Chris Stewart (Bruce Kluckhohn/Getty Images)
Last season, the Los Angeles Kings acquired Marian Gaborik at the trade deadline and he led the playoffs in goals en route to a Stanley Cup victory. There may not be a Gaborik this season, but these five players could be game changers in the upcoming post-season.
At the 2013-14 trade deadline, the eventual Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings acquired Marian Gaborik from the Columbus Blue Jackets for a song, sending Matt Frattin, a second-round and third-round pick the other way.
In the post-season, Gaborik was a force to be reckoned with. In 26 playoff games, he scored 14 goals and 22 points, led the post-season with 11 even strength goals and played nearly 18 minutes per game on the Kings top scoring unit.
The Stanley Cup final is two months away at this point, but there are more than a few acquisitions from this season’s deadline that paid off in a big way. For some, the fight for the post-season is still on, but the other four have their teams prepared for the beginning of playoff runs and hope they, too, can have a Gaborik-esque impact en route to Stanley Cup glory of their own.
In order to qualify as a deadline deal, the players appearing on this list had to be traded on or after March 1. Unfortunately, that disqualifies Jaromir Jagr, whose four goals and 12 points leads all deadline acquisitions. In addition, however, Jagr’s Panthers aren’t post-season bound.
5. Lee Stempniak, Winnipeg Jets
Acquired in exchange for Carl Klingberg, who had spent most of his season in the AHL and was unlikely to play for the Jets down the stretch, Stempniak has chipped in five goals and eight points since coming to Winnipeg on March 2. In a huge matchup Saturday afternoon against the Vancouver Canucks, Stempniak came through with two goals, including the game-winner on a quick move that beat Canucks netminder Eddie Lack.
Maybe most importantly, Stempniak has been hot at the right time, notching five points in his last six games while skating third-line minutes for the Jets. The 32-year-old is on an expiring deal and Winnipeg’s interest in him was there this past off-season, so it wouldn’t be shocking if Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff looks to bring Stempniak back into the fold for next season.
Winnipeg is in a fight for the final playoff berth in the Western Conference, tied with the Los Angeles Kings with 92 points but behind in regulation and overtime victories 37-33. The Jets have four tough games coming up, so it’ll be incredibly important for Stempniak to keep up his great play.
4. Ian Cole, Pittsburgh Penguins
Cole was an underrated acquisition by Pittsburgh GM Jim Rutherford, especially because he’s a big, young defenseman with the ability to move the puck up ice. Rutherford landed Cole from the St. Louis Blues in a swap for Robert Bortuzzo and a seventh-round draft pick.
In 17 games with the Penguins since the deadline, Cole has scored one goal and seven points, while maintaining pretty impressive puck possession totals. In his time in Pittsburgh, Cole has a shot attempts for percentage of 56.8 percent at 5-on-5. While the Penguins may be going through a rough stretch heading into the playoffs, having a skilled puck-mover on the back end – especially after the injury to Kris Letang – is going to pay off in the playoffs.
Cole will be a restricted free agent after this season, and there’s little doubt he has found a place in the Penguins lineup for next campaign.
3. Keith Yandle, New York Rangers
One of the blockbuster deals that came on the eve of the trade deadline deal was the trade sending Keith Yandle to the New York Rangers from the Arizona Coyotes for a package that included prospect Anthony Duclair and a first-round pick next season. Yandle had been rumored to be on the move for several months, and Coyotes GM Don Maloney got back more than a fair return. It has paid off for the Rangers, too.
Since March 2, the Rangers have gone 12-4-1 and have outscored opponents 47-30 while putting up a five-game win streak and are currently riding a three-game run.
Not only has Yandle had an impact defensively, rounding out New York’s top four, but he has been outstanding offensively. Yandle has played 17 games as a Blueshirt and is the second highest scoring deadline acquisition since March 2. His two goals and nine points are the sixth highest total on the Rangers post-deadline.
Yandle has registered three goals and 19 points in 26 career playoff games. If he can score at that kind of clip this post-season, the Rangers could be a lock to make it back to the final.
2. Chris Stewart, Minnesota Wild
No player in the league was as talked about as a potential trade candidate as much as Stewart. From October to March, Stewart was a constant on the rumor wire. Even still, he ended up being one of the final trades of deadline day when Wild GM Chuck Fletcher sent a 2017 second-round pick to Buffalo in exchange for Stewart.
Rejuvenated playing in Minnesota, Stewart has been a dominant force as Minnesota continues to look stronger and stronger heading into the playoffs. With three goals and nine points at even strength since the deadline, Stewart leads the Wild in 5-on-5 scoring and has posted a 53.2 percent shot attempts for percentage even though he’s starting more of his shifts in the defensive zone than almost all Minnesota forwards.
Stewart has only played 19 total playoff games, and his five goals and six points are mediocre totals. If he keeps his current scoring pace into the playoffs, however, the trade for Stewart could be one of the smartest deals Fletcher has made in his career.
1. Marek Zidlicky, Detroit Red Wings
Not enough can be said about just how impressive Zidlicky has been since coming over to the Red Wings. He made an immediate impact, scoring in his first game with Detroit, but has kept that train rolling by registering three goals and 10 points since coming over from the New Jersey Devils.
Detroit had long-wanted a right-handed blueliner, and the 38-year-old Zidlicky fits the bill. Considering all Detroit had to give up was a third-round selection in the 2016 draft, the trade couldn’t have worked out better, either.
For much of deadline day, the speculation was that the Red Wings were after Toronto Maple Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf, but it’s hard to imagine he could have had the impact Zidlicky has over such a short span. Only two Red Wings, Justin Abdelkader and Henrik Zetterberg, have scored more points since the deadline. Zidlicky has also contributed to Detroit’s already formidable puck possession game, having a 57.5 percent 5-on-5 shot attempts for percentage, the sixth best mark on the Red Wings since the deadline.