Trading Up At The Draft: The Top Five

Photo: fineartamerica.com

By Thomas Harrington

As I’ve done for the past few years, I’m going to look through every team picking above the Ducks in the first round and seeing if there’s a deal to be made for Anaheim to move up at the draft. Honestly, I don’t really expect any of these deals to actually happen, but they are fun to think about.

Anaheim’s Current Draft Situation

The Anaheim Ducks have two first-round picks in the upcoming NHL Entry Draft: the sixth overall pick and the 27th overall pick. After the first round, the Ducks have five more picks, their own in the second, third, fifth, and sixth rounds, as well as Nashville’s fourth-round pick, acquired from Philadelphia in the Derek Grant trade.

While there will be a number of good prospects available when Anaheim makes either of their first-round picks, the Ducks could be interested in some players who will be chosen earlier. The 2020 NHL Entry Draft is led by winger Alexis Lafreniere and he will go first overall. After him, there are two centers who will likely go second and third: Quinton Byfield and Tim Stutzle. It’s a bit of a toss-up as to which is better, but both are clearly a step above every other prospect except for Lafreniere. After those three, things become a little more muddled. If Anaheim does want one of these three, they’ll need to make a deal to move up. 

While it’s incredibly rare for a top pick in the draft to be traded, there’s always a chance that a deal could be made. However, since 2013, only two top 10 picks have been traded during draft weekend. With that in mind, I’ll look at every team with a first-round pick, and examine if there is a deal for Anaheim to make with them. Not every team will be willing to trade their pick or be interested in what Anaheim has to offer. If I don’t think there’s a deal to be made, I’ll say so and move on to the next team.

As I consider any potential deals, I’ll only use Anaheim players who I think might be traded. Players who have no movement and no-trade clauses will not be included in any of these deals, so Ryan Getzlaf, Adam Henrique, Jakob Silfverberg, David Backes, Cam Fowler, and Josh Manson will not be included. While it’s possible that any of them could decide to waive their clause, going into convincing a player to waive their no trade or no movement clause is something I won’t be considering. Also, players who will be unrestricted free agents this summer will also be left out, so Ryan Miller, Matt Irwin, and Michael Del Zotto won’t be in any potential deals either.

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Occasionally, players on expiring contracts are dealt, but it’s usually for late-round picks for a team to get the jump on negotiating with a player. Expiring contracts certainly aren’t worth first-round picks. It’s unlikely that Anaheim will trade one of their top prospects or young players, but it could happen, especially if it helps get Anaheim into the top three, or a third first-round pick. Anaheim has three core players who do not have any kind of trade protection: Hampus Lindholm, Rickard Rakell, and John Gibson. Of those three, Gibson is completely untouchable. I don’t think Lindholm or Rakell are likely to be traded, but if the right deal comes along, then I do think they could be moved. So you’ll see those two at least considered in some of these proposals, but rarely actually end up in any potential deal I present. I also won’t be too concerned about cap space since teams are allowed to exceed the salary cap by 10% in the offseason. 

One other thing to keep in mind: the Ducks may be wary of shipping a good player to a division rival, or even another team in the Western Conference. While the Ducks certainly do trade with other teams in the west, most of the recent major trades, like Brandon Montour or Ondrej Kase, were with teams out east. More minor moves, like Korbinian Holzer, Luke Schenn, or Pontus Aberg, were with Western Conference teams.

1st Overall Pick – New York Rangers

The New York Rangers were swept in the play-in round by Carolina but ended up being the big winners of the draft lottery. While it would be shocking to see them trade the first overall pick, it could happen. Lafreniere is going to be a great player, but most don’t expect him to be a generational talent like Connor McDavid. Because of that, there is a chance that New York could trade the pick if they are absolutely blown away by the offer. The other reason why they might consider trading the first pick is that the Rangers are deep at left wing with both Artemi Panarin and Chris Kreider signed to long-term deals. That doesn’t mean the Rangers have to or should trade the top pick, but it means that they can consider it if they are given the right deal. 

If the Ducks do want one of the top five picks, the first thing that they have to offer up is the sixth overall pick. I do think there are some deals that Anaheim could make by not trading away a first-round pick, but for any of the top five picks, the sixth pick will have to be part of the package. None of these teams are going to want to drop very far in the draft. If the Ducks do want this pick, they will have to trade one of Rakell or Lindholm. Since New York is so deep at left-wing, including Rakell in the deal wouldn’t make much sense to them. However, while New York has a nice defense, I do think the presence of Lindholm would improve their team. So the deal from Anaheim’s perspective would start with Lindholm and the sixth overall pick. That’s probably still not quite enough to get a deal done.

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After Mika Zibanejad, the Rangers aren’t incredibly deep at center, so they may ask for one of Anaheim’s many young centers. Adding in Trevor Zegras would probably be too much for the Ducks to give up, and he may not be quite NHL ready. However, Sam Steel would be a nice addition to New York’s roster. While he didn’t take a huge step this past season, I do think he’ll develop into a good second-line center, and would fit in nicely behind Zibanejad.

So the deal would be the sixth overall pick, Lindholm, and Steel for the first overall pick. That’s an incredibly steep price for the Ducks to pay for Lafreniere, and I think the Rangers would still want more, probably the 27th overall pick and another prospect. So I don’t think there is a deal to be made with New York unless Anaheim gives up far more than they probably should.

