The first round of the NHL Draft was completed Friday night in Dallas. It marked the first time they hosted one. Maybe it should be the only instance with some unruly fans booing commissioner Gary Bettman as he spoke about the Humboldt Broncos. It was despicable. I get booing the universally loathed Bettman, who revels in it, always cracking jokes. But the timing was poor. As he said, boo him the rest of the night after the tribute to Humboldt.
Once Bettman got the Draft underway, picks came in fast and furious. As expected, the Sabres took consensus number one Swedish defenseman Rasmus Dahlin first overall. He should be able to step in right away and make a impact on the Buffalo blueline. With the club expected to move center Ryan O’Reilly either this weekend or after July 1, there should be more excitement in Western New York.
The Hurricanes quickly went for highly touted Russian scoring forward Andrei Svechnikov with the number two pick. A gifted player with great skill level, he scored 40 goals and added 32 assists in 44 games for the Barrie Colts of the Ontario Hockey League (OHL). This is a player who can make a big difference on Carolina, who is expected to move Jeff Skinner tomorrow, freeing up salary. They are not close to re-signing RFA Elias Lindholm. The sides are far apart, which means he could be dealt. One player they should retain is defenseman Noah Hanifin. It would be a huge mistake not to re-sign him.
Following the top two picks, things didn’t go as expected. With the third pick, the Canadiens passed on Filip Zadina to grab rising Finnish center Jesperi Kotkaniemi. A player who sounds very complete as most Finns are. Considering the draft need for a center along with the rumors they were high on him, it wasn’t too surprising. Most Montreal fans preferred Zadina, who slipped to number six where the Red Wings surprisingly grabbed the high scoring Czech right wing, who scored 44 goals with 38 assists in 57 games for Halifax of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL). Most expected Detroit to go D and select American prospect Quinn Hughes. Instead, he fell to seven where the Canucks grabbed him.
Picking fourth, the Senators had highly ranked American forward Brady Tkachuk fall into their lap. There had been some talk that perhaps Montreal was interested. Instead, the youngest son of Keith Tkachuk goes to Ottawa where he’ll be a focal point of their rebuild. Similar to older brother Matthew Tkachuk, who is adept at scoring in front of the net for Calgary, Brady combines strong skating with nice touch and edge. He definitely was a player I would’ve liked to see the Rangers trade up for. But it was painfully obvious that wasn’t in the cards. Ottawa is the midst of a revamp, which will include moving defenseman Erik Karlsson this summer. Unless they have a change of heart and think they can re-sign him, the superb two-time Norris winner will have a new home. They’ll continue to be a interesting team to follow following the Mike Hoffman/Karlsson mess involving Hoffman’s fiancée, who stalked Karlsson’s wife. At least Hoffman was dealt. They just didn’t foresee San Jose rerouting him to Florida.
At number five, Arizona reached for center Barrett Hayton. A Canadian player from Ontario with character, who has played for Sault Ste. Marie of the OHL. He registered 21 goals and 39 assists in 63 games during the season. His playoff performance must’ve helped. He tallied 21 points (8-13-21) in 24 games. There were higher rated players available such as Zadina, Wahlstrom, Adam Boqvist, Hughes, Noah Dobson and Evan Bouchard. They would fall like dominoes afterwards.
After Detroit surprised some by taking the high scoring Zadina at number six, the Canucks went for defense with top rated American prospect Hughes. A very smooth skater who isn’t the biggest in stature (5-10, 170), the left shooting D from Orlando will help the Vancouver blueline. He can really fly and jump into the play offensively. He represented Team USA well at the IIHF U20 World Junior Championship. In his freshman year at the University of Michigan, Hughes did well posting five goals and 24 assists in 37 contests. He is going to be fun to watch. Ironically, younger brother Jack Hughes is the projected first overall pick in next year’s Draft. He spoke to NHL Network’s Jackie Redmond about his brother’s maturity.
The big question when Chicago picked was would Wahlstrom fall. Given that the Blackhawks have an aging blueline with Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook no longer the same players, the answer was yes. The Blackhawks went for Boqvist. The righty Swede can score with the best of them, even drawing comparisons to Karlsson. A couple of concussions set him back, which probably explains why he slipped. Only listed at 5-9, 154, he’ll obviously need to get stronger. He’s very fast and has a good shot. It’ll be interesting to see how quickly he progresses on a now rebuilding team even though they still have Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews.
