NHL Scout’s Analysis: Why Cole Schwindt could be the wild card in Flames-Panthers trade

Cole Schwindt was a third-round pick (81st overall) of the Florida Panthers in the 2019 NHL Draft. (Eliot J. Schechter/Getty)

Over the past several days, I’ve had the chance to sit back and digest the recent trade between the Florida Panthers and Calgary Flames.

Was I shocked that the Panthers would make a pitch to acquire Matthew Tkachuk?

Absolutely not!

Why wouldn’t Florida kick tires on an elite 24-year-old who plays the way Tkachuk does and is coming off a career year (42 G | 62 A | 104 PTS). His style of play is exactly what the Panthers needed to add to their core.

But at what cost?

The Flames win the trade with the Panthers and it’s not because they add Jonathan Huberdeau and his production (30 G | 85 A | 115 PTS). It’s because they also landed MacKenzie Weegar, Cole Schwindt and a first-round pick in 2025 (the Flames also gave up a conditional fourth-round pick in 2025).

During my time with the Panthers organization, we selected Weegar form Halifax in the QMJHL, 206th overall at the 2013 NHL Draft in New Jersey. Halifax also had a kid named Nathan MacKinnon on their roster that year and he went first overall to Colorado. The Panthers were also in on the draft lottery that year, so we had several eyes on MacKinnon throughout the season. Weegar, to his credit, jumped out to us as well. Paul Gallagher was the QMJHL scout for the Panthers at that time and provided us with the background information required to take a chance on a player like Weegar. The rest, as they say, is history.

Weegar has blossomed into quite the player:

But the developing story in this trade, in my opinion, is the acquisition of Schwindt by the Flames.

We selected Schwindt in Round 3 (81st overall) of the 2019 NHL Draft in Vancouver.  What we liked about Schwindt was the year-over-year growth of his game. Steelheads head coach and general manager James Richmond clearly trusted Schwindt after his OHL rookie season as he was given a significant increase in responsibility and rewarded the team with 49 points (19 G | 30 A) in his draft year. The following season, he went to another level offensively, scoring71 points in 57 games (28 G | 43 A) during the COVID-shortened 2019-2020.

Statistically speaking, Schwindt was displaying the ability to find space in the offensive zone and occasionally score off the rush. He was also showing that he could create coming off the boards down low while going to the net looking for tips and rebounds.

What impressed me most, however, was his attention to detail. Schwindt is a rangy, right-shot centre who can also play the wing. His ability to win draws in all three zones is an element teams look for in players and coaches love to lean on and trust. In time, the Flames will value him as well for his pedigree in the face-off circle. There isn’t an ounce of cheat in Schwindt’s game. He tracks back the full length of the ice. He never cuts corners. In my opinion, he has a chance to produce secondary offence at the NHL level. He likely won’t land on one of the power-play units, but he can penalty kill and match up strategically.

The AHL is not an easy league to develop your trade, yet Schwindt produced 40 points (19 G | 21 A) playing for Charlotte in his rookie season. His production was tied for second most in team scoring. True to his identity as a player, he led the team with a plus-22 rating.

Like many NHL players, Schwindt will always have to work on his skating. He has improved his stride and leg strength significantly over the years, but the NHL is a Formula 1 race and he will need to fine-tune his pace throughout his career.

I have personally witnessed Schwindt’s growth and believe in his potential moving forward.

The biggest thing players like Weegar and Schwindt have going for them is their character. Weegar wasn’t supposed to be an NHL ‘D’ but has persevered and could be a top-pairing defenceman for the Flames. Schwindt isn’t an NHL regular yet but he’s not far off. A big body, right-shot, detailed centre is hard to find in the NHL at the right price. I have no doubt Schwindt will deliver for the Flames.

I also have no doubt that Flames director of scouting Todd Button is smiling from ear to ear with the acquisition of Schwindt (who he has tracked for years). Not to mention that he and his staff also get an extra chance to swing for the fences with the 2025 first-round pick they also inherited in the trade.

Something to think about …

All NHL players are paid in US dollars Some players from the USA would prefer to play in their home country. Conversely, some Canadian players take pride in playing in Canadian markets.

Both Huberdeau and Weegar are Canadians. They are both scheduled to become UFA’s after 2022-2023. They appreciate the intensity associated with playing in a Canadian market and I believe they will thrive in the environment.

A player being paid $9.5 million per year playing in places like Nashville, Dallas and Florida take home approximately $5.7 million after taxes.

A player being paid the same but playing in Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal will end with approximately $4.5 million after taxes.  A player looking to sign long-term in Calgary is looking at just shy of $5 million annually after taxes.

However, other considerations must be taken into account. For instance: the conversion of the $USD to $CDN is a bonus that takes some of the bite out of the tax scenario.

The ultimate “win” for Brad Treliving in this trade will be getting both Huberdeau and Weegar signed to long-term extensions.

Should that happen, then we look back at this trade and truly applaud the Flames for landing all those assets. As great a player as Tkachuk is and can be in the future, having a roster with Huberdeau, Weegar, Schwindt and whoever their first-round pick in 2025 becomes makes this a clear victory for Calgary.

On the horizon …

The annual summer Under-18 Hlinka/Gretzky Cup is being played from July 31 – August 6 in Red Deer Alberta. Countries competing are Canada, USA, Slovakia, Sweden, Switzerland, Finland, Czechia and Germany.

The 2023 NHL Draft is projected to be an elite class. The Hlinka/Gretzky Cup marks the beginning of a new scouting season so I, along with colleague Sam Cosentino, will report back on the top performers from the event, during and after the tournament.

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