2016 NHL Entry Draft
Team Report Cards
The good, the bad and the ugly from a quiet weekend in Buffalo
Steve Kournianos | 06/27/2016 | New York | [hupso]
New York (The Draft Analyst) — The 2016 NHL Entry Draft has come and gone, with 30 teams (soon to be 31) claiming ownership of 211 amateur prospects. Front office types and their respective scouting departments convened in Buffalo to hammer out the annual installment of their long-term strategy, and take our word for it when we say the weekend was just as exciting as that sounds. All the yammering and jibber-jabber about blockbuster deals and shocking events turned out to be nothing more than hot air — the top story of the weekend was the third-ranked player “falling” to fourth overall. In our view, the interesting part of the two-day event was something we predicted last year — 2016 offered a marginal collective of prospects, thus forcing teams to delve into the overage pool of second, even third-year draft eligibles.
2016 Mock Draft: Trend of single and double overagers being treated as equals to 1st timers will continue throughout the season
— Steve Kournianos (@TheDraftAnalyst) December 6, 2015
What’s my point, you ask? Expect more 1996’ers/overagers getting drafted. I told @Lowetide a year ago it was a trend to keep an eye on
— Steve Kournianos (@TheDraftAnalyst) December 18, 2015
We didn’t have a problem with the who or why so many overagers were picked. Practically all of them are quality players we’ve been hyping as far back as last year. The issue is about where — teams used high picks to draft single and double-overage players in their second or third year of eligibility. We think there’s something wrong with that.
Now, onto the report cards.
New Jersey Devils
The Devils get a love tap for making one mistake in an otherwise outstanding weekend in Buffalo, and it’s for trading a third round pick for a has-been like Beau Bennett rather than keep it and hit another home run (clearly a move GM Ray Shero personally championed).
Every player they chose made sense – both on paper and from the eye test. I strongly believe Clayton Keller was their primary target, and when Arizona took him at seven, a clear and formulated contingency was initiated, beginning with the Mike McLeod (12th) selection. McLeod is an excellent NHL prospect who received unjust criticism during the U18’s. Finishing-issues aside, the kid is 6’2, can pass the puck and skate like the wind. Sold. Adding Mississauga linemate Nathan Bastian (41st) give the Devils two more pain-in-the-butt forwards with size and strength who will cause some serious damage on the forecheck. And who better to clean up their dirty work than left winger Joey Anderson (73), Keller’s sure-handed, alley-oop option with the NTDP who will play for Minnesota-Duluth in the fall. Our favorite pick is whom they took next – Shawinigan speedster Brandon Gignac (80th), an explosive highlight reel of dekes, moves and jukes to go along with a heavy wrist shot and his never-quit attitude. Russian center Mikhail Maltsev (102nd) was Russia’s second-line center behind German Rubtsov, and there were times when the former was more consistent than the latter. He’s very good on faceoffs and still produces when matched up against top lines.
Shero took big (yet underachieving) goalie Evan Cormier (105th) a bit early, but he’s still an important pick with an expansion draft (or two) looming. Sure-handed overager Yegor Rykov (132nd) was their first defensemen taken– a player we felt should have been drafted last year. And how speedy Swede Jesper Bratt (162nd) lasted until the sixth round is beyond me. He had a strong season in both Sweden and internationally, and is yet another aggressive forechecker. With their last pick, the Devils took Northeastern-bound offensive defenseman Jeremy Davies (192nd), an overager who led all USHL blueliners in scoring.
You’re just going to have to trust me when I say it’s not about the number of picks. These guys simply know how to take care of business when it comes to stockpiling the right assets. For starters, they correctly identified a need for forwards with size, a problem brought on from the Flyers’ loading up on defensemen and goalies the previous four drafts. Center German Rubtsov (22nd) isn’t thick enough to be labeled a classic power forward, but he’s got grown-man strength and can match up (and shut down) any opposing pivot regardless of size. Pascal Laberge (36th) comes across as a finesse forward at first glance like a finesse, but he plays involved and has a developing two-way game. We think he’ll become a tougher out once he puts on another 5-10 pounds of muscle. Versatile power winger Wade Allison (52nd) is a fierce competitor with a habit of making momentum-changing plays and likes to mix it up. The same can be said for left wing Carsen Twarynski (82nd) – the third Calgary Hitman drafted by the Flyers since 2014. The rugged duo were preceded in the second round by netminder Carter Hart (48th), who won the CHL Goaltender of the Year award and immediately becomes the club’s top prospect between the pipes.
