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NHL Trading Deadline: Five Buy-Low Candidates For the Rangers to Consider

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The Blueshirts are sellers, but these are five players who are potentially clever investments for the team to make.

Dallas Stars v New York Rangers Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

The 2019 NHL trading deadline is highlighted by the selling the Rangers will be doing. However, it also offers a low-key opportunity for the team to add as well. The team has a number of open contract slots available with which to add players, and the rebuilding efforts over the last few seasons give General Manager Jeff Gorton a massive share of futures which Gorton could pull from to add a player who could offer a more immediate impact.

There are a handful of intriguing players who, for various reasons, are available on the trade market. Here are five who could make sense for the Rangers as buy-low targets.

Nic Petan, Winnipeg Jets

Petan, who turns 24 in March, is a forward who has not stuck in Winnipeg for a number of reasons. For starters, Winnipeg is absolutely loaded at forward and so it’s been a struggle for Head Coach Paul Maurice to find a consistent spot for him in the lineup, and when he has it’s been in limited, non-offensive minutes. I also don’t think he’s a great fit for Winnipeg’s style. The diminutive perimeter player does not complement the Jets’ physical philosophies.

Petan was, in my viewings at least, the best player in the entire WHL during the 2013-2014 season. He has great hands and incredible vision. He’s one of the best passers of the puck I have seen at the junior level. His 78 assists in just 73 games led the league, and it’s the fourth-most by a U19 WHL player over the last 20 seasons.

Petan, who was developed at center before moving to wing in the NHL, has produced at every level he has played; the WHL, World Juniors, and AHL, where 52 points in 52 games last season. Every level except for the NHL, that is. He has just five goals and 13 assists in 103 games. “Outside of that, how was the play, Mrs. Lincoln?”

Again, though, Winnipeg has not been able to put him in a role to suits his abilities. Petan’s agent has openly discussed that the Jets are “committed to moving him” prior to this year’s deadline, and it’s hard to imagine he’d cost more than a mid-round draft pick. If nothing else, the Jets are likely adding yet another forward for their playoff run and would need to open up a roster spot to do so.

The Rangers certainly have room in their top-three lines and on the power play to finally give Petan a long run in offensive situations. His skating lacks that extra gear and he might be too weak and one-dimensional for the NHL. The skill is undeniable, though, and he may just need an opportunity to blossom into a middle-six, point-producing forward.

Sonny Milano, Columbus Blue Jackets

Milano is an incredibly skilled forward who has struggled to find a consistent opportunity on a team with too many forwards ahead of him on the depth chart. Whereas Petan is more of a cerebral passer, Milano creates offense with speed and quick hands. He can beat defenders with dekes and has a good wrist shot. He was one of my favorites heading into the 2014 draft and Columbus took him

Last season, Milano scored a perfectly respectable 15 goals in 55 games for the Blue Jackets, but he has spent most of this season in the AHL, producing 21 points in 24 games. The 22-year-old will not be exempt from waivers next season, and so Columbus appears set to cut their losses.

Milano has the skill to become a top-six scoring winger in the NHL. The Rangers would do well to bring the Long Island native back home.

Nikolay Goldobin, Vancouver Canucks

A theme is developing here, as Goldobin is a former first-round pick who has struggled to find his stride in the NHL. The circumstances for him are different, though. Vancouver has a place for him in the lineup, but it seems that Head Coach Travis Green has distrusted him from the start. It’s not completely without reason. His defensive game is severely lacking. Vancouver does bleed shots when he is on the ice.

Still, he may be a classic case of the NHL’s risk-averse nature. While the 23-year-old isn’t perfect and can create some problems defensively, his offensive impact is undeniable. He is a great puckhandler who can set up teammates for high-danger scoring chances. He carries the puck well through the neutral zone. According to the tracking data from Corey Snajzder, Goldobin is consistently one the better players in the NHL at driving scoring chances, and that’s particularly notable given that he often plays bottom-six minutes. Even the generic numbers look pretty good; Goldobin has 25 points in 53 games even despite an unlucky shooting percentage (6.9%).

