Oil­ers, Canucks, Preds among eight clubs that could help fill Leafs’ void on blue-line

Saskatoon StarPhoenix - - SPORTS - MICHAEL TRAIKOS mtraikos@post­ twit­

Five games into the sea­son, the Toronto Maple Leafs are scor­ing goals at a his­toric pace. And they are do­ing it with­out Wil­liam Ny­lan­der.

For the Leafs, this means one of two things: They will be an even dead­lier of­fen­sive team when the 22-year-old even­tu­ally signs an ex­ten­sion, or they don’t need him in the lineup as much as they thought they would.

Toronto, led by Aus­ton Matthews’ league-lead­ing nine goals and Mor­gan Rielly’s 12 points, is 4-1-0 with­out Ny­lan­der. In his ab­sence, Kasperi Ka­pa­nen has emerged as a near-per­fect sub­sti­tute on the top line.

In other words, the Leafs don’t re­ally miss Ny­lan­der as much as he prob­a­bly misses them. But they could still use him, even if GM Kyle Dubas is ready to move on with­out him.

While the Leafs’ of­fence is click­ing, their de­fence re­mains a work in progress. The team, which had to score its way out of trou­ble against Chicago and Dal­las, is giv­ing up four goals per game. Ny­lan­der can­not help that stat, un­less the Leafs flip him to an­other team for a de­fence­man.

It’s not some­thing Dubas wants to do, be­cause it sets a bad prece­dent for fu­ture re­stricted free agents. But if done prop­erly — along the lines of the Ryan Jo­hansen for Seth Jones trade rather than the Tay­lor Hall for Adam Lars­son trade — it could ben­e­fit the Leafs in a way Ny­lan­der’s re­turn wouldn’t.

Here are eight teams that might be in­ter­ested in ac­quir­ing Ny­lan­der and have some­thing Toronto would be in­ter­ested in:


Why they need him: The Coy­otes, who have been shut out in two of their three games, can­not seem to score. Put Ny­lan­der in their lineup and that changes dra­mat­i­cally. Who knows, he might even re­vive Dy­lan Strome’s ca­reer. What they could of­fer: Jakob Chy­chrun, who is out with an in­jury, is not a pol­ished de­fence­man by any means. But he’s 20 years old, was a first-round pick in 2016, and scored seven goals and 20 points two years ago as a rookie. With his size and skat­ing abil­ity, he’s got top-two po­ten­tial.


Why they need him: Trad­ing Jeff Skin­ner to Buf­falo for a pack­age of prospects and picks es­sen­tially took 25-30 goals out of Carolina’s lineup. Ny­lan­der, who reached the 20-goal mark in back-to-back sea­sons, would re­place that of­fence and more.

What they could of­fer: The Hur­ri­canes parted with de­fence­man Noah Han­i­fin in a trade with the Flames, but they still have op­tions on de­fence. The most ob­vi­ous one is Justin Faulk, a right-handed shot who logs a ton of min­utes and is still rel­a­tively young. Of course, Toronto’s an­a­lyt­ics de­part­ment is prob­a­bly far more in­ter­ested in 23-year-old Brett Pesce.


Why they need him: Artemi Pa­narin looks like he won’t be re-sign­ing with the Blue Jack­ets, mean­ing there could be a se­ri­ous need for a high-scor­ing winger to play along­side Pierre-Luc Dubois or Alexan­der Wennberg.

What they could of­fer: The Leafs could take Pa­narin back in a one­for-one trade, but the player that suits their needs even more is a de­fence­man. Colum­bus has a lot of them, with Zach Weren­ski the most ap­peal­ing. The 21-year-old, who played along­side Aus­ton Matthews with the U.S. na­tional pro­gram, was the eighth over­all pick in 2015. And he’s com­ing off a year where he scored 16 goals — sec­ond-most among NHL de­fence­men.


Why they need him: Con­nor McDavid needs a wing man who can shoot the puck. Ny­lan­der, who had 205 shots while play­ing mostly with Aus­ton Matthews last sea­son, can do that no prob­lem.

What they could of­fer: It would be funny if the Oil­ers of­fered Adam Lars­son. Af­ter all, GM Peter Chiarelli ac­quired the stayat-home de­fence­man two years ago in ex­change for Tay­lor Hall. Then again, Dar­nell Nurse seems a more rea­son­able fit, es­pe­cially since Dubas ini­tially drafted him when he was gen­eral man­agers of the OHL’s Soo Grey­hounds.


Why they need him: While the Preda­tors’ de­fence is among the best in the league, their for­ward unit could use an up­grade. Nashville didn’t have a 30-goal scorer last sea­son or any­one in the top 50 in points.

What they could of­fer: You’re not get­ting Ro­man Josi and P.K. Sub­ban’s con­tract might be too rich. Mat­tias Ekholm can log big min­utes, chip in goals and help Toronto on the penalty kill. But if the Leafs want a right-handed shot to play with Mor­gan Rielly or Jake Gar­diner, 27-year-old Ryan El­lis could be a nice ad­di­tion.


Why they need him: Los­ing John Tavares took a point-per-game for­ward out of the Is­landers’ lineup. And though Ny­lan­der might be bet­ter suited as a winger, he has played cen­tre and could slot in nicely be­hind Mathew Barzal. Ei­ther way, the Lou Lamor­iello con­nec­tion means Dubas has prob­a­bly been an­swer­ing his calls in the last two weeks.

What they could of­fer: The Is­landers se­lected two blue-chip de­fence­men in this year’s draft (Noah Dob­son, 12th over­all, and Bode Wilde, 41st), who could be a year or two away from NHL duty. But the player the Leafs would likely target is 24-year-old de­fence­man Ryan Pu­lock, a 2015 first-round pick who scored 10 goals and 32 points as a rookie last sea­son.


Why they need him: The Rangers are re­build­ing and could use all the help they could get. Ny­lan­der would in­stantly be the team’s best for­ward, play­ing cen­tre or wing.

What they could of­fer: The Rangers want to un­load Kevin Shat­tenkirk’s $6.65-mil­lion cap hit, es­pe­cially since he’s been a healthy scratch this sea­son. But there’s no chance of that hap­pen­ing. In­stead, 24-year-old Brady Sk­jei has the size (six foot three and 214 pounds), skill (one goal and one as­sist in four games) and cap-friendly con­tract (six years at $5.25 mil­lion an­nu­ally) Toronto cov­ets.


Why they need him: Adding Ny­lan­der to a roster that al­ready in­cludes Elias Pet­ters­son could give Van­cou­ver the sec­ond com­ing of the Sedins. At the very least, it would speed up the re­build.

What they could of­fer: This is a tough one. Chris Tanev, who played along­side Rielly at the 2016 World Cham­pi­onships, might be too old and too banged up. And sev­enth-over­all pick Quinn Hughes has far too much po­ten­tial for the Canucks to give up at this time. Would the Leafs want to take a chance on Olli Juolevi, a fifth-over­all pick in 2016 who has yet to play a game in the NHL? Or could Erik Gud­bran­son be a start­ing point?

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