The NHL draft is the most influential event for a teams future. Sure, free agency can be used to add a couple pieces, generally depth, to the roster but the core is constructed through the draft. Contenders are built through good picks and a lot of the current rebuilding teams are in their situations because they either struggled to draft well while in contention or traded the majority of their picks away.
As mentioned contenders are constructed but legends are also created. The team hosting the draft acquired two legends in a complex sequence of moves 20 years ago and it worked well for them. Those two picks garnered Vancouver their best players in franchise history.
This year the two headlining this draft are Jack Hughes and Kaapo Kakko. The lucky teams? The New Jersey Devils and the New York Rangers who both moved up during the draft lottery.
The draft began as it typically does — with Gary Bettman being booed. He then brought out the Sedins and announced that their jerseys would be retired in February. That was met with cheers. The aforementioned Sedin twins are the best players to have ever donned the orca and are the greatest Canucks of all time. Their numbers being raised to the rafters will certainly be a highlight of the 50th year celebration of the Canucks.
Bettman then started talking about non-Sedin related subjects and...he got booed again. Very fun.
But as he concluded he said the words that many New Jersey Devils fans were elated to hear back on April the 9th.
“The first overall selection belongs to the New Jersey Devils”
Now, Hughes or Kakko? I’ve been on the Hughes train all season but Kakko was coming off of a World Championships in which he had just won gold in. Both are looking like future stars. At this point they were close but New Jersey went with the higher upside option in Jack Hughes.
So now the Rangers are on the clock. I wonder who they take? Jokes aside, the Rangers had their decision made for them. Either way, they were going to leave the draft with arguably the best talent. Kaapo Kakko, is for many, the best talent.
Many would argue that the draft really started at three as that’s where some variability appeared. Chicago selected Kirby Dach and shocked many who expected it to have been a two way race between Byram and Turcotte. Reactions varied but I understood Chicago’s position on this. Dach is inconsistent but at times he performs like the third best prospect in the draft. Chicago took the bet that he would develop that consistency.
If you thought that Chicago picking Dach was surprising, you were in for a curve ball at 6. Detroit shocked the hockey world when they selected Moritz Seider. Seider was projected to go in the mid to late teens so when Steve Yzerman announced the pick, those in Rogers Arena, including Seider himself, were caught off guard.
While on the topic of surprising selections, I was personally taken aback when Vancouver selected Podkolzin at 10. Benning has avoided Russians since the whole Tryamkin debacle in 2017 and the Canucks have gained a reputation of taking producers with their high picks. Podkolzin’s production had some wary about him. I also didn’t anticipate Spencer Knight at 13. I realized that it was a definite possibility but I always had the assumption that Florida would lean towards adding a defender instead.
I was also surprised to hear that Arizona had Soderstrom ranked 3rd on their board.
What isn’t a surprise is the quantity of US National Team Development Program (USNTDP) players selected. In the top 15 alone, seven were selected.
Something that I found odd were Ottawa’s picks. It seemed as if they reached on many of them. I have no problem with Thomson and Pinto but I felt like they would have been available a bit later in the draft as well. Obviously the Senators draft record warrants patience as they have often struck in the past with picks such as Chabot in 2015 but I found it interesting that a team picking lower than they should have are picking players higher than they could have. Likewise Vegas seemed to take gems who weren’t expected to have been available. Krebs and Dorofeyev both were falling and the Golden Knights snatched them while they were still obtainable.
A neat little fact that I found is that since taking over as Buffalo’s GM in 2017, Botterill has only selected a CHL player once thus far. That player was Dylan Cozens of the WHL picked 7th overall in this draft. That is one of 18 players that have been selected under Botterill.
Otherwise the first day of the draft went as expected. Minor surprises arose with falls of some talented forwards but that left the second day with some intriguing options for many teams to look at. Caufield and Krebs could have certainly gone higher but it wasn’t low enough to match the absurdity of Seider at 6.
Fan favourite of the draft has to be Joe Sakic. Burnaby Joe went up to the podium to select a fellow British Columbian in Vancouver Giants defender Bowen Byram. At 16 he went up again to select the BCHL’s scoring leader in Alex Newhook. Doesn’t hurt that they were fantastic picks either.
