Fans hate it when nothing interesting occurs. But when an unexpected move happens everyone complains about it. Or at least it always seems that way, since the most vocal people are the ones who are upset.
The NHL draft which took place last weekend and provided a healthy balance of the two. Between Pierre-Luc Dubois being taken ahead of Jesse Puljujarvi and Olli Juolevi being off the board at number five, it was enough to keep it interesting without panic (which of course came later in the week).
We saw many teams active in the trade market during the draft, including the Red Wings who were clearly trying to free up cap space to make a run at Stamkos. Steve Yzerman was undoubtedly glairing daggers at the GM of his former team, Ken Holland, as he offloaded $7.5 million in cap space to the Coyotes.
For the Coyotes, going into the off season everyone had an opinion on how the team’s 26 year old GM would do. Many were expecting him to see wild success or crash and burn. After the draft, it appears he’s on the right track to establishing a very good reputation for himself. Though the offseason is far from over.
There were many interesting storylines that came out of draft weekend and those are just a handful of them. Here are the rest – the 15 franchises that made the best moves and improved their teams the most over draft weekend.
15. Vancouver Canucks
Vancouver is in rebuilding mode. They don’t have any specific needs; they just need talented players. This gives them quite a bit of flexibility throughout the off season.
Many of their fans were hoping to get Pierre-Luc Dubois with the fifth overall pick. However Columbus threw a wrench in that. For a moment, there were more than a few fans who were hoping Jesse Puljujarvi would fall just one more spot. That quickly led to disappointment, but easy come easy go.
It did leave the team in a somewhat unexpected position. Instead of electing to grab the fifth best forward, they went ahead and grabbed the best defenseman in the draft. They filled a need all the same.
Olli Juolevi is Finnish defenseman who was incredible at the World Juniors and helped his team take home the gold. He’s everything you want in a defenseman. He has good size, he’s smart and can set up plays, he has an amazing shot from anywhere on the ice. He’s a complete defenseman who will excel in any situation.
14. Montreal Canadians
With the ninth pick in the draft the Canadiens selected Mikhail Sergachev. He was a player coveted by the team and its fans but there were strong doubts as to whether he would fall to the ninth pick given how many teams in front were in the market for a defenseman.
Montreal is in need of depth on their blue line and their prospect pool lacks top level talent (though Noah Juulsen is impressive). Sergachev is a highly physical player at 6’3″ and 206 lbs. But he’s not just a hitter, he has great awareness and can set up plays on offense. He was the second defenseman off the board, but there were many people who felt he was the best in the class.
Montreal had two second round picks, but traded them to Chicago in exchange for Andrew Shaw. It was a solid move to bring in more depth, something Montreal sorely needed. They have top level scoring, but need secondary scoring. Shaw brings that, as well as a strong physical presence.
13. Chicago Blackhawks
Two weeks ago, Chicago had zero picks in the top 50. After making moves with Montreal and Carolina, Chicago managed to get three.
The first of those was the 39th overall pick which was spent on right winger Alex DeBrincat. He is a very small forward, at only 5’7″ 160, but highly talented. In the past 2 years in the OHL he recorded 205 points in only 128 games, including 102 goals. Many thought he was going to be selected at the end of the first round.
With the 45th overall pick they took Chad Krys, an offensive defenseman with a lot of upside. He’s a risky player, a bit small, not a powerful player, and doesn’t have a great shot. But he skates well, has great vision, and is talented at setting up plays. He’s a guy with big strengths and big weaknesses.
To close out the second round for Chicago, Artur Kayumov was selected with the 50th overall pick. He’s another undersized finesse player. He skates well and has a highly impressive shot. Chicago went all in with high risk/ high reward players. We’ll see how it pays off, but it looks very promising.
12. Columbus Blue Jackets
The Blue Jackets surprised everyone with the third overall selection of Pierre-Luc Dubois. Many thought that the team was going to go with Finnish standout Jesse Puljujarvi.
While the pick has been met with a fair degree of criticism, it does make sense. Columbus is in need of a true number one center after everything that went down with Ryan Johansen. Dubois was the best prospect at center available. They elected to fill a need with a talented player instead of taking someone that their scouts weren’t confident in.
With their second round pick, Columbus took Andrew Peeke. He’s a power defenseman who has a lot of raw skill. He’s big and very physical. Every team needs a defender like Peeke. It’s going to be a while before he gets a shot in the NHL, but he’s a very exciting prospect with a lot of upside.
11. Nashville Predators
The Predators selected Dante Fabbro with the 17th overall pick. Now, Fabbro is a very talented player. He has nice size, he’s fast, great sick handling. His game should translate very well into the NHL. However, for a team that has an insane amount of talent on defense, it’s a bit surprising that they would take one in the first round. It is possible they might be preparing for the expansion draft, as it would give them much more flexibility in terms of their protections.
