Analyzing the best playmakers available at the 2020 NHL trade deadline

New York Rangers left wing Chris Kreider (20) competes for the puck against New Jersey Devils left wing Nikita Gusev (97) during the second period of a preseason NHL hockey game. (Mary Altaffer/AP)

After breaking down the top goal scorers and defencemen that could be available for this season’s NHL Trade Deadline, it’s time to make sure we don’t forget the ones who set up the shots in the first place.

Playmakers are fundamentally important to get offences going, and with the way the NHL is trending where goal scoring is becoming a higher priority, and pre-shot movement being one of the greatest focuses in accomplishing that goal, there’s no doubt that contending teams will be looking to add some adept offensive zone passers to the mix before the trade deadline on Feb. 24.

The way the game is played, most of the best playmakers in the NHL play the centre position, and every team is extremely cagey about moving out centres, especially good ones. Because of that, the field of possibly available players is not particularly strong in this area, but there are some gems in there.

Using the same method as the previous two articles, let’s see how much of an impact over a league average forward some of the best playmakers who could move at the deadline can have.

Chris Kreider

While Kreider isn’t a game-changing playmaker, he adds to his strong scoring ability by completing passes to the slot at a strong second-line rate, but where he stands out more is completing passes off the rush. Kreider’s speed in attacking off the rush is a huge asset, and being able to pass or shoot equally efficiently makes him a big-time add for a team that needs to beef up their rush game.

Kreider is also surprisingly strong at moving the puck East-West in the offensive zone, so there are multiple areas where he can help out in making his teammates’ shots more dangerous. He’s not a particularly strong playmaker off the cycle, his preferred attack methods are off of rushes and forechecks.

Ilya Kovalchuk

For a player who isn’t very fleet of foot, Kovalchuk gets very involved in passing off the rush, and he’s not too shabby at completing slot passes either. Surprisingly he doesn’t do much off the cycle, but he creates a lot of East-West puck movement to get goalies moving and create better quality shots.

In the neutral zone, Kovalchuk isn’t a player who should be looked at to distribute the puck much, which makes sense since he’s not going to be the guy carrying the puck there very often, but looking at his tendencies you can tell he doesn’t like messing around once he has the puck. Cycling can help break down defensive structures, but Kovalchuk either goes to the slot or through it, he wants to set up the shot.

Mike Hoffman

With the Panthers in a strong position to fight for a playoff spot, the odds of them actually selling are infinitesimal, but if there’s a hockey trade to be made for them to pull off a win/win scenario with another contending team… well, lots of names are out there. Dale Tallon is a gambler, and he’s not afraid to take risks.

Like with shooting, Hoffman really stands out in one area, moving the puck East-West more effectively than anyone else available, though he’s not a huge contributor in other areas.

Vincent Trocheck

He’s having a very tough season following up a tough one last year, so I get why his name is out there, but this is a player that the Panthers should not be looking at trading unless they get a scary looking package in return.

Among the playmakers available, Trocheck is clearly the top name on the market, and he’s also the only natural centre. Anyone who worries about his size, at just five-foot-10, can assuage their fears by simply watching him play. What he lacks in size he more than makes up for in work ethic and talent.

He may be in a multi-season rut of poor shooting, but he’s a brilliant playmaker both off the cycle and off the rush, and he’s a big-time possession driver in the neutral zone as well. If the market is soft for Trocheck and the Panthers are committed to moving him, a lot of general managers should be picking up their phones right now.

Evgenii Dadonov

One of the best goal scorers on the market is also one of the best playmakers, leading the field in slot passes and over 40 per cent better than the average forward in that area. Dadonov is a great rush shooter but doesn’t pass much when attacking with speed, though he does do a lot of puck distributing in the neutral zone to create those rushes.

Like most of the rest of the field here, Dadonov doesn’t create a ton off the cycle, but he does a decent job hitting the mark on East-West passes. Anyone looking to pry him out of Florida will likely be thinking of him mostly as a goal scorer, but he adds some playmaking to the mix as well.

Kasperi Kapanen

An oft-rumoured piece that the Maple Leafs might see as expendable as they push towards trying to win a playoff series for the first time since 2004, Kapanen is having a pretty good offensive season in a relatively limited role in Toronto.

I’m sure there are a few teams out there who think he could play a bigger role on their own team, and he is a pretty strong playmaker getting pucks to and through the slot. The knock on Kapanen is that despite his speed, he doesn’t create that much off the rush, and a big reason for that is he likes to attack off the rush in straight lines.

Rarely passing, while rushing the puck in the offensive or even neutral zone, Kapanen doesn’t use his speed as effectively as he could. That could be corrected, but for now it’s a weakness in his game. I’m a little skeptical that the Leafs are going to move him since they seem to like him, but this might be the year their patience runs out and they try to load up for the playoffs more than usual.

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