We have a trade to announce. The Dallas Stars have acquired defensive prospect Oskari Laaksonen from the Buffalo Sabres in exchange for another blueliner, Joseph Cecconi. Both teams have officially announced the deal.
Laaksonen, 23, was a third-round pick of the Sabres at the 2017 draft, getting selected 89th overall. He spent three full seasons as a regular defenseman for Ilves Tampere in the Finnish Liiga, before splitting 2020-21 between the Lahti Pelicans and the Rochester Americans.
In Rochester Laaksonen started off very well, scoring 17 points in his first 28 games. In his first full season, which was last year, he had a healthy 34 points in 71 games, good for second-most among Rochester defensemen. He scored those points, though, in somewhat of a sheltered role, and this season Laaksonen has just two points in ten games played.
Close to the end of last season, it seemed the cracks were starting to show in Laaksonen’s standing in Rochester. In a story covering the blueliner’s situation from last spring, the Times Herald’s Bill Hoppe noted that the Americans were sending a “not-so-subtle” message to Laaksonen that he needed to make his game more balanced in order to remain in their plans.
Despite his solid production, Laaksonen sat out the first eight games of the Americans’ Calder Cup playoff run, and after a particularly painful 6-5 triple-overtime loss to the Laval Rocket, Americans coach Seth Appert had the following to say about Laaksonen’s game:
His defensive game has to continue to improve, his commitment to defending and playing with the physical style. He’s never going to be a physical defenseman, but in North America, you have to physically engage to defend.
Those comments indicate that Laaksonen was heading into this year on thin ice in Rochester, and after 23 games (he played in just ten of them) it seems that the team decided Laaksonen needed a change of scenery.
He’ll head to the AHL’s Texas Stars in return for Cecconi, a 25-year-old native of Youngstown, New York, which is just over 30 miles away from Buffalo.
Cecconi was a fifth-round choice of the Stars at the 2015 draft. He had a four-year collegiate career at the University of Michigan before he made the leap to the pro game. For the past four years, Cecconi has been a regular contributor in Texas, mostly in a bottom-pairing capacity.
In his comments on Laaksonen, Appert noted a need to “physically engage” in order to survive on a North American blueline. In acquiring Cecconi, Sabres management has provided their AHL bench boss with a defenseman who is far better suited to play the sort of violent, physical game that the AHL can be known for. Cecconi stands six-foot-three, 215 pounds, and registered 52 penalty minutes last year.
In addition to his physical strengths, Cecconi plays on the second unit of Texas’ AHL-best penalty kill, which is running at an 88.2% rate. By trading for him, not only has Rochester gotten the more physical defenseman they seem to have desired, but they also have attempted to address their weak penalty kill, which is currently killing penalties at just a 70.6% rate.
While this is a deal that is unlikely to be of major consequence to both the Stars and the Sabres, it should make a meaningful difference for both clubs’ AHL affiliates as well as the involved players.