It was about this time a decade ago that the NHL’s bottom feeders were engaged in the ‘Fall for Hall,’ a plummet to the bottom of the standings for the opportunity to draft projected first-overall pick Taylor Hall. Well, 10 years later, the NHL has been introduced to ‘Bahl for Hall.’
On Monday, the Arizona Coyotes went all-in on a potential long post-season run by acquiring prized trade chip Hall from the New Jersey Devils for a package that included not top prospects Barrett Hayton, Victor Soderstrom or John Farinacci, but instead Kevin Bahl, a Coyotes second-round pick in 2018 (55th overall). In acquiring Bahl, the Devils added some extra depth to a system that already has Ty Smith, Reilly Walsh and Nikita Okhotyuk, Bahl’s teammate with the OHL’s Ottawa 67’s.
On the surface, Bahl, a physical, 6-foot-7 defender, seems to offer size and size alone, but he’s more than a big body. One of his standout traits is his top speed and an ability to fluently transition between zones in a fast-paced game. Andre Tourigny, Bahl’s 67’s coach, called Bahl an “underrated skater” during Canada’s World Junior Championship selection camp last week.
“People look at him and right away they have a question mark on his skating,” said Tourigny, who will serve as Canada’s assistant coach at the world juniors. “I have a chance to see him every night. His skating is really good.”
Though he made Canada’s roster for the trip to Europe, Bahl wasn’t guaranteed a spot on the world junior squad this season, and his prospects dwindled as he failed to record a point in his first seven games. But his slow start was followed by a run of 20 points in his next 21 contests, Bahl finding exactly the right time to heat up.
“As soon as I got into the season, I was trying to work as hard as I could every second and really put the pressure on myself,” Bahl said. “I know that you got to have a really good start to the season to come into this (Canada’s selection) camp and, you know, it gives you an advantage. I put too much pressure on myself, and then I eased into it, took the pressure off a bit.”
For Devils fans, the world juniors will be their first opportunity to watch Bahl play while a member of the organization. He’ll likely be used in a shutdown role with Jacob Bernard-Docker, and Bahl’s part on the Canadian club could provide a glimpse into his future in New Jersey. “Bahl is not going to be a big point-producer, but you’re not expecting him to be, either,” a scout said during Canada’s selection camp. “It’s all about his defensive game with him. Bahl’s speed doesn’t make him a liability like you’ll see with other 6-foot-7 blueliners. You pair him with an offensively stout defender and you’ve got a reliable pairing to work with.”
Is Bahl the top prospect some in New Jersey believed they’d get in a Hall swap? Maybe not, but the Devils also didn’t totally lose out, either. He’s a big defender with a skillset that’s still in development. Think Ken Daneyko, or, to a lesser extent, Adam Larsson. Bahl is aggressive and defensively sound, which makes up for his lack of offensive upside. And landing a player of Bahl’s ilk is OK because the Devils are flush with offensive pieces, including Nico Hischier and Jack Hughes, not to mention another potential No. 1 pick, P.K. Subban (assuming he picks up his offensive play) and a prospect such as Smith on the way.
At best, Bahl makes an impact in the AHL next season and gets full-time NHL duty in two years. At worst, Devils fans can go back to reminiscing about the MVP crown Hall won and hope that one of the other pieces acquired in the deal – Nick Merkley, Nate Schnarr, the 2020 conditional first-round draft pick or conditional 2021 third-rounder – prevent the swap from going bust.