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5 NHLers who could use a change of scenery ahead of the deadline

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We hear plenty about pending unrestricted free agents - so-called "rentals" - at this time of year. The NHL trade-deadline hoopla revolves around that group of players.

Every season, though, a handful of players under team control also change teams midseason. Usually, these younger players have fallen out of favor with their organizations by failing to meet expectations. A change of scenery, the thinking goes, could serve them well.

theScore's Kyle Cushman recently wrote about prospects who could be on the move ahead of the March 8 deadline. Below are five more established players in the same boat.

Alexander Holtz, Devils

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Holtz was put on this earth to zip hockey pucks past goalies.

OK, that's a tad dramatic. Still, the 22-year-old right-shot winger is very good at finding unoccupied areas of the offensive zone and deploying his absolute rocket of a shot once the puck finds him.

On the flip side, Holtz is perceived as a liability defensively, and his usage this year has suffered because of it. "If you want to play more, don't get scored against," Devils coach Lindy Ruff said earlier this season when asked about Holtz's ice time, which through 58 games is only 11:39 per night.

Holtz, the seventh pick in the 2020 draft, has 13 goals and added 11 assists in his first full NHL season while largely skating on the Devils' fourth line and second power-play unit. Among New Jersey forwards, he ranks 11th in five-on-five usage (10:06) and eighth in power-play usage (1:21).

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It's hard to decipher from afar whether Ruff is simply offering tough love or the organization truly feels Holtz is a poor long-term fit. Regardless, if Devils general manager Tom Fitzgerald wants to acquire a decent goalie ahead of the trade deadline, putting Holtz on the trade block would spice up talks with rival executives. There's no doubt several teams would take a flier on the Swede.

Holtz's counting stats through 86 career games are nothing special - 16 goals and 14 assists. So, unless he breaks out in a major way, the cap hit on Holtz's second contract, which would start in 2025-26, won't be terribly high.

Arthur Kaliyev of the Kings is another young, shoot-first winger who could use a change of scenery. Like Holtz, Kaliyev's overall skill set has gaping holes that'll drive pretty much any NHL coach bananas. However, he also boasts a bomb of a shot. It takes just one enamoured club to jumpstart trade talks.

Spencer Knight, Panthers

An NHL franchise can never have too many good goalies.

That said, it was strange to see the Panthers use the 13th pick in 2019 on Knight, then sign Sergei Bobrovsky to an eight-year, $80-million deal 10 days later. Selecting a netminder in the top half of the first round is one thing; immediately blocking that hyped prospect's path to the starter's net for the foreseeable future is another. The sequence of events didn't quite add up.

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It's fair to say that signing Bobrovsky panned out. The Panthers competed in the 2023 Stanley Cup Final, and with Bobrovsky and backup Anthony Stolarz playing at an elite level this year, Florida's primed for another deep playoff run.

Which brings us back to Knight: If GM Bill Zito wants to bolster his lineup before the deadline, the 22-year-old goalie would be one of his top trade chips. Remember, Florida doesn't have a first-round pick in 2024 or 2025, and it doesn't have many high-end prospects. (The Athletic's Scott Wheeler recently ranked its prospect pool 24th in the NHL.)

While Knight's stock isn't what it used to be (he owns an .894 save percentage through 34 AHL games this year), he could be flipped for forward depth. Once billed as a future franchise pillar, Knight is still incredibly young by goalie standards and thus worth pursuing. He's back on track after spending a chunk of 2023 in the NHL/NHLPA player assistance program.

The biggest hurdle for Zito would be finding another GM to take on Knight's contract: $4.5 million per year through 2025-26.

Adam Boqvist, Blue Jackets

Chicago drafted Boqvist with the eighth pick in 2018, and he arrived in Columbus in the 2021 Seth Jones trade. He's since been unable to stay healthy enough to play a full season, with this year bringing a shoulder strain, and then a facial injury (thanks to an errant puck). Making matters worse, Blue Jackets coach Pascal Vincent has occasionally scratched a healthy Boqvist.

Boqvist's a distressed asset. The 23-year-old could use a blank slate elsewhere.

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The smooth-skating right-handed defenseman moves the puck well and could provide value in a sheltered role at a $2.6-million cap hit through next season.

Interestingly, Columbus appears to be showcasing No. 27 of late. Boqvist is skating alongside Zach Werenski on the first pairing at even strength and manning the point on the first-unit power play. This is all happening while defense prospects Denton Mateychuk and David Jiricek continue to excel in lower leagues. Both could see full-time NHL duty as early as this fall.

Boqvist could draw interest from rebuilding or retooling teams that, when they squint hard enough, see untapped potential and (maybe?) an eventual top-four blue-liner. A heavy investment in player development would be key.

Jake Bean, another Columbus defenseman, finds himself in a similar situation on the depth chart. The 25-year-old is headed toward restricted free agency.

Pavel Buchnevich, Blues

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Buchnevich is the outlier in this group of change-of-scenery guys.

He doesn't check the usual boxes of underperformance or low usage. Currently thriving, he may end up spending the rest of his career in St. Louis.

But moving Buchnevich would arguably be the best outcome for both player and team. His current contract - a bargain $5.8 million a year through 2024-25 - doesn't align with the Blues' competitive timeline. He's chasing his first Cup ring, yet St. Louis isn't tracking for a deep run this year or next. Even if the Russian winger loves the franchise and city, he theoretically could be traded and then return as a 30-year-old UFA in 2025.

The motivating factor for Blues GM Doug Armstrong would be the demand for Buchnevich. He could reel in a hefty package of picks and/or prospects.

It's easy to picture rival execs salivating over Buchnevich's playoff-tailored skill set. The 6-foot-1, 196-pounder is fantastic along the boards, in transition, and in front of the net. He's averaged a point per game over almost three seasons with the Blues (St. Louis acquired him from the Rangers in 2021). Buchnevich could be an ace third wheel for a top-six scoring line on a contender.

This isn't an easy situation for Armstrong to navigate, and Buchnevich has some power of his own - his contract includes a 12-team no-trade list.

Elvis Merzlikins, Blue Jackets

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Merzlikins' chances of playing out the remainder of his five-year, $27-million contract in a Blue Jackets uniform are slim. If his cap hit was a bit lower than $5.4 million, or his term was a bit shorter than three years beyond this season, he'd probably already be stopping pucks for another team.

The 29-year-old's career statistics hint that he's an average or slightly below-average NHL starter prone to stretches of poor play. He's talked openly about seeking "a new scenario" where he's the No. 1 option, not a backup. Yet the situation is complicated.

Blue Jackets president John Davidson is searching for a new GM after firing Jarmo Kekalainen. How do Davidson and this new GM view Merzlikins? Do they give the fiery Latvian a fresh start internally and double down on a Merzlikins-Daniil Tarasov tandem? Trade him? Buy him out?

As for the market, goalie-starved New Jersey reportedly expressed interest in Merzlikins, who's holding down a decent .902 save percentage through 33 starts in front of a porous skater group. Clubs that have abundant cap space and runway to work with him - the Blackhawks, for instance - could be fits as well.

John Matisz is theScore's senior NHL writer. Follow John on Twitter (@MatiszJohn) or contact him via email (

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