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NHL Trade Chatter: Prospects Montreal Canadiens Should Target



Kent Hughes Montreal Canadiens GM Habs news

If the Montreal Canadiens hockey ops department plays their cards right on the trade market, they should be able to replenish their prospect pool before the 2021 NHL Trade Deadline on March 21.

The Canadiens are already dominating the NHL trade rumour circuit and will continue to do so as the trade deadline approaches. Defencemen Ben Chiarot, Brett Kulak and Jeff Petry, and forwards Arturri Lekhonen and Christian Dvorak, have all been bantered about regularly on the rumour circuit. Outside of Chiarot and Kulak, all of the players said to be in play have term on their deal or are controllable assets. Moving players on term would likely give the Canadiens more leverage to construct a hockey deal that includes more proven assets than draft picks.

“We’re not going to trade every long-term contract, every player that’s got term on his deal that is going take him into his thirties. That’s unrealistic right now,” Canadiens general manager Kent Hughes said in an interview with The Athletic’s Arpon Basu on Feb. 2. “But if we have opportunities to move players, we’ll move them. So ideally, a large part of what we’re going to do is to be acquiring assets, be it young prospects or young hockey players or draft picks.”

It’s clear that Hughes doesn’t necessarily want to undergo a long rebuild and would value an established prospect over the uncertainty of a draft pick. That was the approach he took in the Tyler Toffoli trade with the Calgary Flames, where the Canadiens received a first-round pick, a fifth-round pick, prospect Emil Heineman, and forward Tyler Pitlick in return for Toffoli who is in the second season of a four-year contract that carries a $4.25 million cap hit. Hughes preferred to include Heineman in the deal, rather than include one of two second-round picks the Flames currently own.

“I would think, all things being equal if we could have the 13th overall pick in this year’s draft or the 13th overall pick from last year’s, or two years ago, we’ll take the guy (from) two years ago, he’s closer to being ready,” Hughes added. “Clearly, your timeline is shortened when you pick up prospects instead of draft picks.”

With teams like the New York Rangers, Philadelphia Flyers, Dallas Stars, Pittsburgh Penguins and Vegas Golden Knights linked to the Canadiens in recent NHL trade reports, let’s take a look at who could be of interest to Hughes in his negotiations.

Vitali Kravtsov

Vitali Kravtsov is a very interesting case, as the former 2018th 9th overall pick was a selection of current Habs executive vice president Jeff Gorton when he was the general manager of the Rangers. Kravtsov’s road to the NHL has been pretty rocky, as he’s had difficulty getting consistent playing time when suiting up for the Rangers. Kravtsov is a little lost in the shuffle in New York, due to playing behind veteran wingers like Artemi Panarin and Chris Kreider, all while fighting for ice time with top prospects Alexis Lafrenière and Kappo Kakko. Kravtsov and the Rangers had come to an agreement that the youngster could forgo being loaned to the AHL, in favour of being loaned back to his KHL club, Chelyabinsk Traktor.

Kravtsov plays a very unique style, blending exceptional skill and vision to make him an effective playmaker. With Jeff Gorton at the helm and Nick Bobrov as co-director of amateur scouting, Kravtsov could be targeted to place him in Montreal’s top-9 immediately with guaranteed powerplay time. New head coach Martin St. Louis would be able to provide Kravtsov with the necessary environment to thrive and grow into the top-6 player he was drafted to be.

Morgan Frost

Morgan Frost, selected in the first round of the 2017 draft at 27th overall, is another case of a talented youngster requiring a change of scenery and an opportunity for consistent utilization. The 22-year-old has gone back and forth between the NHL and AHL for the last three seasons, due in large part to Philadelphia’s depth at center. He doesn’t have much to learn playing in the AHL, as he’s put up near point-per-game numbers for the Lehigh Valley Phantoms this season. He’s however been unable to hold down a consistent top-9 spot over the last 30 games he’s played for the Flyers this season.

A lot of the blame can be placed on coaching, as the constant line shuffling and the bottom-six deployment is not a proper way to develop a skilled forward. In Montreal, he’d have ample opportunity to play in a top-9 setting, as the Canadiens are currently rather thin at that position. Frost could be given immediate playing time and offensive utilization while he continues to grow his game under a more offensive-minded coach. His noted friendship with Nick Suzuki, his childhood friend, and former Team Canada teammate, could make the link between Frost and the Canadiens even more probable.

Grigori Denisenko

The 15th overall pick in the 2018 draft hasn’t gotten off to the start many were expecting of him when coming over to North America. In his last 45 games in the AHL, he’s only been able to accumulate just 27 points and that has left many wondering whether or not he’ll eventually reach his projected ceiling as a top-6 player down the road. It’s worth noting that the Florida Panthers have been sharing their AHL affiliation with the Tampa Bay Lightning (2020) and the Carolina Hurricanes (2021) for the last two seasons, meaning that ice time is rather hard to come by for the younger players. Then there’s also the incredible depth that the Panthers boast on the wings at the moment, making it virtually impossible for any forward prospect to earn a call-up.

Despite the lack of opportunity, Denisenko remains a prospect of note. He plays a very skilled game predicated on quick thinking and great hockey sense, which is exactly what the Canadiens are lacking. He’s also a very rare right-shooting winger who plays at left-wing, allowing him to be more of a triggerman than just a simple playmaker. With Lekhonen and other wingers potentially on the move by the NHL Trade Deadline, a player like Denisenko would be able to join the ranks of the Montreal Canadiens. He could play out the rest of the 2021-2022 season to get familiar with the concepts, and could even join the Laval Rocket for the playoffs, finally giving him top-line utilization in the AHL.

Pavel Dorofeyev

Dorofeyev, the Golden Knights’ third round pick in 2019 at 79th overall, is a player I could see the Vegas dangling for the right player and in the right context. Since coming over to North America last season, Dorofeyev has continued to improve his game in the AHL with the Henderson Silver Knights, going from 13 points in 24 games in 2020-2021 to 35 points in 42 games in 2021-2022. The 21-year-old left-winger has a well-rounded game and has many offensive tools that help him create offence, especially on the rush.

Dorofeyev was a player that first-round talent that fell in his draft year due to concerns that he would remain in the KHL. Now that he’s in North America, he is likely Vegas’ best trade chip and would immediately provide the Canadiens with a top-scoring prospect, something their prospect pool sorely lacks at the moment. Dorofeyev would be able to bring his offensive flair and his knack for finding the back of the net to a Canadiens team that is starving for goals.

Pierre-Olivier Joseph

The former Arizona Coyotes 2017 1st round pick has had difficulty breaking into the NHL since being acquired by the Pittsburgh Penguins back in July 2019. The mobile, left-shot defenseman has been solid, two-way player for the Wilkes-Barry/Scranton Penguins this season in the AHL, putting up eight goals and 20 assists for 28 points in 40 games. What’s more impressive is that, outside of newly acquired Alex Nylander, Joseph has the best points-per-game ratio for the Penguins this season in the AHL and is the farm club’s unquestionable #1 defenseman.

One of the main reasons Joseph hasn’t been able to solidify himself in the NHL has been the Penguins’ depth on the left side of their defense with Brian Dumoulin and Marcus Petersson holding down the top-4, while Mike Matheson is out with injury. It makes far more sense to have Mark Friedman on a third pair playing 15-17 minutes a game, rather than interrupt Joseph’s development in the AHL, but make no mistake, Joseph is on the cusp of NHL readiness. The Canadiens, who want to become more mobile and skilled on the backend could realistically look at Joseph to complement sophomore Alexander Romanov and top prospect Kaiden Guhle as the club’s future on the left side of their defense moving forward.