Sep 26, 2021; New York, New York, USA; New York Islanders right wing Leo Komarov (47) and New York Rangers defenseman Nils Lundkvist (64) battle for position during the first period a preseason game at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Andy Marlin-USA TODAY Sports
Nils Lundkvist asked for a trade last season after the New York Rangers sent him down in January. This was revealed by his agent Claude Lemieux, who cited a lack of near or longterm opportunity for the young defenseman as the reason.
“We did request a trade when Nils was sent down last year,” Lemieux said in text to Forever Blueshirts. “We hope something can get done in the next few weeks.”
While a trade before the season starts is a possibility, it really isn’t GM Chris Drury’s style to rush any moves. You saw that with Vitali Kravtsov, who publicly asked for a trade after refusing to report to the Hartford Wolf Pack last September. Not only is he still here, but will be given a chance to win a role on team.
Lundkvist also has two years left on his entry-level contract at $925,000. That kind of cost certainty will only help his trade value.
New York Rangers prospect Nils Lundkvist
The New York Rangers and Nils Lundkvist have reached a critical juncture. After anxiously awaiting the 2018 first-round pick (28th overall) to come over from Sweden, it took just one season to see him on the outs.
Prior to Lundkvist making his way to the Rangers, he was considered one of the top prospects in the organization. In his final SHL season, he won the Salming Trophy as the league’s best Swedish born defenseman recording 14 goals and 32 points in 52 games. That was the most goals from a defenseman as a 21 year-old player or younger in the SHL’s history.
Lundkvist then competed at training camp winning the 2021 Lars-Erik Sjoberg Award as the top rookie. A smooth skater with a great shot, he was also positionally strong in all three zones. Being a natural right-handed defenseman and his ability to quarterback the Rangers second power play unit was the key differentiator as to why he beat out Zac Jones to win the 6th defenseman spot.
“It’s been an adjustment,” Nils said after his first exhibition game. “You need to play more at the central of the ice. Back home (in Sweden) when you’re in the dots you have a lot of space. When you’re out there, you’re close to the boards – so it will be an adjustment. It’s getting better and better.”
That adjustment apparently was coming too slowly and eventually led to him being occasionally scratched. Playing with struggling veteran left-defenseman Patrik Nemeth didn’t help his cause. Lundkvist went on to play 25 games with the Rangers last season, recording 1 goal and 3 assists before being sent down to the Hartford Wolf Pack in January in favor of Braden Schneider.
Lundkvist’s lack of opportunity
Lundkvist’s concerns about a lack of opportunity are warranted, especially since he’s right-handed. The Rangers right defense is cemented for the next few seasons with newly named captain Jacob Trouba, Norris Trophy winner Adam Fox, and the aforementioned Schneider.
Obviously, he could attempt to switch to the left side to make the team, but Zac Jones and Matthew Robertson are higher on the depth chart. Both are natural lefties and have experience playing with Schneider in Hartford.
In doesn’t take a sage to read the tea-leaves and see that the likelihood of Lundkvist cracking the Rangers lineup anytime soon is low.
So what will the 22 year-old defender fetch on the open market? Who will be interested? These are important questions and the answers will likely determine if Drury will trade him now or at the deadline.
Trading Nils Lundkvist
If the Rangers are going to trade Lundkvist before the start of the season, you could safely assume it will be for a similar type prospect. Drury will ask for a highly-ranked player, most likely a center that was selected in the first-round and still has a year or two on their entry-level contract.
Of course, that isn’t set in stone and not many teams are going to be jumping at trading a top center prospect. That’s why I believe this could take much longer and Drury may see more value in saving a top trading chip for the deadline on a rental like Patrick Kane.
For argument’s sake here’s several teams that either had or may have interest in Lundkvist.
Vancouver Canucks: When JT Miller was being shopped last season, Lundkvist’s name was believed to be the Rangers prospect defenseman of choice to go the other way. Vancouver was said to be asking for Schneider (and a lot more), which is likely why no deal was made. The team is still looking for help on RD and Lundkvist remains a target for them. Maybe he could go the other way for Bo Horvat, a pending UFA center at the deadline.
Montreal Canadiens: Everyone assumed that once Jeff Gorton took over the Habs he would make an offer for Kravtsov. If a proposal was made, it was obviously not a competitive one. Now everyone expects the GM that drafted Lundkvist will be all in on acquiring him. While that may be the case, the Habs are looking to dump veterans for prospects in their rebuild not swapping them.
Toronto Maple Leafs: They certainly need a puck moving defenseman on the right-side that is cost controlled. But do they have anything to offer? While the Rangers have prospects ready to step in on the left-side with Schneider, Toronto does have RFA Rasmus Sandin unsigned. That would make an interesting swap, but if Sandin is looking for a big contract, the Rangers don’t have cap space to accommodate.
Detroit Red Wings: They are another team on the rebuild like the Canadians. They certainly would love to add Lundkvist to their mix on defense, I’m just not sure I see a fit. The Hockey Writers’ Devin Little recently suggested 22 year-old center Joe Veleno. That may be of interest to Drury to improve the depth in the organization and act as an insurance policy for Filip Chytil, who only has one year left on his deal.
Chicago Blackhawks: All signs point to the Hawks for me. Let’s face it, the New York Rangers are a Stanley Cup contender and adding Kane at the trade deadline is going to put them over the top. Remember, Kane controls where he goes and if he only wants to go to the Rangers he may not take too much more than Lundkvist and a 1st round pick to get it done.