You know what they say: There’s no better time to make trades than in the middle of the second round.
The Toronto Maple Leafs and Pittsburgh Penguins apparently ascribe to that mantra, pulling the trigger on a pretty sizeable deal earlier today that sees Kasperi Kapanen, Pontus Aberg and Jesper Lindgren head to Pittsburgh in exchange for Filip Hallander, Evan Rodrigues, David Warofsky and the Penguins’ 2020 1st round draft pick.
Folks, that is one big package. And with so many names swapping addresses on this wonderful Tuesday, it’s easy for a few to get lost in the shuffle.
So, let’s break down what each team is getting as both sides hope to rebound from their own disappointing playoff exits.
Of course, it’s only natural to begin with the main attraction.
Kapanen is a fine young player. With a 20-goal season already under his belt, the 24-year-old projects to bring elite footspeed to an aging Penguins forward corps that desperately needs it while giving them an effective penalty-killing option, to boot. Kapanen has, after all, racked up two shorthanded goals in each of the past two seasons. He’s a near-constant breakaway threat whenever he happens to be on the ice, and that skill is only heightened when defending the man advantage.
In fact, there may not be another NHL forward outside of Connor McDavid who can beat Kapanen in a straight-line footrace. He really is that fast.
But speed is only as useful as how you choose to use it. And Kapanen’s main issue throughout his three seasons with the Maple Leafs is that he failed to ever fully grasp how to utilize his incredible burners properly, ultimately leading to more fruitless rushes down the wing than any human could count.
As such, Kapanen became a truly frustrating player towards the end of his tenure in Toronto. He never managed to produce anything of value whenever elevated into a top-six role and, in what was supposed to be a step-forward 2019-20 season, seemed to actually regress in nearly every meaningful category.
When cashing a $3.2 million paycheck, stretches that feature four goals in 23 games are simply not acceptable.
Kapanen brings a lot to the table, it’s just now up to the Penguins to teach him how to use it.
Pontus Aberg will likely never suit up for the Penguins.
Despite technically being included in this package, the 26-year-old winger is a pending-RFA at the moment who, according to various reports, recently signed a deal with the KHL’s Traktor Chelyabinsk to head overseas for the 2020-21 season, whenever that is. Even if he does end up in Pittsburgh at some point in the near future, Aberg doesn’t move the needle much at all. He’s a skilled bottom-six option who has proven capable of producing in sheltered minutes on his best days and an adept AHL scorer on his worst.
That’s...fine, I guess?
In five games with the Maple Leafs as an injury recall last season, Aberg saw some minutes on the top line, put forth a single assist and was ultimately left off of Toronto’s taxi squad for the playoff bubble.
There’s some skill there — and a 2018-19 stint with the Ducks that featured 19 points in 37 games — but there’s not much to write home about here.
Or maybe he’s the new Mark Donk. Anything is possible.
The most redeeming aspect of Jesper Lindgren’s game at this point is that he’s a defenceman who also shoots right.
The fifth-round pick from 2015 is a relatively unremarkable prospect outside of his initial specs, having just finished his first full season of AHL action in 2019-20 in which he put up 9 points in 37 games for the Toronto Marlies. That’s decent production for a rookie defender adapting to North American ice. But Lindgren is also 23 years old, has played professional hockey since his draft year and still failed to make much noise in an organization thirsting desperately for RHD. That pro experience was thought to have given him a slight edge upon arrival, but Lindgren still managed to get lost in the shuffle on the Leafs’ internal depth chart.
Maybe the Penguins can squeeze something out of him. But right now, he can be looked at as a contract spot.
I have no idea how the Leafs managed to get this guy for the price that they did.
There’s a good argument for Filip Hallander being the centerpiece of the deal from Toronto’s point of view. Measuring in at 6’1 and 190 pounds, Hallander projects as a skilled centre/winger hybrid with some decent size who plays a strong two-way game and happens to particularly excel on the forecheck.