It should also be noted that Fabbro was a Predators fan growing up. Shea Weber was a player that he looked up to. That is somewhat bittersweet; to be drafted by your team and then have your favorite player traded away several days later (though it was a great trade for the team).
Beyond the first round, their third round pick, Rem Pitlick, is also a notable selection (which is not a comment often made about third round picks). He skates very well and has a beautiful shot. Of course it’s far from a sure thing, but Nashville fans should definitely keep an eye on him.
10. Anaheim Ducks
With the 24th overall pick the Ducks took Max Jones. He’s a 6’2″, 206 lb power forward and likely the most physical player taken in the first round of the draft. He will fit in perfectly with Anaheim. In fact, he’s drawn many comparisons to Corey Perry.
Anaheim also owned the 30th overall pick as a result of the Frederik Andersen trade. With it, they selected center Sam Steel. Given that they had two first round picks to work with, they could afford to make a risky move with the second. It will certainly help their prospect pool as they’ve been lacking a standout center. Steel needs some time before he’ll be NHL ready. He was productive in the WHL and has a lot of attractive offensive qualities but will need to work on rounding out his game before he gets a chance to earn a roster spot.
It also can’t go unsaid that Sam Steel undoubtedly has the best name in the entire draft class.
9. Carolina Hurricanes
With Carolina’s 13th overall pick they selected standout defenseman Jake Bean. For fans looking to get an idea of what this guy is like, he’s similar to Justin Faulk. His offensive skills are apparent when you watch him play. After drafting Noah Hanifin with the fifth overall pick in 2015, it looks like Carolina are going to have a stacked defense in few years.
Carolina had an additional first round pick in this year’s draft after a trade with the Kings early in 2015. With that, they selected power forward Julien Gauthier. He’s a guy who will get to the net and fight for goals. While he will likely need some time to develop, it’s hard to go wrong with a big guy who can shoot.
Overall, the team added greatly to a prospect pool that already had a lot of high end talent. This team will have a large degree of flexibility over the next few years.
8. Arizona Coyotes
It isn’t every day that you see a 26 year old calling the shots for a professional sports team. Despite his young age, John Chayka has done an excellent job so far this off season.
With the 7th overall pick, the Coyotes selected Clayton Keller. The USHL star is an offensive powerhouse. He has already drawn quite a few comparisons to Patrick Kane. While Coyotes’ fans shouldn’t set their expectations that high, they do have plenty to be excited about in Keller.
When watching him, most people note his play making ability. He cleanly sets up scoring chances and has a great awareness of everything going on around him. But many people have undersold his scoring ability in an effort to stick him with a specific label. He’s more than capable of finishing off plays himself with his with agile movement and accurate shot.
Later on in the first round, they traded up to select defenseman Jakob Chychrun. He was previously a highly coveted prospect, but slid down draft boards after an average season in the OHL. He is an offensive defenseman with good size – a great combination. At this stage, the pick was a big risk but it has potential to pay off in spades for the team.
7. Philadelphia Flyers
The Flyers had a quiet draft, but it was highly successful. The team entered with 11 picks and ended up making five selections in the first three rounds.
After trading back five spots, they made German Rubtsov the 22nd overall pick. He’s a two-way center who has strong offensive potential. He’s going to remind a lot of Flyers’ fans of Sean Couturier when he gets his shot in the NHL. Hextall’s first pick was all about getting a great player instead of targeting a need.
However, in the second and third rounds, they turned their focus towards replenishing the weak areas of their prospect pool. They drafted Pascal Laberge, who is listed as a center but will make the transition to the wing, something the Flyers desperately need. In addition, they took wingers Wade Allison and Carsen Twarynski in the second and third rounds respectively.
Goaltender wasn’t a massive need heading into the draft. They already have Anthony Stolarz in the organization, a former second round pick who has been a bit of a mixed bag in the AHL so far. They also signed Alex Lyon several months ago, a player who was considered to be a promising goaltending prospect.
Even still, they were the first team to select a goaltender in the draft. They snagged Carter Hart half way through the second round. This move gives Philadelphia one of the deeper goaltending pools in the NHL.
6. Detroit Red Wings
Detroit’s draft day trade with the Arizona Coyotes was a big step in improving the team. Of course, it wasn’t what they gained, but what they got rid of.
Pavel Datsyuk is known as one of the greatest players in Red Wings’ history. He was a key part in two Stanley Cup victories for the city. However, since he decided to retire, due to rules in the CBA the Red Wings were forced to keep his cap hit of $7.5 million. They decided to move him to Arizona to get some cap space that they lated spend on Frans Nielsen.
