The 2017 NHL Entry Draft has come and gone in less than 24 hours. Following some first round excitement Friday night highlighted by I-95 rivals the Devils taking Nico Hischier the number one overall pick and the Flyers grabbing Nolan Patrick with the second pick, the Stars went with Finnish high scoring defenseman Miro Heiskanen.
Many teams including the Rangers tried to trade up to that number three spot but were unable to. Perhaps that was GM Jeff Gorton’s objective when he freed up $6.5 million in cap space by dealing popular first center Derek Stepan along with steady backup Antti Raanta to the Coyotes in exchange for the seventh overall pick and 21-year old defenseman Anthony DeAngelo.
Instead, Gorton settled on Swedish center Lias Andersson. Considered a reach at seven, the 18-year old left shooting forward scored three goals at the Under-20 World Junior Championship. He plays professionally for HV71 Jonkoping in the Swedish Elite League. In his second year, Andersson tallied nine goals and 10 assists for 19 points in 42 contests. He went 4-1-5 in the playoffs. Considered a good skater, he projects to be a top six forward.
While the usual critics jumped all over the pick due to wanting Michael Rasmussen (Red Wings-9th) or Gabriel Vilardi (Kings-11th), it’s way too early to judge. The thing about drafts is they’re a crap shoot. Unless you’re getting a bonafide stud like Connor McDavid or Auston Matthews, you just don’t know. I wish some of our fans had more patience. In listening to Gorton interviewed by Kathryn Tappen, he mentioned that while it was tough to part with a core player like Stepan, it was about freeing up cap space which will give the Rangers flexibility. He also talked about this being a rebuild on the fly. I take him at his word and trust Gordie Clark over any ‘expert.’
Another notable pick was Las Vegas taking small yet skilled Swede defenseman Erik Brannstrom with the number 15 pick they got from the Islanders in a salary dump of concussed center Mikhail Grabovski. Brannstrom sounds like he has some serious upside. In total, the Golden Knights wound up with three first round picks including sixth overall center Cody Glass from the WHL and center Nick Suzuki from Winnipeg at number 13. No doubt Las Vegas GM George McPhee will be building through the draft along with more trades.
After failing to acquire Matt Duchene, who was also highly sought by the Islanders, the Rangers kept both first round picks. With their 21st selection, they took another center in Czech Filip Chytil. Only 17, he completed his first year of pro hockey in the Czech Republic with Zlin ZPS HC. In 38 games, he registered four goals and four assists. While the TSN panel wondered about Andersson, the consensus on Chytil is they liked the pick. A good skater who gives maximum effort around the net, he wants to be like Matthews. Ha. One can only hope he’s half as good. He definitely doesn’t lack confidence. Pierre McGuire likened him to Tampa speedster Ondrej Palat. If that’s what he becomes, I’d be very pleased. That kind of breakaway speed and detail is something teams need in today’s much faster high tempo transition game.
In total, the Blueshirts drafted seven players. They traded down with San Jose in the fourth round to select New Jersey native overager Brandon Crawley. A 20-year old defenseman who spent the last three seasons with the London Knights of the OHL. That could be a sleeper. They tabbed defenseman Calle Sjalin in Round 5 from Sweden at 145. In Round 6, they took centers Dominik Lakatos (from Vancouver) and Morgan Barron (from San Jose). Finland center Patrik Virta was their final pick at 207 in the final round. A 5-9, 180-pound center. Gotta figure he has some good wheels and skill like potential 2016 seventh round steal Ty Ronning. He went number 201 last year.
As for the Islanders, they weren’t as busy making five picks. They went with three D and two forwards. The first three picks were blueliners with Finland’s Robin Salo going at number 46. With the 77th overall selection, they took American Benjamin Mirageas who played for Draft host Chicago in the USHL. He put up 10 assists in the playoffs after going 1-8-9 in 14 regular season contests. In a funny yet ironic pick, they took the other Sebastian Aho at number 139 in Round 5. The same name as talented Carolina rookie Sebastian Aho but this Aho plays defense and is Swede compared to Finn. Aho is a 21-year old overager who put up 10-20-30 for Skelleftea AIK in Sweden. When the Islanders and Hurricanes play, that should make for some interesting games in the future. 😉
Their final two picks were left wings Arnaud Durandeau (from Kings) and Logan Cockerill. The bigger news was GM Garth Snow managing to do quite well in getting a 2018 first round pick and two second rounders in 2019 from the Flames in exchange for defenseman Travis Hamonic and a 2019 four. That’s a excellent return for a solid character defensive D who wanted to be closer to home due to his family situation as reported early last season. Hamonic was a warrior for the Isles frequently dishing out hits and blocking shots while playing in the top four on the back end. Even though he struggled in ’16-17, the valuable right defenseman isn’t easily replaced. With three years left on a generous cap hit of $3.857 million thru 2020, he should be a good fit for Calgary.
The Islanders still have Calvin de Haan, Johnny Boychuk, Nick Leddy and Thomas Hickey in the top four. The hope is that Adam Pelech or Ryan Pulock step up along with Scott Mayfield. Maybe Snow does something else. But he really wants to give John Tavares another big scoring center to improve the team up front. Jordan Eberle for Ryan Strome is a good gamble if Eberle regains his scoring form with Tavares. He makes $6 million thru 2019.
