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2017 NHL Trade Deadline Target: Thomas Vanek could be the man for the job (again)

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Vanek would help flesh out the top six with reliable offensive production.

NHL: Centennial Classic-Detroit Red Wings at Toronto Maple Leafs Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

It seems like the Canadiens have been searching for top-six wingers forever. The problem was addressed on right wing with the addition of Alexander Radulov in the off-season, while Artturi Lehkonen has stepped in the bolster what would have otherwise been a shallow left side, though the Finn’s production hasn’t been at the level of a second-line player.

There’s always room for improvement, and a true second-line left winger to play behind Max Pacioretty would create two dangerous scoring units.

Enter Thomas Vanek. The Austrian once again finds himself a coveted mercenary heading into late February. Many of the current crop of Canadiens know Vanek well, as he was acquired by Marc Bergevin from the New York Islanders at the 2014 trade deadline for prospect Sebastian Collberg and a conditional second-round pick.

The trade seemed like a steal at the time, and it proved to be just that, as Vanek put up 15 points in 18 games down the stretch, helping the Habs to a third-place finish in the Atlantic division.

Vanek scored six goals and added nine assists while playing mostly with Max Pacioretty and David Desharnais. This time around, it would make sense for Vanek to slot into his natural left-wing position on the second line, next to Brendan Gallagher and Alex Galchenyuk. Paul Byron currently occupies that spot, but he’s scored twice in the past 23 games, and it would benefit to Canadiens to move him down the lineup and replace him with a more proven scoring forward.

The issue many fans had with Vanek during his brief stint in a Habs uniform was his production in the playoffs. He did put up 10 points in 17 post-season contests for the Canadiens, but his overall performance was perceived as disappointing, and ultimately led to him not re-signing in Montreal.

Instead, he elected to pursue free agency, signing a three-year, $19.5 million deal with the Minnesota Wild.

After two sub-par years with Minnesota he was bought out, and signed a one-year, show-me deal with the Red Wings for this season. He has shown that he still has something left in the tank, putting up 38 points in 47 games for the Atlantic Division’s last-place team.

Vanek would be coming to Montreal in a contract year once again. He is only 32, and while he’s past his prime, he’s a veteran scorer and first-line offensive talent. One would think he would be coming to Montreal eager to prove himself, as he would be playing for perhaps his last NHL contract, and would have a desire to help a team go on a deep run after disappointing in recent years.

While Vanek isn’t a particularly strong shot generator by himself, placing him on an exploitation line with Alex Galchenyuk and Brendan Gallagher should only help in that regard.

The acquisition of a player like Vanek would help alleviate the pressure that is currently on Radulov and Pacioretty. It would add another element to the Canadiens’ attack, and allow Claude Julien to mix up his top six on occasion. It would also create matchup problems for opposing teams, giving the Canadiens two potent scoring lines.

Vanek also brings 11 power-play points with him, and while that number doesn’t jump out at you, he would add a playmaking option to the Habs’ often listless second unit, or be an option for a four-forward first wave.

Another positive in a acquiring Vanek would be the price. According to Ansar Khan on MLive.com, Vanek would likely fetch a second-round pick (of which the Habs currently hold three for 2017), and potentially an additional third- or fourth-rounder. Given Marc Bergevin’s history and penchant for dealing second-round picks, this seems like a deal that could materialize ahead of the March 1 trade deadline.