You want more size? You get in in Kitchener forward Connor Bunnaman (109th), a tireless worker (noticing a trend here?) who can play either wing or center. He has a large wingspan that causes problems while he’s forechecking. The Flyers may not have needed defensemen, but they took a pair of Swedish puck movers in youngsters Linus Hogberg (139th) and David Bernhardt (199th). Hogberg was only draft eligible by a few days, but he’s always performed well as the junior guy in whatever league he played in. He’s a strong skater with very good catch-up speed, but his biggest asset is calmness under duress. Bernhardt, whose brother Daniel won a Memorial Cup with London, is a bit bigger than Hogberg but more methodical in his approach. He has a hard shot and was one of the Superelit’s top power play quarterbacks. Philadelphia’s strong haul of picks is rounded out by skilled centers Tanner Laczynski (169th) and Anthony Salinitri (172nd). Laczynski is an overager who is creative with the puck and a consistent point producer, while Salinitri is a fast, two-way pivot with a terrific shot who will make any penalty killing unit a threat to counterattack.
As disappointing a season it was for the Flames and GM Brad Treliving, you’d be hard pressed to find a talent evaluator who doesn’t think their future is blindingly bright. Their staff took a clear “Best Player Available” approach, and we couldn’t have agreed with them more, beginning with taking London Knights left wing Matt Tkachuk (6th), whose elite production was mind-numbingly consistent from the start of the season to the Memorial Cup championship. Nabbing London netminder Tyler Parsons (54th) was a smart move, as Treliving correctly anticipated the annual goalie domino effect occurring once the Flyers took Carter Hart at 48th. Speedy two-way forward Dillon Dube (56th) was a preseason first rounder who slowed down in the second half but fits the team identity, and Long Island native Adam Fox (66th) is a sublime playmaker who set the NTDP single-season scoring record for defensemen. Both Dube and Fox were ranked in our Top 30 during portions of the season
The Flames took three skilled puck distributors at the center ice position – Swede Linus Lindstrom (96th), Minnesotan Mitchell Mattson (126th) and Victoria’s smallish pivot Matthew Phillips (166th), who plays a spirited game and seems to forget he’s only 5’7. Finnish power winger Eetu Tuulola (156th) has a massive wingspan and wicked shot but has to improve his speed, and towering overage defenseman Stepan Falkovsky (186th) followed up a strong world junior tournament with flashes of promise while patrolling the backline for the OHL’s Ottawa 67’s.
Columbus Blue Jackets
The Jackets only had five picks, but man, did team president John Davison and GM Jarmo Kekalainen make the most of them. We’ll go on the record (again) and say that Pierre-Luc Dubois (3rd) is the better prospect than Jesse Puljujarvi, even if it took a strong postseason to finally get the aforementioned Finn into our Top 3. It was a bold move, but a necessary one, as the struggling Jackets needed a mature, polished kid like Dubois over the one with a tad more flash but more question marks. Defenseman Andrew Peeke at 34??? Hello? Yours truly ranked him 39th in our Final 500 when most had him between the 70s-100s. He’s an exceptional defenseman for the transition game and we (obviously) think the Jackets made the right call. A lack of size shouldn’t be a concern for right wing Vitalli Abramov (65th), an electrifying talent in the mold of Cam Atkinson who was the QMJHL’s top rookie. Overage goalie Peter Thome (155th) is a big kid with quickness and a commitment to North Dakota, so chances are he would eventually becomes a sought-after free agent anyway. Taking Kelowna’s overage Swiss winger Calvin Thurkauf (185th) is a bit of a wild card, but he just turned 19 and plays the in-your-face game the Jackets like to employ.
