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First-round picks could move at NHL trade deadline

Carolina's Eric Staal and Winnipeg's Andrew Ladd are just two of the players who could fetch a coveted first-round draft pick at the 2016 NHL trade deadline.

The prevailing wisdom ahead of next Monday’s NHL trade deadline is that first-round picks, for years the currency of the realm, won’t be in play.

“You can’t afford to give up seven years of an affordable young player in exchange for seven weeks of veteran for a playoff run anymore,” one team exec told a couple of weeks ago. “Unless it’s that one last piece, someone that will put you over the top, you can't afford the risk.”

It’s hard to argue with that logic. For lesser teams, first-round picks are the key to building a winning foundation. For better squads, they can produce affordable young talent to complement a roster of higher-paid veterans, a must in the salary cap era.

But with the big day right around the corner, those first-rounders might not be as closely guarded as we’re being told.

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In fact, there are at least four pending UFAs whose price tag might require a first in order to pry them away from their current clubs: Loui Eriksson, Andrew Ladd, Eric Staal and Mikkel Boedker.

For a contending team, parting with a pick in the lower third of the first round in exchange for a player who can be a difference maker down the stretch could be a gamble worth taking. It would be no surprise then to see the Blackhawks, Capitals, Ducks or Kings surrender their picks.

But there are a couple of non-contending teams who might be inclined to part with theirs as well ... at least, if the right long-term option comes along.

The Bruins have two firsts to work with this year, their own and the one acquired from San Jose in last summer’s Martin Jones trade. More important, they’re coming off a draft in which they made three selections in the first round and three more in the second, a bounty that left the organization flush with high-end prospects.

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Those assets could take three to five years to ripen though, and the B's have some pressing needs to address. They’ll want to compensate for the expected loss of Eriksson, a player they’d love to keep but can’t fit under the cap. They’re also in the market for a young, NHL-ready defenseman who is capable of stepping into a top-four role and a right wing who can push Jimmy Hayes and Brett Connolly down the depth chart. If one of those players comes with an element of cost certainty, parting with a first-rounder makes perfect sense.

The Islanders are coming off consecutive drafts in which they made a pair of first-round selections. Their 2014 picks Michael Dal Colle and Josh Ho-Sang haven’t matured as hoped, but the progress made this season by 2015 selections Matthew Barzal and Anthony Beauvillier allows GM Garth Snow some flexibility. It comes down to how he views the pending free agency of Kyle Okposo and Frans Nielsen. If he sees their moving on as inevitable, he may go all-in for one last run with this group by adding a forward like Ladd or Staal. Or he could look to compensate for their impending departures by looking for a younger winger who could step into a middle-six role next season. 

And then there’s Arizona. The Coyotes made two first-round picks last June (Dylan Strome at No. 3, Nick Merkley at No. 30) and they have two to work with this year thanks to the 2015 trade that sent Keith Yandle to the Rangers. Their own will be in the lottery, making it untouchable, but they could use New York’s to cover for the expected loss of Boedker in a deadline deal.

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So, who might “the right player” be? The Rangers are believed to be taking calls (though not actively shopping) Chris Kreider. Same can be said about Toronto’s Nazem Kadri and Tampa Bay’s Alex Killorn. Sami Vatanen and Hampus Lindholm of the Ducks have been mentioned as well.

Hard to believe that any of them would be moved ahead of the playoffs, but it’s impossible to rule it out, either ...  especially if there’s a first-round pick involved.   

• The bad news keeps coming for the St. Louis Blues. The team learned on Monday that goalie Brian Elliott has been placed on long-term injured reserve after being hurt in Monday’s loss to San Jose and will miss at least a month of action. Jake Allen just returned from his own lengthy stint on IR and can handle the No. 1 job, but the Blues might be looking for a more experienced netminder than Pheonix Copley to handle the backup role. Have to wonder if a player like Buffalo’s Chad Johnson might be of interest. He’s on an expiring contract and wouldn’t cost much to acquire (possibly as little as a fourth rounder). And he’s been solid this season, posting a 13-14-3 record with a 2.50 GAA and .916 save percentage despite playing behind a young and inconsistent Sabres team.

The Sharks are looking to fill a similar hole, and given how tight they are under the cap, Johnson might be an option for them as well.

• Have to believe that if the Kings truly are willing to part with forward Adrian Kempe in order to land Boedker, as rumored, that deal would have been done yesterday. At 19, Kempe would mesh perfectly with the young core in Arizona. His prime attraction is his speed—he’s Barry Allen-fast—but he also boasts a heavy shot and plays a strong north/south game. He has a projectable frame (6' 2", 187 pounds) which he uses willingly in the corners and in front of the net.  And he’s made a smooth adjustment to the North American game, impressing in his first half-season with AHL Ontario. There are questions about his offensive upside, but he’s a safe bet to play a third-line role with the potential to mature into a top-six winger. That's a heck of a package. Hard to see the Kings letting him go.

The numbers game

• On Monday, the Sharks had three players (Joe Thornton, Logan Couture, Tomas Hertl) score more than one goal apiece in the same game for the third time in the last three seasons.

• The Capitals became the first team in NHL history to win 44 of their first 58 games of a season and the first to earn 92 or more points through their opening 58 since the 1979-80 Flyers chalked up 93.

• Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin’s 514th career goal moved him past Jeremy Roenick into 37th on the NHL’s all-time list. He is within one of tying Pierre Turgeon for 36th.

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