 lb | Age: 24 | $800,000 2 years left RFA

First on the Devils in GA/60 and hits(146). Also ranks first amongst Devils’ forwards in xGA/60.

Yakov Trenin, Nashville | C | 6′ 2″ | 201 lb | Age: 25 | $700,000 1 year left RFA

Trenin can be known as a penalty kill specialist and the teammate who stands up for others with his physical play and fighting ability. He ranks second on the team in GA/60.

Michael McCarron, Nashville | RW | 6′ 6″ | 232 lb | Age: 26 | $800,000 2 years left UFA

The big power-forward plays a defensive first game and despite only playing 31 games for the Predators, the former Montreal 25th overall pick is fourth on the Predators in GA/60 and xGA/60. McCarron leads the Predators in blocked shots per 60 minutes with an impressive 3.61.

Noel Acciari, Florida | C/RW | 5′ 10″ | 209 lb | Age: 30 | $1,666,667 1 year left UFA

Acciari is interesting. He has only played two games this year due to missing the start with an injury. His first game of the year was against the Wild on February, 18th. His stats the previous year are where he should be considered. He led the Panthers in shots blocked per 60 with 5.98 also ranked second in hits and faceoff win percentage. He has a modified no-trade clause though.

Final Thoughts

Come playoff time physical and defensive teams usually have an edge and most of these guys on this list contribute in both of those categories. In Kuraly’s case, you would acquire him at the deadline for the remainder of the season and have him and his physical play for the playoffs but would likely have to trade him the following offseason. Now based on his playoff performance you could trade him in the offseason for maybe more than what you acquired him for or at least the same amount.

Is that worth trading Rask a second-round pick and a sweetener prospect just to acquire Kuraly from the Blue Jackets for roughly 20-40 games, then try and trade him the following offseason for a third or fourth-round pick? The prospect would likely have to be included in the deal given the fact the Blue Jackets signed Kuraly to a four-year $10,000,000 deal the previous offseason.

Although Zach Aston-Reese hasn’t been linked to any potential trades, I think it would be worthwhile for the Wild to acquire a player of his ability. If it happened, the Wild would have two of the top five defensive forwards in the NHL for the last three years on one team. (Aston-Reese and Foligno)

Plus, you wouldn’t have to give up a whole lot for Aston-Reese given he is on an expiring deal and plays the role of a 13th/14th forward on the Penguins.

Lehkonen makes the most sense to me. He is responsible defensively but also brings an offensive game. He may not hit or play a physical game as the other four do, but his versatile ability and the overall game may be more intriguing.

Garnet Hathaway is the complete package. He provides a complete game with his physical, offensive, and defensive game. The only knock on him is he isn’t a center. Also, I’d have to think Brian MacLellan probably doesn’t and wouldn’t move him unless the Wild overpaid in Brian’s eyes. If I was Guerin, I think I’d still call and see what the price is for a player like Hathaway as his game is so intriguing.

Lastly, Nick Paul coming to Minnesota could be interesting. He has size and brings a physical play when needed. He is responsible in the defensive zone and is a cheap one-year rental.

It will be interesting to see what Guerin and his staff decide to do but whatever it may be, Wild fans need to trust the process. Everybody goes through hard stretches and rough patches, this team will be okay. No need to press the panic button.

All stats courtesy from Evolving hockey, MoneyPuck, Hockey reference, and CapFriendly