I was clamoring for the Rangers to take Wahlstrom. A classic North American scoring forward, who could project as one of the best finishers in this Draft. Of course, it was too good to be true. As soon as Pierre McGuire mentioned how much they loved Russian Vitali Kravtsov, I knew he was the pick. It’s not that he won’t turn out good. He sounds like a potential first liner but has a year left with Chelyabinsk Traktor of the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL). When it comes down to taking Russian players, there’s always a risk they could stay for a while. I’m hopeful Kravtsov, who goes 6-3, 170, can develop well and come over to North America in ’19-20. I just wonder what Gordie Clark was thinking. With some ranking him as low as 24, what was the rush? I would’ve preferred Wahlstrom, who from all accounts sounds like a can’t miss. He’ll go play for Boston College in the Fall. But it’ll be as a member of the dreaded Islanders, who scooped him up with the number 11 pick. They also landed Dobson. A high scoring Canadian defense prospect who put up 69 points (17-52-69) in 67 games for Acadia-Bathurst of the QMJHL. It sounds like Lou Lamoriello did it once again at the expense of the Rangers. Cue the flashbacks to Hugh Jessiman going before Zach Parise. Maddening.
Edmonton also did well landing Bouchard at number 10. They desperately needed a defenseman. The big Canadian exploded for 87 points (25-62-87) in 67 contests for the London Knights of the OHL. Yikes. Imagine what he could do with Connor McDavid. Oh boy.
At number 17, the Devils went with D landing Canadian Ty Smith. He’s played for Spokane of the Western Hockey League (WHL) where he went 14-59-73 in 69 games. Impressive numbers for sure for the left shooting defenseman who’s listed at 5-10, 176. If he pans out, New Jersey could have him along with impressive Will Butcher, who paced all rookie blueliners in points (44). A definite need for a improving team that now boasts the first ever Hart winner in franchise history, Taylor Hart Hall. Combined with Nico Hischier, they’ll continue to be lethal.
Committed to a rebuild, the Rangers had two more first rounders thanks to trades with Boston and Tampa Bay. They originally had the number 26 and 28th overall picks. But they decided they liked someone enough to move up to number 22 where they grabbed potential steal K’Andre Miller. A big defenseman who goes 6-3, 206 from Hopkins, Minnesota, the African American left shooting D spent the past two years playing for the U.S. National Team in the United States Hockey League (USHL). Raved about by the TSN panel, they loved the pick. To get him, Rangers GM Jeff Gorton swapped the number 26 and the number 48 picks (second round) to move up four spots. Most intriguing is Miller made the switch from forward to D at age 15. He sounds like a guy with big time potential. Exactly what the Rangers need.
Their final pick was a somewhat familiar name. They took defenseman Nils Lundkvist from Sweden at number 28. No. Not that Lundqvist. It is spelled differently. I’ve heard of him due to Lundkvist representing Sweden at the WJC. Not as highly touted as teammates Dahlin or Boqvist, he is a good skating D who plays more of a two-way game. He sounds pretty cool when hearing him interviewed.
Considering that one of the pressing needs was defense, the Blueshirts addressed that area with the additions of Miller and Lundkvist. Both are lefties. I’m wondering about the two prospects they picked up from Boston and Tampa. Where do Ryan Lindgren and Libor Hajek fit in? Both are 20 and will be looked at in training camp.
There’s still a need for a right defenseman. It’s interesting to note that nobody took Bode Wilde in Round One. Why not? McGuire couldn’t understand it. Now listed at 6-4, 198, he sounds like a dream. The American prospect, who combines size and strength with good skating ability as evidenced by his 11 goals and 25 assists for the US Development Team. He was ranked 17th among North American skaters by Central Scouting. Three spots lower than Devils pick Smith. Someone could wind up with a steal on Saturday.
The other need in my book is a righty shooter who can finish. Let’s face it. The Rangers under Gorton, Glen Sather and Clark love lefty shooters. How many is enough? Outside of Mika Zibanejad, they don’t boast enough quality righties who can snipe. Last year’s first round picks Lias Andersson and Filip Chytil are lefty centers. Kevin Hayes is a lefty. Chris Kreider is too. Mats Zuccarello is lefty and mostly a passer. Pavel Buchnevich is basically the same. Are we sensing a trend?
Until they address the lack of a right-handed shooter, they’ll be easy to defend. Zibanejad is the only quality righty they got. That doesn’t cut it. Neither does passing on North American players who can project as that top finisher the team has lacked.
Finally, when is the last time this team took a Finn? You have to go all the way back to Lauri Korpikoski, who was part of the regretful Brian Leetch deal with Toronto. A Sather special. Most Finnish players are polished. They play the game hard and don’t take shifts off. Korpedo had a nice career in a secondary checking role. He wasn’t great but fared well with the Coyotes after that awful trade.
If they want to preach change, I’m all for it. Even if that means finishing in last place in our division the next two to three years. But they need to not be so predictable. Get tougher. It can’t always be about skating and finesse. That doesn’t work. You need a combination of both. We’ll see what Day Two brings.
Keep an eye on Max Pacioretty and Jeff Skinner. Both are expected to be moved. Figure there to be some real trades later today. John Carlson is also close to re-signing with the Capitals before Sunday. That’s when he can talk with other teams prior to July 1.