How will NHL teams value 2024 draft picks at the trade deadline?

Frank Seravalli joins the FAN Pregame Show to discuss the latest trade chatter surrounding the Calgary Flames, including ongoing talks for Noah Hanifin and a possible Jacob Markstrom trade that fell through.

With the NHL trade deadline quickly approaching there’s been a lot of talk about the depth of the 2024 draft class.

Traditionally, first round picks have been the going rate for high-end rental player acquisitions and that strategy remains part of the cost of doing business. But this year’s draft isn’t as deep as some of the more recent cycles. It’s something to be aware of as your favourite team looks to add to its roster in hopes of a deep playoff run, or stock up on additional draft capital to assist with accelerating their retool or rebuild.

I personally feel the top half of the first round, including consensus number one overall Macklin Celebrini (Boston University), rising talent Carter Yakemchuk (WHL Calgary), and the very skilled Sacha Boisvert (USHL Muskegon), can hold its own in comparison to recent draft classes.

It’s around pick 20 that my opinion on first-round quality, and interest in certain player types, starts to waver. There are several good prospects in the back half of the first round, but I don’t currently envision a Wyatt Johnston (23rd to Dallas in 2021) or a Jimmy Snuggerud (23rd to St. Louis in 2022) or a Bradley Nadeau (30th to Carolina in 2023) diamond to be found between picks 20–32.

By the time the second and third rounds happen, it’s more likely teams will be stockpiling their prospect pool with serviceable third-line forwards and middle/bottom pairing defencemen. The goalies in this draft are still evolving. Time will tell on the netminders.

The point is, I’m curious to see what strategies unfold between now and the trade deadline. Are more teams going to be asking for prospects, instead of late first-round picks, in this draft cycle? Could they possibly take a longer approach and request first-round picks in the 2025 draft, based on intel from their scouting staffs that next year’s class is deeper than 2024?

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I wanted to make sure I wasn’t over-thinking what I was evaluating so far this season, so I made several calls to colleagues this week:

• Out of the eight scouts I spoke with, seven are thinking the same way I am.

• One scout went as far as saying he’s not sold on the first-round beyond pick 14. The others felt they could draft a top-end prospect (top six forward or top three defender) in the first 22 picks.

• One scout felt differently and believes there’s an opportunity for his organization to add significant prospect depth into their system with the number of draft picks they own. Prospects who will be “safe” picks wherever they go, but contribute to the growth of the organization.

• One thing they all agreed on was the bonus of having multiple picks in the top three rounds of this draft. To a man they felt having more “swings at the plate” within the first 96 picks was more important in this draft cycle than usual. They like their odds of finding a prospect who “hits” in this class if they have more chances to find one, especially in the earlier stages.

With “volume of picks in the first three rounds” front of mind, here are some teams that are best aligned to add assets at the draft based on the amount of current capital they have at their disposal, and how their situations may influence the trade market:

Blackhawks draft board via CapFriendly

The Blackhawks’ draft grid is well positioned with five picks in the first two rounds. Their third-round picks will be slotted very early in the round as well. Chicago should end up with seven picks in the top 75 of the draft.

Canadiens draft board via CapFriendly

The Canadiens have five picks in the first three rounds of the draft after acquiring Winnipeg’s first-round pick in the deal that sent Sean Monahan to the Jets. Having two selections in the first-round is a bonus. I’m going to be keeping an eye on what Montreal does with the Jets’ pick and if they trade it at the draft for an immediate asset. Perhaps a team like Florida, which doesn’t have a first- or second-round pick in this draft, would be willing to move a player in their organization to acquire the pick.

Coyotes draft board via CapFriendly

Before long the Coyotes are going to have too many prospects in their system. There are only 50 contracts available to NHL teams and the Coyotes have made 31 selections in the past three drafts already. Now they have another 13 selections this year. Arizona has the flexibility to spend some of its draft capital this year to either move further up in one of the top three rounds at the draft, or acquire an NHL roster player or solid prospect for a collection of picks.

Ducks draft board via CapFriendly

The Ducks’ draft board is likely to look a lot different by the end of the trade deadline. Players like Adam Henrique, Ilya Lyubushkin and possibly Trevor Zegras could be moved. As it sits right now, the three picks the Ducks own in the third round will be early selections. They should have a minimum of six selections in the top 80 picks of the draft.

A team that has already added to their draft capital and appear to be in the midst of a potential “retool” are the Calgary Flames. The Flames are a perfect example of one of the strategies I’m trying to explain, in relation to this draft cycle. 

When the Flames made the decision to move Elias Lindholm to the Vancouver Canucks, they targeted more than just the Canucks’ first-round pick. The fact that they acquired Andrei Kuzmenko and defence prospects Hunter Brzustewicz and Joni Jurmo speaks to the strategy I’m describing. It’s entirely possible, if this year’s first round was deeper than it is, this trade would have involved fewer additional assets outside of the Canucks’ first-round selection.

Kuzmenko would have been included no matter what since the Canucks needed to relieve themselves of his contract to maintain some cap flexibility. But Brzustewicz was a nice addition to the deal.

Here’s what the Flames’ draft board looks like today:

Flames draft board via CapFriendly

Let’s consider how this could impact a Noah Hanifin trade.

If the Toronto Maple Leafs, for example, were interested in acquiring Hanifin from Calgary, what would the cost look like?

Taking into account the Leafs’ first round pick will likely land between 20-32, the Flames already know the value of the pick is less than other years. The Leafs would have to “top up” the deal pretty significantly to make it fit for Calgary.

Here’s a look at Toronto’s draft board:

Maple Leafs draft board via CapFriendly

If Toronto wanted to add a player like Hanifin they would have to invest their first-round pick, one of their fifth-round selections (I would ask for the Chicago fifth in 2025 if I were the Flames because it should have the most value) a depth roster player (possibly Bobby McMann or Nick Robertson) and one of their prospects (possibly Fraser Minten).

The Flames already set the market with what they received in return for Lindholm. If this year’s first-round was deeper than it is, it wouldn’t cost teams as much to acquire a rental player like Hanifin. But the fact of the matter is the late first doesn’t carry the same value this year, meaning further assets will have to be moved to satisfy both clubs in the deal.

Jason Bukala is a former NHL scouting director and founder of The Pro Hockey Group

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