On the other end of the spectrum were the Boston Bruins. The boo’s they received were no real surprise but I found some humour in the selection sequence.
The Bruins walked up to the stage to some passionate and very audible booing. Cam Neely attempted to get some of the crowd cheering by alluding to how he is from BC, to no avail.
To conclude round one, Buffalo drafted Ryan Johnson.
Day 2 started off with massive trades. Subban was sent to New Jersey and the Leafs shipped Marleau to Carolina along with their first in 2020. Both Toronto and Nashville made those transactions intending to free up cap space.
Tampa later joined in on the cap-shedding fun when they traded J.T. Miller to Vancouver for a first rounder in 2020 or 2021 (dependent on whether or not Vancouver makes the playoffs in 2020), 71st overall, and the rights to Mazanec. This trade happened in the middle of the second round.
All three are fairly massive transactions. Subban despite being perceived as overrated is still one of the premier defenders in the NHL. For New Jersey to acquire both Jack Hughes and PK Subban in less than a day is incredible.
I think that Vancouver slightly overpaid for Miller but it may not be quite as bad as I initially thought. He likely will slot into their top 6 and could provide centre Bo Horvat with another consistent line mate — something that he didn’t have last year. Tampa also receives a first that I expect to be in 2020. Great addition for Tampa as it provides another asset at the trade deadline or another prospect after June. The 2020 draft is likely one of the best draft classes in recent history.
Toronto came to a contractual agreement with Kapanen and Johnsson after freeing up the space. Losing the first will hurt but keeping their players are a priority.
I think that many teams left day two with a few notable picks.
The Kings drafted Arthur Kaliyev at 33rd. He along with Brink and Lavoie were two players that I had assumed would be gone by the conclusion of round one but yet were available.
Kaliyev was a proficient scorer on Hamilton with a boatload of concerns and him falling outside of the first was a byproduct of that. As previously mentioned he could be a steal. He could also bust. LA was willing to take that risk with their third pick of the draft.
Bobby Brink at 34 was an absolute steal in my eyes. His skating might have scared off a few teams but I would say that his other qualities make up for his subpar skating. I had Brink at 17. Good for Philadelphia.
Nils Hoglander was drafted by Vancouver 40th overall. Hoglander has great hands and speed which is important for him since he is smaller in stature. Another player that many had in round one.
The Leafs had to have been grinning when they were able to draft Nicholas Robertson in round two and Mikko Kokkonen in round three. Both could have gone a round earlier. In Robertson’s case, I had him at 20th and Toronto ended up getting him at 53rd. Just fantastic. Here are some thoughts I had in my published rankings:
Detroit had some nice second round selections in Tuomisto, Mastrosimone, and Johansson and then they followed that by selecting Grewe in the third. Nice bundle of prospects
Tampa Bay got Cajkovic who was hyped as arguably a first round caliber prospect going into this year but ended up not reaching some expectations playing on a struggling Saint John team. I am curious as to what he could do on a stronger team. Tampa also drafted Mikhail Shalagin in the seventh round. I like the pick. Upside is present and even if he busts, who cares? Well Shalagin probably does but it was a seventh rounder and in all likelihood it does not end up hampering Tampa’s future if it fails to work out.
The New York Rangers already had a good draft solely based off the fact that they drafted Kakko but they did not stop there. I thought that the Zachary Jones pick in the third round and Leevi Aaltonen in the fifth were pretty good. Jones is a smaller player and his skating isn’t spectacular but I liked some of the things that he did in the USHL and think that he has the potential to impress some in college. Aaltonen on the contrary is an excellent skater while also being smaller. He might make some noise in the Liiga next season. Great draft for New York.
Lastly I was impressed by some of the selections that Carolina had. Practically 90% of their picks were very good relative to draft position. I had Puistola in the first round and they got him at 73rd! Take a look for yourself.
Overall, teams have certainly made a large impact on their future throughout the past weekend. Some may have done it and won’t realize it for another few years. What we will get to witness sooner rather than later are the inevitable debuts of Hughes and Kakko and I’m excited for that because those two are going to be really special for a very long time.