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NHL Trade Deadline: 11 Prospects to Watch in the East

The Hockey News 2/4/2023 Tony Ferrari

After the New York Islanders traded one of their prospects for an immediate upgrade, which of the NHL's other Eastern Conference teams could do the same?

Zac Jones. Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports © Provided by The Hockey News Zac Jones. Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

Prospects are always a popular form of currency at the NHL trade deadline. They are closer to playing NHL games than draft picks yet still hold the allure of being “magic beans” for any acquiring team.

On Friday, we looked at 10 prospects in the Western Conference who could factor into a contender’s deal to acquire the veteran player that could put them over the top.

It's now time to look at 11 prospects and a first-rounder in the Eastern Conference who may pop up in trade speculation as we move closer to the trade deadline. Some are more likely to move than others, but these players are simply options should one of these teams look to upgrade now.

Boston Bruins: Mason Lohrei and Brett Harrison

The Bruins have been the NHL’s best team to this point in the season, but so many have deemed this season their “Last Dance” with captain Patrice Bergeron and longtime Bruin David Krejci in what could be their final season. So much of their core could be at the end of the road in elite production.

With a prospect pool that is as deep as a kiddie pool and a hesitancy to trade Fabian Lysell, their top prospect, the Bruins will be looking to find help on the fringes by dangling their first-round pick and other lower-level prospects. Mason Lohrei and Brett Harrison are among the players who could be on the move.

Lohrei is a defensive blueliner in his sophomore season at Ohio State University. He plays a physical brand of hockey and could be a prototypical future Bruin if they hold onto him. Harrison has the makings of a skilled power forward, with good hands and a solid blend of size and strength. His skating has taken a step in the right direction, but more work is needed in that regard.

Toronto Maple Leafs: Nick Robertson and Topi Niemela

The Leafs need to get out of the first round this year, and they certainly have a team that could do it. They seem set on keeping Matthew Knies in the fold and will be hesitant to trade their first-round pick after being burned in the past. The glaring need on their current roster is a second-line left winger who can play with John Tavares and William Nylander. If they want to acquire one, they may have to move one of the future pieces they hoped to hold onto.

Robertson has shown some offensive tools, from a plus shot to a relentless motor. His skating isn’t as high-end as you’d hope from an undersized player, but he could be an effective scorer in the right situation.

Another player they could look to use as bait is Finnish defender Topi Niemela. He’s excelled on the big stage, winning defenseman of the tournament at the world juniors and flashing his puck-moving potential at the Liiga level when given the opportunity. Niemela could be a sneaky add for a team looking to add a future power-play quarterback and second-pair defender.

Tampa Bay Lightning: Dylan Duke and Gage Goncalves

Another contender without much in the pipeline, the Tampa Bay Lightning have been to the Stanley Cup final three years in a row and will be looking to get there a fourth this spring.

Already fairly set in their first-round matchup with the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Lightning will look to repeat their first-round victory from last year.

Dylan Duke is a tad undersized but battles at the net front with the best of them, showcasing his puck-deflecting skills at the world juniors for the American squad as well as during his two seasons at the University of Michigan. Duke isn’t the most fleet of foot but understands how to get to soft areas and has a non-stop work ethic.

Goncalves has been a slow burn, but he’s started to figure his game out at the AHL level outside of his goal-scoring. He has always had a good shot, so seeing him diversify his attack patterns and use his passing game more is a welcome development. Goncalves could be one of the underrated players that seem to come out of nowhere with Tampa.

Carolina Hurricanes: Alexander Nikishin and Jackson Blake

If the Hurricanes want to make a big splash to add some offensive punch – an area they hoped Max Pacioretty would fill before he re-injured his Achilles – they may have to move a prospect of note. They are one of the league’s best regular-season teams yet again, but they want to take the next step and compete in the playoffs.

Alexander Nikishin could be their most interesting trade chip as the young Russian defender has always had a good defensive game framed around his physicality. But Nikishin has popped offensively this year with 49 points in 57 games in the KHL. The Canes could look to sell high on the defender who has found his offensive touch after primarily operating as a defensive presence to this point.

At over a point per game at the NCAA level with the University of North Dakota, Jackson Blake has been a hot name in the prospect world. He is excellent in the small ice game, winning little battles and understanding how to leverage his skill in tight. Blake will need to continue getting stronger as he lacks greatly in that department, but he’s an intriguing project.

New Jersey Devils: Alexander Holtz and Shakir Mukhamadullin

The Devils have become one of the most exciting and talented teams in the NHL, seemingly overnight. They are led by stars like Jack Hughes and Nico Hischier up front and John Marino and Dougie Hamilton on the back end. They have had solid yet unspectacular goaltending as well.

They could try to carry the momentum of a magical season by adding a big name at the deadline (hello, Timo Meier).

Alexander Holtz would be tough to pry from the Devils, though. There is a future where he and Hughes are a tandem that fills the back of the net with Hughes’ high-end driving and passing ability to match Holtz’s blistering shot. The young Swede hasn’t been able to get there quite yet, so they could move him if they want to upgrade immediately.

Mukhamadullin is a big, rangy defender who has the tools and was a first-round pick a few years ago. He has begun to establish himself as a legitimate blueliner in the KHL this year. Teams always want a mobile, 6-foot-4 defender, which makes Mukhamadullin an intriguing trade chip for New Jersey.

New York Rangers: Zac Jones and a First-Round Pick

The Rangers are ready to win now. They went to the conference final last year on the back of goaltending superstar Igor Shesterkin. The team has improved this year to help Shesterkin, who hasn’t quite been at the same level, although he’s still elite. They have some prospects, but their most intriguing piece could be one of their two first-round picks.

With the Dallas Stars’ first-round draft choice to add to their own in the cupboard, the Rangers could look to entice a rebuilding team to part with a key piece for the Rangers’ run. They could use help up front as their young blueline has developed into one of the most impressive in the league. The extra draft pick is a big weapon at the deadline.

Zac Jones is a skilled and smart defender who can move the puck up ice in transition. He has been bubbling under the surface for the Rangers, getting into a few games this year, but he has yet to crack the young and talented blueline group in New York. That could lead to a willingness to move Jones in a deal that bolsters the group up front. 

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