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8 under-the-radar NHLers who should be targeted before the trade deadline

National Hockey League / Getty

Noah Hanifin, Jake Guentzel, Sean Walker.

Those are some of the names that every hockey fan has heard many times over the past few weeks in the lead-up to the NHL's trade deadline March 8.

And while those players remain some of the biggest names available, there are always intriguing targets flying under the radar at this time of year.

Here are eight under-the-radar players who could move before the deadline and make an impact for a contender come the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Tommy Novak*

*Editor's note: The Predators signed Novak to 3-year extension after this article was published.

GP G A Cap Hit Contract Status
51 13 21 $800K Pending UFA

Novak is a fascinating chip considering his scoring and contract.

His 45 points at five-on-five since Jan. 1, 2023, are more than the likes of Brad Marchand, Mika Zibanejad, Bo Horvat, and Nick Suzuki, among numerous others.

Novak has done so primarily as a third-liner, having played an average of 14:22 over the past two seasons. A player who can create up and down the lineup is an intriguing profile for many playoff teams in search of depth scoring.

What puts him at the top of this list is his $800,000 cap hit. Any contending team can fit him on its roster with relative ease. That's not the case for other scoring options such as Vladimir Tarasenko ($5 million) or Jordan Eberle ($5.5 million).

Novak is neither physical nor particularly adept at the faceoff dot. But if the Predators can't come to terms with the forward on a contract extension, many teams should be interested in his services.

Yakov Trenin

John Russell / National Hockey League / Getty
GP G A Cap Hit Contract Status
59 10 4 $1.7M Pending UFA

Sticking with the Predators, Trenin is more of the typical deadline target that general managers covet.

The 27-year-old is listed at 6-foot-2 and 201 pounds, and he knows how to use his frame. He ranks in the 95th percentile in forecheck involvement per All Three Zones, and his 135 hits are in the top 20 among forwards.

Trenin has also been one of the best penalty killers league-wide this season. He ranks seventh in shot attempts against per 60 among forwards with at least 75 shorthanded minutes, per Natural Stat Trick.

As a good defensive forward with some finishing ability, he's a player who should generate a fair bit of interest if Nashville takes calls on the pending free agent.

Oliver Kylington

GP G A Cap Hit Contract Status
13 2 1 $2.5M Pending UFA

Kylington recently returned from an extended absence, so this is a case where the player will dictate if anything happens.

If Kylington is comfortable being traded, he's a smooth-skating defenseman who can win his minutes on a third pairing.

Kylington broke out during his last full season in 2021-22 while playing alongside Chris Tanev. The duo dominated its minutes to the tune of 55.8% Corsi for and 57.5% expected goals for, outscoring the opposition 56-35 in the process.

Kylington has proven he can be an effective NHL defender, particularly moving the puck up the ice. At the very least, a team in need of a defender should gauge the player's and the team's interest in a deadline trade.

Max Pacioretty

Dave Reginek / National Hockey League / Getty
GP G A Cap Hit Contract Status
25 3 12 $2M Pending UFA (NMC)

Pacioretty is a curious case as he'll make $4 million this season, but his cap hit will be just $2 million for any potential suitor. That's because of a $2-million performance bonus for 20 games played that would remain on the Capitals' books as he's already reached the total.

Pacioretty doesn't need much of an introduction. His resume as an offensive weapon speaks for itself, as does his significant injury woes since 2022. He's been moderately productive while consistently appearing in Washington's lineup since January. The goal-scoring hasn't quite been there yet, but he's also fired 56 shots on goal and converted at only a 5.4% rate.

Pacioretty controls his future with a full no-movement clause, but one would have to guess the 35-year-old would welcome a move to a true Cup contender.

Johnny Kovacevic

GP G A Cap Hit Contract Status
51 6 3 $767K Signed through 2024-25

The Canadiens have too many defensemen. Eight blue-liners have played over 25 games this season for Montreal, and that's before Lane Hutson's likely arrival at season's end.

Some are veterans with notable cap hits, while others are developing players who project to be on the team for years to come. Kovacevic doesn't quite fit into either group, making him a candidate whom a team could shake loose from the Habs.

Signed through next season at a cap hit under the $775,000 league minimum, Kovacevic makes a lot of sense for teams right at the cap ceiling as a depth option on the backend. He's a right shot with size, listed at 6-foot-5 and 218 pounds, and he's produced good on-ice results relative to his team.

His 12.7 expected goals above replacement since the start of the 2022-23 campaign rank second only to Nick Suzuki among Habs players, per Evolving Hockey.

Kovacevic isn't the flashiest, but a lot of teams would love to add a defender of his profile and cap hit for a pair of playoff runs.

Mathieu Joseph

Kirk Irwin / Getty Images Sport / Getty
GP G A Cap Hit Contract Status
49 10 20 $2.95M Signed through 2025-26

Joseph was a prime candidate to be shipped out of Ottawa after a tough 2022-23 campaign to fit Shane Pinto onto the team at the start of the season.

Then came Pinto's suspension and a second chance for Joseph. He's made good on it, finding his form from late in the 2021-22 season to feature in the team's top six.

Joseph is a speedy winger who creates off the rush as more of a playmaker than a finisher. He's good defensively and is adept at exiting the zone and turning it into entries with his skating ability. Joseph is also a regular penalty killer.

As Ottawa looks to shake things up with a new regime in control, Joseph could again be a player on the move - this time as an asset.

Justin Danforth

GP G A Cap Hit Contract Status
60 9 10 $975K Signed through 2024-25 at $1.1M

Danforth signed a contract extension back in October, garnering a slight raise from $975,000 to $1.1 million. But that was when GM Jarmo Kekalainen was still in town. As a 30-year-old winger who plays in the bottom six, there's no reason the Blue Jackets should be opposed to moving Danforth.

He's a remarkable story of perseverance. Danforth played college hockey at Sacred Heart, then had stints in the ECHL, Finland, and Russia before signing an NHL contract. That shows in the way he plays.

Danforth is a water bug, flying around the ice as one of the league's fastest skaters. He's an aggressive forechecker and doesn't shy away physically, either, despite a 5-foot-9 frame. His 100 hits rank second on the Blue Jackets.

Playoff teams are always looking to add speed and tenacity to their lineup. Danforth fits the bill and is inked through next season at a very reasonable cap hit.

Nicolas Aube-Kubel

GP G A Cap Hit Contract Status
45 6 10 $1.225M Pending UFA

Aube-Kubel is physical, he's already played at the bottom of the lineup for a Cup-winning team, and he flies around the ice. That's a lot to like for buying teams.

Aube-Kubel has chipped in a moderate amount offensively while being a strong defensive presence since being claimed off waivers by the Capitals in 2022. He's not going to play up the lineup, but you can do a lot worse when looking for a fourth-line upgrade.

(Salary source: CapFriendly)

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