The Oilers feel like they were gifted Finnish stud winger Jesse Puljujarvi (4th) when the Jackets took Pierre-Luc Dubois fourth overall, and it’s hard to argue against the pick they made. Puljujarvi has star potential and addresses a need for size and skill on their right flank. They followed up with a great pick – Edmontonian Tyler Benson (32nd), a preseason top-10 power winger who missed half the campaign after a procedure to remove a cyst in his lower back was followed by a season-ending groin injury. Benson recovered in time for the scouting combine, and we think the Oilers added a legit top-line left win as long as he stays healthy. With the skill positions addressed, GM Peter Chiarelli bolstered his crop of defenders with three solid blueline picks in a row, beginning with Saginaw’s mobile shutdown rearguard Markus Niemelainen (63rd). Next was a kid we like — Matt Cairns (84th) is a defenseman who can skate with the puck as well, but his game is more physical, demonstrative and filled with intangibles. The last of the three blueliners was Swedish overager Filip Berglund (91), a gifted puck mover with size who played for a defensive juggernaut in Skelleftea. Whether he was part of a system or not doesn’t concern us – he played on the top pairing and logged big minutes when the games were close. Berglund may not like the rough stuff, but he was counted on and delivered during crunch time.
Chiarelli had nine picks at his disposal, but we were a little disappointed he used just one on a goalie, and a struggling one at that. Dylan Wells (123rd) had a terrible season, but his confidence was shot early on so there’s always the chance he gets his game back with a small amount of success. Power winger Graham McPhee (149) is the perfect project for the bottom-six since all he does is hit and hustle, and two-way center Aapeli Rasanen (153rd) is a relentless defender with good hands and a habit of sneaking up on opponents with skill plays. The Oilers used the last pick on Providence College double-overage depth defenseman Vincent Desharnais (183rd), a gargantuan stay-at-home type who takes no risks and isn’t physical.
Nashville bucked the draft’s obvious size trend by taking five players six feet tall or under, including three of their five defensemen. We felt the Preds should have stockpiled their top half with scoring wingers heading into the draft, especially after trading Jimmy Vesey’s rights to Buffalo. But when you look at their picks as a whole, they did a fine job reinforcing what has always been their bread and butter – the ability to defend and counter. In defensemen Dante Fabbro (17th) and Samuel Girard (47th), Nashville now owns two of the 2016 draft’s top blueline playmakers. Taking overage center Rem Pitlick (76th) in the third round may have been too high for our taste, but the kid led the USHL in scoring and plays far bigger than his 5’9 frame would indicate. And if you thought they had enough skilled defensemen for one draft, you were wrong, as GM David Poile grabbed Chicoutimi two-way bomber Frederic Allard (78th) to make it three defensemen who ranked within our Top-40!
They took a bit of a gamble on big Swedish rearguard Hardy Haman-Aktell (108th), a top defender on Skelleftea’s J18 club but an average skater. The last defenseman they took was overager Adam Smith (198th), a Bowling Green commit from Ontario who played well in the face of an onslaught at the World Junior “A” Challenge. Nashville also swiped big Russian goalie Konstantin Volkov (168th), who belongs to SKA in the KHL and played well for their junior club. He’s a strong candidate to back up Washington 2015 first rounder Ilya Samsonov for Team Russia at the WJC’s in December. Lastly, tiny Avon Old Farms center Patrick Harper (138th) is an offensive dynamo that will head to Boston University after a year or two in the USHL. He’s far more of a perimeter player than Pitlick, but a very good playmaker with speed nonetheless.
The Senators had only five picks to work with, which isn’t ideal for a team that was a late-season miracle away from missing the playoffs in each of the last three seasons. There was pre-draft talk that one player who could sneak into the draft’s top five was 6’6 center Logan Brown (11th), who the Sens eventually traded up a single spot to grab. Brown is an excellent specimen with a sixth sense to help him effortlessly carve up defenses. To augment his elite passing skills, the Sens took Swedish sniper Jonathan Dahlen (42nd), a tremendous left winger with a first-round resume who scores goals in bunches and in a variety of ways. Additionally, double-overager Todd Burgess (103rd) is a talented winger who destroyed the NAHL this year and will play for RPI in Upstate New York.
Ottawa likes its defensemen mobile and aggressive, so Swift Current’s Max Lajoie (133rd) is a sound option to possibly serve as Erik Karlsson’s understudy. He was pegged as a Top-60 type at the start of the season, but a slow start hurt him in the rankings. Still, Lajoie is a graceful skater who was one of the WHL’s top point-producing blueliners in the second half. And finally, Finnish power forward Markus Nurmi (163rd) plays an aggressive style and has an accurate shot, especially off the pass. Overall, the Senators and GM Pierre Dorian had an excellent draft, sticking to top-end quality over grinders and quantity.
