A draft that began with a little tampering – tsk, tsk Jim Benning – ended with 30 teams all claiming complete and utter satisfaction.
Well, except for the Kings. This was, according to exec Mike Futa, their “take your medicine” draft. Four picks in two days. Ouch. But then, two sets of Stanley Cup rings ease the pain.
Meanwhile, it would appear the Arizona Coyotes have embarked upon a new and aggressive path while loading up another chunk of dead money on to their payroll, but let’s just give John Chayka a little time to prove that his moves actually result in something before we anoint him a boy genius.
He’s sure not afraid, and it’s sure not boring in the desert these days. All they need now are fans.
That overall total of 30 teams, of course, is about to increase to 31 with the unnecessary but inevitable addition of a Las Vegas franchise that will have to do some incredibly good things to be of benefit to the existing teams beyond giving each club $16.7 million that doesn’t have to be shared with the NHL Players’ Association.
Teams have started making moves designed to make sure Vegas doesn’t get much out of the expansion draft next year, and more will be made in the coming weeks.
As far as the draft goes, it was a big year for Finland and for the St. Louis minor hockey system, which has delivered an astonishing number of elite prospects to NHL teams. At the top of the draft, in a nice change of storyline, more of the very best teenagers went to Canadian teams than to the 23 clubs south of the border.
Auston Matthews, Patrik Laine, Jesse Puljujarvi, Olli Juolevi, Matthew Tkachuk, Mikhail Sergachev and Logan Brown could all be stars in the Great White North in years to come, and just maybe the questionable management of the seven Canadian teams that landed all of them outside the playoffs this year has been halted.
Other draft takeaways:
• The rumoured big deals didn’t happen. Or, at least, haven’t happened yet. Remember, last year rumours of a Phil Kessel deal between the Leafs and Penguins circulated around the draft in Florida, but the actual deal didn’t happen until July 1st. There just seems to be too much smoke around the P.K. Subban story, for example, for it not to be at least possible.
• Pierre-Luc Dubois was a bit of a surprise pick for Columbus at No. 3 ahead of Puljujarvi, but not outrageously so. If there were first-round reaches, they were Arizona (Clayton Keller at No. 7), New Jersey (Michael McLeod at No. 12), Detroit (Dennis Cholowski at No. 20), Florida (Henrik Borgstrom at No. 23) and Boston (Trent Frederic at No. 29).
The years will tell whether those “reaches” were based on solid insider info that will bear fruit.
• It was a huge year for the British Columbia Hockey League, which delivered three first-rounders (Tyson Jost, Dante Fabbro, Cholowski) and looked like it might have more than the Western Hockey League until the WHL rallied late in the first round. This matters. For a kid facing the choice, seeing the dream of becoming high NHL draft pick not disturbed by choosing Tier Two over major junior is significant.
• Watching Jakob Chychrun plummet in the draft was uncomfortable to watch until he finally went to the Coyotes with the No. 16 selection. At this time last year, it looked like Chychrun and Matthews might battle for the right to be the first overall pick.
Chychrun was clearly emotional, and stopped just short of saying “I’ll show you” to all the clubs who didn’t pick him. Good for him. He’ll play, particularly if Arizona gets him to play a simpler game as he develops.
• Montreal didn’t get bigger, but the Habs sure got peskier. They already have Brendan Gallagher. They traded for Andrew Shaw. And they drafted small speedster Will Bitten out of Flint. Looking forward to watching that trio drive teams nuts.
• Carolina GM Ron Francis continues to gradually put nice pieces together, adding Calgary defenceman Jake Bean and giant Val D’Or sniper Julien Gauthier. The Hurricanes may have ownership issues, but they are stockpiling young talent.
• The Leafs were booed at the Buffalo rink at every turn, and both Toronto and the Sabres would dearly love to see this rivalry gain some spark. It won’t be hard to hype Matthews going head-to-head with Jack Eichel, and now the Sabres have a Nylander of their own (Alexander) to counter Toronto’s William.
• Non-traditional markets, like south Florida, St. Louis and Scottsdale, home of Matthews, continue to contribute players, and did so throughout the draft. Any way you cut it, the American talent pool is growing, and fast.
• The New York Rangers didn’t have a first-round pick, but they did take a player with first-round talent in Mississauga blue-liner Sean Day, once an exceptional player in the Ontario Hockey League. There is terrific potential in the enigmatic Day. But more than a few teams said they wouldn’t have touched him under any circumstances.
• How did I do with my mock draft? Of the 30 players I had in the first round, 25 did indeed become first-rounders. Had nine of the top 10 right, although not in the exact order. I can live with that. Hopefully my boss can.
• The Leafs went very small last year with players like Mitch Marner, Dmytro Timashov and Jeremy Bracco, then reverse pivoted and went with all kinds of size this season, including four players 6-foot-4 or bigger.
In two drafts, the Leafs have taken 20 players and put in place the deepest and most diversified prospect pool that team has had in decades. That’s not really a compliment. It’s an indictment on the way in which this team has traditionally done business. But Brendan Shanahan had a vision and few can argue we are seeing that vision come to life.
• Calgary had Tkachuk fall into their laps, then picked up goalie Brian Elliott from St. Louis with one year left on his deal at $2.5 million for draft picks. It was cheaper to get Elliott than Ben Bishop or some of the other possibilities. Good moderate move by GM Brad Treliving to buy time.
• It was a great weekend for sons of former NHLers, including Tkachuk (son of Keith), Brown (son of Jeff), Chychrun (son of Jeff), Kieffer Bellows (son of Brian), Max Jones (son of Brad), Tage Thompson (son of Brent) and Jonathan Dahlen (son of Ulf), among others.
• No goalies went in the first round, at it wasn’t until the Flyers took Everett’s Carter Hart with the 48th pick that the goalie run began. More and more, it seems NHL teams are wary of spending high picks on the most unpredictable position in the game. The fact that on Saturday Dallas traded away goalie Jack Campbell, the 11th pick of the 2010 draft, just seemed to underscore that teams seem unlikely to use high picks on netminders in the future.
Indeed, it seems unthinkable a goalie could ever go No. 1 overall again.
• Edmonton didn’t make the big move many were expecting, hanging on to all of their good youngsters. But there’s still plenty of time, and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins to Minny seems to have some substance to it.
• Nobody was surprised Columbus moved out prospect Kerby Rychel. His dad, Warren, runs the OHL Windsor Spitfires and played 406 NHL games, including 26 with the Leafs, his son’s new team. The elder Rychel was dissatisfied with Columbus’s treatment of his son, and wasn’t afraid to say so.
Now he can take any complaints he might have to Lou Lamoriello.
• Love the back-and-forth between Brian Burke and his son Patrick on the second day of the draft.
The elder Burke, speaking about Tkachuk, said: “He’s a pain in the ass. . .I like guys who are pains in the ass.”
Patrick, who works for the NHL’s Player Safety Department, later tweeted: “This contradicts with my experience from age 14-22.”
Love you dad.