Another NHL Draft is in the books with 210 players being added to the 30 teams across the NHL. The consensus was that it was a weaker draft, but like any year there will be some hits and there will be some misses.
Of course at this point we don't know who those will be. It's impossible to judge a draft in a sport like hockey where it can take years to develop prospects in the immediate aftermath. But juding draft weekend as a whole, with the deals that usually accompany the draft? Well that's doable.
This year's draft weekend promised to be busy. There were suggestions that the trade market was as busy as it has ever been and there were a few big names that could be traded. Instead there were only two really major deals over the weekend with Ryan Kesler going to Anaheim and then James Neal being traded to Nashville. Outside of that, not much was going on, giving little to judge other than the actual picks made.
As we loosely use the terms winner and losers (let's talk again in five years about the entire draft), here's how we see it after the NHL's draft in Philadelphia.
Nashville Predators: The Predators went heavy on forwards in the draft, including getting Kevin Fiala at No. 11, a player who comes from the pro ranks in Sweden. But like every team, we'll have to wait a few years before we laud the Predators on their picks. Instead, this is about the trade they did make and the attempt they made to swing another deal.
By giving up Patric Hornqvist and Nick Spaling, the Predators got a pure scorer in James Neal to play on the wing, a guy with the capability to score 40 goals. There's some question if he will be as effective without Evgeni Malkin. But he got along well in Dallas without Geno, so he can do it in Nashville too. Plus, the Predatos clearly will be looking for a top-line center this summer, evidenced by them pursuing Jason Spezza only to have him nix a trade to Nashville. Whether it was stockpiling prospects in the draft or tweaking the current roster, GM David Poile has a clear agenda to upgrade the offense and so far we like what he's trying to do.
St. Louis Blues: This one mostly is about the draft for the Blues because it's hard not to like what they did with their early picks. It started with getting Robby Fabbri with the 21st pick. He led the best team in the CHL last season to the Memorial Cup Final and is a quick, good offensive player who has a two-way game. It was strong value in that spot; even if he doesn't pan out, what we know now is they took a top player on the board.
Keeping with the value theme, the Blues had another pick at No. 33 and picked up a first-round talent in Ivan Barbashev. He was a very productive two-way player last season for Moncton in the QMJHL with 68 points in just 48 games. There's no guarantee that either player will work out but with where they picked, they got two players who seem to have a higher likelihood. Also increasing their chances of having a hit or three in this draft; the Blues had 10 picks, the most in the draft. With it being a bit of a crap shoot, your best bet to have some winners is to just pick more.
Finally there was the trade with the Leafs, which is hard not to like from the Blues' standpoint. More on that one below.
New York Islanders: There is something to keep in mind when you look at the Islanders' draft; they won't have a first-rounder next season (unless they can trade back in) because their pick is going to Buffalo. But not only did they get a top player at No. 5 in Michael Dal Colle but the Isles traded back into the first round and at No. 28 picked up Josh Ho-Sang, a player who had a much higher grade but dropped some because of those dreaded off-ice concerns.
Certainly picking No. 28 in down draft doesn't replace picking in the first round of 2015 when the class is expected to be significantly stronger, but by giving up nothing more than a couple of draft picks to get a player with nice upside should help some.
Anaheim Ducks: Nolt only did they close the book on the Bobby Ryan deal by getting Nick Ritchie with the 10th pick in the draft but they made their real mark with the trade to land Ryan Kesler from Anaheim.
The Ducks were clearly on the hunt for a center to play behind Ryan Getzlaf. It was a weakness they viewed as needing a real upgrade to put them on the level of their cross-town rivals in LA. To get Kesler, a bonafied top-six guy with a strong two-way game, they didn't have to give up that much in Nick Bonino and Luca Sbisa as the only roster players, while also keeping their high first-round pick (they pared with the 24th pick to make it happen). Kesler isn't always healthy and is getting up there in age but he still presents a big upgrade and makes the Ducks that much scarier. Hard to complain about landing Kesler, especially at the price they ultimately paid.
USA Hockey: It took nearly half of the first round before an American was selected (Dylan Larkin at No. 15 to Detroit) but once he was selected, the flood gates opened for American hockey players and in particular the USHL. Following Larkin's selection, four of the next five picks were also used on American players.
It kept on going through the draft as the US was not all that far behind Canada for most players drafted. Canada still led the way, of course, as it put 77 players in the draft but USA had 67 players selected, making up 31.9 percent of the draft, an all-time high. The USHL had 30 players drafted, meaning it had more selections than any other league outside of the OHL and WHL -- so yes, more than the QMJHL. What the US lacked in quality in this draft it made up in quantity, including the first-ever selection of a North Carolina-born player (Josh Wesley No. 96 to Carolina, of all teams).
Sabres GM Tim Murray: There is a lot of talking before picks; congratulations for the champs, thank you to the host city, saying hello the draft party back home, etc. Not Sabres GM Tim Murray. For his first ever pick as a GM he announced the No. 2 pick with a swiftness and business-like approach that can never be beaten.
Toronto Maple Leafs: We're not focusing on the draft selections here because frankly, the pick of William Nylander at No. 8 on the surface looks pretty excellent; this is a guy not only with a strong hockey pedigree but who was in the conversation for the top pick early in the season. But they also tried to trade up to No. 1 and couldn't make that happen as they clearly eyed Aaron Ekblad. Still, they can't feel bad about keeping assets and getting Nylander.
Instead, we're looking at the trade they swung with the Blues. To acquire Roman Polak from St. Louis the Leafs gave up Carl Gunnarsson, a fourth-round pick and retained some of Gunnarsson's salary in the trade. It's not all that hard to make the argument that Gunnarsson is the better player and the Leafs gave up more assets in the deal.
Comparing the two; neither is a strong possession player but a major difference is that Gunnarsson was playing on the worst possession team in the league and Polak was with one of the best. The fact that Polak couldn't maintain a positive possession number on a team that is full of positive possession is troublesome. Looking at their standard numbers, neither is an offensive threat so they're about even there and Gunnarsson logs more minutes. Polak is a big, right-hand shot which is why the Leafs wanted him but they already have a guy who is supposed to be tough to play against in Tim Gleason and Polak won't help with their big problem of getting out of the defensive zone with consistency.
Ottawa Senators: We're not saying the Senators had a particularly bad draft here -- again, who knows yet -- but there were two major problems this weekend for the Sens that jump out. No. 1 was that they had to watch everybody else enjoy the first round as they had no pick thanks to the Bobby Ryan trade. For a franchise always on the lookout for good, inexpensive talent, that's a blow.
But secondly and perhaps more importantly is that GM Bryan Murray was unable to give Jason Spezza his wish and consummate a trade at the draft. He certainly tried, working one out with the Preds but it didn't come to fruition. Murray was honest about the offers not being enough for him so he keeps a player who isn't happy in Ottawa anymore. He still has a whole summer to try to find the right deal for Spezza but not being able to do so this weekend leaves a sour taste. Of course there are worse lots in life than to have to keep a productive, top-line center.
Fans: Let's be honest: the draft was a bit of a snooze. The good news was that it flew by -- seriously, every other sport should take notes on that speed -- but there wasn't a lot happening. There was endless drama surrounding the Panthers' top pick and potential trades but nothing came to fruition there. Instead they did the expected and drafted Aaron Ekblad. During the draft itself there was only one big deal and then two more smaller ones involving NHL players. All in all, it was disappointing for those that enjoy transaction chaos.