TSN lists Goldobin as 39th on its Trade Board. It’s not clear exactly how eager Vancouver is to move him nor what specifically they would want in return. So, it’s hard to staunchly advocate for his acquisition. Still, he at least owns the optic of a buy-low candidate. He will always be flawed and may need sheltering and tough love from his coach, but Goldobin is a player who could prove to be a third-line winger who thrives on the power play.

Julius Honka, Dallas Stars

Honka was shuffled between the NHL and AHL during the 16-17 and 17-18 seasons, often spending time in the press box as well. Not much has changed for him this season except that his lack of waiver exemption has forced Dallas to keep him on the NHL roster. He’s played just 29 of a possible 62 games. When he does get into the lineup, it’s in a limited role.

Though Honka has not developed as I had anticipated offensively, his underlying numbers are still strong. He does a nice job of defending the rush and is proficient at advancing the puck out of the defensive zone.

In fact, per Evolving Hockey, Honka leads all Dallas defensemen in Even Strength Goals Above Replacement. That number is probably a bit misleading due to time on ice disparities, but in a general sense, it appears that Dallas performs quite well with him on the ice.

Unlike the other four players on this list, Honka is not known in mainstream outlets to be on the trading block, so instead this is an educated guess. He has struggled to find consistent playing time under now three head coaches in Dallas (one being Lindy Ruff, incidentally). The recent acquisition of the similarly right-handed Ben Lovejoy doesn’t speak to a desire to elevate Honka’s role anytime soon. Now buried on Dallas’ depth chart, he would be a great target for the Rangers. He provides something the team sorely needs; a young, right-handed defenseman who calmly tilts the ice in his team’s favor.

Jason Zucker, Minnesota Wild

I am very doubtful that the Rangers are even discussing Zucker internally at this moment, and that’s rational. He’s not a player who, at face value, fits in with what the team is doing right now. I think acquiring him is at least a hypothetical worth pondering, though, and I’ll try to make a worthy argument.

Zucker, who turned 27 in January, is having a down year - at least from a bird’s-eye view. After setting career highs with 33 goals and 64 points in 2017-2018, he has crashed, registering just 15 goals and 31 points through 62 games this season.

Zucker is creating a similar rate of offensive chances this season compared to his career. In fact, per Evolving Wild, Minnesota’s expected goals with him on the ice are higher than they were last season. It appears that his dip in production is largely a cause of unlucky variance rather than a decline in his play. On a personal level, he has produced four fewer non-empty net goals (14) than expected based on his scoring chances. His shooting percentage is just 8.0% this season despite posting a robust 12.8% in his career prior.

Zucker is 14th on TSN’s trade board, and I’ve had people in-the-know tell me that Minnesota has been thinking about moving on from Zucker for multiple years now. In fact, I have reason to believe his name was peddled to the Rangers during the 2017 NHL Draft in a potential deal involving Derek Stepan.

The Rangers are in an awkward spot with Chris Kreider with no winning propositions. Re-signing him means committing to a massive, long-term contract that will begin as he is approaching 30, and which could become problematic quite quickly. Moving on from him means getting rid of the team’s top skater and further depleting the team’s pool of immediate NHL talent.

Zucker could offer the Rangers an out. He turned 27 in January and is signed at a $5.5M cap through 2023, when he will turn 32. If Zucker’s slump is indeed temporary, as the numbers suggest they very likely could be, then that contract is more than acceptable. Selling Kreider to the highest bidder and then buying low on Zucker from Minnesota would be a creative way to net assets, get younger, and protect the team’s long-term salary cap health while still finding a way to keep a quality top-six scoring winger on the roster. If that’s too much to logistically work out in these final hours prior to the trading deadline, then maybe it’s an idea that could be considered in the offseason.