Last night was the return of the NHL Draft on ESPN. Well, at least the first round was televised on ESPN2. They did a good job working together with NHL Network, who had Kevin Weekes on the set with host John Buccigross, Sam Cosentino and former Ranger GM Jeff Gorton. Jackie Redmond handled interviews with players drafted. Emily Kaplan gave good insight while reporting live from Columbus where familiar face John Davidson had a great night rebuilding the Blue Jackets.
Before getting into who the Rangers took, there was one notable. They bypassed the 11th pick of the Coyotes due to the team violating a draft protocol. So, there were actually 31 players instead of 32 select8ed. Arizona’s pick was voided. They still traded into the first round by selling off Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Conor Garland to the Canucks for the number nine pick where they were happy to grab scoring forward Dylan Guenther.
For most of the time leading up to the First Round on Friday night, Team President and GM Chris Drury was trying to trade the number 16 pick. He was hoping to package it along with Pavel Buchnevich and other assets to possibly land Jack Eichel. Considering the Sabres’ asking price, there was no way that was happening. Had Drury used that package for Sam Reinhart, he might be going to the Rangers instead of the Panthers. A trade call is expected to take place this morning that would send Reinhart to Florida. Goalie prospect Devon Levi is in the trade that’ll likely include a future first round pick and prospect to Buffalo.
In regards to the Buchnevich trade to St. Louis for Sammy Blais and a second round pick next year, the reason they wound up doing it was due to Drury failing to turn Buchnevich and the first into a top six center. According to both Mollie Walker of the NY Post and Vince Mercogliano of USA Today, nobody was interested. That left the new Rangers GM dealing from a position of weakness. So, he settled on the gritty and physical Blais and a future second from the Blues, who’ll surely use Buchnevich to replace Vladimir Tarasenko. He will be dealt soon.
The disappointment for the Rangers is they failed to get a first round pick in return for a good player, who has some peak years ahead. That left many fans exasperated. The overreaction was sadly predictable. The bottom line is the Rangers couldn’t afford to pay Buchnevich, who’ll probably wind up getting between $5.5 to 6 million per season. In a flat salary cap, there’s no way they could’ve kept him. Not with Adam Fox due a hefty raise following his entry level contract expiring next year. Given how much money the Stars gave Miro Heiskanen along with the Blackhawks’ massive overpayment for Seth Jones ($9.5 million AAV for 8 years), there’s little doubt Fox will receive a huge extension that could approach $10 million. So will Cale Makar.
The shock value of the Blackhawks trading away two first round picks, Adam Boqvist along with a second the Blue Jackets turned into defenseman Jake Bean from Carolina, was astonishing. How does GM Stan Bowman keep his job? It must be due to his last name. At least they didn’t trade Kirby Dach or Alex DeBrincat. It’s that kind of blockbuster trade that Davidson was able to pull off for Jones, who wasn’t staying in Columbus past next summer. Davidson did well with his three picks in Round One including scooping up University of Michigan wizard Kent Johnson with the fifth pick. Columbus also took Cole Sillinger at number 12 and Corson Ceulmans at number 25. Sillinger is the son of former NHL center Mike Sillinger.
The deals we saw were a big part of last night’s festivities. There is expected to be more later today. Rounds 2 through 7 will continue on NHL Network and SportsNet up north. A trade call is supposed to happen between Buffalo and Florida involving Reinhart, who voiced his displeasure at the exit interview following a 10th consecutive missed postseason. I’m going to guess Grigori Denisenko is in the trade with Levi, who was Canada’s starting goalie at the ’21 World Junior Championship. I doubt Anton Lundell is in it. That would be a score for Buffalo GM Kevyn Adams, who did quite well landing a first round pick, a future second and Robert Hagg from the Flyers for defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen. If the Sabres took salary back, perhaps it’s Sam Bennett, who’s due a raise as a restricted free agent. Carter Verhaege would be intriguing. He’s signed for one more year at a bargain of $1 million. We’ll soon know what the actual trade is. Levi is definitely in it as the young goalie prospect the Sabres need.
As for the Rangers, they kept their pick and waited patiently to select Flint forward Brennan Othmann out of the OHL. A fast skater who can play either side on the wing, he sounds like a gritty player with great speed. When Drury announced the pick from the team’s Practice Center in Westchester, Gorton deadpanned that the Rangers are looking to add harder working players. Might there have been a bit of jealousy over his former team? It couldn’t have been easy for Gorton, who did an admirable job rebuilding the team along with Davidson before getting unceremoniously dismissed by James Dolan. It was odd to see Gorton working on the ESPN Draft table. He was okay adding insight on what teams did and prospects he knew.
Drury indicated that Othmann was the highest rated guy they had left on the draft board. Obviously, they like his combination of speed, finish and edge. They passed up adding a center despite it still being an organizational need. The next three picks were centers including possible target Fedor Svechkov, who the Predators selected at number 19. Instead, they liked Othmann (Ottmann), who finished ranked eighth on Central Scouting among North American skaters. Not bad. Maybe he’s going to be similar to Will Cuylle, who they took last year. Only time will tell.
