The Avalanche have gotten a head start on the trade deadline.

Colorado acquired forward Matt Nieto and defenseman Ryan Merkley from the San Jose Sharks on Wednesday in exchange for forward Martin Kaut and defenseman Jacob MacDonald.

Nieto, 30, returns to the Avs for a second stint, two and a half years after re-joining the Sharks, who originally drafted him in 2011. A native of Long Beach, Calif., Nieto has eight goals and 15 points in 45 games. He enjoyed career highs in both goals (15) and assists (19) during his time with the Avalanche from 2017-2020.

Merkley, 22, was drafted No. 21 overall by San Jose in 2018 — just five spots after the Avs selected Kaut. Merkley was an offensively gifted, puck-moving blueliner during his junior career in the Ontario Hockey League but hasn’t been able to find his mark in either the NHL or AHL. He played 39 games with the Sharks in 2021-22, accumulating one goal and six points.

Listen to “EMERGENCY PODCAST: Avs acquire Nieto & Merkley for MacDonald & Kaut” on Spreaker.

My Thoughts

This is the exact type of under-the-radar trade that makes the Avs’ front office one of the best in the league. Acquiring a depth forward piece in Nieto at a time when the team desperately needs capable bodies up front, for an expendable piece in MacDonald is a solid move.

Nieto gives the Avalanche a forward that can slot in on the wing on any of the lower two lines. When healthy, he’ll likely fit in well with any two of Evan Rodrigues, Andrew Cogliano, J.T. Compher, Logan O’Connor, Ben Meyers or Alex Newhook among the bottom six.

In Merkley, The Avs ultimately get an underwhelming top pick from the Sharks for their own problem child. Kaut has not lived up to expectations in his nearly five years with the organization. His time in Colorado was seemingly coming to an end soon because of his inability to capture a permanent roster spot despite all the injuries this year. Merkley, a right-handed defenseman, gives Jared Bednar and his staff a reclamation project. He also provides another option on the right side, something Bednar mentioned has been an issue without Manson for the last couple of months or Makar over the past four games.

It’s by no means the type of deal that single-handedly wins you a Stanley Cup, but it definitely moves the needle. Simply put: This deal has the potential to be extremely rewarding with very little if not zero risk for the Avalanche.