NHL General Managers don’t get the weekends off, which means that neither do NHL bloggers. With a late trade on Saturday, Mike Gillis ensured that I would have to stay up late writing instead of staying up late drinking and dancing on tables. So thanks, Gillis, for saving me from a bunch of embarrassment. Really, it was for the best. I’m a terrible dancer.
The Canucks sent the 22-year-old Kellan Tochkin to the Carolina Hurricanes along with a 2014 fourth round pick for the 23-year-old Zac Dalpe and 25-year-old Jeremy Welsh and, in the process, increased their good ‘ol Ontario boys quotient. A surface-level reading of the trade marks this a win for the Canucks, who bring in two players with a combined 47 NHL games for two assets that are unlikely to ever play a single NHL game.
Let’s look at the pieces of this trade in more detail and see just who the Canucks are adding to their organization in Dalpe and Welsh.
Back in 2009, the Canucks took a chance on the undrafted Kellan Tochkin, signing the 18-year-old to a three-year, entry-level contract. He finished fifth in scoring among 18-year-olds in the WHL in his draft year, right behind Evander Kane, Jordan Eberle, and Brayden Schenn. Tochkin was passed over in the draft because of his size; at 5’9″, he had low odds of making the NHL.
Tochkin grew up in Abbotsford, so when teams came calling with invites to their training camps, it was an easy decision to attend the Canucks camp and it paid off with a contract. Unfortunately, nothing else went as planned. His rookie year was the only season that Tochkin would top a point-per-game in the WHL, falling just short in each subsequent season.
Instead of playing with the Canucks’ AHL or ECHL affiliates upon graduating from junior hockey last year, the Canucks loaned Tochkin to the CHL’s Missouri Mavericks, which wasn’t a particularly good sign for his future with the Canucks organization. Further writing was added to what was already on the wall when he did not attend Canucks training camp this year, skating instead with his old junior team, the Everett Silvertips.
At this point, it looks like Tochkin’s ceiling is the AHL and, as he entered into the final year of his contract, this was the last chance to get any value out of his signing.
As for the fourth round pick, Jason Gregor actually found that you have a higher chance of selecting a decent NHL player in the seventh round. Not that that’s saying much: about 3-7 players from the fourth round each year play more than 100 NHL games in their career. You essentially have an 8.6% chance of getting a decent NHL player in the fourth round, meaning it has limited value.
So, who did the Canucks get for these two assets with such limited upside? And why was Carolina willing to trade these two players to the Canucks?
The quick answer is that Jeremy Welsh is a salary dump. The Hurricanes signed Welsh to a one-year contract to play one game after three impressive years in the NCAA — in his 2011-12 season, he was one of the top goal scorers in college hockey with 27 goals in 40 games — then re-signed him to a two-year contract worth an average of $850,000.
That contract went from a two-way deal last year to a one-way deal worth $1 million this year, which the Hurricanes evidently weren’t too keen on paying, as it looked like he wouldn’t be making the Hurricanes to start the season.
Welsh disappointed in his first professional season, scoring 14 goals and 26 points in 69 games in the AHL. Since he’s already 25, he’s on the verge of no longer being a prospect. Still, there may be some potential to be a bottom-six forward in the NHL, considering he has decent size at 6’3″ and clearly has some skill. The Canucks can afford, and I mean “afford” quite literally, to be patient with Welsh this season where the Hurricanes cannot.
The best player in the trade is Zac Dalpe, who seems to have been included as payment to the Canucks for taking on the Welsh contract. Dalpe was a second round pick in 2008 and was, at one point, a highly-touted prospect expected to play a large role in the future of the Hurricanes. He was even a popular sleeper pick for the Calder trophy back in 2011, if “popular sleeper” isn’t too much of an oxymoron. That came after scoring 57 points in 61 games as a rookie in the AHL. Things didn’t pan out for Dalpe that year, however, as he got sent back down to the Charlotte Checkers in the AHL, scoring just 32 points in 56 games.
Last year wasn’t much better for Dalpe, as he appeared in just 10 NHL games, scoring 3 points. His AHL numbers recovered slightly, with 21 goals and 42 points in 54 games. The Hurricanes appear to have lost patience with Dalpe, as he looked to have been beaten out by Nathan Gerbe for a roster spot out of training camp.
There’s reason to believe that Dalpe might be a better fit with the Canucks, however, and there are still people high on his potential. Corey Pronman had him ranked fourth on his list of the Hurricanes’ top-10 prospects and broke down his positives and negatives:
The Good: Dalpe is an above-average to plus skater who can play with a high level of pace and energy. Despite taking few penalty minutes, scouts say he has physical value, as he can protect the puck well, and pressure defenders effectively. The former Ohio State Buckeye has slightly above-average puck skills, but his offensive value comes from his great speed and shot. He can play center and wing.
The Bad: Dalpe’s hockey sense is average, and his defensive game still needs improvement. He is not an overly creative player with the puck, and he projects as more of a complementary piece at the top level.
Hurricanes blog The Shutdown Line had Dalpe at number 8 on their top-25 players under the age of 25 and thought that he deserved more than the 10 games he played last season:
The biggest issue with Dalpe in previous years is that he struggled to drive the play north and keep the puck in the other team’s end of the rink. That dramatically changed this past season, as he posted one of the highest shot attempt differentials on the team. Some of this might relate to him playing on a line with Jordan Staal, but Dalpe still did a lot of good things during his brief stint in Carolina and should have played more than 10 games.
One thing to consider is that Dalpe was originally a centre in college, but has been transitioned to the wing with the Hurricanes organization. It’s possible that the Canucks may see him as a possible fit as a third-line centre with Jordan Schroeder injured. Considering Dalpe’s noted defensive struggles thus far in his career, that may not be the best idea.
Dalpe is making the league minimum this season at $550,000, which is nice for a team that spends to the cap like the Canucks. If he does stick in the NHL this season, he won’t cause any cap issues. Will he be able to stick with the Canucks? Corey Sznajder at The Shutdown Line thinks that Dalpe just needs a longer audition in the NHL to prove himself, but Dalpe has just 10 points in 41 NHL games, which is disappointing for a player expected to be a top-six forward.
If he can’t stick with the Canucks, then things get dicey, as Dalpe is waiver eligible, so could get picked up by another team if he gets sent down to the AHL. This pretty much guarantees that Dalpe will get an opportunity on the Canucks roster, as Gillis is unlikely to expose a newly acquired player to the waiver wire.
In any case, to acquire two players with legitimate NHL potential at such a minimal cost is an impressive move for Mike Gillis. There’s no risk involved and could really pay off for the Canucks if Dalpe can turn into anything even close to the player he was projected to be when he was drafted.Tags: beating trade analysis to death, Jeremy Welsh, Kellan Tochkin, trade, Zac Dalpe