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Too soon to judge unique Canadiens, Ducks trade

by Arpon Basu /

It's hard not to rush to judgment.

When two teams make a trade, a winner and a loser must be determined before the players involved have even arrived with their new teams.

By the time they actually take the ice, opinions have been cast and the groundwork for prejudice has been laid. The trade always will be viewed through the lens of that original analysis, no matter how much circumstances change.

Except trades like the one the Montreal Canadiens and Anaheim Ducks completed Monday are so rare in the NHL today that judgment on it must be reserved, even though that rarity also is the reason why it is so tempting to attempt to determine a winner immediately.

Teams simply don't do this very often.

When the Canadiens sent rookie forward Jiri Sekac to the Ducks in exchange for forward Devante Smith-Pelly, it was the definition of what is now called a hockey trade.

Sekac and Smith-Pelly were born four days apart in June 1992, and they have the best seasons of their respective careers ahead of them.

The last time we saw a trade that even remotely resembled this one, an exchange of two players already in the NHL at such a young age, it was Feb. 27, 2012, when the Vancouver Canucks traded center Cody Hodgson, along with defenseman Alexander Sulzer, to the Buffalo Sabres for forward Zack Kassian and defenseman Marc-Andre Gragnani.

Hodgson was the No. 10 pick of the 2008 NHL Draft, had played 71 NHL games and had turned 22 nine days prior to the trade. Kassian was the No. 13 pick in the 2009 draft; he had played 27 NHL games and turned 21 about a month before the trade. The Canucks had lost in the Stanley Cup Final to the Boston Bruins a year earlier and felt they needed to bulk up and get meaner up front. The Sabres needed speed and skill in the middle of the ice.

It was a trade that, from the looks of it, helped both teams.

With the benefit of hindsight we can say it didn't particularly help either team in light of the struggles Hodgson and Kassian have had since then.

That trade featured two young NHL roster players considered top prospects, which is not necessarily the case when talking about Sekac and Smith-Pelly.

But there are similarities between the two trades, and the fact that none of the more than 200 trades that have happened in the NHL since then are anything like this one shows just how unique it is.

If there is one thing the trade involving Hodgson and Kassian can teach us in light of the trade between the Ducks and Canadiens, it's that it will take time to be evaluated properly because both players remain works in progress.

Sekac is a young player still learning the North American game after three years in the Kontinental Hockey League. It's a big adjustment, particularly when it comes to the smaller playing surface in the NHL. He has a tendency to try to beat players wide, because that was where the room was when he was playing on international ice. In his first workout last summer in Montreal to prepare for training camp, Sekac attempted to beat a player wide and skated full speed into the boards. It takes time to unlearn some of those habits.

Sekac has gone 21 games without a goal and was going to be a healthy scratch for the 10th time this season when the Canadiens faced the St. Louis Blues on Tuesday. But he has skills that are unique for an NHL forward, partly because he honed his game in Europe, and he is a very effective player along the walls in a cycle situation. He could flourish as a jolt of skill in a lineup that needed some with the Ducks.

Smith-Pelly started the 2011-12 season with the Ducks but has bounced back and forth between the NHL and American Hockey League ever since. This was the first season of his four-year professional career that Smith-Pelly did not play in the AHL, but he has been in and out of the lineup and has one goal in his past 31 games.

Smith-Pelly enjoys the physical aspect of the game, and at 6-foot and 220 pounds, he has the body to play that style. It's an element Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin felt was lacking from his team's lineup.

After failing to land a clearly defined role in Anaheim, Smith-Pelly might find one in Montreal and thrive.

General managers love to say that time will tell whether a trade, draft pick or any move for that matter was a good one. That rarely has been truer than it is in this case.

The names involved are not what make this trade between the Canadiens and the Ducks intriguing. It’s what those names might become that is so tantalizing.

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