The Anaheim Ducks and New Jersey Devils came out of nowhere with the second big trade of the NHL season by swapping defenseman Sami Vatanen and center Adam Henrique on Thursday. The deal, which also included Joseph Blandisi and a couple draft picks, is a bit of a shake up by both teams as they reallocate resources.
Like any trade, it will take years to properly evaluate how each team did, but already it’s not difficult to see why they pulled the trigger. This was a bit of intelligent maneuvering by two clubs that realized they had depth to spare at certain positions and needs that could be addressed from there.
Ducks address center woes
The Ducks’ center depth has been wrecked by injuries so far this season. Ryan Kesler has been out since the start of the season and Ryan Getzlaf has been sidelined since late October. Both players are making progress and could return by mid-December, but the team is painfully thin up the middle without them.
Anaheim has been skating Derek Grant, a journeyman who entered this season with zero goals in 86 career NHL games, on the top line with Corey Perry and Nick Ritchie. Behind Grant there’s been Chris Wagner, who entered this season with 13 points in 95 NHL games, and Antoine Vermette, who is a faceoff specialist more than anything at this point.
So the additions of Henrique and Blandisi immediately help stabilize a position that’s been shorthanded since the start of the season. Now Henrique can step in on the top line, and Blandisi gives the team another option lower in the lineup, where the likes of Kevin Roy, Kalle Kossila, and Logan Shaw are getting minutes.
Henrique may not be a stud with 257 points and middling possession numbers in 455 career games, but he has a 30-goal season and five 40-point seasons on his resume. He’s been reliable in New Jersey as a solid middle-six center and provides a clear upgrade from what the Ducks have already.
And while losing Vatanen from the defense isn’t ideal, but it’s also a loss the team should be able to handle. Hampus Lindholm, Josh Manson, Cam Fowler, and Brandon Montour comprise a strong top four, and veterans Kevin Bieksa and Francois Beauchemin will fill the third pairing. (Yes, Bieksa is terrible, but that’s another story.)
Once everyone gets healthy, Anaheim could look very strong up the middle with Getzlaf, Kesler, and Henrique each manning lines. If the Ducks can weather this tough stretch and stay in playoff contention, which is presumably part of why they acquired Henrique, then this team could be really dangerous in the playoffs.
Devils solidify defensive depth
For New Jersey, this trade was all about taking advantage of the hot start to the season. The team suddenly has more forward depth than it ever expected with young players like Nico Hischier, Jesper Bratt, and Miles Wood thriving in significant roles. Rather than another rebuilding year, the playoffs are firmly within the Devils’ grasp now.
So with that newfound forward depth and an underwhelming, thin defense, the Devils managed to wrangle free a talented 26-year-old in Vatanen. He’s been underwhelming recently with the Ducks, but he’s also undeniably gifted and posted 75 points in 138 games during the 2014-15 and 2015-16 seasons. Compared to what New Jersey had before, the upside here is huge.
The Devils’ top pairing of captain Andy Greene and 2013 second-round pick Steven Santini has been brutal this season. In 225 minutes of 5-on-5 action together, the Devils have posted a 38.2 percent Corsi and been outscored, 10-5. Santini, who is in his second season, has been even worse away from Greene. As All About The Jersey recently wrote, he’s been a problem.
It’s not immediately clear how coach John Hynes will align his defensive lineup, but Vatanen’s presence should help regardless. Whether he replaces Santini on the top pairing or simply allows the Devils to lean less heavily on the Greene-Santini combination, it will be help the team a lot.
One possibility is that he’s placed next to breakout rookie Will Butcher, which could be a very dangerous offensive-minded pairing for New Jersey. Again, the big thing here for the Devils is that it gives them another option rather than repeatedly throwing Santini or Ben Lovejoy out there for 18-20 minutes a night despite their struggles.
Overall, it seems like both teams solved problems in this deal using depth they could afford to mine from.