Toronto Maple Leafs: Julius Honka could be worthwhile trade option

DALLAS, TX - OCTOBER 13: Julius Honka #6 of the Dallas Stars at American Airlines Center on October 13, 2018 in Dallas, Texas. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
DALLAS, TX - OCTOBER 13: Julius Honka #6 of the Dallas Stars at American Airlines Center on October 13, 2018 in Dallas, Texas. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images) /

With the Dallas Stars reportedly shopping defender Honka, the Toronto Maple Leafs have the opportunity to add a skilled young blue-liner.

Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas has already had a busy offseason, and while he’s made his mark by adding some defenders, another name has popped up that should pique the curiosity of fans and teams alike.

The Dallas Stars are attempting to trade former top pick Julius Honka, according to the Dallas Morning News’ Matthew DeFranks, who added that if the team can’t find a trade, they could be forced to either carry eight defenders on their roster or run the risk of putting Honka through waivers.

Honka, 23, was taken by the Stars with the 14th overall pick in the 2014 NHL Draft. He played his draft year with the Swift Current Broncos, who got his rights in the CHL Import Draft. He managed to put up 56 points in 62 games to cement his status as one of the best offensive-minded blue-liners available.

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His career with the Stars hasn’t exactly gone to plan. Honka immediately made the jump from junior to the AHL following the draft. He suited up in 68 games for the Texas Stars, amassing eight goals and 31 points over that span. He followed that up with an 11-goal, 44-point season in 2015-16.

Since the arrival of new Stars head coach Jim Montgomery, Honka has seemed to fall out of favour with the Stars. He was a healthy scratch for the final 35 games of this season and didn’t dress in the playoffs. Instead, the likes of Roman Polak and Jamie Oleksiak saw ice time. That shouldn’t be looked at as an indictment on Honka’s play but rather the personnel decisions by the staff.

As it currently stands, the Maple Leafs could still use another right-handed defender on the back end. Tyson Barrie and Cody Ceci already have their spots in the lineup but the third spot on that side of the ice is up in the air. Justin Holl is currently slated as the third righty on the depth chart. There’s always the possibility that Timothy Liljegren gets a full-time slot with the big club in the fall, but he’s only played half of each of his first two years with the Marlies due to injury. Another year – or at least part of one – in the AHL wouldn’t hurt him.

If Mike Babcock doesn’t care about balancing shots on his back end, then Rasmus Sandin could also be on the table to make the team. But he’s only played one full season in the AHL, and while it was a fantastic year, he’ll be 19 when the season gets underway. He’s another individual that could grow some more with the Marlies.

Honka hasn’t had a large sample size to prove himself in the NHL. His career-high in games played over a single season is 42. He’s accumulated just two goals and 13 points in 87 career games, but he’s also over a half-point-per-game player in 201 AHL games. There’s a lot of raw talent still to be discovered and the Leafs’ staff could help Honka get closer to his true ceiling as an NHL defender.

Along with the likely low price tag, Honka could be just the piece the Leafs are looking for to round out their blue line for this season.

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