NHL Draft Surprises

On both Day 1 and 2, there were a few surprises at the NHL Draft in Vancouver. Before getting into which players moved up and fell, let’s first give credit where it’s due to the ultimate evil troll, Gary Bettman.

Unmercifully booed by the crowd as usual, the unpopular league commissioner played to it by saying, “I can keep it up if you can.” He might be annoying to listen to, but he certainly knows how to turn a negative into a positive.

In bringing up all-time great Canucks, Daniel and Henrik Sedin to the podium, Bettman took the spotlight off himself and put it on The Sedins. A great PR move as well by announcing that their jerseys will be retired by Vancouver in February 2020. That got loud cheers along with a video tribute.

It’ll come in the Canucks 50th Anniversary season. A year they’ll bring back these wonderful jerseys for select games.

The greatest Canucks finisher Pavel Bure. AP Photo via Getty Images

As for the Draft, there were some surprises early. Once Jack Hughes and Kaapo Kakko went 1-2 to the Devils and Rangers, things changed.

Most experts had defenseman Bowen Byram going third. Instead, the Blackhawks opted for center Kirby Dach. For a team that needs D help, it was surprising. They did get highly rated Swede Adam Boqvist last year at number 8. But adding Byram would’ve been a huge difference.

Instead, the Avalanche scooped him up at four, adding him to Hobey Baker winner Cale Makar, Samuel Girard, Erik Johnson and top offensive defenseman Tyson Barrie. There’s a chance Barrie gets traded for a forward. Given how close they came to beating the Sharks in the second round, yikes. They’re gonna be a handful next season.

How about the Red Wings going off the board in new GM Steve Yzerman’s first draft by taking German defenseman Moritz Seider. Even he couldn’t believe it.

Russian forward Vasili Podkolzin fell to number 10 where the hometown Canucks selected him. The reason for it is due to his contract with St. Petersburg SKA of the KHL. The 18-year old who is celebrating his birthday today, is signed for two more years through 2021. Even though he didn’t score a goal in the U20 WJC, Podkolzin is a very fast skater who can create scoring chances in transition. He is a player who can play penalty kill. He actually went from possibly a top three pick to 10th. That’s good value for Vancouver.

Perhaps the biggest shock was top American finisher Cole Caufield slipping to number 15 right into the Canadiens lap. It was astonishing to see quite a few teams pass on him. Especially the Coyotes after they moved up to number 11 in a trade with the Flyers, who predictably took American defenseman Cam York. Arizona, who needs offense, passed up Caufield for Swedish D Victor Soderstrom. It didn’t make sense.

With a prospect pool that now includes Caufield, who will become a 40 goal scorer like his comparable Alex DeBrincat, the Habs boast a plethora of young talent that should set them up well for the future. That includes Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Victor Mete, Ryan Poehling, Cayden Primeau, Jesse Ylonen and Alexander Romanov.

If Caufield didn’t wind up in the top 10 as expected, seeing Arthur Kaliyev fall completely out of the first round was a disappointment. A big finisher in the Ontario Hockey League (OHL), the 17-year old from Staten Island scored 51 goals and had 51 assists for 102 points for the Hamilton Bulldogs in ’18-19.

Not the best skater, the 6-2, 190 pound right wing would up falling to Round 2 where the Kings scooped him up at number 33. The irony being the franchise’s best ever finisher Luc Robitaille fell all the way down to the ninth round in 1984. He scored over 600 goals in a Hall of Fame career mostly in LA. I’m not suggesting Kaliyev will become that successful. However, it certainly has to be a motivator for Kaliyev moving forward. Yes,his skating needs work. But he is a goal scorer. Those are hard to find. Here’s hoping it works out.

Another forward who fell out of the first round was Raphael Lavoie. The big 6-4, 196 pound center had a great postseason scoring 20 goals and 32 points in 23 games for the Halifax Mooseheads of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL). He dropped down to No. 38 where the Oilers took him. If he pans out, it could be a huge steal for Edmonton.

One thing about these drafts. We won’t know the answer for a while. That even includes the top picks. Even if they’re supposed to be can’t miss franchise players who can alter the future for both the Devils and Rangers, fans must remain patient. Had they not gotten Hughes at the number one pick, I doubt the Devils would’ve swung the blockbuster deal for PK Subban.

The Rangers are thinking bigger too. Having added Jacob Trouba and Adam Fox, they’re also hoping to be in on big free agent Artemi Panarin,who’s visiting Florida tomorrow. They have yet to schedule a meeting with the gifted Russian forward. If they decide against it, maybe they keep Chris by extending him. He should cost about four million less than the Bread Man.

There’s a lot to look forward to for hockey fans. The negotiating period is finally here for prospective free agents. That includes Group II FA’s Mitch Marner, Brayden Point and Matthew Tkachuk. It also features Anders Lee, who could be leaving the Islanders based on his disappointment that it’s reached this point. Robin Lehner sounds fully committed to getting a new deal done with them.

It’s sure to be an exciting week ahead with July 1 fast approaching.

About Derek Felix

Derek Felix is sports blogger whose previous experience included separate stints at ESPN as a stat researcher for NHL and WNBA telecasts. The Staten Island native also interned for or hockey historian Stan Fischler and worked behind the scenes for MSG as a production assistant on New Jersey Devil telecasts. An avid New York sports fan who enjoys covering events, writing, concerts, movies and the outdoors, Derek has covered consecutive Staten Island Yankees NY Penn League championships in '05 and '06. He also scored Berkeley Carroll high school basketball games from '06-14 and provided an outlet for the Park Slope school's student athletes. Hitting Back gives them the publicity they deserve. In his free time, he also attends Ranger games and is a loyal St. John's alum with a sports management degree. The Battle Of Hudson administrator and chief editor can be followed below on Twitter and Facebook.
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