The Montreal Canadiens traded their captain Max Pacioretty to the Vegas Golden Knights during the wee hours of the morning, five minutes after even I went to bed. The return? Prospect centerman Nick Suzuki, winger Tomas Tatar and a second-round draft pick in 2019 (via Columbus).
Interesting sidebar – Vegas used another Columbus draft pick to take Suzuki. So in a way they are trading Tatar and the payment they got for taking David Clarkson in expansion, for Pacioretty.
The Golden Knights get: An upgrade on James Neal in terms of offense, and probably an upgrade in the dressing room as well. They just turned David Perron and James Neal into Paul Stastny and Max Pacioretty. So after making the Stanley Cup Final in their first season, they somehow…improved?
The Habs get: A prospect centerman, plus a talented winger with upside and a higher draft pick. GM Marc Bergevin has seen firsthand just how difficult it is to acquire a top-line center. So in the last three months he has focused on adding them via the prospect pool. Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Nick Suzuki are interchangeable as 1A/1B centers. I consider both of them second-line center potential on most teams, but on this one five years from now each of them could flourish. Meanwhile Tatar replaces, albeit in a lesser capacity, Pacioretty on the wing.
Fantasy Players Impacted: Suzuki just went from a near-zero chance of making the NHL this year, to having it actually become likely. Montreal is in desperate need of true centers and Suzuki is a hard worker with wheels and you won’t see him standing still on the ice. The work ethic could be enough to make up for any lack of experience. Read our scouting profile on Suzuki here.
Suzuki just turned 19 a couple of weeks ago and he is lauded for his speed, agility and work ethic. Jesperi Kotkaniemi is 18 years old and considered a little raw. I liken him to a lesser Anze Kopitar, complete with the mystery surrounding his upside early on. He was likely earmarked for Finland in the fall and now the Habs almost certainly won’t rush him. If Suzuki turns in a good season, Kotkaniemi may actually get two more years of development overseas before coming over.
The big question in Montreal now is how this will impact Jonathan Drouin. I had his linemates as Pacioretty and Brendan Gallagher. Now you replace Pacioretty with Max Domi. That doesn’t strike me as a huge downgrade, but it hurts to have a pass-first winger there instead of a shoot-first winger. The second line just got a lot weaker, with Philip Danault possibly centering Tatar, Artturi Lehkonen. All three would fit better as a third line, but beggars can’t be choosers. Perhaps Charles Hudon, Joel Armia or Nikita Scherbak step it up.
Over in Vegas, they spent a lot of assets to put the current roster together and some pundits are actually criticizing them for it. With a first, a second, and a third traded for Tatar, this deal could be looked at as two firsts, two seconds and a third for one season out of Pacioretty. But the reality is that Vegas had the extra assets needed to close the deal. Tatar was an overpay, but Pacioretty wasn’t. He is an upgrade on James Neal, to the point where I wonder if he slots in for Reilly Smith if the Vegas big line ever hits a rut. Coach Gerard Gallant likes to roll out his lines and PP units fairly evenly, so although Pacioretty is now on the second PP unit, his PP ice time will only take a small hit. The upgrade in teammates more than make up for it. But at even strength, is playing with Paul Stastny and Alex Tuch an upgrade to Jonathan Drouin and Brendan Gallagher? I say no. But the improved power play should still mean a few more points this year for ‘Patches’.
Fantasy Players this helps, in order:
1. Nick Suzuki
2. Paul Stastny
Fantasy Players this hurts, in order:
1. Jesperi Kotkaniemi (helps his development, but hurts immediate fantasy relevance)
2. Tomas Tatar
Within the hour I will have this updated in the 13th annual Fantasy Hockey Guide. The line combinations will be adjusted, the PP indicators changed (as needed), the prospect charts (with odds of making the team) adjusted and of course the projections adjusted. That is what you get when you buy the Fantasy Guide (buy it here) and that is what you’ve gotten for the last 13 years (in case you need to see a track record to be convinced). What are you waiting for?
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