The Montreal Canadiens were the only team that Elliott Friedman mentioned when he noted that Columbus Blue Jackets forward Kerby Rychel could be traded this offseason in order to get help on defense. He didn't say that the Canadiens were in on a trade for Rychel, or even that they were interested, just that he wouldn't be surprised.
However, Friedman doesn't just throw team names out there willy nilly, he's obviously heard something. So if the Habs are looking at Rychel, and why wouldn't they be, so should we.
Who is Kerby Rychel?
Kerby is the son of former NHLer Warren Rychel, and he had an outstanding junior career. Picked 19th overall by the Blue Jackets in 2013, Rychel is a mid-sized left winger at 6'1" at a solid 203 lbs. A natural goal scorer, Rychel ripped home 115 goals in 194 regular season junior games (ignoring his 15-year-old season), and 13 in 24 playoff games. He led the Windsor Spitfires in scoring in both his 16-year-old season, and his 17-year-old season, before being traded to the Guelph Storm midway through his draft+1 year, where he led them in scoring during the playoffs with 32 points in 20 games.
Arik Parnass identified Rychel as a target for the Habs in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft, but he was gone by the time the Habs picked, and they ended up with Michael McCarron instead.
In his draft year, Corey Pronman lauded Rychel's bullet shot and offensive instincts, noting that he was a physical player with good hand-eye coordination that could create goals in front of the net. With that said, Pronman also said Rychel isn't a particularly creative player, relying more on a power game to get things done, and had some skating inefficiencies as well, even though he has decent speed.
Through dealing with concussion issues this season, he had a mildly disappointing professional debut for the Springfield Falcons in the AHL, scoring just 12 goals in 51 AHL games. However the leading scorer on Springfield scored just 17, and Rychel did finish second on the team in points per game played with 0.647, ahead of Marko Dano.
Even if you consider his first professional season a real disappointment, Rychel is a legitimate scoring prospect that few recent Habs prospects can match, and we can look at other players they've drafted through the CHL to compare, using 16-year-old seasons and up.
*Bozon played an overage year after suffering from meningitis.
**Andrighetto played only at 18 and 19 years old, inflating his per game numbers significantly.
In terms of pure goalscoring, Rychel is right there at the top of recent Canadiens prospects, which is extremely impressive when you consider how excellent Brendan Gallagher was in junior. Rychel does have an advantage in that he was one of the oldest players in his draft year, just a month younger than Anthony Mantha, but his totals are very good.
One thing to note though, is that his scoring numbers aren't too far above a large number of Habs prospects, and as Thomas has demonstrated, scoring in junior is no guarantee of scoring in the pros.
What would it take to acquire Rychel?
As with all trades, this is the most important question, and the part we know the least about. Friedman says that Columbus is looking at defensemen, and considering they're willing to part with a fairly good young prospect, you can guess that they're looking for a young defender in return.
The Blue Jackets are fairly tight against the salary cap as well, so don't think for even a second that Alexei Emelin will be joining his Russian compatriots Fedor Tyutin and Sergei Bobrovsky in Columbus. It isn't happening.
The first name that jumped into my head was Jarred Tinordi, a young former first round pick that seems to have fallen a little out of favour with the Habs, but the Jackets are pretty set on the left side right now with Tyutin, Jack Johnson, and young stud Ryan Murray. Certainly, Tinordi could fit in long term though.
The problem with that though, is that the Canadiens kinda need Tinordi to pan out in this organization. Andrei Markov is 36 years old, Emelin is just bad, and Nathan Beaulieu is just breaking into the NHL. Outside of those guys, the only left side defenseman in the Habs' organization is Mac Bennett, who's a long shot for the NHL.
Could the Canadiens fill that defensive need elsewhere and come out on top with a Rychel for Tinordi trade? Sure, it's definitely possible, but it's a risky proposition to trade from a position of weakness when you have five young players in the organization who scored at close to the same rate as Rychel in junior.
Now, if the Canadiens can acquire Rychel for a package that doesn't include either of Tinordi or Beaulieu, they should absolutely do it, but then we're getting into unrealistic territory, you have to give to get.