Tampa Bay Lightning
Make that two drafts in a row where I couldn’t stop myself from saying “I see what Steve Yzerman is doing here.” Clearly, the Tampa GM wants to maintain his organization’s stranglehold on the Atlantic Division by adding the tough, dependable types who can flip the switch to offense at the blink of an eye. Yzerman opened his team’s proceedings by taking two-way playmaker Brett Howden (27th) — a Derek Stepan clone who would have produced at a higher rate had he not been blocked by a pair of elite scorers in Brayden Point (a Tampa prospect) and Dryden Hunt. Howden has good size and can take those tough defensive-zone assignments as well. The Bolts made a smart move on Day 2 in moving one-dimensional defenseman Anthony DeAngelo to Arizona for the chance to grab stud two-way blueline Libor Hajek (37th). Hajek is an exceptional skater and the draft’s best one-on-one defender.
Tampa went to the OHL to grab a pair of relentless wingers – Sault Ste Marie’s Boris Katchouk (44th) and Erie Otters’ banger Taylor Raddysh (58th). Both are excellent at not only applying pressure, but creating or finishing quality scoring chances because of it. In Howden, Hajek and Katchouk, the Bolts nabbed three players deserving of first-round selections, with Raddysh not far behind them. They took a goalie for the fifth time in the last six drafts, using a third round pick on overage netminder Connor Ingram (88th), a kid who wasn’t as big as the majority of his draft peers but churned out an impressive season nonetheless. He was the saving grace for a thin Kamloops squad that relied on him to steal game after game. Four of their final five picks were used on centers, beginning with double-overage playmaker Ross Colton (118th), one of the USHL’s top forwards. Niagara pivot Chris Paquette (148th) is more of a project than the rest of the picks, as he had trouble earning significant playing time or responsibility and was relegated to a depth role, at time a healthy scratch. Finnish import Otto Somppi (206th) is quick and plays a pass-first game but cooled off after a red-hot start with Halifax. Sommpi is neither big nor physical, but he was used in a two-way role as the season progressed, even displaying reliability in the faceoff circle and on the backcheck. Ryan Lohin (208th) is another double overager — a fast playmaker who will play for UMass-Lowell in the fall. Gargantuan Russian defender Oleg Sosunov (178th) is limited in what he can do offensively, but it’s never a bad thing to take a stab at a project defender with abnormal size when you have as deep a pool as the Bolts do.
The Ducks threw a bit of a curveball by using all six picks – including picks 24 and 30 – on Canadian Hockey League players. Their development staff generally likes to mix things up and dip their big toes into the overseas prospect pools, but this weekend marked the first time in 11 years Anaheim did not draft at least one player from a league in either Europe or the United States. Top pick Max Jones (24th overall) of the London Knights, however, is as red, white and blue as you can get. The Michigan-born left wing and former NTDP’er is a fierce competitor who gets under everyone’s skin, but he backs up his bravado with a speed-power combo this draft was thin on. Being a bit of a hot head is a red flag to keep an eye on, but his skill set is undoubtedly lottery-pick quality.
The Ducks used their second first rounder (acquired from the Leafs in the Fredrik Andersen deal) on speedy Regina center Sam Steel (30th), a mature kid with a quick shot and a knack for making a power play more efficient. Steel, along with overagers Alex Dostie (115th) and Tyler Soy (205th) are all undersized centers with pass-first mentalities, while Soo Saint Marie winger Jack Kopacka (93rd) – another Michigan boy – is a power forward who some felt could have gone higher. Their best pick might turn out to be Red Deer’s lefty defenseman Josh Mahura (85th), a mobile two-way blueliner who was pegged as a top-60 pick before an early-season knee injury. He healed up in time for the Memorial Cup and will likely have a better career than several rearguards picked ahead of him.
Not a bad opening act for new general manager John Chayka, who came to Buffalo without the arsenal of picks that generally accompany lottery teams when they camp out on the draft floor. Chayka made bold moves on both days, beginning with the first-round selection of Team USA super-center Clayton Keller (7th), a smallish St. Louis kid who produced with the NTDP similar to what Jack Eichel and Auston Matthews did there. Chayka later addressed an organizational need for defensemen in a big way, taking potential franchise rearguard Jakob Chychrun (16th) with the second of the Coyotes’ two firsts.
