At the conclusion of the 2013-14 season the last place Buffalo Sabres had no top-two centers on the roster. In fact a case could be made that they didn't even have a playoff caliber third-line center either. The position had been a problem for Buffalo since the infamous 2007 off-season and when the Sabres headed into the 2014 NHL Draft with the second overall pick they selected a play-making center in Sam Reinhart who projected out as a top-six center.
The following season Buffalo finished in last place and, once again, had the second-overall pick which they used on franchise center Jack Eichel. It was also announced on the draft floor that the Sabres had swung a trade with the Colorado Avalanche for top-two center, Ryan O'Reilly, which put them in a very interesting situation headed into the 2015-16 season.
In a matter of two seasons the center depth on Buffalo went from nothing to fully stocked. O'Reilly and Eichel held the top two centers on the team which pushed Reinhart to the wing in a top-six role. Johan Larsson played very well for them centering the third line, Zemgus Girgensons is a center who's been playing wing but he's capable of manning the middle in the bottom-six as well, and they just signed center Jacob Josefson for depth. And looking ahead a bit, Rasmus Asplund (2016, 33rd-overall) isn't far away from an NHL roster spot and Buffalo's first round pick in 2017, Casey Mittelstadt, looks as if his NHL future may come sooner rather than later.
Word on the street is that the Carolina Hurricanes are still in looking for a center and that they're willing to offer up one of their defensemen to land one. Lyle Richardson of Spector's Hockey, wrote today that he believes the Canes "will be in the market for a playmaking center."
Richardson uses an article by Chip Alexander of the Charlotte Observer who notes that Carolina owner Peter Karmanos fee;s "the Canes may not have a top-line center but did have 'four No. 2 centers.'” Carolina GM Ron Francis explained in the piece, "If you look around the league and you say ‘This guy is a legitimate No. 1, top-line center,’ there’s probably 16 of those guys in the entire league. They are not easy to find." Francis would go on to talk about his center depth which has Jordan Staal and Victor Rask as their top-two and concluded, “we think we’re fine up the middle. We may not have what everyone calls that ‘elite No. 1 guy’ but there’s not a lot of those guys in the league.”
As Sabre fans know, finding that No. 1 center on the open market or via trade is pretty much impossible so you make due with what you have.
The soon to be 30 yr. old Staal and 24 yr. old Rask had identical stat-lines of 16 goals, 29 assists, 45 points last season. Francis called Staal "a horse for us" and said of Rask "[he] had a little bit of an up-and-down year, but I think he’s hungry and ready to come back and show what he can do over an 82-game schedule." Both Staal and Rask certainly have their places in the grand scheme of things down in Carolina but those weren't exactly ringing endorsements of his top-two centers either.
In looking at the two teams, the Sabres and the Hurricanes seem like a pretty good fit for a hockey trade.
Both Buffalo and Carolina know that Eichel isn't going anywhere and odds are that O'Reilly stays with the Sabres as well. But Reinhart on the other hand?
The 21 yr. old was drafted out of Kootenay as more of a playmaker on offense but ended up as more of a scorer his first full season in Buffalo (23 goals, 19 assists.) Last season his goals went down (17) but his point total went up (47) while the roots of his overall game, his high hockey IQ and his solid two-way play, remained along with his upside.
In an nhl.com pre-draft profile, Tony MacDonald, the Hurricanes' director of amateur scouting, saw what everyone else was seeing in Reinhart, "He’s a very interesting player in the sense that he’s quietly efficient. He kills you quietly,” was what he told Michael Smith of CarolinaHurricanes.com.
MacDonald went on to say, "[Reinhart] is so efficient and so smart...a tremendous distributor of the puck, and he’s very good at finding his wingers. He’s very good in the faceoff circle. He’s an excellent penalty killer and a very good player without the puck.”
In 2015 the Hurricanes selected defenseman Noah Hanifin as he fell to the Canes at No. 5. In Smith's June 12 pre-draft profile on Hanifin, he wrote that the 6'3" 203 lb. U.S.-born blueliner, "is considered to be the best defensive prospect available in this year’s draft. NHL’s Central Scouting ranks him third overall among North American skaters."
Said MacDonald in that Smith piece. “He’s a big man. Plays a very efficient and effective game. He’s a solid defender, can move the puck and skate the puck out and seems to be a solid character guy.
"He’s got some offensive dimension to his game, although that wouldn’t necessarily be his greatest strength at this point in time. There’s not much not to like about Noah Hanifin. He should play in the NHL for a long, long time.”
The 20 yr. old Hanifin just completed his second season in Carolina with more points than his rookie season but with a worse plus-minus rating.
It's interesting to note that both Buffalo and Carolina have held off contract extension talks for Reinhart and Hanifin, respectively, as both will be entering the final years on their entry-level deals.
Would the Sabres and the Hurricanes be willing to re-write their 2014/15 drafts by a trade of those two players?
We know the Canes are in the market for a top-two center and one could also assume that Sabres GM Jason Botterill would like to add to the blueline. Sure, Botterill did revamp his d-corps with the trades for Nathan Beaulieu and Marco Scandella, but Hanifin would represent an upgrade to a d-group that was in need of serious attention.
It all depends on how each side views those two players after two full NHL seasons and whether or not they feel that it would represent a significant long-term upgrade at present positions of need.
That said, it kinda makes sense for both clubs.
Follow me on twitter @boosbuzzsabres