Hot off the heels of signing Petr Mrazek to a three-year contract, the Toronto Maple Leafs have made their first trade of Free Agent Frenzy Day. In a deal with the Minnesota Wild, the blue and white have acquired defenceman Brennan Menell in exchange for a conditional seventh-round pick in 2022.
The condition on the pick is that the Maple Leafs use Menell in 30 NHL games played in 2021/22 – otherwise, the team will give up nothing.
Menell, a 24-year-old right handed defenceman, joined the NHL umbrella in 2017 after three WHL seasons. A native of Woodbury, Minnesota, he signed with his hometown team and spent the next three years in Iowa, producing a very respectable 15 goals and 116 points in 197 AHL games played in his age 20-22 seasons. Lacking a serious opportunity for NHL minutes this past season and without a fully-structured AHL in schedule, Menell took his talents to Dynamo Minsk of the KHL. Minsk was not shy about using him like a true #1 defenceman, playing him 24:06 a night in the regular season and 25:26 in the playoffs. In a combined 52 games, he put up 6 goals and 39 assists for 45 points, making him one of the most productive offensive defencemen in the league.
Now, all of this doesn’t necessarily mean that you should be penciling him into your top units just yet, at least at the NHL level. He’s still got the dreaded-by-some size concern at 5’11, 177lbs, and he’s only got five games of NHL experience to draw from. Not to mention, the KHL has shown itself to not be an overly consistent predictor of talent on the blue line, which Nikita Zaitsev, Igor Ozhiganov, and Mikko Lehtonen have shown the Leafs in recent years. In all honesty, the three strong AHL seasons give me more confidence in his potential than one good run on the big ice, though having both is nice. But even those aren’t a guarantee – Marlies fans can tell you all about TJ Brennan being an incredible point producer who couldn’t translate it to the upper leagues.
A more optimistic modern comparable here might be Brandon Montour, who also scored buckets out of the gate in the AHL at a similar build, built up a lot of hype, and rode that to a long development curve in the show. After years of struggling to impact more than just the powerplay and a tough contract given to him by Buffalo, he seems to finally be coming around in Florida. If Toronto can be patient with Menell and make sure they develop him right instead of cashing in his offensive upside right away, there could be potential value here. I would expect that he’ll have a heavy leaning towards the Marlies this year, only coming up if he blows everyone’s socks off.
Expect at least two more depth defencemen signed by the Maple Leafs in the next day or so, to further bolster out that AHL and potential call-up group. But as for this deal, it’s low-risk, high reward, and it’s hard to dislike it.