It’s been confirmed by many sources now that Pittsburgh Penguins forward Phil Kessel himself nixed the proposed deal that would have sent him to the Minnesota Wild in exchange for Jason Zucker, among other pieces. What was unclear is exactly why. Kessel is a native of nearby Wisconsin and played his college hockey for the University of Minnesota. It would seem that the Wild would have been a nice fit for the veteran scorer. However, as noted by the Athletic’s Michael Russo, Kessel’s reasoning for turning down the destination is quite simple: he doesn’t think the team is a contender. In fact, after talking to those close to Kessel, Russo phrases it as Kessel didn’t think the team was even “close to contending”. GM Paul Fenton certainly left a mark in his first season at the helm, trading away established veterans Charlie Coyle, Mikael Granlund, and Nino Niederreiter and on paper the team does look to be in more of a rebuild than a title window. Fenton reportedly called Kessel to try to change his mind, but to no avail. Kessel will be 32 next season and has already showed signs of slowing down, so the star winger apparently has his sights set on competing for more Stanley Cups before his playing days are over. That could make the prospect of dealing him that much harder for Penguins GM Jim Rutherford, further limiting Kessel’s trade options to contenders on his eight-team trade list that have both the means and interest in acquiring him. Meanwhile, Fenton and the Wild have to hope that other prominent players, free agents or trade targets, don’t share in Kessel’s pessimistic outlook on the team’s chances or they may have a hard time improving this off-season.
- Kessel’s home of Madison, Wisconsin is set to see another promising player make his way into town in a couple of years. Liam Malmquist, a standout high school forward from Edina, Minnesota, has announced his commitment to play his college hockey for the University of Wisconsin. However, Malmquist will not join the Badgers until 2020-21 and will play next season for the BCHL’s Penticton Vees, the team announced today. Malmquist, 18, is an undersized scoring forward, whose lack of stature and relatively weak competition level likely kept him off the radar of NHL team’s in his first time through the draft last year. However, after recording 52 points in 24 games this year, he’s entered the conversation as a possible late-round overage waiver this June. Malmquist’s older brother, Dylan Malmquist, remains unsigned but just wrapped up a strong collegiate career at the University of Notre Dame. Even if Malmquist is not drafted, he can stay in the pro picture if he is able to replicate or top his brother’s numbers while at Wisconsin. He should be surrounded by plenty of talent too, as Malmquist joins a talented Badgers team that will add top 2019 prospects Alex Turcotte, Cole Caufield, Ryder Donovan, and Owen Lindmark, as well as intriguing 2020 name Dylan Holloway next season and another top 2020 prospect in Tanner Latsch the year after.
- The Boston Bruins have already lost forward Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson and defenseman Emil Johansson to Europe this off-season – even though the team’s off-season has yet to begin – and for the good of their minor league depth hope to avoid any other such losses. However, it is worth noting that AHL goaltender Dan Vladar was the subject of a recent trade in the KHL. Vladar’s rights were acquired by contender Lokomotiv Yaroslavl from HK Sochi in exchange for 22-year-old active KHL forward Alexander Polunin, a somewhat hefty price for just a player’s rights. There has been no word as to whether Vladar has talked about jumping overseas, prompting the trade, but it certainly shouldn’t be ruled out. Vladar, a 2015 third-round pick of the Bruins, is still only 21 but has yet to make an NHL appearance in three pro seasons. Vladar played as the Providence Bruins’ backup this season, making 31 appearances to starter Zane McIntyre’s 47. Both goalies put up just pedestrian numbers and McIntyre, a pending unrestricted free agent, is not a lock to return. With NHL backup Jaroslav Halak also signed for just one more season, it could be that Vladar remains on the fast track to start for Providence next season and one day back up Tuukka Rask. One would think that position would keep the young net minder stateside. However, he now faces a challenge from other promising young goalies in the pipeline like Kyle Keyser and Jeremy Swayman and may no longer feel that he is guaranteed to ever see time with the Bruins. Such a mindset could see Vladar off to Russia this summer.