The NHL is creeping toward the trade deadline, and several teams are getting swept up by trade winds. Many contending teams find themselves in the news, “linking” them to the biggest names available as they try to improve their roster. The Winnipeg Jets are no different, as they’ve reportedly been linked to several top targets.
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That being said, the secondary targets can be just as important. It’s easy to mock up deals for Timo Meier, Sam Reinhart, or other big names, but some lurk in the shadows with the potential to be important pickups for a team looking to improve. To step away from the big-name deals, let’s take a look at three players who could fly under the radar as potential impact acquisitions for the Jets.
Often playing specific roles on teams, Nick Bjugstad has been a quietly solid player for a large portion of his career. After joining the Arizona Coyotes for 2022-23, the trend of being a quiet contributor remains. His name has become a talking point in recent weeks as the trade deadline approaches, and there are a few reasons why.
In 50 games for the Coyotes this season, Bjugstad has registered 11 goals and 10 assists for 21 points. He would slot into a bottom-six role if the Jets were to target him and add a layer of depth scoring to an offensively deprived lower half. His goal-scoring touch would be a welcome addition, as his 11 goals would already rank fifth on the Jets, and make him only the sixth player on the team with goals in the double digits.
His 21 points would place him ninth in scoring on the Jets and second among forwards who play predominantly in the bottom six, sitting only behind Adam Lowry. His defense is nothing to be ashamed of either, playing a relatively safe two-way game with a struggling Coyotes team. A two-way forward with upside is something the Jets need, as any support for their top scorers can make a difference.
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The Jets have been reportedly in the market for both big names and depth players, and Bjugstad would act as a wonderful depth addition. His $900,000 salary would be an easy fit with the Jets money-wise and there would be several fits for him in the middle or bottom six. The asking price will likely fall in the range of a second or third-round pick, and if that’s the case, the Jets would be wise to check in with the Coyotes.
While it’s still uncertain if the Ottawa Senators are going to be sellers, they’re a team who has assets that could prove valuable for teams in a playoff spot. One of those potential targets is defenseman Nick Holden, and he’s a name that could be looked at for teams looking to add defensive depth.
Holden has been playing in the NHL for over a decade now, and one thing that has become apparent over that time is how good he’s been defensively. In his early years, he played a bit more aggressively to create chances. Now, he’s shifted into a steady hand on the back end that does well to minimize an opponent’s offensive game.
Now 35, Holden has fully embraced the “stay at home” role with the Senators in his two seasons on their blue line. The Senators often play a very chaotic game in their own zone, but Holden remains solid, helping to limit chances. It’s easy to imagine that he could thrive in a better system when he’s doing well in the chaos.
Holden is an unrestricted free agent (UFA) at the end of this season, so it’s a fairly low-risk move if the Jets are looking for defensive depth. In terms of what the Jets would be getting from him, it would be roster flexibility. He has played all over the defensive group this season, ranging from top-pair minutes with Thomas Chabot, to third-pairing time in a sheltered role. He’s also become accustomed to playing his off-side, so it would allow the Jets to help fill the roles of injured or struggling players wherever they may be.
It feels safe to assume the asking price is fairly low, given his age and less-than-flashy play. If the cost is a third or fourth-round pick, it could be a great match for the Jets’ back end.
The Vancouver Canucks have been at the center of a lot of chaos this season, and it appears this has led to several players being available through trade. With Bo Horvat being traded to the New York Islanders, the clock appears to be ticking to see who will be the next domino to fall. If the Canucks are indeed moving players out, the Jets should take a look at someone like Conor Garland.
Garland is a much different case than Bjugstad or Holden, purely because he carries term on his deal. His current contract pays him $4.95 million per season and is set to expire at the end of the 2025-26 season. If this is a deal the Jets are interested in making, they would very likely need to send salary back to the Canucks to make it work.
That being said, Garland brings a lot of what the Jets need in their middle six. He has shown the ability to provide a lot of offensive upside to a very solid overall game. His point totals in 2022-23 are somewhat underwhelming, posting only nine goals and 24 points in 48 games this season, but his track record seems to suggest there’s more there. The Canucks are also a tough place to thrive in this season, but he’s making the most out of it.
Garland is coming off a career year with the Canucks, however, where he posted 52 points in 72 games and looked like the player the Canucks wanted him to be when they traded for him. The Jets should do the same thing, and trade for the potential of a terrific middle-six player. He plays a two-way game, which we know Rick Bowness loves, but he also does well to create offense for both himself and his teammates. To add to that, his penalty differential, according to JFresh’s WAR Player Card, is in the 97th percentile. This indicates that his play can push the pace, get on opponents’ nerves, and force them into taking penalties.
Garland’s price will be higher than the other two members of this list, but the Canucks seem willing to listen to offers on just about anyone. He may seem like he’s underperforming this season, but given what he could come into with the Jets, this could work to be a fantastic change of scenery for the 26-year-old.
In order to push for a long playoff run, the Jets are likely in need of a major trade this season to help address pressing needs. That said, the secondary moves are arguably just as important if they help to fill other holes.
Garland and Bjugstad could help to improve the depth scoring issues, and Holden could help shore up the defensive group. These are the moves that can take a team’s trade deadline grade from good to great, and the Jets would be smart to follow up a big-name move with some under-the-radar role players.
Brian Finlayson is a lifelong hockey fan, and has spent recent years writing for hockey-based websites and blogs. Now, Brian joins THW as a Winnipeg Jets and Seattle Kraken contributor and is very excited to cover both teams.
Brian spends most of his time as a student, working towards a communications & media degree at Canadian Mennonite University. He hopes to combine his loves of sports and storytelling to find a career in sports media.