Julius Honka

Five players that could be on the move

We don’t typically see a lot of trade activity early on in the regular season, but with parity at an all-time high across the NHL teams may be tempted to make a splash earlier than normal. The St. Louis Blues, for example, have already done so by acquiring Justin Faulk from the Carolina Hurricanes. So, who’s the next one to be moved?

Nobody’s completely out of the playoff race yet, but some general managers have to know that there’s a good chance they won’t be playing meaningful hockey in April. At the same time, there are some good teams that are outside the playoff picture right now, so they may be looking to shake up their roster a little bit.

Let’s take a look at five players that can possibly be on the move in the next little while.

• Jesse Puljujarvi – RW – Edmonton Oilers:

Puljujarvi isn’t playing for the Oilers right now because he wasn’t in love with the contract offer they made him this summer. The 21-year-old had just four goals and nine points in 45 games, but he has a nice combination of size and skill that most teams would kill to have at their disposal. The former fourth overall pick in 2016 has opened the season with Karpat of the Finnish league where he has 11 goals and 18 points in 17 games. Sure, the Finnish League competition isn’t like the NHL, but that’s still an impressive start. The Oilers need some forward depth pretty badly, so they could be tempted to pull the trigger if another team is willing to give them that in return for Puljujarvi’s services.

• Julius Honka – D – Dallas Stars:

Alright, let’s get the Finnish hold outs out of the way. Like Puljujarvi, Honka didn’t sign with the Stars this summer. The 23-year-old is currently playing for Jyp HT Jyvaskyla in Finland. There, he’s accumulated a goal and three assists in six games. The former first-rounder hasn’t played a full season in the NHL yet, but he has two goals and 13 points in 83 games across three seasons. Honka is still a bit of project, but he could be a useful asset for a team looking for a puck-mover.

Eric Staal – C – Minnesota Wild: 

This one might be out of left field, but the Wild are old and they aren’t very good. Staal is now 35 years old, he’s picked up a respectable nine points in 13 games and he has this year and next year remaining on his affordable contract that comes with a $3.25 million cap hit. Staal doesn’t have any trade protection, so there’s a chance he could be on the move. Finding a big center that can score roughly 50 points in a season isn’t easy no matter how old they are. If the Wild make him available, teams would come calling.

Chris Kreider – LW – New York Rangers: 

The Rangers’ rebuild is probably right where it should be right now, but will it continue to include a 28-year-old pending unrestricted free agent? Probably not. Whenever Kreider plays at 75 games in a season, he scores 20-plus goals. He’s big and has pretty good wheels for a player of his size, so you know other teams will be interested in his services. What will it take to get him? That remains to be seen, but rather than losing him for nothing on July 1st, the Rangers might as well just get something for him. Kreider has two goals and four assists in 10 games this season.

Paul Byron – LW – Montreal Canadiens

Byron is off to a difficult start this season, but that doesn’t mean he’s not a useful player anymore. The speedy winger has scored 22, 20 and 15 (in just 56 games) goals over his last three years. When healthy, he’s an excellent penalty killer that’s capable of playing up and down in a good team’s lineup. The tricky part, is that he’s in year one of a four-year deal that will pay him $3.4 million per season. The 30-year-old has spent most of his time on the Canadiens’ bottom-two lines this year and he has just two assists in 13 games. Byron is an important leader on his team, which may mean that he doesn’t get moved at all, but the Habs are deep and need to get bigger.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Stars’ Honka joins Finnish team with NHL opt-out clause

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Julius Honka has joined fellow unsigned restricted free agent Jesse Puljujarvi in Finland as he awaits a trade from the Dallas Stars.

The 23-year-old Honka, who requested a trade last month, has signed with Liiga’s JYP Jyväskylä, the club he where he played youth hockey, on a deal that includes an NHL opt-out clause. Like Puljujarvi, who’s currently with Oulun Karpat, the blue liner has until Dec. 1 to sign with a team before he’s ineligible to play in the NHL this season. Once he plays a game in Finland, he will require waivers if he signs an offer sheet. If he’s traded and then signs, waivers is not required.

The 14th overall pick in 2014, Honka has had a difficult first three seasons in the NHL. He’s played only 87 games with the Stars and saw average his ice time hit 13 minutes in each of the last two seasons. He was a regular healthy scratch last season.

Stars general manager Jim Nill said in September that a trade request had been made and that he has been speaking with other teams. He also acknowledged that both sides are at fault for the lack of Honka’s development at the NHL level.

“Did we handle him right at times? Yes or no, we don’t know. And it’s on the player, too,” Nill said. “You get an opportunity, you’ve got to grab it. Sometimes, things don’t work out. There’s different personalities, but that’s sports and that’s life. Some people fit in, some people don’t, and away we go.”

The return Nill is seeking, according to TSN’s Bob McKenzie, is a second or third-round pick or a young player.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Jets come to short agreement with Patrik Laine

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Apparently Mark Letestu eating mustard on the bench isn’t the biggest Winnipeg Jets-related news of the week. The team came to terms on a deal with star winger Patrik Laine on Friday, signing him to a two-year deal that carries a $6.75 million AAV.

The Athletic’s Pierre LeBrun indicates that the two sides had been batting around different two-year arrangements for at least one week.

A two-year deal with Laine is interesting because he’ll remain an RFA once this is up after 2020-21. The Jets aren’t out of the woods when it comes to RFAs just yet, as Kyle Connor remains a prominent one, but this is a pretty nice break for Winnipeg in the short term. Laine gets to prove himself, but a $6.75M cap hit is team-friendly … for now.

(For what it’s worth, the price tag is high by some estimations.)

The Athletic’s Craig Custance reports the structure as such:

Young players often get an unfair reputation for being all-offense, no-defense, yet that label might be somewhat fair for Laine. The 21-year-old scored 30 goals and 50 points last season, and had 44 goals and 70 points in 2017-18, yet some of his work is offset by all-around struggles. Evolving Hockey’s multiple-season RAPM chart captures a winger who sometimes gives off an “all-or-nothing” feel:

 

Still, goals are valuable, and Laine could easily be worth more than $6.75M per year if he rounds out his game. That also would make his next contract a potential bombshell.

Connor isn’t the only noteworthy RFA who still needs a new contract. Mikko Rantanen could end up with a whopper of a deal with the Colorado Avalanche, while Julius Honka has a very different, interesting situation trying to solidify his career with (or without) the Dallas Stars.

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.