Let’s talk about Nick Foligno. The point of the Foligno trade was not actually to give people a quick and easy bitter grievance, but was to get some forechecking power on the top six of the Maple Leafs. See also: the signings of Joe Thornton and Nick Ritchie. None of these worked, but that’s not because the top six of the Maple Leafs doesn’t need forechecking power. These three tries didn’t work because the player was either too late in his career, too injured or too slow. You decide who is who, and what I mean by slow.
Kyle Dubas is not afraid to keep trying at the same trick until he perfects it. Hey... that sort of reminds me of Auston Matthews practising his shot. Anyway, Dubas could be, might be, should be at it again. Only this time, Mr Right is available. Zach Aston-Reese is Mr Right. Or, er, left, since he shoots left and can play left wing.
Aston-Reese is about to turn 28, and is a 6’, 200 lb forward who likes to forecheck and get the puck back when the evil people (the other team) have it. He’s also a UFA at a fairly young age for the UFA market, so there will be competition for him.
One potential snag is that Aston-Reese was born in (on?) Staten Island, NY, and his history is all American teams.
He might not want to sign in Canada. American-born UFAs don’t very often, and if not, I’ll respect that because it’s okay to want to be where you’re comfortable. But I hope he thinks about it. Because, well, you might notice something in those stats. He never scores. He never scores in the NHL. He never scored in the AHL. He scored in the NCAA in his last year when he was 22, but otherwise, nothing. He doesn’t have sick hands.
This is not uncommon, finishing skill is pretty rare. But the cool thing about guys who don’t have sick hands, and yet have interesting traits in other areas is...
They’re inexpensive. Evolving Hockey has Aston-Reese at $2 to $3 million depending on term in their contract prediction model. And this is for a guy who can play centre or wing. His other talents are not so much offense generation, but something much more interesting:
That’s three years, 2,000 minutes, not a one season heater. Now a small caveat is in order. Aston-Reese spent most of those 2,000 minutes on the Pittsburgh Penguins, who were rolling Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin out as their one-two punch. While this model accounts for usage, there is no accounting for Sid and Geno.
But I’ll be honest, I saw that chart, wanted the Leafs to sign him, and I fired up Smoke on the Water in honour of that xGA.
Aston-Reese has got this prodigious defensive impact playing well away from the top line on his team. He’s a middle-six guy, who played mostly on the Pittsburgh third line, playing regular competition with irregular linemates. And then they traded him!
He went to the Ducks in the deal for Rickard Rakell at the deadline, and the Penguins have paid Rakell so much now (scoring talent gets paid), they have no room for some of those irregulars. Aston-Reese was the first to be cast adrift. This is exactly the point in your life when you want to try an adventure, Zach. No not Vegas! Stop thinking that way. Imagine playing with John Tavares and William Nylander!
Okay, let’s be honest, Keefe would have to play Pierre Engvall over Aston-Reese for a month or two before he’d grudgingly realize he was being stupid. But we’d get there together. Eventually. There, by the way, is a more competitive offence.
Aston-Reese is the sort of guy who keeps possession, stops goals against, forechecks hard and is totally fine with those other guys getting points while he’s got two guys trying to make him into a pancake on the half-wall.
Check out this great article from his last full season in Pittsburgh:
He also plays centre, and as with Alexander Kerfoot, he’s really versatile. I just think he’s perfect for the Leafs, and the Leafs would be perfect for him. Someone asks about production (gag) at a presser? Keefe just smirks. Someone writes an article about his lack of production (gag), and bloggers rush to explain at length why that’s so not the point. Points aren’t always the point, you know.
The Leafs do not need a power play guy. They might need a PK forward, though, and he’s had some good results there. But considering how hard it is to find a guy who adds the right elements to a forward line that you can’t identify by just looking a points totals, I’d not worry about special teams. Go to that Pensburgh article and look at his defensive impacts in heatmap form. If Santa brings us a new Zach, we’ll have a blue blob of nullification to go with the red blob of death.
Get him, Santa, er Kyle Dubas. Get this clever player.