Sabres trade targets: Scott Laughton and 7 other forwards who could help Buffalo

BUFFALO, N.Y. — Buffalo Sabres general manager Kevyn Adams isn’t interested in trading any of the team’s core players for future assets. He’s looking for players who can help the Sabres now and into the future.

With the Sabres sitting 10 points out of a playoff spot with under a month to go until the NHL trade deadline, Adams shouldn’t make an impulsive move out of desperation, but that doesn’t mean he should sit on his hands, either. The Sabres have arguably the best group of prospects in the league and plenty of draft picks. Eventually, Adams will have to move some of those future assets for pieces that can help speed up this rebuild. The Sabres are again the youngest team in the NHL this season, and it’s time Adams supported that young core with more veterans who can help the team navigate an NHL season.

If a deal like that presents itself at the NHL trade deadline, Adams should be open to it. We’ll be exploring some potential Sabres fits leading up to the deadline, starting with some forwards of interest.

The Sabres need forward help with Jack Quinn injured, but they also need to be thinking about what the forward group will look like next season. How soon will players like Matt Savoie, Jiri Kulich and Isak Rosen be ready for the NHL? Is there a spot waiting for Lukas Rousek, who has been putting together a stronger season in Rochester? And how many of their forwards will the Sabres be replacing?

Given the uncertainty with some of those questions, the Sabres should be monitoring the forwards market at the deadline and into the offseason.

Jarmo Kekäläinen has said it would take an over-the-top offer to pry Boone Jenner out of Columbus, but he’s since been fired. Blue Jackets president of hockey operations John Davidson has since said Jenner isn’t going anywhere despite the team’s getting a lot of calls about him. Still, Jenner is a valuable asset that won’t come cheap. Jenner is the Blue Jackets’ captain, is still just 30 years old and has a reasonable $3.75 million cap hit on his contract that lasts through 2025-26. Jenner has said he prefers to stay in Columbus and see the rebuild through. He also has an eight-team, modified no-trade clause. Whether he would accept a trade to Buffalo or whether Adams would be willing to pay the price to get him are legitimate questions. But Jenner is everything the Sabres need. He would give them a ready-made leader for the youngest team in the NHL. He’s a physical and competitive forward who can drag his team into the fight. Depending on how exorbitant the cost is, Jenner might be a big fish worth pursuing.

If the Sabres are looking to add more competitiveness to their lineup, Scott Laughton would be another worthy target. He’s under contract for two more seasons after this one at a $3 million cap hit. He turns 30 in May and hasn’t had his best season, but he would help provide the leadership and playing style the Sabres need more of. The biggest issue with Laughton could be the price. The center market has gotten expensive in recent weeks, and the Sabres might not want to part with their first-round pick given where they are in the standings. But if it’s not going to cost a first-rounder, the Sabres should consider Laughton. He’s a versatile forward who can add some jam to Buffalo’s middle six.

Peyton Krebs and Frank Vatrano battle for the puck. (Kirby Lee / USA Today)

Frank Vatrano is fresh off his first appearance in the All-Star Game and is on pace for a career high in goals. He’s done a lot of that scoring on the power play, where he has eight goals. He has a terrific shot and the type of finishing touch the Sabres have been lacking this year. He wouldn’t be a rental, either, since he has another season left on his contract at a manageable $3.65 million cap hit. The Ducks don’t have to trade him, but they might be looking to cash in on his strong season.

After back-to-back seasons with 40-plus points, Jack Roslovic has been slowed by injury this season in his contract year. He played under Don Granato and with Tage Thompson and Jordan Greenway at the United States development program, so he has built-in connections to Buffalo. His dip in production could make him affordable, too. With his experience playing both center and wing, he would give the Sabres another middle-six forward to provide lineup flexibility. He’s in the final year of his deal, so the Sabres wouldn’t want to give up a lot in case he’s a rental.

The Rangers might not be eager to move Kaapo Kakko, but TSN’s Darren Dreger has reported the team has taken calls about him. The No. 2 pick in 2019 hasn’t developed into an impact player yet, but the potential is there. The question here would be cost. Kakko only has five goals and three assists this season, but he has an on-ice expected goal share of 54 percent at five-on-five. How much will the upside be baked into the cost? The Sabres have their own prospects developing not too far behind Kakko, so they have to keep that in mind before offering a big package for another young and still unproven player. But at 23 years old, he would fit the team’s timeline.

The St. Louis Blues are in a playoff position, so it’s no guarantee they will be selling at the deadline. But The Athletic’s Chris Johnston had Pavel Buchnevich on the latest trade board, and he’s a name that Buffalo should be interested in. He’s under contract for one more season after this one at a $5.8 million cap hit, making him a player who can help now and next season. He’s a two-way forward who would fit at the top of Buffalo’s lineup and allow the Sabres to create a more balanced top nine.

Brandon Duhaime’s not the buzziest name, but The Athletic’s Michael Russo and Joe Smith noted he could be moved at the deadline if the Wild go into seller mode. Duhaime isn’t a big-time point producer, but he brings energy and physicality. He has 107 hits in under 600 minutes of ice time this season. That number would lead the Sabres, who particularly lack that element within their forward group. Duhaime is an unrestricted free agent after the season, so that might make him a riskier buy. But the Sabres and Wild have done business before, so he’s a name to watch.

Connor Dewar is another physical forward in Minnesota who could be of interest if the Wild are willing to trade him. He’ll be a restricted free agent this offseason and is a strong depth player capable of killing penalties and providing a bit of offense. He wouldn’t dramatically change the look of the Sabres’ forward group, but he would give them another option for next year when they could be replacing Zemgus Girgensons, Kyle Okposo, Victor Olofsson and Eric Robinson.

(Top photo: Len Redkoles / NHLI via Getty Images)

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