Red Wings fans have more to be excited about than just free agency though. With the 20th pick they selected defenseman Dennis Cholowski. The reports on him are very conflicted. Some feel that he’s incredibly intelligent and will be ready to play right off the bat. Others feel that he doesn’t have enough experience to excel in the NHL right away. Of course, what that debate boils down to is this: will Cholowski be an impact player right away, or will he be an impact player in a couple years? That is quite a good situation to be in.
5. Edmonton Oilers
In the days prior to the draft, there was a degree of speculation that Columbus might pass on Jesse Puljujarvi with the third overall pick. It was fueled by the rumors that the scouts weren’t overly thrilled with him. Of course, most people wrote it off as one of the wild rumors that always pops up and gets talked about before the draft.
Of course, this one actually happened. The talented Finish winger fell to the Oilers at number four, fuelling the belief that Edmonton is the luckiest team in the NHL when it comes to the draft. It’s hard not to see it too, as players like Puljujarvi don’t often fall into your lap. He’s strong, fast, and creative. His shot is outstanding and he’s going to score a lot of goals, but his passing ability is equally impressive. He’ll fit in very well on this team that features many other young, talented forwards.
4. Winnipeg Jets
Everyone considered the top three players in the draft to be Auston Matthews, Patrik Laine, and Jesse Puljujarvi – in that order. While most people were expecting Winnipeg to make Laine the selection, there was a rumor that the team was heavily considering Puljujarvi with the second overall pick. Much to the relief of their fans, they stuck with Patrik Laine.
The Winnipeg Jets took the top winger in the draft; a player that is going to be among the NHL’s top goal scorers if it pans out as most are expecting. They already have a significant amount of young talent heading into the draft, between Kyle Connor, Marko Dano, and Nikolaj Ehlers to name a few. Now, they have among the deepest and most talented prospect pools in the NHL.
But the draft class was far from just Laine. They also brought in Logan Stanley with their second first round pick at 18th overall. He’s a towering defenseman, at 6 foot 7 and plays sound, defensive hockey. While many fans were questioning the pick after it happened, they’re going to feel quite a bit better about it when they see him on the ice. He’s the overpowering defenseman that every team needs.
3. Calgary Flames
Going into the draft the Flames were in need of a talented, top line winger to play with Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan. Though, their fans were expecting the team to take Alexander Nylander. They believed there was no way Vancouver was going to pass up on Matthew Tkachuk with the fifth overall pick.
To their pleasant surprise, Tkachuk was there and the Flames made sure to grab him immediately. He was among the top North American prospects and he’s going to be an absolute force alongside some of the most talented young forwards in the NHL.
They also took advantage of the deep trade market for goalies and snagged Brian Elliot for only a second round pick. Statistically, Elliot has been one of the NHL’s best goaltenders over the past few years. This past season, he led the league in save percentage with .930. He’s going to be a massive boost for a team that was desperate for an upgrade.
2. Buffalo Sabres
With the eighth overall pick the Buffalo Sabres added Alexander Nylander. He is insanely talented with the puck, as he’s a player who can be given nothing and manage to turn it into a goal. For Sabres fans, Nylander is going to be fun to watch alongside Buffalo’s many young stars.
That wasn’t all Buffalo did over the weekend. Several weeks ago, Florida standout Dmitry Kulikov was thought to be an untouchable asset. That changed after the team traded for Keith Yandle and signed him long term.
Buffalo gave up defenseman Mark Pysyk, the 38th overall pick, and the 89th overall pick in exchange for Kulikov and the 33rd overall pick. They acquired a young, established defenseman who still has yet to enter his prime years. There’s a very good chance he’ll be playing the best hockey of his career when all of the Sabres young players are breaking out.
This team is very close to becoming among the NHL’s elite. The only thing they need is patience.
1. Toronto Maple Leafs
The Toronto Maple Leafs selected Auston Matthews with the first overall pick in the 2016 NHL draft. Matthews is a clear-cut, blue chip prospect. Many have already crowned him as the NHL’s next big star.
It’s hard to not get excited when thinking about him on the ice. He excels in every facet of the game, he can score, he can set up plays, and he can play shut down defense. There are a lot of reasons to believe he’ll be a superstar for a franchise that has been in desperate need of one.
Though this draft class was more than just Matthews for the Leafs. Toronto had 11 picks in total, most of which were mid or late round selections. Considering anything past the first two rounds is mostly a guessing game, having more picks is very beneficial for a rebuilding team.
The team also traded for Kerby Rychel, the 19th overall pick in 2013 by the Columbus Blue Jackets. Rychel is a power forward who got his first real taste of NHL action this past season. At this stage, he’s a boom or bust player. If it pans out, he could be a very solid top six forward for the Leafs.
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