I suspect the question posited in the title is not one that has kept a lot of hockey fans up at night over the last while, but given that the New York Rangers have swapped the former to the Phoenix (for now, anyway) Coyotes for the latter, perhaps it is a question that deserves to be asked.
Ethan Werek was a second round pick (47th overall) in the 2009 Draft. Oscar Lindberg was a second round pick (57th overall) a year later, in 2010. Lindberg is a defensively responsible centre with decent size, while Werek is a two-way centre who stands 6’2” tall. Werek’s numbers are underwhelming, although he’s had international success; in contrast Lindberg has had some pretty decent international tournaments but hasn’t blown anybody away with his scoring totals in the Swedish Elite League.
Are these players virtual clones, or is there some gap between them? Who won this deal?
Let’s start by taking a closer look at Werek. His numbers in his draft year were quite decent – 32 goals and 32 assists in 66 games. Still, it was his work as for Canada’s entry in the IIHF U-18 tournament that really turned heads – Werek scored four goals and six points in six games, while playing the gritty style that he has become known for. He’s regarded as a character player (he served as the captain of his OHL team), he has both scoring and playmaking ability, and he’s both tough and willing to engage.
Those are the positives. On the negative side of the ledger, there are a few issues. Werek’s battled various injuries, ranging from his wrist to his hips to multiple knee injuries. That’s a lot for a guy who has yet to play his first professional game. Skating has been an issue since draft day, and is never going to be a strength. Additionally, Werek was suspended five games late in the OHL season for a nasty hit he threw. There were signs that the Rangers had become less enthralled with Werek – as Jess Rubenstein notes, it’s not a good sign when a 20-year old whose OHL season has ended isn’t offered an American Hockey League tryout.
Then there’s Lindberg. Every scouting report on Lindberg should be mandated to start with his faceoff prowess: Lindberg has played three seasons in Swedish junior, and he has led the Swedish junior league in faceoff percentage three times. At his worst, he’s been 60% on the dot. Lindberg’s been getting limited minutes in the Swedish Elite League (averaging 10:53 per night), but still managed a respectable 14 points in 41 games played (and an additional seven in 18 playoff games). His plus/minus was not particularly good this season, but every scouting report I’ve read praises the strength of his two-way game. Additionally, despite questions about his offensive game he’s doing pretty well for a player his age – and he led all Swedish forwards in shots on goal at the last World Juniors (and managed four points and a plus-3 rating with limited ice-time).
As for negatives, Lindberg’s a less physical player than Werek. There are concerns about his ability to generate offense, and his skating isn’t going to blow anybody away.
Gabriel Desjardins’ league equivalencies has the players as pretty close offensively – Werek’s totals this year translate to a 27 point season, while Lindberg’s work out to a 22 point season at the NHL level (both totals over 82 games).
All things considered, I like this trade for the Rangers. Werek’s offensive totals might be underselling his ability, given the injuries he suffered last season, but he’s not clearly ahead of Lindberg, and the Swede is probably the better defensive player. My biggest concern is those injuries – Lindberg’s been relatively healthy, but Werek’s been battered in major junior and given the style he plays it is all too easy to imagine those continuing into his professional career. The Coyotes are gaining the player with the higher ceiling, but I think the Rangers have got the guy with a better shot at an NHL career.