The trade winds, they are a-blowing.
Come June 21 in Vancouver, keep an eye on the five NHL teams that hold an extra first-round pick to use at the 2019 NHL Draft.
Last spring, four late first-round selections were swapped on draft night, starting at No. 22.
While hockey general managers, largely a conservative bunch, are loathe to part with a high first-rounder at the risk of missing out on an elite talent (or ticking off their owner or their fan base), those mid-to-late Round 1 tickets, especially for those teams with one in the bank, tend to be in play.
Use those choices wisely, however, and your scouts can hit a home run.
Before breaking down the handful of clubs with bonus first-rounders this year, let’s look at some examples of late-Round 1 coups from the past five years:
• 2018: Toronto traded down from 25 (with St. Louis) and still stole Rasmus Sandin at pick 29 last spring. A teenage phenom in the American Hockey League this season, he’ll push to crack the big roster as early as next fall.
• 2017: All Montreal’s Ryan Poehling did was score a hat trick plus a shootout winner in his NHL debut last month. The Habs swiped the forward at No. 25. Chicago may have secured an even better steal, taking stud right-shot defenceman Henri Jokiharju at 29.
• 2016: The final first-round pick of this draft, centre Sam Steel, is poised to provide Anaheim with much-needed offence for years to come.
• 2014: Boston grabbed superstar David Pastrnak at No. 25. Beauty.
Here is a look at the teams with more than one first-round pick this year — a sweet bit of currency that could be used to trade for a roster player, exchange for multiple later-round picks, or used to pluck the Pastrnak or Boeser of the 2019 class.
How did they get them? And how will they use them?
We might look back at 2019 as the summer of Jeff Gorton.
The lottery-blessed Blueshirts GM spent the past two trade deadlines clearing cap space and now has four draft selections in the first two rounds at his disposal. He’s already scooped blue-chip NCAA prospect Adam Fox and is expected to be a player in free agency. Gorton controls how rapidly this reset goes.
In addition to winning the second-overall pick — an enviable position that forces rival New Jersey to make the choice between Jack Hughes and Kaapo Kakko — Gorton also owns the Winnipeg Jets‘ pick at No. 20 as part of the trade for rental centre Kevin Hayes.
No way he trades Number 2, but with four picks in the first two rounds, Gorton has enough currency and flexibiliy to acquire a right-now player if he so chooses.
“It’s a great opportunity for us to draft in the second position in an unbelievable draft. So we’re excited about the calibre player made available to us,” Gorton told reporters after moving up on April’s lottery night. “Second will afford us some different looks and thought processes as we go through this.”
Gorton recently told Matt Larkin of The Hockey News that he’s trying to stockpile as many talented young players as possible while surrounding them with the right veterans to return to the post-season as quickly as possible.
“It’s really exciting as we look to next year and what could be our opening-night roster. We could have some new, young, exciting faces, could have some free agents, some nice players,” Gorton said.
“The ability to pick second overall in this draft and have a good summer just reinforces that the future looks pretty bright in New York.”
Another club poised to set up camp at the podium this June is the Avalanche, with a whopping five picks in first three rounds.
Upon his young club’s second-round playoff elimination, GM Joe Sakic vowed to be “more aggressive this year” regarding the talent he targets in free agency.
There’s no reason that aggressiveness shouldn’t spill onto the draft floor. Sakic is armed with a sweet cap cushion, his exciting roster is on the rise, and last year he smartly swung a draft-day trade with Washington to secure his new No. 1 goalie, Philipp Grubauer.
Colorado holds its own No. 16 pick as well as the fourth-overall selection, acquired from Ottawa Senators as part of the three-way swap that sent forward Matt Duchene to Ottawa in 2017.
“We’re going to listen to all options,” Sakic said on locker cleanout day.
“To be honest with you, we’re comfortable at 4. We know we’re going to get a good player. We know we’re going to get a good player at 16. We have five picks in the first three rounds this year, so we’ve got to do our best to hit those. You don’t always have that opportunity.”
Although it took too long for the Kings to embrace a reset, GM Rob Blake’s January trade of core defenceman Jake Muzzin to Toronto for a first-rounder and a pair of enticing prospects signaled a concerted effort to get younger and faster.
With an incredible 10 picks at the Vancouver draft, including seven in the first four rounds, Blake is well equipped to stock the cupboards with young, fast talent.
His Kings have the fifth-overall pick as well as the Leafs’ No. 22 selection.
It will be intriguing to see if Blake, who oversees one of the NHL’s oldest rosters, dangles the 22nd pick in trade to help his Cup-winning core (Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown, Drew Doughty, Jonathan Quick) or goes full-blown rebuild here. Either way, change is coming to L.A.
“A top-five pick regardless is huge,” Doughty said. “That can help turn around the franchise right off the bat.
“We have full confidence that with whatever changes are made, we can improve next season and make a run for the playoffs.”
Of all five teams on this list, we’re pegging Buffalo as least likely to trade a first-rounder — mostly because the Sabres don’t hold a second-round pick this year as a result of last summer’s Jeff Skinner deal. (They don’t own a fifth-rounder, either.)
In addition to selecting seventh overall, GM Jason Botterill will also benefit from one of the yet-to-be-determined late first-rounders he obtained from either San Jose or St. Louis.
Despite having the dubious distinction of owning the NHL’s longest active playoff drought, Botterill did not sound like a man scrambling for a quick fix when he spoke this week upon hiring culture-changing coach Ralph Krueger.
“We’re looking long term here,” Botterill told reporters. “We can understand a fan’s perspective, but it can’t impact our decisions, our vision of how our team needs to eventually look.”
In Jack Eichel and Rasmus Dahlin, the Sabres have cornerstones at key positions. They’re trying to re-sign pending UFA Jeff Skinner but, even if successful, are not one or two bodies away from contending in the loaded Atlantic Division.
Bob Murray, on the other hand, sounds more like an executive gunning for a post-season return in 2020.
“This group should have competed for a playoff spot,” Murray said, following a disastrous Ducks campaign spiked with injury woes. The GM went behind the bench himself after firing Randy Carlyle mid-stream to dissect his roster’s issues.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do. We got three picks in the top 40, and I’m looking forward to that part of it. I think there are some very good players in the top of this draft.”
Anaheim holds the ninth pick as well as the better of the Sharks or Blues’ late first-round pick, which Murray acquired from Botterill as part of his package for trading defenceman Brandon Montour to the Sabres in February.
Even with veteran Ryan Kesler (hip surgery) likely heading toward long-term injured reserve, Murray will be too tight on salary cap space to make much of a free agency splash.
Flipping his extra first-round pick is an option should he choose to help his roster contend for the playoffs in 2019-20.