NHL's 10 most untouchable prospects at trade deadline

Trading prospects is often the cost of doing business for contending teams, but these 10 young players should be completely off limits on March 3.

NHL teams will move almost any asset to improve their Stanley Cup chances. For teams looking to load up, sacrificing a top prospect may feel necessary, and is often the cost of doing business and contending.

Sometimes those prospects never pan out; other times, there’s a mutual benefit for teams, like the historic swap that saw prospect Jarome Iginla exchanged for veteran Joe Nieuwendyk. In that trade, the Calgary Flames got a franchise player in Iginla, while four seasons later, the Dallas Stars won a Stanley Cup with Nieuwendyk earning the Conn Smythe.

Then, there are the moves that haunt an NHL franchise for years. A painful reminder for Toronto Maple Leafs fans over the past decade was watching Tuukka Rask either eliminate the Leafs from the playoffs, or lift major NHL hardware including the Vezina Trophy and a Stanley Cup. When Toronto shipped Rask to the Boston Bruins in 2006, the goalie had yet to play a game in North America. The Leafs' return was Andrew Raycroft, who spent only two seasons in Toronto, never playing a playoff game, and later moved on to work as a studio analyst for Bruins games.

It’s risk versus reward, which has caused some NHL teams to label certain prospects as “untouchable.” These prospects are the blue-chip players that franchises are betting their future success on, and that no increased chance of immediate return is worth sacrificing for.

Here are 10 players that should be deemed untouchable at the 2023 NHL trade deadline.

Brandt Clarke and Quinton Byfield, Los Angeles Kings

The Kings have been central in trade talks this year, perhaps because they’re surprising people on the ice, and also because they have a dearth of young players of interest to other teams. Whether it’s Jakob Chyrchun or another player the Kings are targeting, the organization has stated publicly it does not intend to move top prospects Brandt Clarke or Quinton Byfield.

Byfield looks to be coming into his own this season after the 2020 second-overall pick was perhaps rushed to the big leagues. Clarke played a handful of games in the NHL and AHL this season before winning gold with Team Canada at the World Juniors, and eventually being returned to the OHL. He’s the type of offensive defenseman teams covet.

Los Angeles obviously sees the duo as central to its future. That said, the Kings do have prospects, like 2019 fifth-overall pick Alex Turcotte and 2018 20th-overall selection Rasmus Kupari, who they’d be willing to package. Jordan Spence, who has seen NHL action, is the other prospect to watch if a team seeks a blueliner in return.

Simon Nemec and Luke Hughes, New Jersey Devils

Luke Hughes and Slovakian Simon Nemec are New Jersey’s defensemen of the future. They are the complement to a spectacular group of young forwards including Jack Hughes, Alex Holtz, Jesper Bratt, and Nico Hischier. New Jersey stepped up and made a major statement when it selected Nemec second overall last year, choosing to target an organizational need as it did the year prior with Hughes at fourth overall.

With the Devils certainly targeting a big name addition at the deadline, however, something has to give. If Nemec and Hughes are the defenders of the future in New Jersey, it would not be inconceivable to see the Devils use Shakir Mukhamadullin as bait. He projects as a top-four blueliner as well, and looks ready to join an NHL defense corps next year. Another possible ask is 2021 first-round pick Chase Stillman.

Devils defenseman Simon Nemec is one of the best prospects in the NHL. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Devils defenseman Simon Nemec is one of the best prospects in the NHL. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Alexander Nikishin, Carolina Hurricanes

Rumors have swirled for weeks that Carolina would use Alexander Nikishin to acquire an offensive piece like Timo Meier. According to The Athletic’s Pierre LeBrun, however, Carolina has indicated to inquiring teams that Nikishin is part of its future plans and is staying put. Rightfully so, as the 21-year-old Russian defenseman is having a breakout season in the KHL.

The 6-foot-4 left-shot defender is leading all KHL blueliners in scoring, and is only a few points off the league scoring lead. It’s an incredible evolution for a prospect whose KHL rights expire this offseason, and who could conceivably be contributing to a power-play unit next season in Carolina.