As great a prospect as Chychrun is, he came at a high price. The trade with Detroit to move up from 20th overall to 16th cost Chayka the conditional 2nd (53rd) he received from the re-entry of 2014 first rounder Conner Bleackley (later chosen by St. Louis), and the remaining year of Pavel Datsyuk’s cap-eating contract. But getting Chychrun was something they debated doing with their first pick, and in our view the price for two top-10 talents was well worth it. In acquiring top prospect Anthony DeAngelo from Tampa for the 37th pick, plus adding New Jersey native Cam Dineen (68th) in the third round, the Coyotes have three of the top defensemen the Ontario Hockey League has produced in the last three years. Arizona capped off its impressive weekend by adding two NCAA-bound rearguards with size from Canada – double-overager Patrick Kudla (158th) and Dean Stewart (188), who will play for Arizona State and Nebraska-Omaha, respectively.
The host city certainly made the weekend entertaining both inside and outside the First Niagara center. As big a party as it was (alright, so it really wasn’t that exciting for me), the Sabres and GM Tim Murray had a lot of work to do, namely address the need for finishers and reinforce the foundation being built around star Jack Eichel. Originally armed with 12 picks at the beginning of the week, Murray deftly used the acquired assets to nab the rights to Hobey Baker-winning left wing (and free agent) Jimmy Vesey and trading for Florida’s two-way defenseman Dmitry Kulikov. The Sabres still cleaned up at the draft table, beginning with the selection of a pair of Swedes — sniper Alex Nylander (8th) and two-way center Rasmus Asplund (33rd). The duo were linemates at the WJC, and Nylander is a consistent threat who doesn’t miss often. London Knights’ center Cliff Pu (69th) was a kid many had lingering at or near the top of the second round, and his size/smarts combo with the ability to win big draws fits with the rebuild that’s going on in Buffalo.
Murray added four defensemen, beginning with Boston College overage puck mover Casey Fitzgerald (86th), a kid we mocked to the Sabres last year. Swede Phillip Nyberg (129th), also an overager, is an agile defender with size who will play for Wisconsin, while Czech import Vojtech Budik (130th) is a mobile defenseman with good size who should have an expanded role with Prince Albert next season. Power winger Brett Murray (99th) likes to crash the net and has a lot of Mike Knuble in him, and Red Deer’s two-way forward Brandon Hagel (159th) is quick with a strong, accurate shot. The Sabres did a local kid a favor with the first of two seventh round picks by taking native Buffalonian Austin Osmanski (189th), a project defenseman with size and mobility who plays in Mississauga of the OHL. Lastly, they took a personal favorite of mine – overage Russian forward Vasili Glotov (190th), an overager who can play center or wing but is quick and has a deadly shot/release. The only thing preventing the Sabres from getting a higher grade was the fact that they drafted only one pure finisher (Nylander) with the combined 16 draft picks they had since last year.
The Canes caused a minor tremor when they took skilled offensive defensemen Jake Bean with the 13th overall pick, but it wasn’t because Bean didn’t deserve to get picked that high. And while conventional wisdom pointed towards GM Ron Francis accepting that he had both a robust pool of defensemen and a glaring hole on either flank of his prospect depth chart, the Canes went ahead and used their first-round pick on a blueliner for the fourth time in five drafts. Nevertheless, we’ll say with confidence that if there was one team with the kind of responsible defenders to allow an unbridled, often haphazard player like Bean to flourish, it’s Carolina, which may have soured on the development of defenseman Haydn Fleury, the seventh overall pick in 2014.
Francis took care of business thereafter, nabbing three skilled wingers 6’2 or greater, beginning with 6’4 finisher Julien Gauthier (21st) who was the only first-year draft eligible to make Team Canada’s WJC team. Finnish playmaker Janne Kuokkanen (43rd) isn’t as big or imposing as Gauthier, but he was one of the draft’s top set-up men from the wing, while Boston-area forward Matt Filipe (67th) is a strong and quick goal scorer who will display his heavy shot for Northeastern in the fall. Francis added another winger – slick scorer Max Zimmer (104th) from the USHL’s Chicago Steel. Zimmer is a kid we really like, and he impressed at the Junior Club World Cup in Russia and for Team USA at the World Junior “A” Challenge. Carolina continued with the size theme, taking 6’5 center Hudson Elynuik (74th) and two big goalies – Jack Lafontaine (75th) and Kingston Frontenacs overager Jeremy Helvig (135th) before closing out a busy second day with mobile defenseman Noah Carroll (164th), a touted prospect who struggled a bit, but a good gamble for the sixth round nonetheless.
