NHL Draft: Five most impactful draft-day trades in the past five years

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The NHL Draft is one of the most entertaining nights on the hockey calendar. General managers from around the league are not only selecting players from a pool of bright, young talent, but there’s also potential for a big trade on the draft floor.

Over the last half-decade, there have been many transactions on this important day, but there are certainly a few that stand out. Here are the five draft day roster swaps that made the biggest impact in the last five years.

5. 2013 – Devils trade 2013 1st-round pick (9th overall) to Canucks for Cory Schneider

Vancouver had a goaltending conundrum back in 2013. Roberto Luongo wanted out, while the Canucks wanted to make Corey Schneider their starter. The only problem was that no team seemed willing to take on Luongo’s hulking eight-year deal (which was worth $42.64 million).

The fix? Keep Luongo and trade Schneider to the New Jersey Devils, a team that, at the time, was looking to make a goaltending transition of their own. With future Hall-of-Famer Martin Brodeur beginning to show his age, Schneider became his heir apparent.

With the 9th overall pick, Vancouver selected Bo Horvat of the London Knights.

The winner: As the trade stands now, a case can be made for both sides, but I’d say the Devils have reaped more benefits from this trade than the Canucks. Although I do think Horvat will develop into an extremely successful centre, and the Canucks should end up getting the better of this deal, Schneider has been everything the Devils had hoped for since the trade. I know he has struggled in the past two seasons, but he has posted three seasons with a sub 2.30 GAA, and as many seasons with a save percentage above .920, since arriving in the Garden State.

4. 2015 – Islanders trade Griffin Reinhart to Oilers for Penguins’ 2015 1st-round pick (16th overall) and a 2015 2nd-round pick 

The Islanders were perceived to have a wealth of defensemen on their roster at the time of this trade. Johnny Boychuk, Nick Leddy, Travis Hamonic and Calvin de Haan occupied their blueline before management deemed 2013 fourth-overall pick Griffin Reinhart to be expendable.

Edmonton turned out to be the perfect suitor — a team that had struggled in its own zone, the Oilers had added one of the top defensive prospects available.

The Islanders used the first round pick they had acquired to draft Matthew Barzal of the Seattle Thunderbirds. The team then coupled the second-round pick it had acquired from New York with a third in that same draft to acquire the 28th overall pick, selecting Anthony Beauvillier of the Shawinigan Cataractes.

The winner: Well, this one is not very close. Reinhart has played a total of 30 games with Edmonton since the trade and has not impacted the team’s blueline at all. On the other hand, Barzal played in all 82 games for the Isles this season en route to recording 22 goals and 85 points in his rookie season. He won the Calder Trophy earlier this week at the NHL Awards and is viewed as one of the top young centres in hockey. Because Beauvillier was not acquired exclusively in this deal, he will not factor into the decision, though he has been a great depth piece in Long Island.

3. 2016 – Canadiens trade Lars Eller to Capitals for 2017 and 2018 2nd-round picks

After falling to Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins in the playoffs, the Capitals were looking to add to their depth. Only six players on their team recorded four points or more in the team’s 12 post-season games, so Brian MacLellan hit the trade market and acquired Eller from the Canadiens.

At the time of the trade, Montreal was already close to acquiring the Danish centre’s replacement. Eller was considered expendable because Montreal was on the verge of acquiring Andrew Shaw from the Chicago Blackhawks, a move that would add some grit to the Canadiens lineup.

The winner: It’s still too early to tell who is going to walk away as the victor in this trade but at this point, Washington has clearly seen a great early return on this deal. Eller played a very important role for the Caps’ during their recent Cup run. The eight-year pro tallied seven goals and 18 assists as the Capitals’ third-line centre. Montreal selected Joni Ikonen with the pick they received from Washington in the draft last year and will have the 62nd overall pick in this years entry draft.

2. 2017 – Blackhawks trade Artemi Panarin, Tyler Motte, and a 2017 6th-round pick to the Blue Jackets for Brandon Saad, Anton Forsberg, and a 2018 5th round pick

The Chicago Blackhawks were looking to maneuver around impending salary cap issues. With Artemi Panarin’s long-term contract status uncertain, and his play warranting a hike in pay, Chicago was looking to acquire someone who’s contract was a little more salary cap friendly. Former Blackhawk Brandon Saad seemed to make a lot of sense. Already familiar with the club, Saad, while being paid equal to Panarin, had two more years on his contract, allowing the Blackhawks to control his cap hit.

Columbus, on the other hand, was a little more flexible with its cap situation. Prior to the trade, the Blue Jackets had nobody on their roster earning upwards of $6 million. This meant the team could take on Panarin’s current contract and possibly pay him more when it came time for an extension. The team lost a little bit of size in the deal, but there was no question the Jackets could benefit from the skill advantage Panarin possessed.

The Blue Jackets selected Jonathan Davidsson with the sixth-round pick they received from Chicago, and the Columbus fifth rounder that Chicago acquired will be the 142nd pick in the 2018 draft.

The winner:  There’s no question that the Columbus Blue Jackets have walked away as the winners of this trade, and last year’s stats tell you all you need to know. Brandon Saad produced 18 goals and 35 points in his first year back with the Blackhawks, while Artemi Panarin scored 27 goals and 82 points, giving him three-straight seasons with 70 points or more. The rest of the pieces have hardly impacted the trade as Forsberg was just ok last year in place of an injured Corey Crawford, and Tyler Motte is now playing for the Vancouver Canucks.

1. 2014 – Penguins trade James Neal to Predators for Patric Hornqvist and Nick Spaling

James Neal was a key figure in the biggest NHL Draft trade in the past five years. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
James Neal was a key figure in the biggest NHL Draft trade in the past five years. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

When hockey pundits throw around the term ‘hockey trade,’ I’m assuming this is the kind of trade they are talking about. Although every trade made in the National Hockey League is a hockey trade, rendering the saying utterly useless, we’ve somehow come to understand what the term really means.

In what was a draft-night shocker, the Pittsburgh Penguins decided to part ways with James Neal. An extremely dangerous goal scorer, Neal had scored 87 goals in the three seasons prior to his departure, with one of those seasons being shortened by a lockout. What made the move so shocking on the Penguins’ part was that it seemed the Whitby, Ontario, native was entrenched as a key member of the team’s core.

The main piece that Nashville sent to Pittsburgh was Patric Hornqvist. When the transaction went down, the former seventh-round pick was viewed as a gritty forward who could score goals. In his six NHL seasons before being moved, Hornqvist had reached the 20-goal plateau four times, while reaching 30-goals once. Spaling was viewed as a utility forward capable of playing on the wing or at centre on any one of the bottom two lines.

The winner: This trade panned out to be as even as it can get for the two clubs involved. Although Spaling only wound up playing one year for the Penguins, the two main chips of the trade performed as advertised. In Neal’s three seasons with the Preds, he scored 77 goals and finished with 136 points. Hornqvist meanwhile, has tallied 97 goals and 195 points in four seasons. You can make the case for Pittsburgh, given that the team has won two Stanley Cups since — including taking down Nashville in 2017, and the fact that Hornqvist is the only player that hasn’t moved since the transaction — but for what both teams received solely based off the moving parts of this deal, I am going to call it even.

With the NHL Draft just mere hours away, there’s a great chance we see a trade or two emerging from the draft floor. And as we’ve seen in the past, these trades are capable of vaulting a team to championship status, or sinking them to the bottom of the league.

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