I know I’m stating the obvious here, but the Toronto Maple Leafs traded two AHLers and a 2018 second-round pick to the Montreal Canadiens for Tomas Plekanec and AHL forward Kyle Baun. The Leafs acquired a capable bottom-six center and a 26-year-old AHL forward. But who did they give up?
An AHL All-Star one year ago, 23-year-old Kerby Rychel has become a one-dimensional player for the Marlies this season. He regularly plays on the fourth line at even-strength with a specialization of being the net-front presence on the power play. Last season, in 73 games, Rychel had 11 power play goals and 19 power play assists, accounting for 56% of his total production (19-33-52). This season, in 55 games, Rychel has 4 goals, and 9 assists on the power play, accounting for 43% of his total production (10-20-30).
Over the last three seasons — his age 21, 22, and 23 seasons — in the AHL, Rychel has in fact slowed down. 0.730 points per game in 2015-16, 0.712 pt/g in 2016-17, and 0.545 ppg in 2017-18. After sporting a career-best season on the second line last year, Rychel has slowed largely in part because of his reduced minutes. In fact, rychel currently has as many total points this year as he had power play points last year (30).
Kerby Rychel’s AHL stats
Rychel’s entry-level contract is expiring this summer. If he was still on the Marlies, it would definitely be a debate whether the Leafs even qualify him considering the high demand for roster spots they have. Igor Ozhiganov and potentially a defenseman like Keaton Middleton or Nicolas Mattinen need contracts this summer.
For the Montreal Canadiens, it’s a different story. Rychel might walk into Laval and immediately be one of their best forwards. Apart from Chris Terry, Rychel has the team’s highest points per game ratio among qualified forwards and should be an important piece for the team in the future. As for the NHL, a 23-year-old isn’t a prospect anymore in my eyes. If Rychel hasn’t made it yet, the odds are long that it happens in the future. Then again, if the Habs tank — which it looks like they should — he would be a good soldier during the bad years.
Rinat Valiev has evolved into one of the most dependable defensemen the Marlies have. The Marlies have been short-stocked when it comes to defensemen that have the experience to handle a majority of defensive minutes, Martin Marincin and Andreas Borgman are the first pair, but it leaves Valiev with one of two Swedish rookies — Liljegren or Rosen — who the Marlies would probably much rather play slightly less taxing minutes considering they are in a new league under a new system.
I have liked Valiev for a while, I think he brings everything Mike Babcock has coveted for his 7D position. He’s got good size and he’s considered a capable defensive defenseman who can also skate and move the puck. That’s what he’s been for the Marlies for the last couple years now, but especially this year.
The soon-to-be 23-year-old former third-round pick in 2014 has been called up to the NHL twice. The first time he played 10 games during the tail end of the Matthews tank season recording zero points but with positive shot and goal metrics. This season, Valiev was called up to replace Morgan Rielly when the Leafs’ top defenseman got injured but did not play.
For a team like the Montreal Canadiens who covet defensive-style defensemen, Valiev might find himself on the Habs roster sooner rather than later. Valiev steps into Laval as their highest-paid defenseman on a core that now only has five defensemen on NHL contracts, the rest are on AHL/ECHL deals. The Canadiens have a penchant for rewarding good training camps in September so if the Habs like what he brings in the preseason, don’t be surprised if he makes the team as a 5-,6- or 7-defenseman.
2018 2nd round pick
The draft pick that the Leafs gave up has no conditions attached to it and will most likely be near the back-end of the second round if the Leafs continue to be a top-5 team in the league.
At this current moment, the pick is #58 overall — with 31 teams in the league, the second round goes up to 62 picks — but is within one point of 60th and 57th in either direction. The position of this pick most likely won’t be determined until the last day of the regular season. Only first-round picks are re-arranged based on playoff results, meaning this pick will not change regardless of whether the Leafs get eliminated in the first round or if they win the Stanley Cup.