As reported by WGR 550, It should come to no surprise to many Buffalo Sabres fans that Bob McKenzie has added to the Ryan O’Reilly speculation on his podcast and has mentioned the Carolina Hurricanes as potentially having interest in the 27-year-old centerman.
It’s quite obvious as to why Carolina would be interested in O’Reilly. Both Jordan Staal and Elias Lindholm both finished with under 50 points last season, while Ryan O’Reilly can likely produce that as a floor. There is no question that there is a fit for O’Reilly in Carolina as they need a more offensively productive centerman. There is also a fit for Buffalo as they could use one of Carolina’s big trade chips in both Jeff Skinner, left wing, and defenseman Justin Faulk.
Many fans of both teams can probably think of reasons to not to deal O’Reilly, Faulk, or Skinner. As Buffalo fans, we know what Ryan O’Reilly brings to the Sabres, and we know the type of game he plays. From Carolina’s perspective, what exactly does Justin Faulk and Jeff Skinner bring to the table, and are there any reasons why Carolina should not pursue Ryan O’Reilly?
The Case Against O’Reilly for Carolina
First, the Hurricanes have Martin Necas coming up through their system. Necas was drafted 12th overall in the 2017 NHL Draft and was one of the most impressive players at the World Juniors last year along with Casey Mittelstadt. Necas, unlike Mittelstadt, could still be a year or two away from the NHL.
Even without Necas, they could have some internal help coming down the middle with prospects Nicolas Roy, Lucas Wallmark, Aleksi Saarela, and Janne Kuokkanen who just had a solid rookie season in the AHL as a 19-year old. If the Hurricanes are patient, they might be able to fill their center void internally without paying the massive price that Ryan O’Reilly will cost. Sometimes patience pays and sometimes the best deals are the ones you don’t make.
Their major trade chips are Justin Faulk and Jeff Skinner, and you can make a case for keeping one, or both, just like you can easily make a case to keep O’Reilly. If Carolina wants to acquire O’Reilly, it will likely cost them Faulk or Skinner as a centerpiece.
With Andrei Svechnikov potentially coming into the fold, they might be able to potentially part ways with Jeff Skinner more easily than Justin Faulk. Carolina has plenty of wingers and plenty of young forwards in their system to replace Skinner. I think if you’re Carolina, the player it would hurt more to lose would be Justin Faulk because he occupies the top pairing role for the Hurricanes, and trading him would also leave a big hole on the right side with Brett Pesce and Trevor Van Riemsdyk as remaining right side defenders.
There could also be the possibility after a Justin Faulk trade that they ask either Noah Hanifin or Haydn Fleury to move to their off hand. Many will also note Hanfin has a potential big trade chip, I have omitted him for the purpose of trading Ryan O’Reilly as trading a 21-year old defenseman who will retain affordability for the next few years, for a 27-year old centerman with a 7.5 million dollar cap hit over the next five years.
Why should they trade for O’Reilly?
As much as a case can be made for Buffalo to keep O’Reilly, and for Carolina to keep Skinner and/or Faulk, the fact is these are two teams who are in need of a shakeup. A surprising jump in the NHL draft lottery into the second overall slot is going to likely land them Andrei Svechnikov and he should make an immediate impact in the NHL next season.
The Hurricanes may be inclined to try and get Svechnikov, and untouchable forward Sebastian Aho a better centerman to play with next season. Maybe even a centerman that shares a lot in common with new Hurricanes bench boss Rod Brind’Amour as a faceoff ace, Lady Byng nominee, and two-way workhorse that logs over 20 minutes a night like Brind’Amour did for so many years in Carolina.
While the Hurricanes may have a potential future star in Martin Necas, he’s still a year or two away, and this is also an organization that desperately needs to shake up its roster, and get back into the playoffs. This is also a team that is not that far off from the playoffs, and Ryan O’Reilly might be the upgrade they need at center to get over the hump.