With Nikishin off the table, the Hurricanes may need to dangle NCAA prospects like Jackson Blake and Massimo Rizzo, or if a rearguard is the ask, Scott Morrow.

Simon Edvinsson, Detroit Red Wings

Still entrenched in their rebuild despite signs they are almost ready to compete for a playoff spot, the Red Wings are unlikely to offer any of their prized prospects, whether it be Marco Kasper or Simon Edvinsson. Beyond Moritz Seider, Edvinsson is the next coming of an impact defender in Detroit.

General manager Steve Yzerman is no stranger to bold moves to shape his roster, but at this deadline, those moves could involve trading pieces from the former regime, whether it’s Filip Zadina, pending unrestricted free agent Tyler Bertuzzi, or if contract negotiations remain stalled, perhaps even captain Dylan Larkin. Regardless of who comes knocking in Detroit, Edvinsson is skating with an “off limits” sign plastered to his back.

Shane Wright, Seattle Kraken

Don’t let the bumpy start to this season fool you, Shane Wright is going nowhere. The Kraken are definitely sitting in a buyer's position in their second season in the NHL, but if their expansion draft strategy was any indication, don’t expect them to follow in the footsteps of the Vegas Golden Knights and sacrifice their young assets for a chance to win now.

Seattle looks to be taking a balanced approach, and considering Matty Beniers is the only player born this century currently on the roster, it’s almost a certainty the Kraken won’t budge on Wright, or their top blue-line prospects Ryker Evans and Ty Nelson. What could Seattle dangle? Perhaps one of four players it selected in the second round of the 2022 draft, or future picks.

The Kraken are firmly in the playoff picture but that doesn't mean they should think about trading Shane Wright at the NHL trade deadline. (Photo by Christopher Mast/NHLI via Getty Images)
The Kraken are firmly in the playoff picture but that doesn't mean they should think about trading Shane Wright at the NHL trade deadline. (Photo by Christopher Mast/NHLI via Getty Images)

Jesper Wallstedt, Minnesota Wild

With Marc-Andre Fleury’s agelessness in question and the Wild budget-strapped, the entry-level deal of Jesper Wallstedt and his status as perhaps not just Minnesota’s goalie of the future, but as the top goaltending prospect in the world makes the netminder untouchable.

He’ll likely be in the NHL next season as a backup to Filip Gustavsson, unless Minnesota can convince Fleury to return on a league minimum contract and ride out his youthful play for a final season to allow Wallstedt to mature without rush. Either way, Wallstedt will be in a Wild jersey — not any other NHL sweater — soon.

Logan Cooley, Arizona Coyotes

The Coyotes have been stockpiling young prospects and if they move Chychrun, that supply will almost certainly increase again. At some point, however, the Coyotes will need to bring in quality NHL veterans to surround those prospects, and in turn, ship out a few players they see as expendable to the future.

One of those players will not be Logan Cooley. Cooley is perhaps the top NHL-drafted forward prospect outside the league right now. Arizona was wise not to rush Cooley to the NHL, and he’s been spectacular for the University of Minnesota this season. It’s highly conceivable Cooley emerges as the best forward selected in 2022, and with that title at stake, the Coyotes will protect their top prospect at all costs.

Chaz Lucius, Winnipeg Jets

It’s been an interesting year for Chaz Lucius. He left the University of Minnesota after his rookie season, spent a dozen games in the AHL this year, scored a point per game for Team USA at the World Juniors, was sent to Portland of the WHL where he exploded onto the scoresheet, then was injured, requiring season-ending shoulder surgery.

That said, he’s the best bet (alongside Rutger McGroarty) among an enigmatic group of Jets prospects. The team has struggled to draft and develop elite forwards, watching Brad Lambert’s immense struggles this season and seeing Kristian Vesalainen return to Europe. The Jets will look to add at the trade deadline, but it won’t be — or shouldn’t be — Lucius leaving the organization in return. He looks like the closest thing the Jets have in their system to a future top-six forward.