RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – The Carolina Hurricanes addressed an injury-riddled defense by trading for two blueliners and bolstered their forward group before the NHL’s deadline at 3 p.m. Monday.
The ‘Canes brought in right-handed shot Sami Vatanen from New Jersey and a lefty in Brady Skjei from the New York Rangers.
Once healthy, the 28-year-old Vatanen should fill the voids left by injured right-handed defenders Dougie Hamilton and Brett Pesce. There’s a good chance he plays on the top defensive pairing with Jaccob Slavin. Trevor van Riemsdyk is the only other healthy right-shot blueliner.
Skjei was in the midst of his fourth season as a full-time Ranger. The 25-year-old will be the fifth left-handed defenseman on the ‘Canes roster. Slavin, Jake Gardiner, Joel Edmundson, and Haydn Fleury also naturally play the left side, although one of the five will likely play on the right.
For Vatanen, Carolina sent prospects Janne Kuokkanen and Fredrik Claesson and a conditional pick to the Devils. The condition on the draft pick is that it will be a fourth-round selection if Vatanen plays five games in the regular season. If he plays in 12 regular-season games or 70 percent of postseason games, that pick will be upgraded to Carolina’s third-round selection in 2020.
New Jersey retained 50 percent of Vatanen’s contract.
The ‘Canes traded a first-round pick to the Rangers in the Skjei deal. The Hurricanes own Toronto’s first-round selection in this year’s draft unless it ends up being in the top 10, in which case the first-round pick will be in the 2021 draft. If the Hurricanes have both first-round picks, whichever one is later in the draft will go to the Rangers.
“We wanted to make sure we addressed our defense, which we feel very strongly we did,” Waddell said.
Carolina could still go into the draft this summer with a pick in the first, two in the second, at least one in the third, and two in the seventh rounds.
The deals for Skjei and Vatanen were made up against the 3 p.m. deadline. Earlier in the day, Carolina sent four players — Erik Haula, Lucas Wallmark, and prospects Eetu Luostarinen and Chase Priskie — to Florida in exchange for 26-year-old center Vincent Trocheck.
Trocheck had a career-high 31 goals in 2017-18 and combined for 48 in the two seasons prior to that. However, his production has waned since suffering a fractured ankle in November 2018. He has 10 goals and 26 assists in 55 games this season.
“Vincent brings elements of skill and competitiveness that fit the mold of the style we want to play,” said general manager Don Waddell. “He’s a right-handed center who is excellent in the face-off circle.”
Skjei’s contract, which pays him $5.25 million per year, runs through 2024. Trocheck will remain under contract at $4.75 million per year through 2022. Waddell said the term remaining on their contracts factored into the deals.
Vatanen is an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season.
Vatanen is currently on injured reserve and is expected to debut with Carolina in early March, Waddell said. That and placing Hamilton on long-term injured reserve helped the team stay under the salary cap.
On Sunday, the Hurricanes also announced they recalled goalies Anton Forsberg and Alex Nedeljkovic from the Charlotte Checkers. Both Petr Mrazek and James Reimer are injured, meaning that duo, which has combined for 30 wins at the AHL level this season, will have to man the goaltender crease for the time being.
Nedeljkovic, who is regarded as Carolina’s goalie of the future, has a .905 save percentage and 2.51 goals-against average in his 28 appearances for Charlotte this season. That’s down from the .916 save percentage and 2.26 GAA he logged in 51 games last year.
Nedeljkovic picked up a win over Vancouver last season in his only NHL start to date. Forsberg, who is only signed through this season, made 30 starts for the Chicago Blackhawks in 2017-18. He had a .908 save percentage and 2.97 GAA in that campaign.