A well-timed trading deadline addition can be the difference between an early playoff exit and a Stanley Cup banner. Every contender is looking to add, so you better participate in the arm's race.

This trading deadline is particularly important. The Connor Bedard sweepstakes have created a scenario in which a number of teams are, let's say, amenable to losing. At the other end of the spectrum, the Bruins sit atop the standings but there are otherwise a number of teams who are either clear-cut contenders or ready to at least take the next step and show well.

Typically, draft picks are the common currency at the deadline. Some teams lack a strong compilation of draft picks at their disposal, while sellers might require prospects who are closer to beginning an NHL career. GMs typically subscribe to the Endowment Effect—they hate to lose the prospects they've already drafted. Sometimes, they have no choice. Undoubtedly, young players will be on the move prior to the March 3rd deadline.

Identifying which prospects might be moved requires towing a fine line. On one hand, the prospect has to be good enough that the acquiring team finds him acceptable compensation. On the other, the trading team can't be married to that player. Finding the in-between depends on organizational context and the type of player each buyer is pursuing.

Here are the best prospects who could be traded by 17 buying NHL teams.


New Jersey Devils: Alexander Holtz (Right Wing)

The top player realistically available at the trading deadline is San Jose Sharks winger Timo Meier. That was true before Bo Horvat's move to Long Island, and it's definitely accurate today.

The wings are where General Manager Tom Fitzgerald needs to find an upgrade. So they might as well get the best one available. The Devils, who are competitive this season and on the rise toward a long contention window, are a logical match for the Swiss winger.

Typically, prospects included in deadline moves are of the middling type. This scenario is different. Meier is 26 years old and ranks 14th among all forwards by goals scored over the past two seasons. He'll be a restricted free agent after this season. Meier is not a rental nor even a short-term addition. Acquiring him likely means adding a star for the next five-plus seasons.

You have to give to get in this rare scenario. In this case, the player with whom the Devils would likely have to part with is Alexander Holtz. Drafted seventh overall in 2020, the Swedish right-winger is a goal scorer with high upside. Holtz was a point-per-game player in the AHL last season and has scored three goals in limited playing time over 18 games in New Jersey this season. He's not Timo Meier, but he a highly intriguing prospect who will likely turn into a top-six NHL winger. Usually, a prospect of this caliber wouldn't go anywhere, but acquiring Meier would make this the exception to the rule.

Other Candidates: Seamus Casey (RD), Nolan Foote (LW)


New York Rangers: Zac Jones (Left Defense)

The New York Rangers are the league's safest bet for executing a pre-deadline trade of substance. The team is comfortably in playoff position, signal a win-now ethos, and have a decent allocation of assets with which to work, including two 2023 first-round picks.

Their best young player presumably available is left defenseman Zac Jones. The 22-year-old defenseman has thrived in the AHL both this and last year; he currently sits with six goals and 11 assists through 25 games. He will participate in the AHL All-Star Game on February 6th.

That success hasn't quite translated to the NHL level yet. His eight points in 38 NHL games over the course of three seasons is far removed from the production one would expect from an offensive defenseman. And while Jones does have some tools that could lead to a decent defensive game — anticipation, puck retrievals, and footwork — he will sink or swim by whether he helps his team put the puck in the net.

The Rangers demoted Jones to the AHL in early December and, given his age and the repeated NHL trials, it's reasonable to assume that their hope for his future with the team has greatly diminished. Another team, however would be wise to bet on his clever touch with the puck and vision in the offensive zone. If another GM requires a young player with potential as part of a bigger package for a top-line forward such as Timo Meier, Patrick Kane, or Vladimir Tarasenko, Jones is the heavy favorite to be that inclusion.

Other Candidates: Vitali Kravtsov (Right Wing), Matthew Robertson (Left Defense)


Toronto Maple Leafs: Matthew Knies (Left Wing)

There is little doubt that Toronto will bring in reinforcements prior to March 3. For one, the team is a clear-cut contender. They enter the NHL All-Star break with the fifth-best record in the NHL by points percentage (.673). The time for improvements would be now even if management wasn't under immense pressure to finally get past the first round of the playoffs.

If General Manager Kyle Dubas is to go all-in, then Matthew Knies is the best asset at his disposal. Drafted late in the second round of the 2021 draft, Knies quickly proved that he deserved to go much higher. He was an standout at the 2021 World Junior Summer Showcase for Team USA and tallied 15 goals and 18 assists in 33 NCAA games for the Minnesota Gophers. Those are highly impressive numbers for a true freshman in the Big-10 conference. He's in the midst of yet another strong season for Minnesota and most scouts will be comfortable projecting him as a future NHLer.

Knies does a bit of everything. The Arizona native is 6'3" and 210 pounds, which lends well to a power forward game. But Knies also is composed with the puck and possesses a great wrist shot. There isn't much wow-worthy about his game, but he is a well-rounded winger who doesn't look too far off from a role as a middle-six NHL winger.

For sure, Dubas will be open-minded as the deadline approaches; he can't afford to be anything else. But even despite a building towards what could be a make-or-break season for his job in Toronto, the 37-year-old GM is a big believer in "The Process." Knies is the Leafs' top prospect and the Leafs, with a top-heavy roster, will need effective forwards with cheap contracts going forward. In fact, Knies himself may very well sign with the Leafs following the end of the college season and immediately jump into the lineup.

Would Dubas move Knies as the clincher in a trade for a young defenseman like Jakub Chychrun? Maybe. More likely than not, Knies is a piece that the Leafs keep. Nonetheless, he is management's top trade chip if the juice is worth the squeeze.

Other Candidates: Fraser Minten, Roni Hirvonen