When you have two organizations that are in dire need of shakeups on the roster, you tend to get good trading partners. Buffalo needs more speed, left-wingers, and more offensive production from the defense.
Looking at Carolina’s Big Trade Chips
Skinner certainly fills the need for speed and a scoring left wing. He’s more than capable of producing 20-25 goals a year for you as a floor, and with a center like Jack Eichel on his line, he could get north of 30 goals on a consistent basis. Skinner would be a nice addition for the Sabres, but it doesn’t come without hurdles.
First, he as a no-movement clause. Will he waive his no-movement clause to come to Buffalo? Even if he does, the other problem Buffalo would have is that he is entering a contract year next season. In order to make a deal like this work, Carolina might have to add some additional parts, or it might need to be a type of deal where Skinner agrees to an extension upon trade.
If Skinner doesn’t want to waive his no movement clause, maybe a third team gets involved for a three-way deal to get a different player.
Skinner’s is at the peak of his career at age 26, and I personally couldn’t think of a better linemate for Jack Eichel. Although you’re not getting a player who offers all of the extras like Ryan O’Reilly does, you are getting a guy who’s off year is 24 goals, and putting him on a line with Eichel could form a very explosive and dynamic scoring duo.
Faulk is the other big part that Carolina could look to move this summer. For me personally, Faulk is the player I would rather have because we need more offensive production from the blueline. They could also use another right-handed defenseman in the top four that is capable of playing over 20 minutes a night especially with Zach Bogosian often injured. Justin Faulk does hold the top pairing role for the Hurricanes, and there is no question he would bolster the Sabres defense, especially from an offensive standpoint.
While Rasmus Dahlin will certainly help improve the blueline’s offensive production, adding yet another guy who can provide some offense would help mold the defense closer into the unit Housley wants to play.
Housley has been described in the past as a guy who coaches offense to his defenders, and Justin Faulk fits that perfectly. When you think about it, O’Reilly going to Carolina to be coached by a former two-way center and faceoff ace in Rod Brind’Amour is all too fitting. It’s also fitting that the offensive-minded Justin Faulk would be coming to Buffalo to be coached by fellow Minnesota native and a guy who was one of the games most dynamic offensive defenseman in Phil Housley.
He’s also close to O’Reilly’s age unlike a guy like Noah Hanifin who is 21-years-old and will be affordable for the next two years. O’Reilly is 27, and Faulk is 26. However, Justin Faulk still doesn’t come without his share of question marks.
While he’s been a productive defenseman in his career, he did regress this season with just eight goals and 31 points in 76 games and is coming off a down year. Possession wise, he recorded a 55.7 CF%, +1.6% CF% rel on the season. He’s a career positive possession player. He is on a great contract for the remaining two years with a 4.83 million cap hit. Faulk is immensely valuable to the Hurricanes as their most experienced defender, and a guy who is second in total ice time logged among defenseman only behind Jaccob Slavin. His slow start last year had to be aggravating for Canes fans.
Faulk still hasn’t been the player he was a couple years ago when he had 16 goals and 37 points in 64 games, and a change of scenery might help him get back to that level. However, the 31 point off year he recorded last year for Carolina would easily be welcome on the Sabres. Like Sam Reinhart, Faulk also got off to a slow start last year, but really picked up his play after the new year.
If there are players added to a Carolina deal in a package, or if for some reason an O’Reilly deal does not include Skinner or Faulk, but draft picks and prospects, then these are some players and prospects who could fit nicely in a package for Buffalo to keep an eye on.
Brock McGinn, LW, 24
If the name sounds familiar, he is the younger brother of former Sabre Jamie McGinn. McGinn is a gritty, bottom six winger with speed who might still have a little more offensive upside. He recorded 16 goals, 30 points last season and also saw time on their penalty kill last season. He’s not going to be a player that Carolina is going to want to give up by any means in any trade, but would be a nice acquisition in Buffalo if he were to be included in any deal.
