While draft picks are high priority in any potential trade talks leading up to the March 4th deadline, Brian Burke is also said to be targeting a group of young but already established NHLers, according to a source.
Alex Goligoski, a smooth puck-moving defenseman with the Pittsburgh Penguins, has been mentioned as a target of Burke’s in recent trade negotiations concerning Nikolai Antropov. Rumour has it that Burke’s demanded a first round pick along GoGo but it seems that Burke will have to lessen his demand (likely to a lower round pick) in order to progress. In addition to Goligoski, Burke is said to be willing to include any of his major assets currently at play (Tomas Kaberle, Pavel Kubina and Nik Antropov at this point) in a potential deal for the following young talent:
Blake Wheeler – It’s not hard to interpret the reason for Burke’s interest in the former fifth overall pick. He’s a colossal specimen at 6’5, 205 pounds and, in keeping with his name, is a powerful skater to boot. His power forward qualities could contribute significantly to the belligerent mold Burke intends on implementing with his roster going forward. The Leafs are short on top 6 talent in all areas but are particularly desperate on the right wing as Lee Stempniak continues to dissapoint. Wheeler possesses the high-end scoring ability that would immediately qualify him as the Leafs’ top up-and-coming offensive talent, as would any of the players listed here and below. According to this source, the Boston Bruins are one of the teams named on Tomas Kaberle’s trade destination list. Wheeler’s scoring production in his rookie campaign has been impressive at 17 goals in 58 games played and the best is yet to come from a player equipped with all the right tools to become a dominant winger capable of striking fear in opposing defenses. By no means would Wheeler come cheaply.
Jakub Voracek – Another top ten draftee, Voracek has the size and explosive speed of Wheeler but perhaps greater offensive upside. Voracek has both visionary play-making ability and a wicked shot but is more of a pass-first winger. It would be a case of the allegedly xenophobic Burke acquiring a European player, but Voracek defies all stereotypes concerning cross-the-pond skaters as he possesses an accomplished defensive game and a driven work ethic. He is indeed a Burke, if European, player. His rookie campaign as a 19-year-old has been pretty strong (28 points in 55 GP, +13) considering his limited time on ice (typically in the 11-12 minute range). Rumours of Nik Antropov to Columbus have been circulating for some time now, and it’s been said that general manager Scott Howson would love to center Rick Nash with Antropov for a playoff run. The Blue Jackets have also been in the market for a power-play quarterback and the first name that comes to mind there is Tomas Kaberle. The Blue Jackets currently sit sixth in the West but are by no means a lock for the playoffs in a tight Western circuit. It would take a commitment to the present that has yet to be seen in the history of the Blue Jackets organization. This may finally be the year. It would take more than Nik Antropov, however.
Drew Stafford – Also a player that owns an impressive size/skill package, Stafford’s a capable grinder with a refined skill set. A hard-working three-zone player with leadership qualities that no doubt attract Wilson and Burke. The right-winger’s taking on a more prominent role on an 8th placed Buffalo Sabres team and is unlikely to be headed anywhere soon as the Sabres gear up for the stretch drive. The Buffalo Sabres are another team said to be on Tomas Kaberle’s trade list as a playoff competitor that’s close to home.
Travis Zajac – The jury was still out on Zajac’s potential to become a number one centre but he’s encouraged the New Jersey Devils’ management team with a break out season so far in ’08/’09 (48 points in 58 games). Zajac owns an excellent frame and has found a place in the Devils’ system due to his defensive awareness. He currently sits at +28, leaving him in the top ten league-wide in the +/- category alongside the above mentioned Blake Wheeler. He’s additionally a natural offensive talent. It’s always risky acquiring players that have been developed in the very scrupulous system of the New Jersey Devils, but Zajac seems ideal for the Burke and Wilson mold. Again… he wouldn’t come easy.
Here’s some awesome news: Jiri Tlusty set a Marlies franchise record with five goals in an 8-5 win over the Syracuse Crunch tonight. Tlusty has caught fire as of late and now sits with 41 points in 43 games played on the season.