2nd Pick – Los Angeles Kings

The Los Angeles Kings hold the second overall pick after being one of the winners of the draft lottery. Deals between Anaheim and LA are few and far between. The last deal between the two teams was in 2008 when Anaheim sent Sean O’Donnell to LA for a conditional pick, and that was only the second deal ever between the two rivals. The only way Anaheim would have a chance at this pick would be if they gave up even more than what New York would ask for the first pick, and it just wouldn’t be worth it. A deal between Anaheim and Los Angeles won’t be happening for the second overall pick.

3rd Pick – Ottawa Senators

The Ottawa Senators hold the third overall pick, and it is the first of three first-round picks that Ottawa has. If Anaheim wants one of Byfield or Stutzle, this is the deal that they have to make. The Ducks and Senators do have a long trading history, most notably the Bobby Ryan deal back in 2013. Since then, there have been a few minor deals between these two teams. Ottawa has had a rough few years, and, as a result, have a ton of prospect depth. Between that and their three first-round picks, they are a team that I think could consider trading the third overall pick if they get something that will help their team this coming season. For the Ducks, once again, the deal would start with the sixth overall pick. In the NHL, Ottawa has the bones of a solid defense, but a player like Lindholm would make a big difference.

However, I think the team’s forwards are what need more help. So the deal for Anaheim would start with the sixth overall pick and Rakell for the third overall pick. That’s a lot of Anaheim to give up to move up just a few spots in the draft, but given the expected future talent level of Byfield and Stutzle, it might be worth it. And I do think it would take a player like Rakell to get this deal done. Ottawa has a great prospect pipeline; what they could use is NHL talent to help their young players along. However, I’m still not sure if Ottawa would give up the third overall pick for Rakell and the sixth overall pick, and I don’t think Anaheim should go much higher than that. So I don’t see Anaheim getting any of Lafreniere, Byfield, or Stutzle in this draft.

4th Pick – Detroit Red Wings

The Detroit Red Wings have the fourth overall pick. Once the big three are off the board, the draft opens up, and there are a number of good players who could go anywhere from fourth to eighth, or even later. With so many prospects being around the same level, it doesn’t make a ton of sense for Anaheim to trade up. However, if Martin Madden and Anaheim’s scouting staff have identified a player that they really like and don’t think they will be available at sixth overall, it could make sense for a deal to be made. It wouldn’t make sense to trade a core piece to move up a couple spots, but an extra pick or prospect could be worth trading if there is a prospect that Anaheim really likes. For Detroit, they are coming off of a historically bad season and looking to get as many picks and prospects as possible. It doesn’t make a ton of sense to trade out of the top five, but if it gets them an extra pick or prospect and they only drop two spots, they might consider a deal. 

Detroit already has three second-round picks this year and has two in 2021, so they probably wouldn’t be interested in another second-round pick. They also have two third-round picks this year and two in 2021. Instead, I think Detroit would like a prospect who is a little further along in their development. I don’t think Anaheim would want to give up one of their top prospects, but they’ve drafted well over the last few years and have a number of players who could be NHL ready in a year or two. If Detroit wants a forward, I think they’d like Benoit-Olivier Groulx. He’s just finished his junior career and will be turning pro this season. In Anaheim, that means he’s likely San Diego bound. However, he might be able to crack Detroit’s lineup and get into the NHL as early as this season. Groulx isn’t an elite scorer, but he did average over a point per game in his final two seasons in the QMJHL. However, what I think makes him so appealing is that he is a very defensively responsible center. He won’t be a team’s top center, but he could work very well on the second or third line.

If the Red Wings want a defenseman, then I think Josh Mahura could work for them. He has 28 games of NHL experience over the last two seasons and will be fighting for a full-time NHL job in Anaheim this coming season. In Detroit, he just might get it. So the deal would be the sixth overall pick and one of Groulx or Mahura for the fourth overall pick. Detroit picks up an NHL-ready defenseman or a forward who will be shortly, and only drops a couple of spots, while Anaheim moves into the top five of the draft. Unless the Ducks really like a player and think they are clearly better than the rest, I don’t know if it makes sense to be trading one of Groulx or Mahura, but I think this is the most likely scenario so far.

5th Pick – Ottawa Senators

Ottawa holds the fifth overall pick, their second top-five pick of the draft. They have four second-round picks in 2020 and three more in 2021. I don’t think Anaheim would want to give up one of Mahura or Groulx to move up only one spot in the draft. Instead, I think they’d offer up a prospect who isn’t quite so NHL-ready, someone like Trevor Janicke or Blake McLaughlin. Both are in the NCAA and neither are assured of a future in the NHL. Alternatively, Anaheim might offer up a third-round pick to move up the one spot and see if the Senators bite on that. So the deal would be the sixth overall pick and one of Janicke, McLaughlin, or a third-round pick for the fifth overall pick. Again, this only makes sense for Anaheim if they’ve identified a player that they really like and worry that Ottawa will take him.

Final Thoughts

Top five picks are rarely traded, and while Anaheim has a chance to make a deal happen because of the sixth overall pick, I don’t think a deal will happen with any of the four teams picking above the Ducks. I do think that the best odds are with Ottawa since they have two picks in the top five, but it would probably be the fifth pick and not the third pick. For Anaheim, if they can’t get a top-three pick, based on how things are looking right now, it probably wouldn’t make sense to give up a lot to move up a spot or two. However, if Anaheim does try and move up, it means that they have identified who they think is the fourth-best prospect, and I trust Madden and the scouting team if they make that call and decide to move up a spot or two to get the player they really want.

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September 20th, 2020