When it comes to trade rumours and the Toronto Maple Leafs, the focus is usually on acquiring a defencemen.
While that may still be a priority, we shouldn’t overlook the possibility at acquiring a forward – something that should be a cheaper proposition for GM Lou Lamoriello.
The Leafs will need help if they hope to beat a team like the Tampa Bay Lightning or Boston Bruins in a playoff series. Though they’re reasonably deep at forward, acquiring another winger could help bump a player like Dominic Moore or Matt Martin out of the lineup with more regularity – plus it would help the team deal with inevitable injuries.
Here are three underrated forwards the Leafs should pursue before the trade deadline:
1. Michael Grabner (New York Rangers)
A member of the Leafs in 2015-16, Michael Grabner would be unrecognizable to fans in Toronto now.
Appearing destined to fall short of his potential, Grabner exploded for 27 goals last season.
This year he’s already up to 21, although he has only added a mere four helpers and the Rangers could be looking to move the pending UFA to avoid losing him for nothing this summer.
New York is trending the wrong way as far as the standings are concerned and there have been rumblings of a rebuild in the Big Apple. Grabner is making a very reasonable $1.6 million and wouldn’t dent Toronto’s cap situation too much if the Leafs opted to bring him in as a rental for a playoff run.
The 30-year-old would obviously bring some much-needed offensive punch to the Leafs down the stretch, but it’s his versatility that makes Grabner valuable. The Austrian possesses tremendous speed and has the ability to kill penalties. Those are two things every playoff contender can’t have enough of if they have aspirations of playing well into the spring.
2. Patrick Maroon (Edmonton Oilers)
A disappointing season in Edmonton could mean changes at the deadline and rugged winger Patrick Maroon may be on his way out of town.
The power forward had a career year a season ago playing with the Oilers’ talented youngsters and posted 27 goals. He’s up to 13 so far in 2017-18, but as a free agent this summer and Edmonton committing big dollars elsewhere, Maroon is a prime candidate to be dealt.
Toronto doesn’t have many players with Maroon’s combination of strength and skill, so his addition would bring a different dynamic to the lineup. Although he probably doesn’t fit into the organization’s long-term plans, Maroon could provide some depth scoring and physicality that will be incredibly valuable come April.
3. Thomas Vanek (Vancouver Canucks)
The Canucks find themselves as sellers again this year and Vanek would seem to be the perfect trade candidate as he doesn’t fit into a Vancouver rebuild.
Like Grabner and Maroon, Vanek is a pending UFA, comes at a very affordable price and might be worth a deadline gamble. The 34-year-old seemed to be on the downside of his career in recent years, but has had a renaissance in 2017-18 playing alongside Brock Boeser. Vanek has 14 goals and 35 points in 48 games this season after finding the back of the net only 17 times a year ago. He’s on pace for 60-plus points and despite his age still has enough offensive talent to be a scoring threat on every shift.
Vanek has plenty of playoff experience that could help a young Leafs team and appears to be rejuvenated playing with some young talent in Vancouver. Toronto certainly has plenty of that and it wouldn’t be hard for Mike Babcock to find Vanek a spot where his offensive skillset could be maximized.