The Panthers made a flurry of moves on Wednesday just prior to the NHL trade deadline at 3PM, and included in those moves was the acquisition of veteran forward Thomas Vanek.
As buyers for the 3rd straight season, the Panthers surrendered a conditional 2017 3rd-round pick – which changes from Florida’s pick to Arizona’s if they make the playoffs – and defenseman Dylan McIlrath, who was acquired earlier in the season for Steven Kampfer.
McIlrath, a former 1st-round pick of the Rangers, played in just 5 games with the Panthers, recording 1 goal and 10 penalty minutes while averaging 9:34 of ice time. He also played in 18 games, recording 1 goal and 3 assists, with the Panthers’ AHL affiliate, the Springfield Thunderbirds.
The Red Wings will also retain 50 percent of Vanek’s remaining cap hit, meaning he’ll only take up about $289,000 of the Panthers’ total cap space, which is a steal for what he brings to the table.
Vanek, a native of Austria, brings a wealth of scoring experience to the Panthers. Prior to the trade, he led the Red Wings in goals with 15, was second in assists with 23, and sat second in overall points with 38 in 48 games, which is nearly a point-per-game pace.
Not only that, but he is currently 5th in the entire NHL with a 2.80 points-per-60 scoring rate at even-strength, putting him just behind some familiar names in Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malgin. With the Panthers poised to take another step forward this season, the cost to add a player with the offensive ability and overall skill level of Vanek was certainly one worth paying.
“Thomas is a proven scorer in this league who will add some offensive savvy and experience to our young group of forwards,” said Dale Tallon, the Panthers’ President of Hockey Operations. “We believe strongly in our group and we’re confident that he will help our power play and supplement our core effectively.”
Vanek is known around the league for his touch around the net and stick-work on the power play, particularly in the slot where he has a knack for redirecting shots.
“[Vanek is] a real good addition to our team, without interrupting our team, and not giving up any of our young prospects,” said Tallon. “Now we feel we have 3 lines that can score, multiple options on power play, specialty teams, and shootout.”
The Panthers also expressed interest in forwards Jannik Hansen and Radim Vrbata, but both proved to be too costly as they were not willing to give up prospects or high picks for a rental. In exchange for Hansen, the Canucks received one of San Jose’s top prospects in Nikolay Goldobin, who’s producing at nearly a point-per-game in the AHL as a 21-year old. Vrbata stuck with Arizona as their desires weren’t met by the teams interested in acquiring one of the deadline’s top available players.
Vanek is expected to suit up for the Panthers for the first time on Thursday when they take on the Philadelphia Flyers, and he’ll make his home debut on Saturday against the Dallas Stars. The 33-year old will wear number 26.
In addition to Vanek, the Panthers acquired goaltender Adam Wilcox from the Tampa Bay Lightning in exchange for goaltender Mike McKenna, as well as defenseman Reece Scarlett from the New Jersey Devils for forward Shane Harper.
Wilcox, 24, is currently in the midst of his second season of pro hockey and has compiled a goals-against average of 2.88 and a save percentage of 0.895 through 34 games this season for the AHL’s Syracuse Crunch.
The South St. Paul-native attended the University of Minnesota where he was teammates with Nick Bjugstad for 1 season, Kyle Rau for 3 seasons, and named the NCAA’s Big Ten Conference best goaltender and Player of the Year during the 2013-14 season.
“Wilcox was a goalie that we tried to sign as a free agent,” said Tallon. “He’s a battler, a tough competitor, he’s a good goalie.”
Mike McKenna, who went to the Lightning in the deal, has been with the Panthers’ organization for the past 3 seasons and is set to become an unrestricted free-agent at the end of the year. Wilcox is in the final season of a 2-year deal and will become a restricted free-agent when it comes to an end.
However, the Panthers will have some flexibility when it comes to the goaltending position as Reto Berra, Sam Brittain, and Colin Stevens will also be up for new contracts while Sam Montembeault and Evan Cowley will be joining the pro ranks.
The last of the new Panthers is Reece Scarlett, a 23-year old, right-shot defenseman from the New Jersey Devils, who has spent the past 4 seasons in the AHL. A 6th-round pick of the Devils, Scarlett is a mobile blue-liner that possesses offensive upside as he has tallied 92 points in 215 career AHL games.
For Scarlett, the Panthers gave up Shane Harper, who made his NHL debut with the team by making the Opening Night roster back in October. The energetic, 28-year old winger scored his first 2 career goals on October 22nd against the Avalanche and played in a total of 14 games before returning to the AHL where he tallied 19 points in 39 games with the Panthers’ AHL affiliate.