8 big questions heading into the 2018 NHL Draft

Vancouver Canucks General Manager Jim Benning spoke with the media ahead of the NHL Draft on Friday about what his club is looking to do with the seventh overall pick.

The NHL Draft is coming up fast and the trade rumours and speculation are heating up.

Here are some of the bigger questions to consider before the fireworks begin:

All eyes on the Ottawa Senators: What will GM Pierre Dorion do?

There’s a lot to unpack here, even after the Mike Hoffman trade.

First is that the Senators have a decision to make with the fourth overall pick: do they keep it and take either a highly regarded winger or defence prospect, do they give it up to Colorado to complete the Matt Duchene trade and instead keep their own 2019 first-rounder, or do they trade it — perhaps for two other first-round picks and move down Friday’s order?

GM Pierre Dorion has indicated all along that he won’t give up this year’s pick to the Avalanche, but he doesn’t have to lock into that decision until the third overall pick is made Friday night. The Avalanche have been preparing for the scenario in which the fourth overall comes to them at the last second.

Interestingly, there are six teams holding multiple first-rounders (of which Ottawa is one) so the Senators could explore another option: trade the fourth overall selection for more first-round picks.

“If I look at it from a big picture and I’m saying to myself I’m worried about Colorado this year or whatever else, if you do slide back and you get two first-rounders you essentially replace the one you’re losing next year,” prospect expert Sam Cosentino said on Sportsnet 960’s mock draft.

2018 NHL Mock Draft with Loubardias, Cosentino and Boomer
June 20 2018

The New York Islanders hold picks 11 and 12, the Philadelphia Flyers hold picks 14 and 19 and those seem to be the two best teams to strike that kind of a deal with since the Rangers, Blackhawks and Wings all hold picks towards the end of Round 1. That said, would it be of interest to either the Wings or Sens to swap pick No. 4 for picks Nos. 6 and 30?

“You’d have to find a team that’s really excited about a player that after Montreal makes its pick is still there — and that could be a number of players.”

Filip Zadina, Brady Tkachuk, Evan Bouchard, Noah Dobson, Quinn Hughes and even fast-rising centre Jesperi Kotkaniemi could all potentially be a player another team wants so much they’d be willing to trade up to get.

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And then, of course, is what happens with Erik Karlsson. The Hoffman trade has led to some question whether or not the superstar defenceman will stick around and sign a long-term extension on July 1.

Still one year away from becoming a UFA Karlsson would have to net the Senators a massive return — much bigger than the one they gave up for Matt Duchene. Vegas and San Jose, among others, knocked on the door at the trade deadline where a deal ultimately was not made.

If Karlsson is traded, he would be the biggest name to move in recent memory and completely alter the course of the Senators. He also has a 10-team no-trade list, so controls some of the process.

Will Montreal trade pick No. 3, or take centre Kotkaniemi?

“That’s the circus. That’s where the draft starts for me,” Cosentino said of the third overall pick on the 31 Thoughts Podcast.

“I think they’ve already investigated several trade back opportunities,” he continued. “It’s probably cooled just a little bit because I think it’s pretty well out there they want Kotkaniemi as the centre. There’s a lot of people out there that have him as the consensus No. 1 centre in the draft, so how far back would you be able to go to still get him? For me, maybe two spots. He’s going in the Top 10 regardless.”

While Kotkaniemi would land Montreal the top-ranked centre in the draft, a position it sorely needs to improve on, there are a few important notes to remember about him:

1. He’s projected as a centre and played there in international tournaments for Finland, but did not play the position in the Finnish League this season — he was a winger at the highest level.

2. He’s a very late riser. While Noah Dobson has climbed the highest of any potential top-10 pick from the beginning of the season to now, Kotkaniemi was still considered a mid-first-round pick two months ago. He had a great under-18 championship that helped shoot him up the rankings.

3. He’s probably not ready to step into the NHL next season, especially as a centre.

“All the people I’ve talked to (say) he’s not going to be ready to play next year so, yeah, you have to address the centre position and you probably still have to address it in the future, so it does make some sense in that regard. But I just look at Montreal’s situation and I feel they need a guy to play right away,” Cosentino said.

What is GM Marc Bergevin’s prime motivation this summer — how important is it for him to show progress to the bosses vs. how patient can he be with it all?

By taking, say, Filip Zadina at No. 3, Montreal would get a player who could come to the NHL in 2018-19 and likely take a run at the Calder Trophy, but he’s another winger. Same goes for Brady Tkachuk.

Behind all this is that Max Pacioretty‘s future with the team is still up in the air. Could the Habs trade their current top sniper this weekend as well and, if they do, will it be with an eye on the future, or in trying to improve their lot right away?

Will anything happen with Artemi Panarin?

Elliotte Friedman reported earlier this week that the Columbus Blue Jackets were testing the market on star Artemi Panarin when he told them he wasn’t prepared to discuss a contract extension yet.

Now, Panarin is making $6 million against the cap for one more season and cannot be re-signed officially to an extension until July 1 anyway. Meantime, the NHL salary cap rose to $75.5 million — a $4.5 million increase — which will change the market again, especially for the higher earners.

