Connor Dewar is a trade option to improve the Maple Leafs penalty kill

Photo credit:© Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports
Michael Mazzei
5 months ago
As the Leafs enter the All-Star break, it’s hard to get an accurate read on the team regarding how things will go down the stretch.
On the one hand, they are in a playoff spot and are just a point back of the Lightning with three games in hand for third in the Atlantic Division. Their star players have performed mostly as advertised and have plenty of offensive talent to give them a fighting chance every night. At the same time, their defensive shortcomings have been well-documented and have continued to be a huge question mark regarding how Brad Trelving will look to improve that area.
We have heard countless rumours suggesting that the team’s top priority is to shore up the back end whether it’s via a major splash or a swapping of roster players to at the very least start the process of building the defence closer to Treliving’s vision. While I still believe that their number one priority is to get a defenceman, their secondary target should be to get a more defensively responsible forward to add to the bottom six.
Anyone who has seen me on Twitter would know that Alexey Toropchenko is my top target to address this aspect of the Leafs as not only would he be a valuable add for this year, but also next year and beyond. Beyond the giant Russian forward, another player I have identified as worthy of consideration for this area is Connor Dewar of the Minnesota Wild.
The Pas native is currently in his third NHL season where he has primarily been used on the Wild’s fourth line shifting between taking draws and playing at left wing. He is not a scoring machine as evidenced by his nine points (seven goals and two assists) in 45 games played, although he did record his first career hat trick earlier this season on November 30th against the Predators. Where he truly shines is at the other end of the ice where Dewar has established himself as a solid defensive forward.
Before a lower-body injury that currently has him out of the lineup, he was the Wild’s second-most used forward when down a man behind only Joel Eriksson Ek. Minnesota’s shorthanded struggles (they are currently third last in efficiency at 73.5%) are not because of Dewar who has been among the best forwards in the league when down a man. He has a strong determination to be mobile and aggressive on the puck carrier which keeps the opposition honest and more prone to making a mistake. Should he gain possession of the puck, he quickly becomes a threat to score shorthanded given that he finished in the upper echelon of NHL players in that category last and is one of only three Wild players so far this year to score on the PK.
The underlying metrics have him ranked highly on the defensive side of the game. Evolving Hockey considers him to be in the 88th percentile in terms of defensive metrics while JFresh Hockey (as seen below) also has him ranked highly in that department and on the PK. More Hockey Stats even went as far as to rank Dewar as the second-best shorthanded player in the NHL last season, only behind an unknown player named Connor McDavid.
Additionally, Dewar does not shy away from the physical side of the game. He is fifth among Wild forwards with 50 hits so far this season and is on pace for around 91 hits. This would place him two back of John Tavares for third place among Leafs forwards in that department. Compared to last year where he registered 124 hits to finish fourth among all Minnesota skaters, it is certainly a step backward this time around but his eagerness to lay the body would nonetheless be a welcome addition to help make the Leafs even tougher to play against.
He is also willing to drop the gloves when the situation calls for it even if he doesn’t always emerge victorious. What makes this impressive is the fact Dewar stands at 5’10” and weighs 183 pounds, so it’s commendable that he doesn’t let his smaller frame stop him from dropping the gloves when needed.
So how much would it cost to acquire a bottom-six forward who is responsible defensively and effective on the penalty kill? Not that much, even with Dewar being an RFA at season’s end.
His ceiling is limited in the other areas of his game due to his low offensive output and that’s fine given that his performance at the other end of the ice is more integral to his success and what the Leafs need more than the offence. More crucially, the Wild have several young forwards whom they would like to give a shot with the top team as soon as next year including Caedan Bankier, Liam Ohgren, and Danila Yurov among others. Meaning Dewar could soon find himself on the outside looking in and Minnesota would probably be wise to consider getting an asset back for him now before his value decreases due to a lack of playing time.
If the Leafs just wanted to get him alone, it would likely only cost a fourth or fifth-round pick of which they have three of the latter available at their disposal. A more probable scenario would have Dewar be part of a bigger trade that also sees Toronto bring in a defenceman such as Jake Middleton. Either way, they should have no trouble fitting his $800K salary cap into the fold as he is making close to the league minimum and having no trade protection on his contract also helps ease out the process of acquiring him.
It is worth noting that Dewar was invited to the Leafs’ development camp back in 2017. It ultimately did not result in a contract or a draft pick by the team and while it remains to be seen how many members of the staff from back then are still part of the organization now, he is someone that the Leafs are familiar with at the very least.
As for where in the lineup he would be utilized, the most obvious answer is on the fourth line alongside David Kampf. Not only would that give Sheldon Keefe more flexibility in the faceoff circle since Dewar has experience taking draws, but would also push Noah Gregor out of the lineup to become the 13th forward as he has struggled to find his footing apart this year from his fast skating. Dewar would also give a significant boost to the shorthanded unit that currently finds itself in the bottom half of the league in terms of efficiency, where he could find success slotting with Kampf or Mitch Marner. Most importantly, he would be a player that Keefe would likely rely on to close out a game since he has yet to find an internal option down the lineup to turn to in crunch time.
Dewar is not well well-known commodity and certainly wouldn’t be a sexy add, but what he brings to the table is a dependable defensive game, strong determination, the willingness to hit and fight, and being one of the better penalty-killing forwards in the league. He certainly plays bigger than his size and would not need much time to win over the Leafs fan base with his hard work and tenacity.
Combine that with his low cap hit and being right in the prime of his career at age 24 makes Dewar the type of under-the-radar target that could be a huge boost to the defensive side of the game in which the Leafs could certainly use a boost upfront down the stretch.
Stats from Hockey-Reference.com and Natural Stat Trick.
Salary information from CapFriendly.

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