Or, you know, exactly the type of player that the Leafs need right now.
Selected 58th overall by Pittsburgh in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft despite landing much higher on a number of draft analyst’s boards — The Athletic’s Scott Wheeler had him ranked 26th, for example — the 20-year-old has since rocketed up the Penguins’ prospect pipeline by continuing to produce admirably against professional competition in the SHL.
In 27 games with Lulea HF last season, Hallander put up an impressive 14 points (the SHL is a typically low-scoring league, especially for younger players) and currently sits with the second-highest points-per-game, 0.486, of any SHLer born in the year 2000. Not to mention, Hallander achieved all of this despite recovering from a broken leg suffered early last season that kept him out of game action for months.
Now set to join the Leafs’ cutting-edge developmental system, it’s likely we’ve yet to see what Hallander’s ceiling truly can be.
Maybe don’t run out and buy a Rodrigues Leafs jersey quite yet. But we’ll get to that.
On the surface, Rodrigues is a perfectly serviceable bottom-six forward, someone whose underlying numbers took an expected skyward leap last season upon being traded from the moribund Buffalo Sabres to the yet-to-be-moribund Penguins. He’s fine, really. A good filler piece who won’t hurt his own team and who has proven capable over the years of treading water in some less-than-ideal surroundings.
Rodrigues has been a full-time NHLer for three full seasons to this point, having never begun less than 51.2% of his shifts at 5v5 in the defensive zone and still managing to finish with a CF% that hovers around 50%, regardless. That, at the very least, demonstrates some ability to positively impact the play despite routinely difficult usage. From an offensive standpoint, Rodrigues’ points-scoring ceiling seems to have topped out in the mid-to-high-20s when given a full-season sample, but that’s just gravy given his specific role.
Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of Rodrigues’ arrival in Toronto is his contract. As a pending RFA, the Leafs would have to extend a qualifying offer equal to Rodrigues’ base salary from last season in order to retain his rights. The only problem is that Rodrigues made $2 million in 2019-20, which is likely far more than the Leafs would like to pay for a projected depth piece. Unless Rodrigues’ first priority on a new contract is security, therefore opting for more term in exchange for a smaller AAV, there’s a good chance Dubas & Co. simply let him walk to UFA and test the market.
They already made out like bandits as it is, after all.
There’s not a ton to say about David Warofsky, frankly.
The 30-year-old left-shot defender will likely never sniff the Leafs’ blueline at the NHL level, coming over purely as some added AHL depth for Marlies coach Greg Moore to work with in his first full season behind the bench.
With 33 points in 51 games for the Wilkes-Barrie/Scranton Penguins last season, Warofsky is essentially a capable American League scorer from the back-end boasting some level of NHL experience that the Leafs assuredly hope will rub off on their stable of young defenders.
This, my friends, is today’s piece-de-resistance.
After forfeiting their own first-round pick in order to rid themselves of Patrick Marleau’s bloated contract last summer, the Maple Leafs turned around and somehow managed to parlay a third-line winger into a higher selection slot in what is thought to be the deepest draft in years.
It really doesn’t get much better than that.
By sneaking back into the first round, the Leafs now gain a valuable chip to help them rebuild a prospect pipeline that has rapidly dried up in recent years due to the organization’s plethora of NHL graduates. And with how tight the cap situation is expected to be league-wide, young, cheap assets are at a premium.
Among the prospects coming in around the 15th pick on draft boards are Mavrik Borque, a shifty centre from the Shawinigan Cataractes; Jack Quinn, a dynamic winger who scored 52 goals last season with the Ottawa 67’s; and Jake Sanderson, a steady left-shot defenceman from the US National Development Program.
There’s also the possibility that Kyle Dubas remains thoroughly on-brand and trades back in the first round to turn the 15th pick into two in the low-20s-to-early-30s.
Either way, getting Pittsburgh’s first-rounder gives the Leafs options. And given their recent draft history, that’s really all they need.
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