The Vegas Golden Knights are using their Expansion Draft exemption to their benefit today, strengthening their greatest position of need by adding a second center via trade before the NHL roster freeze set in. Believed to be the final trade submitted prior to the deadline, Vegas has acquired forward Brett Howden from the New York Rangers in exchange for a 2022 fourth-round pick and defenseman Nick DeSimone.
Howden appeared to be on the outside of the Rangers’ planned protection scheme and this trade all but confirms that. Although Howden is a former top prospect, a first-round pick of the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2016, his offense has not translated to the pro game. In fact, his scoring has been on the decline in each of his three NHL seasons. Howden works hard, plays the center position well, is a penalty kill asset, and his character is well-regarded, but his ceiling appears to be that of a bottom-six forward. If he learns to use his 6’3″, 200-lb. frame in a more physical manner, he could still become an impact forward given his youth and the flashes of ability he has shown. However, the Rangers were not willing to sacrifice another forward for a player who they have not seen enough consistent improvement from.
In Vegas, the Knights are exempt from the Expansion Draft and happy to take a chance on a center who otherwise could have gone to their new division rivals in Seattle. Howden will compete for a bottom-six center role early on, as will their other major addition today, Nolan Patrick, but there is potential for either center to climb up the roster given the team’s shallow depth at center. Improving that position, even with just a solid but unspectacular addition, is well worth a mid-round pick and aging prospect.
DeSimone did not last long in Vegas. The defenseman was acquired from the San Jose Sharks in the Mattias Janmark deal at the Trade Deadline and is on the move again a few short months later. A New York native who attended college in-state at Union College, this is a homecoming of sorts for DeSimone. The 26-year-old may be buried behind the Rangers’ deep group of young defensemen, but it never hurts to have an offensive-minded blue liner and right shot waiting in the wings.