According to Larry Brooks of the New York Post, the New York Rangers are actively looking to trade “frustrated” defenseman Nils Lundkvist:
The Rangers are engaged in an accelerated effort to trade Nils Lundkvist after being notified that the 22-year-old Swedish defenseman is unlikely to report to camp in the absence of a deal, The Post has been told by multiple sources.
(From “Rangers trying to trade frustrated Nils Lundkvist”, The New York Post, 9/1/22)
The 22-year-old defenseman is coming off of his first season in North America. He spent time in both the NHL and the American Hockey League (AHL) during the 2021-22 campaign, recording one goal and four points through 25 games with the Rangers. With the Hartford Wolf Pack of the AHL, he had three goals and 15 points through 34 games. The Swedish defenseman was the 28th pick of the 2018 draft.
As a right-handed defenseman, it’s no wonder Lundkvist is looking for a new opportunity. The right side of the Rangers’ defense is set for the foreseeable future with captain Jacob Trouba, 2021 Norris Trophy winner Adam Fox, and Braden Schneider (a 2020 first-round selection who played 43 regular season games for the Rangers as a rookie this past season) already in place. Lundkvist now hopes to land with a team that can give him a better shot at cracking the NHL roster.
The Detroit Red Wings are a team that can provide Lundkvist with that opportunity. Because of that, along with a few other reasons, they should already be calling Rangers general manager (GM) Chris Drury to see what it will take to acquire the young defenseman.
Lundqvist Impressed Overseas
The 2020-21 season was a big one for Lundkvist. While playing for Luleå HF of the Swedish Hockey League (SHL), he recorded an impressive 14 goals and 32 points through 52 games as a 20-year-old. His 14 goals was the most among defenseman that year, which resulted in him winning the Salming Trophy, awarded to the top Swedish defender in the SHL. That was the same season that Red Wings defenseman Moritz Seider was honored as the SHL’s Best Defenseman; during that season, if you were talking about SHL defenders, you were either talking about Seider or Lundkvist.
That season capped what was an overall impressive run in the SHL, going back to the 2017-18 season. In all, Lundkvist had 30 goals and 78 points through 166 SHL regular season games – all before turning 21 years old. The SHL is a hard league to hold down a spot in as a teenager, and it is even harder to produce offense in given the focus the SHL places on two-way play. It was his ability to stand out at a young age that made him a first round draft pick, and it was his ability to stand out and improve season after season that made him one of the Rangers’ top prospects heading into 2021-22.
Lundqvist’s Fit with the Red Wings
Under GM Steve Yzerman’s tutelage, the Red Wings have steadily built up their prospect pool (THW recently ranked it as the third-best pool in the NHL) and the overall depth on their NHL roster. After toiling in the bottom of the standings since 2017, Detroit suddenly looks like a team that could surprise a lot of people this season after making several additions this offseason. However, one look at the team’s overall depth chart reveals one specific position that does not boast the same kind of depth that every other position does: right defense.
The right side of the Red Wings’ blue line currently consists of Seider, Filip Hronek, Gustav Lindstrom and the recently-injured Mark Pysyk. Out of the three that are expected to be on the opening night roster, Hronek is the oldest at just 24 years of age. Seider is the top-line, two-way defender that probably has another level or two to reach before he’s done developing. Hronek is the offensive-minded defender that is now the longest-tenured member of the team’s blue line, and Lindstrom is the stay-at-home defender that is at his best when you hardly notice him on the ice. This isn’t the best group there is in the NHL, but it’s far from the worst.
Looking into the prospect pool, the Red Wings’ top right-handed defensive prospect is Antti Tuomisto, a 2019 draft pick that recently signed a two-year deal to return home to Finland after spending the last two seasons with the University of Denver. He’s a big-bodied defender that was drafted for his combination of size and skill. However, since he was taken in the second round of the 2019 draft, his progress has stagnated. The hope is that a return home is exactly what he needs to regain some confidence in his offensive game.
Beyond Tuomisto, there really isn’t anything remarkable. The right side of the Red Wings’ defense is already young, so it’s not like they need to worry about replacing veterans anytime soon. However, the lack of internal options means the team essentially has to ride or die with the three guys they have. As much as Seider seems to be a player Detroit will build around for the next decade and beyond, the other two have their fair share of critics.
By bringing in Lundkvist, the Red Wings would add depth to a position that they currently lack depth in. The theme of Detroit’s offseason has been “competition”; Yzerman brought in a number of players this offseason with the goal of promoting competition for roster spots in training camp. Adding Lundkvist would promote competition on the right side, and it would provide Hronek, specifically, with direct competition for his role. Both he and Lundkvist are offensive-defensemen, and they both have work to do in developing their defensive game. Having both on the roster may seem a bit redundant, but if they can bring out the best in each other – much like what the hope/plan is for the team’s goalie tandem – that will give Detroit two exciting point-producers on the blue line, which will then give the team options in terms of how they want to construct their roster in future seasons.
Of course, the move would also push Lindstrom to elevate his game if he wants to hold on to his spot in the lineup.
What Do the Rangers Want?
In exchange for Lundkvist, the Rangers will likely be looking for a player that is in a similar boat (good prospect that is just on the outside of the roster), though they likely would prefer a forward rather than a defenseman. The Red Wings don’t have a ton of players that fit that description (Filip Zadina might have fit, but his new three-year extension suggests that he isn’t going anywhere, at least for now.) However, there is one player that might make sense, and it’s a player that was drafted just two picks after Lundkvist: Joe Veleno.
Veleno, the 30th pick of the 2018 draft, just completed a 66-game rookie season with the Red Wings where he had eight goals and 15 points while averaging a little over 13 minutes in ice-time. The 6-foot-1 center, who was once granted “exceptional status” to play in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League as a 15-year-old, has yet to really make a name for himself among the Red Wings’ top young players. He showed glimpses of outstanding two-way play last season, but he wasn’t able to make much of a difference playing in a bottom six role for most of the season.
Still just 22 years old, Veleno is the type of player that could use an elevated opportunity to really see what he has to offer. He routinely showed an ability to maintain puck possession in the offensive zone, and if he had enough time to establish some chemistry with some high-octane, offensive wingers, he could see his point total this season greatly surpass his total from this past season. However, with Dylan Larkin, Andrew Copp, Pius Suter and Michael Rasmussen all on the Red Wings’ roster, there really isn’t a ton of ways that the young center can climb up the depth chart.
A Veleno-for-Lundkvist swap should be a solid framework for a deal. It is known that the Lundqvist wants out of New York, so that should depress Lundqvist’s value on the open market, and Veleno offers value as an NHL-ready forward that has potential to become something more than the fourth-line center he has been to this point. The only thing that could really affect this framework is how many suitors there are on the market and what type of offers are being made.
Red Wings, Rangers Can Help Each Other Out
Beyond Seider and Hronek, the Red Wings look a little thin on the right side of their blue line. Despite adding Vincent Trocheck in free agency, the Rangers could still use a young center that still has room to develop. While I wouldn’t call this a match made in heaven, the ingredients are all there for these two Original Six teams to come together an make a deal that addresses the needs of both teams. With just a couple of weeks to go before the start of training camp, the time to act is now.
I am a Western Michigan University alum whose passion for hockey knows no limits. Dr. Pepper enthusiast. Catch me and my fellow Red Wings writers’ YouTube show “The Hockey Writers Grind Line” which drops every Saturday.