Why Trade Versteeg?
As the February 28 trade deadline approaches, the yearly tradition of pondering Tomas Kaberle's future with the Toronto Maple Leafs has been a hot topic in the rumor mill, but there's another dilemma facing general manager Brian Burke.
And that's whether to retain the services of 24-year-old forward, Kris Versteeg.
Versteeg---currently playing on the third-line with Darryl Boyce and Frederic Sjostrom--- is on pace for at least 20 goals and 50 points in just his third full NHL campaign. As Alex Tran mentioned in his blog, Versteeg is valuable in other facets of the game as well.
But the purpose of this blog is not to explain why Versteeg could be a valuable component of the Leafs' rebuild moving forward. It's about how his trade value could help the Leafs address one of its issues upfront.
While many seem to forget, it was only five short months ago since fans questioned whether the Leafs had any legitimate top-six forwards beyond Phil Kessel. With the likes of Verteeg, Clarke MacArthur, Mikhail Grabovski and Nikolai Kulemin all providing the Leafs with a balanced offensive attack, the club now has a number of serviceable secondary scorers. The emergence of these players has no doubt been a pleasant surprise for the Leafs, but a lack of strength and size upfront has been noticeable on many nights. The Leafs lack players that could use their size to cycle the puck down low and create chances with dominant puck control---unlike Mats Sundin or Nikolai Antropov. While that type of player is not at the top of Burke's priority list---Kessel needs a number-one center badly--- it is no doubt a necessity for a team in search of the scrappy, rough-and-tumble identity Burke envisioned.
In comes James van Riemsdyk. The soon-to-be 21-year old is having a decent season with the Flyers considering his limited ice-time. Van Riemsdyk ranks seventh among Flyers forwards in ice-time with 14:16 TOI/G and has recorded 12 goals and 24 points in his sophomore campaign. The budding power forward may not be the first-line talent the Leafs require---although he could be--- but his acquisition would not be lateral movement for the Leafs considering the brand of hockey he'd implement into the top-six. He can protect the puck, open up space with his size and complement a scoring winger such as Kessel quite nicely. Although he's been a healthy scratch a few times this season, it isn't abnormal for a young power forward to require a longer learning curve in order to maximize their potential.
Although CSN Philly's Tim Panaccio suggests the Flyers would probably have to relinquish van Riemsdyk to acquire Versteeg, I get the feeling it would take a little more from the Leafs to acquire a player of first-line potential.
However, assuming Burke would pull the trigger on such a deal, would he feel pressure to trade Kaberle for a first-line center? Or does he wait until the off-season and test the free-agent waters?
And do you think van Riemsdyk is more valuable than Versteeg?
Personally, I think van Riemsdyk would be a great acquisition not only for his offensive upside, but the new dimensions he'd add to the Leafs' offense.
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