On Wednesday the Kings acquired 23-year-old defenseman Brayden McNabb and two second round picks from the Buffalo Sabres in exchange for Hudson Fasching and Nicolas Deslauriers. The Kings did well to pry the two draft picks out of Buffalo, but the key to the deal was McNabb, whom Dean Lombardi hopes will be a top-four defenseman in Los Angeles one day. Let's take a look.
McNabb is a huge person at 6'4", 208 pounds. He uses that size aggressively and has a reputation for huge open-ice hits. As for the rest of his game, the consensus is that while his skating needs work, his offensive instincts and puck skills are quite good for his size. Unlike a certain other former Sabre, left-shot, physical defenseman I could mention, McNabb has a powerful slapshot.
McNabb played his junior hockey for the WHL's Kootenay Ice. He posted a pretty decent 2008-09 season, recording 36 points and 10 fighting majors in 67 games, and the Sabres took him with the 66th pick of the 2009 draft. The next two years saw fewer fighting majors and PIMs and more offensive production as McNabb focused on the skilled part of his game. As a 20 year old in 2010-11 he finished third in scoring among WHL defensemen and fought just twice. In that year's postseason he received a one game suspension for this horrifying elbow on Joey Hishon:
A nasty hit. It's pretty disgraceful that McNabb was only suspended one game, and this led to some legislation prescribing stronger penalties for hits to the head in junior hockey. Hishon, a 2010 first round pick of the Avalanche, missed the entire 2011-12 season with a concussion. (He is still playing hockey and is doing better now; you can read about his recovery here.)
McNabb spent most of 2011-12 with the AHL's Rochester Americans. He was a key part of Rochester's power play, a promising indication for his offensive abilities. He played his first 25 NHL games that year, posting neutral possession numbers as a third pairing defenseman - not bad at all for a such a young player. Along the way McNabb also scored his first and, so far, only NHL goal against the Washington Capitals.
McNabb spent all of 2012-13, a season he would describe as "not his best," in the AHL. His point totals remained solid but his plus/minus dropped from +15 to -1; perhaps his defensive game regressed, or perhaps he was just the victim of bad luck. Whatever the case, 2010 first-rounder Mark Pysyk seems to have passed McNabb in the Sabres' pecking order and got the call-ups instead. McNabb's season was good enough to get him a spot in his second AHL All-Star game.
In 2013-14 the emergence of defensive propects Rasmus Ristolainen and Nikita Zadorov made McNabb even more expendable to the Sabres. Nevertheless, he received another NHL call-up in November and played 12 games in the NHL, again posting respectable possession numbers in a small sample. Ultimately, the Sabres had so many good defensive prospects - and were so desperately short of forward talent - that the trade with LA came together.
Prior to the trade deadline, with Matt Greene and Willie Mitchell both on the way to unrestricted free agency, LA's 2014-15 blueline looked like this:
Note that Robyn Regehr is the only defensive defenseman. He is 33, terrible, and a UFA after 2014-15. The Kings might resign one of Greene or Mitchell, but both have had significant issues with health and effectiveness lately. None of the Kings' defensive prospects are a good bet to be NHL ready next year. Given those circumstances, and that the Kings value physicality on the blue line, the acquisition of a young, cheap defensive defenseman makes sense. McNabb won't be expected to contribute this year. But if all goes well he could play sheltered minutes with Martinez next year (or serve as seventh defenseman should the Kings sign a free agent) and replace Regehr on the second pairing in 2015-16 and beyond. Since McNabb has a surprising amount of offensive talent to go along with his solid defensive reputation, I think he has a good chance of succeeding.
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