We got a trade that seemingly came out of nowhere on Thursday afternoon as the Minnesota Wild shipped winger Nino Niederreiter to the Carolina Hurricanes for centre Victor Rask. Both players are having down seasons with Niederreiter having just 9 goals and Rask posting just 6 points in 26 games. The latter had been injured for the first couple months so maybe it’s just a slow start for him.
Rask is in his age-25 season and is signed for three more years with an AAV of $4-million. Niederreiter is in his age-26 season and also signed for three more years, but he’s carrying an AAV of $5.25-million.
On the surface, it fills two needs: Carolina gets a winger who can play on any of the top three lines and Minnesota gets a third line centre for this season, allowing them to move Charlie Coyle to the wing. Let’s dig in.
Flat-out, Niederreiter is a first-line winger. No, he doesn’t have the sheer talent of guys we think of top-tier wingers like Alex Ovechkin, Patrik Laine, or Nikita Kucherov. However, since the start of the 2016-17 season, out of 228 forwards with 2000-plus minutes at five-on-five, he sits tied for 49th in primary points (goals and first assists) per 60 minutes at 1.56. Wingers within 0.03 primary points/60 of Niederreiter in that span: Rickard Rakell, Matthew Tkachuk, Brendan Gallagher, Sebastian Aho, T.J. Oshie, Vladimir Tarasenko, and Alex Radulov. And that’s with Niederreiter not producing to his ability for about a calendar year now.
The thing is, Nino's better defensively than he is offensively; since the start of the 2016-17 season, he has the best rate of shot attempts against relative to his teammates in the league among active players (both Sedins are still in the top-10). The rest of the top-10 is: Artemi Panarin, Patrice Bergeron, Mark Stone, Teuvo Teravainen, Chris Kreider, Sean Couturier, and John Tavares. He's in pretty good company both offensively and defensively.
He’s truly one of the best two-way forwards in the league. And not a “maybe he can get 10 goals” two-way forward, either. He has three 20-goal seasons and has done so while never averaging 16+ minutes a game in any single campaign.
For me, it’s hard to get a real grasp on Rask. He bounced all over the lineup in his Carolina tenure (a low-scoring team, at that) and had been injured for a bit under half the season to date. With that said, he was poor defensively with the Hurricanes, coming last among their regular forwards in suppressing shots relative to his teammates in the time frame outlined above. In fact, he was near the bottom of the league in this regard, in line with names like Tom Pyatt and Phil Kessel. Not great.
He also managed under 1 primary point per 60 minutes over the last 2 ½ seasons. That’s poor. And he doesn’t really drive the play offensively, either, at best being average in that regard.
All told, if Rask can eventually fit in as Minnesota’s third line centre and produce, that should be a win. He won’t (or shouldn’t) be tasked with defensive assignments.
Who This Helps
Carolina Goaltending – Adding an elite two-way winger will never hurt that team’s goaltending.
Jordan Staal – The recent play of the top line with Micheal Ferland probably means the end of Staal on the top line. Adding Niederreiter gives Staal a competent scoring winger (whenever Staal returns from injury).
Luke Kunin and Pontus Aberg – The recently-acquired Aberg was likely a reason for the move. The team now has a surplus of wingers and could have been playing Nino on the fourth line, which is a waste. It also should assure Kunin of top-9 slotting for the foreseeable future.
Who This Hurts
Minnesota Goaltending – The inverse of the reasoning for Carolina’s goaltending.
Jordan Greenway – The big winger hasn’t really found his footing yet in the NHL and adding Rask means either one of Charlie Coyle or Joel Eriksson Ek moves to the wing. My guess is it’s Coyle, pushing Aberg to the left side, with Greenway moving to the fourth line.
Joel Eriksson Ek – This gives Minnesota ample depth at centre, meaning he’ll likely be the 4C from here on out. That’s not good for the balance of this year but Rask provides insurance in case Eric Staal isn’t in a Wild uniform next year, and that would allow Eriksson Ek to be the 3C in 2019-20.
Justin Williams – If this plays out as I have it in my head, this team would run Ferland-Aho-Teravainen and Svechnikov-Staal-Niederreiter. That would push Williams to the third line and away from their talented forwards. However, don’t discount the possibility of Svechnikov being pushed to the third line in a sheltered role, allowing Nino-Staal-Williams to be a shutdown line. Niederreiter is usually on the right side but he can play both wings.
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