Somewhat of an afterthought due to all the movement, the Sabres wound up adding six picks to their system. At number eight, they took Casey Mittlestadt. A 6-1, 201-pound American center from Eden Prairie, Minnesota. He fared well posting 13 goals with 17 assists for the Green Bay Gamblers of the USHL. After tabbing Swedish pivot Marcus Davidsson at number 37, Buffalo took a chance on 18-year old Finnish netminder Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen. He went 54th overall in Round 3. There isn’t much on him but the third round pick came originally from the Wild for rental Chris Stewart in 2015. If the Finn with the ultra cool name pans out, that could be one of those trades that’s talked about for a while. Stewart last played for the Wild this past season after leaving Minnesota for the Ducks in ’15-16. He’s bounced around but is signed for one more year in St. Paul.
Two of the Sabres’ final three picks were defensemen. With the number 89 selection from the Caps, they took another Finn in Oskari Laaksonen. He doesn’t turn 18 until July 2 while the free agent frenzy is going on. I wonder if he’s related to Antti Laaksonen. It doesn’t look like it. They also took D Jacob Bryson from Providence of Hockey East. He just completed his first year of college going 3-17-20 in 39 games. The final selection was Swedish forward Linus Weissbach at 199. A 19-year old overager who was nearly a point-per-game in the USHL with the Tri-City Storm, finishing with 19 goals and 28 assists in 49 games.
The Draft wasn’t without some big trades. Two involved the host Blackhawks. The first saw them send reliable defensive D Niklas Hjalmarsson to the Coyotes in exchange for Connor Murphy and Laurent Dauphin. Murphy is younger and locked into a longer deal at an AAV of $3.85 million thru 2022. Hjalmarsson was an integral part of three Stanley Cups for Chicago. He’ll be missed. The 30-year old vet is signed for two more years at $4.1 million per season thru 2019. Murphy has spent his first four seasons with the Coyotes never putting up more than 17 points in any year. It’s an interesting gamble. Dauphin is only 22. A former ‘Yotes 2013 second round pick, he’s totaled four points in 32 career NHL games. Supposedly, he has potential. We’ll see if the Hawks can untap it.
The biggest move was when the Blackhawks stunned the hockey world by trading popular Russian Artemi Panarin for Brandon Saad. It’ll be Saad’s second go round with the team that drafted him 43rd overall in 2011. He reached 30 goals for the first time in ’15-16 scoring 31 in his first season with Columbus. Originally acquired by the Blue Jackets for Artem Anisimov, Saad spent two seasons with the Jackets each totaling 53 points. Astonishingly, he’s still only 24 and has won two Cups with the Hawks where he’ll be reunited with former linemate Jonathan Toews. Toews and Patrick Kane announced the team’s first pick after trading down to 29 with Dallas to take Finnish defenseman Henri Jokiharju. A cool moment for the Hawks fans at the United Center.
Also yesterday, the Flyers surprisingly moved center Brayden Schenn to the Blues for center Jori Lehtera and a 2017 first round pick (Morgan Frost). Schenn will turn 26 in late August. Signed thru 2020 with an AAV of $5.125 million, the hard nosed center should be a excellent fit with the Blues who needed another gritty and tough versatile pivot. I love this deal for St. Louis and wouldn’t be surprised if it finally put them over the top. They definitely are going to be a top contender out West.
I guess the Flyers just decided they wanted to go in another direction. I really felt they should unload Claude Giroux but maybe his contract which pays him $8.275 million on the cap over the next five years is too rich for anyone’s blood. He regressed this past season along with another overpaid scorer Jakub Voracek. Both combine for nearly 17 million on the Flyers salary cap. At least it went up to $75 million for ’17-18.
It’s clear that GM Ron Hextall wants to get younger. By getting Nolan Patrick at second overall and making the Schenn trade to take Frost, who’s another center, he is doing that. The Flyers remain in the market for a number one goalie. Steve Mason is a UFA with Michal Neuvirth signed two more years. Is Anthony Stolarz the answer?
The Flyers drafted nine players including the younger brother of Ryan and Dylan Strome, Matthew Strome in the fourth round. A potential steal at 106. They definitely are reloading for the future. With Travis Konecny, Ivan Provorov and Shayne Gostisbehere already in place, Philadelphia looks to have a bright future. Expect more moves from Hextall.
In case you’re wondering, the final pick was made by the two-time Stanley Cup champion Penguins. With the 217th pick in the seventh round, they took defenseman William Reilly. Who knows? Maybe he’ll be the answer to a trivia question someday. Every pick counts.
With another NHL Draft in the books, it should be a very intriguing off-season. Especially with the Vegas Golden Knights now the 31st team and 15th out West. Figure them to make some more noise. It’s definitely exciting. Even if I’ve never been big on expansion, the idea of having a team in Las Vegas is cool. We’ll see how it goes. You can only wish the best for Marc-Andre Fleury, who’s as good as it gets in terms of his easy going personality. He said his goodbyes to Sidney Crosby and Carl Hagelin at the NHL Awards.
I think this is going to be an extraordinary summer. Even though there aren’t many big names to be had, I see more movement coming. I don’t believe the Rangers are done. The same for the Islanders. But it looks like Colorado GM Joe Sakic’s asking price for Matt Duchene is too much. He might just wind up staying with the confusing Avalanche. It’s hard to believe how far they’ve fallen from the glory days of two Cups with Sakic headlining it with Patrick Roy and Peter Forsberg, They look like they’re going to be extremely bad again. Only time shall tell.
The Habs are still trying to make a decision on center Alex Galchenyuk. They can either re-sign him for big money or trade him. Anything is possible. Will the Wild move one of Marco Scandella or Jonas Brodin?
So many questions must still be answered including whether or not the Rangers will give in on the estimated $23 million in cap space created once Kevin Klein retires. Are they going to go seven years on top right defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk? Or is that just another big mistake in terms and hurting them over the long haul. They definitely should bring back Brendan Smith. But filling out that other spot is essential.
I’ll have plenty more to say in future posts. It all heats up on July 1.