With 18- and 19-year-old talent scattered like so many flecks of confetti at the draft, you would think that the balance of power would not be significantly tilted in the short run. The face of the league or a conference doesn’t change Friday night. Keep in mind that Sidney Crosby didn’t change the balance of power immediately when Pittsburgh drafted him in 2005 — the team remained a bottom-feeder with him and significant veteran talent on hand. So now we look at tonight’s draft and ask: How does the Eastern Conference look different than it did a few weeks ago? Not so very significantly, when you get down to it.
Is Florida — with first overall Aaron Ekblad — going to slip into the playoffs? Probably not but even if they do contend or sneak in, it will have more to do with moves that they make henceforth than the addition of an 18-year-old defenceman, however physical and gifted. Ekblad is not Drew Doughty. Ekblad might be Zack Bogosian or Luke Schenn, players who made the league in their teens and are struggling to find their place in the league.
Likewise, does Sam Reinhart change the picture so significantly in Buffalo? The Kootenay centre is probably quite capable of taking shifts with the Sabres next season but a lot of scouts that I’ve spoken to have suggested that he’d be best served by a return to junior next year and waiting out what should be another rebuilding season in Buffalo. And even when Reinhart is installed in the Sabres lineup, a year doesn’t start to turn the foundering program around.
The only player that might — big-time might — play in the NHL’s Eastern Conference next season is Michael Dal Colle of the Islanders (and if you start talking about who should skate in the NHL the list was already complete before getting to Dal Colle). And whatever the Islanders do to avoid giving the Sabres a lottery pick in return from the star-crossed deal for Thomas Vanek will surely have more to do with John Tavares’s return and the breakthrough from previous years’ draftees than anything Dal Colle might do.
For Leafs fans, there’s something to like in the drafting of William Nylander. What you heard from scouts inevitably was the suggestion that five years from now Nylander might be the most talented player in this draft. Of course, there was a silent asterisk attached: All liked his skills set but many thought it didn’t translate enough to game performance. The reservations varied. Some thought that he played scared when in against the big boys in the SEL, a full step down from the NHL’s big boys. Others thought that however flashy his skills might be he did not make players around him better — he played more with the puck than without. And further, others thought there was more ME in his attitude and game than they were comfortable with, something of a carryover from his father’s career. Still, if you’re picking at No. 8 and people are saying that you might have the kid who will be the best player in the draft in five years’ time, that constitutes a win.
We envisioned that the U.S. under-18 program would stock teams in the range of picks Nos. 11 through 20 and that is how it played out: centre Dylan Larkin to Detroit at No. 15; winger Sonny Milano to Columbus at No. 16; and power forward Alex Tuch to Minnesota at No. 18. Setting Tuch aside for now as we look at the conference at the right side of the map, the Wings won’t be skating Larkin out at Joe Louis until October 2016 at the earliest and more likely he’ll be in the AHL for at least more than that. Columbus might rush Milano a little bit more but still, for these teams, the Eastern Conference doesn’t look a lot different today than it day a couple of days ago. Larkin, a solid character if not a spectacular talent, and Milano, a skills-freak if not the most reliable clock-puncher, won’t have impact for a good long time.
Readers at Sportsnet know that we’ve been down on Sarnia defenceman Anthony DeAngelo, Tampa’s pick at No. 19. Many scouts considered him a no-draft because of character questions with regard to suspensions and discipline issues. DeAngelo was left off Sportsnet’s Top 30 list more because of question marks about his ability to defend his position — at 5-10 and 180 he might be an offensive dynamo but it doesn’t look like he can effectively defend down low against pros he’ll face.
Montreal’s first-rounder, RW Nikita Scherbak of Saskatoon, is one of the players that scouts seemed to respect unanimously. They liked his talent and loved his work ethic. The Canadiens have had success with Russian players and the presence of Markov and Emelin should make his transition smoother than it would be in most organizations, but again, we’re talking at least two years down the road. It says here, as with any Russian players in this draft, you’re likely to get a healthy return on your draft slot if you’re willing to take the risk on signing him and holding off the KHL.
The Islanders rolled the dice on Windsor’s Josh Ho-Sang at No. 28, within a pick of where we had him slotted on Sportsnet’s prospects list and as we expected a gamble a team would be willing to make with their second pick. Likely Dal Colle lands in the NHL before Ho-Sang but the latter has ridiculous puck skill, comparable to anyone in this draft class. He could well be mention in the same breath as the fifth overall pick here five years from now. The Islanders are no slaves to conventional wisdom and GM Garth Snow takes big risks on draft day — this might be his biggest risk that offers the biggest reward.