The market value was set for 33-year-old centre Mark Letestu when Nashville flipped him to Columbus for a fourth-round draft pick. So in landing forward Pontus Aberg from the Predators for Letestu, Edmonton Oilers general manager Peter Chiarelli accomplished his primary goal heading into the 2018 trade deadline:
Find young, fast prospects who can help possibly right away, as opposed to draft picks who won’t play for another three or four years.
So, the question becomes, does the 24-year-old Aberg qualify as a “prospect?” Or, after a season in which he was returned to AHL Milwaukee and was healthy-scratched several times in Nashville, are the Predators giving up on a player who has leveled off?
“My dad is a carpenter. He used to play hockey. That’s how I started,” Aberg told me last spring during the Predators playoff run. “A family with sports — my mom played handball back home. That’s how I started playing.”
He may be the son of a carpenter, but Aberg won’t come to Edmonton as a saviour. They’ll be hoping he can lend some speed to their top-nine and penalty killing units.
The Djurgardens product has scored just three goals in 52 National Hockey League games, but added two in the Preds’ playoff run last season — one a gritty effort in a 3-2 road win at Anaheim in Game 5. He’d been promoted to Nashville’s top line when Mike Fisher and Ryan Johansen were injured, and produced the way so many Swedes developed by Nashville have over the years.
“He’s a guy who, in my opinion, could have been playing on our team all year,” defenceman P.K. Subban said after that game. “But we have such depth and such experience — players that have paid their dues in the minors — that it didn’t happen.”
Like almost every Predator promoted to the NHL, Aberg first had to master the AHL level. There, he had 72 goals and 126 points in 199 games prior to a four-game stint in AHL Milwaukee this season that produced four goals.
But he leveled off this season in Nashville, struggling to get a foothold on a regular roster spot on a deep Preds team. It’s no secret that the Oilers haven’t developed players anywhere near as successfully as GM David Poile’s Predators, so perhaps acquiring a 24-year-old who has grown up in the Nashville system is as sure a bet as there is for the Oilers.
Edmonton’s desperate need for speed on the wings will be partially addressed with this deal. And if they’re lucky, a player who showed offensive prowess in the NHL but was never really given that chance on a deep Nashville club, will get a top-six opportunity in Edmonton and grab ahold of it.
He has one year left on his contract at $650,000, after which Aberg — the only Pontus ever to lace ‘em up for an NHL game — is a restricted free agent.