As far as the top of the Draft, there was no surprise with the Sabres tabbing top rated defenseman Owen Power first overall. He’s expected to start at Michigan where newest Seattle Kraken second pick Matty Beniers will join him. After the Ducks went for center Mason McTavish, it was a party at the Hughes household when the Devils couldn’t pass up Luke Hughes at number four. The unbelievable reaction from older brother Jack Hughes was classic. He looked happier than his younger brother. His personality reminds me of Spicoli from Fast Times At Ridgemont High. He is so chill and always has a smile on his face. He would probably order the pizza with pepperoni and sausage with double cheese in class like the epic scene from the hit movie. It was pretty cool to see the reaction of the Hughes family. The interview with all three brothers including Quinn Hughes was the highlight of the first round. They know how to celebrate.
Kent Johnson rounded out the top five. A slick moving playmaking center with unbelievable hands, he’s a human highlight reel. With Luke Hughes attending Michigan in the Fall, the Wolverines will be loaded. Four of the first five picks should be playing for Michigan. Holy moly. That should be some college hockey team to watch. Buccigross sounded excited. He’s been doing the college hockey for a while since the NHL left 16 years ago for former partner NBC.
After Steve Yzerman went for Swedish defenseman Simon Edvinsson at number six, the Sharks took Swede forward William Eklund. Rounding out the top 10 were defenseman Brandt Clarke (Kings), Guenther (Coyotes) and American prospect Tyler Boucher (Senators). While some ‘experts’ chuckled at the pick, the reason Boucher was off the board was due to injury. He actually sounds like a hard-nosed forward that plays with edge. Just what opponents need. They already see Brady Tkachuk. Anyone who comes from the Team USA National Development Program can’t be all bad.
Weekes wondered if the Sabres would use the 14th pick they got from the Flyers and take a goalie. Instead, they went off the board for right wing Isak Rosen from Sweden. They must’ve known they were getting Levi from Florida. Right after that pick, the Stars traded down to number 23 so the Red Wings could move up and select goalie prospect Sebastian Cossa. Yzerman must really like his size. He’s listed at 6-6 and plays in the WHL for the Edmonton Oil Kings. The Wild took the other top goalie prospect in Jesper Wallstedt at number 20 after swinging a trade with goalie starved Edmonton. The Oilers moved down two spots to take center Xavier Bourgault. The Stars used the 23rd pick on center Wyatt Johnston.
At number 29, the Devils used the Islanders’ first round pick they got in the Kyle Palmieri/Travis Zajac deal to select right wing Chase Stillman. It sounds like a reach. Perhaps they wanted to trade out. Hasan reported that Weekes hinted at the Sharks having interest in moving into the first round for that pick. It never materialized.
In what amounted to a controversial pick taken by Montreal GM Marc Bergevin, the Canadiens rolled a lot of eyes and dice on defenseman Logan Mailloux at number 31. The Swedish player who came under heavy criticism for posting videos via text of oral sex he had as a 17-year old with an 18-year old woman, admitted that he made a selfish decision recently and even wanted to remove his name from the draft. It sounded like he regretted his reprehensible actions, exposing the poor female victim. Sending out group texts to friends distributing sex is criminal in nature. Obviously, he made a big mistake which he’s apologized for since. However, nobody expected the Habs to take Mailloux in that spot. It sure put ESPN in an awkward position. Cosentino called it “the most polarizing pick” while Weekes openly criticized it.
Montreal quickly released a statement on Twitter that can be viewed in both French and English. I’m all for second chances. I just don’t know what to think of that pick. Elliotte Friedman indicated that Mailloux was a first round talent. TSN had him projected to go early in the second round. He also pointedly stated that a player cannot remove themselves from the Draft. That I found fascinating. What will happen with the pick of Mailloux? I guess we’ll have to wait and see.
The final pick of Round One went to the Blackhawks, who of course made a big splash trading for and then signing Seth Jones to a $76 million, eight-year contract with a full no-movement clause. They better hope he rebounds. They sure gave up a lot. With the 32nd pick, Chicago went with Nolan Allan. A defense prospect who plays for Prince Albert of the WHL. That concluded a lengthy first round that felt like it took forever.
Only one Russian player was taken. Finnish center prospect Aatu Raty saw his stock plummet out of the first round. Once even thought as a contender to go in the top three, a down year for Raty that even saw him not make Finland’s World Junior Championship team allowed teams to pass on the center. You have to think he’ll go in the second round where he could wind up a steal. We’ll see.
I did notice Frank Vatrano’s name popping up on hockeydb.com. Might he be going back to the Sabres in the Reinhart trade? I’ll have more later. No second round pick for the Rangers. They still have eight more picks left unless trades are made. That’s two thirds, three fourths, a fifth, sixth and seventh.
That’ll do it for now. Stay tuned for more much later.