Tyler Motte wasn’t exactly the headliner in the blockbuster trade that the Columbus Blue Jackets and Chicago Blackhawks pulled off last month. In fact, he looked more like a footnote when compared to Brandon Saad and Artemi Panarin — the principal parties involved in the swap.
Still, Motte can be useful for Columbus, though. In fact, the Blue Jackets could use a player like him right now. They lost William Karlsson to Vegas in the expansion draft, then Scott Hartnell and Sam Gagner left via free agency, opening up some forward spots heading into camp this September.
The Karlsson departure, in particular, could open some doors for Motte. Like Karlsson, the 22-year-old out of Michigan plays center. And he’s already known as a decent penalty killer — a reputation that was reinforced when Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville leaned on him in short-handed situations right out of camp to begin last year.
Granted, Chicago’s penalty kill struggled badly last season, particularly at the beginning. But Motte was a rookie at the time and the broader point is that an accomplished hockey mind like Quenneville saw enough in camp to envision him as an asset in those situations. And now, the fact that Karlsson ranked second among all Columbus forwards in terms of short-handed ice time is another reason why Motte might have the inside track to replace him. The Blue Jackets will need to fill that void, and maybe Motte can be part of the answer.
To be fair, it’s not like the young pivot is viewed as some top-tier, elite prospect. But he has some value. So much so, in fact, that Aaron Portzline of the Columbus Dispatch says Motte’s presence was essential in finalizing the Saad-Panarin trade. The Blue Jackets saw him as a potential solution to some depth issues up front, and held firm that he had to be included.
Through 33 NHL games, Motte has just three goals and four assists. So it’s not as if Columbus brought him in to challenge Alexander Wennberg for top-line center minutes. But he could find time in the bottom-six if he plays to his potential.
It’s also worth pointing out that six of Motte’s seven points came in his first 12 NHL games. He got injured right after that, though, and never really found his groove when he finally worked his way back into the lineup. But he’s still young enough where there’s plenty of room to grow. And the fact that he’s on his entry level contract means he carries very little financial risk.
Ultimately, it will come down to how he prepares over the next month and half — and then, what he can show in training camp. The Jackets already are familiar with his game, having seen him a lot when they scouted his college teammate, Zach Werenski, during the 2014-15 campaign. So they know what he can do.
The hope is that Motte can earn a role as a player who does a little bit of everything. Every club can use a couple of glue guys like that — players that can bring energy, block shots, kill penalties or whatever else is needed while occasionally chipping in some offense. And that sort of asset is especially valuable to a team like Columbus, which quietly has assembled a fairly compelling roster with lofty aspirations after the impressive 2016-17 regular season.
Whether it ends up being Motte, the Jackets need someone like him to step into the lineup this fall. Newly acquired forward Jordan Schroeder will push for ice time as well, and Pierre-Luc Dubois has to be considered a threat to take a roster spot, too. After all, the 19-year-old was the No. 3 pick in the 2016 draft. That’s not typically a spot where the player continues to sit and watch.
So it’s not as if Motte has an easy path to a roster spot in Columbus right away. But the opportunity to earn a consistent role may be more likely with the Blue Jackets than it was with the Blackhawks.