Panarin falls into that camp, so he may want to see what happens in free agency this summer, and certainly with John Tavares. The tricky part when considering a trade here is that an acquiring team wouldn’t want to pay top dollar unless it knew it could keep Panarin for more than a season, while Columbus wouldn’t be willing to sell low on the player.

GM Jarmo Kekalainen is no stranger to a big draft day splash, having added Panarin just last June in a deal for Brandon Saad.

Edmonton: Trading 10th overall pick for an NHL player?

All eyes are on Ottawa and Montreal in the earliest stages of the first round, but perhaps no GM is under more pressure to get back into the playoffs next season as Peter Chiarelli in Edmonton. The assistant coaches may have been dismissed this season, but another post-season miss in 2019 would lead to a heck of a lot more carnage.

On Thursday, one day before Round 1 opens, Chiarelli spoke to the media and said the No. 10 pick was indeed in play — if the right NHL defenceman came along.

Will Calgary GM Brad Treliving make another big splash, move into first round?

At this time last season the Flames moved in on Travis Hamonic and got the Islanders defenceman for first- and second-round picks. A few days before the 2017 draft, Treliving acquired Mike Smith from Arizona. On June 24, 2016, Treliving landed Brian Elliott. Three years ago the big add was Dougie Hamilton for three draft picks on June 26.

The Flames head into the Dallas draft without a pick until the fourth round and reports initially indicated they were looking to trade back into the first round. That may still happen, but the price is extremely high and this is a team set up to take a playoff and Cup run right now.

“We would we like to have a pick, sure, the reality is it’s expensive to get into the first round of the draft and for good reason,” Treliving said.

Brad Treliving discusses this years Draft and price to get into the first round
June 15 2018

Sportsnet’s Peter Loubardias pointed out on the FAN 960 that the Flames haven’t yet signed 2016 third-rounder Adam Fox, an exciting blue line prospect who many think is NHL-ready or close to it today. He’s currently playing for Harvard University, where he’s been a significant point producer. Calgary already has five NHL defencemen on its pro roster signed for at least another two seasons, plus Rasmus Andersson got a late-season call-up and could step into the lineup next season. Juuso Valimaki, picked 16th overall in 2017, is another tantalizing player who has posted better than point-per-game totals in the WHL the past two seasons.

Defence is a strength for Calgary both today and in the future and since that’s an area many teams are looking for upgrades in, there’s a potential opportunity for the Flames to use it to their advantage in trade. The one clear need: a scoring winger.

Is Pittsburgh lurking as a surprise trade wild card?

You’ve heard the rumours around the Penguins this summer — GM Jim Rutherford hasn’t hidden from them.

“I think it’s obvious that I’m going to keep an open mind to making some changes, and I will make some changes,” he told the media in May. “I can’t give you a definite answer on who that’s going to be right now and exactly the positions, but we’re a good team, and we will be a good team going forward. We’ll have a chance to win again. We have the nucleus to do that.”

Since he all but guaranteed prospect winger Daniel Sprong a spot in next year’s lineup, there has been an expectation the Penguins would trade out a winger this summer to make room. Phil Kessel has led the rumour mill, but Conor Sheary, Carl Hagelin and Dominik Simon have also been in there.

And then there’s this: On June 19 Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reporter Jason Mackey wrote a column on how all the signs are there that Rutherford is ready to strike — and soon.

“It’s incredibly unlikely Rutherford abstains from trade action over the next few days,” Mackey wrote.

Could six teams holding multiple first-round picks set off trade action?

“What makes this draft intriguing is the number of teams with multiple first-round picks. It’s unprecedented,” Brian Burke said on Sportsnet 650’s Starting Lineup.

Sitting at the draft table with Brian Burke
June 21 2018

Ottawa (4, 22), Detroit (6, 30), Chicago (8,27), NY Rangers (9, 26, 28) NY Islanders (11, 12), and Philadelphia (14, 19) all hold multiple picks in the first round of the draft. Ottawa’s conundrum has been documented above, but any of these teams could strike a deal if they decide to move down the draft, or trade one of their later picks for more immediate help.

Think about it: The Blackhawks will get a great player at No. 8, but with their core are still trying to push for the playoffs — would they make 27 available?

And Lou Lamoriello is giving the Islanders new life, hiring Barry Trotz as head coach fresh off his Stanley Cup championship, setting up a Tavares return, sitting with assets in draft picks and $32.7 million in cap room.

Here’s a look at the number of trades made and picks moved on the draft floor during Round 1 the past 10 years.

2017 3 4
2016 4 8
2015 4 4
2014 1 1
2013 2 3
2012 5 3
2011 5 5
2010 5 7
2009 6 11
2008 12 20

Will John Tavares sign?

Either this episode of the rumour mill ends with a long-term extension on the weekend, or the negotiating window for UFAs to talk potential fit with any of the 31 NHL teams opens Sunday with Tavares’ future still in question.

Heading into the weekend, the news looks good for the Islanders. Not only did they hire Barry Trotz as the next head coach, but reports indicate good news is developing on the Tavares front, too.


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