DALLAS — Erik Karlsson is still a Senator and John Tavares is testing the waters. Swedes — not Canadians — made the biggest noise and undersized defencemen were in higher demand than top-end goalies.
From Calgary getting the best of Carolina in a five-player trade to Detroit getting lucky with the No. 6 pick, here are the winners and losers of this past weekend’s NHL Entry Draft.
For once, Buffalo didn’t have to settle for second-best. The Sabres got the best player in the draft. And they got him in a year where that means something.
Rasmus Dahlin would have been the No. 1 pick a year ago. That’s how highly rated he was. He might not be able to singlehandedly pull Buffalo out of the dumps, but he should help improve a team that allowed the third-fewest goals. And he won’t be alone in that regard. Along with Dahlin and No. 32 pick Mattias Samuelsson, the Sabres used five of their six selections on defencemen.
It’s difficult to say whether Detroit got the steal — or steals — of the first round by using the No. 6 pick on top-three prospect Filip Zadina and then selecting top-15 prospects Joe Veleno at No. 30 and Jared McIsaac at No. 36. After all, maybe there was a reason why all three players tumbled down the rankings. But that’s not how the Red Wings saw it. “We were surprised (Zadina was available),” Red Wings GM Ken Holland told NBCSN. “Obviously, we thought Zadina would go in the top five, and we’re certainly thrilled to get him.”
It was a huge weekend for Sweden, and not only because Dahlin became Sweden’s first No. 1 pick since Mats Sundin in 1989. A record six Swedes were selected in the first round — second only to Canada’s nine — and a total of 28 chosen over seven rounds, matching the high set in 2011. Only Canada (71) and the U.S. (55) had more representation in the draft.
The week began with the Stanley Cup champs losing head coach Barry Trotz to the Islanders. Days later, the team traded backup goalie Philipp Grubauer and veteran defenceman Brooks Orpik in a cap-saving deal with Colorado. But some good news finally came out at the draft: Washington worked out a contract extension for John Carlson.
The price — US$64 million over eight years — is steep. But considering Carlson led all defencemen in scoring in the regular season and in the playoffs, it should be worth it. Plus, with Colorado buying out Orpik’s contract, all signs point to him re-upping with Washington.
There were 14 defencemen selected in the first round, which was more than any other position. But the thing that stood out was just how small most of them were. Seven were under six-feet, including top-10 picks Quinn Hughes and Adam Boqvist (who are both 5-foot-11). Normally, you might have one or two players of that height selected that early. But more and more teams are putting a premium on skill rather than size.
The team didn’t have a pick until the fourth round, but they made up for it by swinging a trade with Carolina for two players — 21-year-old defenceman Noah Hanifin and 23-year-old forward Elias Lindholm — who had been fifth-overall picks in previous years. Both are younger and have higher upside than Dougie Hamilton and Micheal Ferland. And both have familiarity with new coach Bill Peters, who plans on pairing Hanifin with Travis Hamonic and moving Lindholm to the wing with Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau.
Yes, the Islanders may lose Tavares in free agency. But even if they do — and here’s betting that he will be back — new GM Lamoriello did a fine job of ensuring that life will go on without the captain by drafting a trio of blue-chip prospects. At the No. 11 spot, the Islanders selected Oliver Wahlstrom. They then used the 12th pick acquired from Calgary on defenceman Evan Dobson and got a bit lucky when Bode Wilde (ranked 17th) was available in the second round.
It was an eventful weekend for Canadian teams, with Montreal landing a potential No. 1 centre in Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Ottawa picking up gritty winger Brady Tkachuk and Vancouver and Edmonton getting good value with defencemen Quinn Hughes and Evan Bouchard, respectively. But it wasn’t the greatest weekend for Canadian-born players.
For the first time in nearly two decades, Canada was shut out of the top-three in the draft. Peterborough, Ont.’s Barrett Hayton became the first homegrown player selected at the No. 5 spot to Arizona.
Canada still had the most players chosen overall, but the 10 players that went in the first round were the country’s fewest since nine were selected in 2000.
Los Angeles Kings
The Kings technically won the Ilya Kovalchuk sweepstakes, signing the Russian winger to a three-year deal with a US$6.25-million cap hit. But the more you think about it, the worse the signing looks.
Yes, Kovalchuk led the KHL in scoring with 63 points in 53 games and was named MVP at the Olympics. But that was on a larger ice surface against inferior competition. He last played in the NHL six years ago. He will be 38 years old when his contract expires. And by all accounts, he’s not the skater he once was. In other words, a slow team just paid a lot of money for a power play specialist.
The 26-year-old goalie, who temporarily wrestled the net away from Washington’s Braden Holtby at the end of the season, was looking for an opportunity to be a starter. Getting traded to Colorado, where he will be slotted behind Semyon Varlamov, doesn’t satisfy that desire. Then again, Varlamov is entering the final year of his contract, so Grubauer might not have to wait long.
While Calgary was swinging for the fences in a five-player blockbuster, Ottawa kept its bat resting on its shoulders by not trading Erik Karlsson. Then again, it’s not like the team had an actual deadline. Karlsson, who has another year remaining on his contract, can be traded at any point this season.
Maybe the Senators, who don’t have a first-round pick in 2019, will try to move him for picks and prospects at the trade deadline. But that’s assuming Karlsson, who has been wanting out for a while now, is willing to show up to training camp.
I understand that new owner Tom Dundon desperately wants to host a playoff game in Carolina, but I don’t understand how acquiring Hamilton and Ferland will achieve that goal.
Did he and GM Don Waddell watch any Calgary games this year? Sure, Hamilton scored 17 goals. But Ferland was a ghost when the Flames needed him the most, scoring just two in his last 35 games. In other words, expect the drought to extend to 10 years — even if No. 2 pick Andrei Svechnikov comes in and wins the Calder Trophy.
There were 29 goalies selected in the draft, but none went in the first round and only two were picked in the second round. Instead, more than half of them went in the final two rounds.
That’s not exactly surprising. While Montreal’s Carey Price was a first-round pick, there are more and more examples of finding a No. 1 goalie in the latter rounds. Pekka Rinne, who won the Vezina Trophy this season, was selected in the eighth round, while Stanley Cup-winning goalie Braden Holtby was a fourth-round pick in 2008.
It’s been a difficult few weeks for the big-name player agent, who watched Toronto’s Auston Matthews and Montreal’s Max Pacioretty leave for rival agencies a year before their current contracts expire.
How this will affect negotiations for either player remains unseen.
It is believed Matthews is looking for an eight-year contract somewhere between what Jack Eichel and Connor McDavid received, while Pacioretty could be on the move if the Canadiens find a trading partner for their captain. But don’t feel too sorry for Brisson, who is expected to cash in wherever Tavares signs as a free agent this summer.
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