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February 28, 2012
From Daigle To Datsyuk
Young Players On The Move

by Corey Pronman

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With Monday's deadline passing, two deals took place involving significant young players and prospects.

Vancouver dealt center Cody Hodgson and defenseman Alexander Sulzer to Buffalo.

Cody Hodgson, Center

Hodgson has gone down a winding road for the duration of his prospect career. The 10th overall pick in 2008 has been OHL MVP and had a tremendous World Junior showing but has also experienced the lows of serious injuries and a difficult transition to the pro level. Out of all the major prospects to change places leading up to the deadline, he is the best player. Despite scoring a half a point per game this season, Hodgson has struggled at points this year in being able to handle the NHL level despite facing a low level of competition (as measured by the Corsi Rel QoC metric), but projects to be an above-average scoring second line center with defensive value when it's all said and done…which he was never going to be stuck behind Henrik Sedin and Ryan Kesler. Hodgson is a very creative player with high-end hockey sense but he still needs to work on his skating, body, and being able to handle an NHL-level physical game—the latter of which is normal for a player his size and age.

Hodgson now has a future where he has a clearer path to obtaining a top six job. Derek Roy is the top line center and Luke Adam isn't going anywhere for Buffalo, but per Bob McKenzie, Derek Roy was part of trade talks this week. His contract ends at after the 2012-13 season, and depending on how Adam and Hodgson look over the next 15 months he could play a big part in the Sabres future up the middle in terms of decisions they need to make. Hodgson will get a good opportunity to succeed, though, but will need to start playing well possession-wise versus notable opponents in a short amount of time.

Alexander Sulzer is depth player who is more of a throw-in for this deal. While the Sabres moved Gragnani, part of that was due to the defense jam that was going on in Buffalo. One can argue about the (lack of) effectiveness some of Buffalo's defensemen are bringing, but there clearly wasn't a lot of room and top youngsters Brayden McNabb, T.J. Brennan, Drew Scheistel, and Mark Pysyk will start to push for full-time jobs soon as the team rebuilds. Gragnani was being used as a specialist and on a team that was floundering, he didn't seem to be a significant long-term option after bursting onto the scenes during last year's playoffs.

Overall, Buffalo seemed to be building for the future with this deal and opening up a lane for their up and coming defenders. The total value of what they gave may have been a little more than what they got, but they also received the best player in the deal.

Buffalo dealt right wing Zack Kassian and defenseman Marc-Andre Gragnani to Vancouver

Zack Kassian, Right Wing

Kassian entered his first pro season with a body that was more than ready for the professional game. When he's done developing, he has a chance to be one of the league's premier physical forwards. He's more ready to log heavy minutes and fill a bottom line role than Cody Hodgson is, which made this deal a good short-term move for Vancouver as they prepare for the playoffs. He has slightly above-average offensive upside as between his skating, hands, and occasional flashes of playmaking giving him enough skill to eventually become a decent second line scoring winger. Expect him to bring a whole lot of physicality right away, a little scoring touch, and to cross Brendan Shanahan a lot throughout his career.

Marc-Andre Gragnani, Defense

Gragnani is a very skilled defenseman who can create highlight reel moments with his skating and puck skills. Gragnani plays a high risk type of game though and is not a "defense" man by any means. He will need to be used against weak opponents, planted on the power play, and start a lot in the offensive zone to be fully utilized. Luckily though, Alain Vigneault is a master of knowing how to fully utilize his players with zone starts and will likely start him so much in the offensive zone, he'll need to be reintroduced to Luongo after each game. I wouldn't expect him to get much ice time outside of offensive opportunities, but Aaron Rome is a UFA next year.

Between the two players Vancouver received, the Canucks got more total value than what went the other way by a semi-notable margin, although giving up Cody Hodgson is tough after the high hopes they had for him. Waiting for Hodgson to develop wasn't ideal though for a team contending now, so getting a more NHL-ready Kassian for their wing is what they need. Overall, I liked this deal for both teams.

Tampa Bay sends left wing Carter Ashton to Toronto

Carter Ashton, Left Wing

Seeing Carter Ashton being dealt was very surprising to me. The majority of NHL sources I talked to have pegged Ashton as Tampa's best or second-best prospect (excluding Brett Connolly) and I would have thought Tampa would have asked for more. While I don't agree with the industry's assessment, it was my perception he had more value than being a straight up asset exchange for Keith Aulie. The first round pick in 2009 has logged a lot of PK time in the AHL this season and has shown the ability to be very capable defensively while also spotting in front of the net on the power play here and there. He's a high-end skater and shooter but limited with the puck exhibiting a very simply puck game this year after being a little more creative in the WHL, bringing more value in the transition game, and corner work. He likely tops out as a fringe second, to a very good third line winger who could make the NHL jump soon.

Keith Aulie, Defense

I've been generally impressed with Steve Yzerman for the beginning of his tenure with Tampa Bay, especially at how he's made a conscious effort to acquire young talent and take risks, but I did not understand this trade at all for Tampa. Once a prospect worth dreaming on, Aulie has really hit a wall in his development. One pro scout said this on Aulie, "He can't do anything with the puck, and he can't think the game. His only positive is his size." Aulie has really struggled in the AHL and NHL this year, and Tampa should only really be hoping he becomes an average third pairing defender at his peak.

This deal was a head scratcher because it seems it should have been an "instant no" proposal from Tampa's perspective. Chalk this deal up as a win for Toronto as they continue to pile up young assets into a system that becomes more impressive every year.

Corey Pronman is an author of Hockey Prospectus. You can contact Corey by clicking here or click here to see Corey's other articles.

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