Alex Nedeljkovic, G, 22
Nedeljkovic, a native of Parma, Ohio, is currently Carolina’s best goaltending prospect in their system. He’s a technically sound goaltender with a history of showing up in big games. He had a solid showing at the 2016 World Juniors and finished last season as the Charlotte Checkers starting goaltender posting a 31-12-2 record with 5 shutouts. It’s unlikely Carolina would want to part with Nedeljkovic, but if they ever did, you can never have enough good goaltending prospects. He would easily replace Ullmark in Rochester next year.
Callum Booth, G, 21
With Linus Ullmark NHL bound, I would love to add a young goaltending prospect who can compete for the starting job in Rochester next year. While the Sabres do have Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen, the 19-year-old goaltending prospect is still probably a ways off before making an impact with the Amerks. Booth, a former fourth-round pick for Carolina is progressing through the Hurricanes system and should compete at the AHL level next year. He is your prototypical big goaltender with quickness and athleticism but has had questions about his mental toughness, and rebound control that he will need to continue to work on.
Janne Kuokkanen, C, 20
A former London Knight and teammate of Cliff Pu, Kuokkanen is a very intelligent, skilled forward with a high hockey IQ and smooth puck handling. He’s an effective three-zone player who is coming off a season of 40 points in 60 games in the AHL for his rookie season. Quite impressive for a 19-year old on the AHL’s most offensively potent squad last year. He projects as a middle six forward at the NHL level.
Lucas Wallmark, C, 22
Wallmark was the Checkers leading scorer last season with 55 points in 45 games. He is a solid two-way player who could end up being a fourth-round steal for Carolina. The knock on Wallmark, however, has been his skating, and that could be what hinders him from translating his AHL success into the NHL success.
Nicolas Roy, C/RW, 21
A physical centerman coming off his first full season in the AHL and recorded 38 points in 70 games along with two shorthanded goals. His floor appears to be bottom six, two-way checking forward with imposing size (6’4, 193), and his ceiling could be a top line forward. Either way, he is a high upside prospect for Carolina. He’s another good fourth-round find for Carolina.
Roland McKeown, RHD, 22
McKeown would be an immediate beneficiary of a Justin Faulk trade. Carolina does have a lot of solid defenseman in their organization, but they are running short on right-handed shots. McKeown could find his way on the main roster full time in Carolina competing for their third pair next season with the upside to do more. He is an all-around, puck-moving defenseman who can play in any situation. McKeown had 23 points in 65 games last season for the Charlotte Checkers, and although he hasn’t produced the level of offense that many have hoped for, he still has some room to grow in that department. McKeown was originally acquired in the Andrej Sekera trade between Carolina, and Los Angeles.
Jake Bean, LHD, 19
O’Reilly was originally acquired from the Colorado Avalanche for two top prospects in Nikita Zadorov and J.T Compher, as well as a reclamation project in Mikhail Grigorenko, and a top 35 draft pick. If the return package was more quantity based on picks and prospects without a big chip centerpiece (Faulk or Skinner), then Jake Bean would be appealing as one of Carolina’s top defensive prospects. He projects as a high end, puck-moving defenseman with power play quarterback potential. He will likely need another year or two before breaking into the NHL.
Warren Foegele, LW, 22
Foegele is one of my favorite prospects in Carolina’s system, and he’s one who also possesses the speed the Sabres are looking for. He’s a gritty, explosive skater, dangerous penalty killer, and aggressive forechecker. He can play any position in your lineup, including center if needed. Foegele was Charlotte’s second-leading goal scorer last year with 28 goals, and also recorded four shorthanded goals. Although he doesn’t project as a big-time scorer at the NHL level, he still projects as a middle six, jack of all trades type forward who should push for a full-time NHL roster spot next season.
Which Carolina Big Chip Would Interest You More For an O’Reilly Trade?
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None of the Above