The Panthers shook up their front office weeks before the draft, and the moves they made in Buffalo seemed to reveal a shift in philosophy. Specifically, this draft marked the first time in nine years where the Cats didn’t select a player out of the USHL. Whether it was by design a mere coincidence can only be answered by their scouting department. Florida took three players from the OHL, something it hadn’t done since 2010 – the year the Panthers had 13 picks. The first player to don a Florida jersey was overage Finnish center Henrik Borgstrom (23rd), a skilled playmaker with size who will play collegiate hockey next season in Denver. Kitchener’s Adam Mascherin (38th) is one of the draft’s best passers, but he can augment his elite vision from the flank with a devastatingly accurate shot.
In the third round, Florida added swift Swedish defenseman Linus Nassen (89th), who is undersized but highly cerebral, and we’re not generalizing when we say he’s one of the draft’s accurate shooters. He’s been dinged for playing soft in his own end, but Lassen is a wonderful skater with sharp puck skills. Center Jonathan Ang (94th) did what 2015 Cats’ draft pick Karch Bachman did, and that’s absolutely crush the field at the scouting combine. But the diminutive Ang is more than just physically fit — he’s a pass-first puck magnet with speed that isn’t afraid to take the disc into traffic. Another solid value pick is promising two-way defenseman Riley Stillman (114th), who shouldered big minutes to help boost Oshawa into the playoffs. Stillman, whose dad Cory played three seasons with the Panthers, combines finesse with physicality into a complete two-way package. Russian winger Maxim Mamim (175th) is a physical triple-overager who played two full seasons in the KHL, where he’s solidified a reputation as an abrasive pot-stirrer. He’s a strong skater and plays a two-way game, but I think there were far better and younger Russian options (namely undrafted forward Ivan Kosorenkov). Florida found a way to go off the board in the seventh and final round with tiny puck-rusher Ben Finkelstein (195th), an unheralded St. Lawrence commit whose skating and passing caught our attention later in the season.
The Habs began the weekend short two second-rounders after acquiring Andrew Shaw from Chicago, but GM Marc Bergevin and crew made up for it by taking BPA types while simultaneously filling organizational needs. Mobile defenseman Mikhail Sergachev (9th) was a no-brainer, as he is one of only three rearguards we identified as having star potential. Sergachev led all OHL defensemen in goals scored, and when Habs fans see him unload one from the point, they’ll see why. To us, center Will Bitten (70th) inexplicably fell to the third round, and Montreal was smart in taking this speedy two-way center with a kit bag full of moves and the vision of a top-six playmaker. London defensemen Victor Mete (100th) is a tremendous skater who can provide a calming presence in the face of relentless pressure, which means a lot since he’s considered undersized at 5’11.
Minnesotan Casey Staum (124th) is a defensemen akin to Mete in that he’s under six foot but very quick and good on breakouts. A leg injury cut his season short, but that wasn’t enough to keep him from being named a finalist for Minnesota’s Mr. Hockey award. The Habs needed to stockpile size up front, and they did so with center/wing Mike Pezzetta (160th), a former top OHL pick who had an inconsistent year with a poor Sudbury club. He plays a heavy, in-your-face style and can even make a highlight-reel play or two, but he failed to nail down a permanent slot in the top-six until later in the season. Defenseman Arvid Henrikson (187th) is a push-and-shove defender with good size in Sweden’s junior circuit, but the puck breaks into a thousand pieces when he tries to carry it up the ice. He must have impressed some scouts with his play in the J18 circuit because I saw him get taken to the woodshed in a J20 game against Linkopings. Another one of those odd picks considering there are so many defenders in Sweden who offer more.
New York Islanders
The Islanders tend to make noise on Draft Day, but you can say they made up for it by drafting noisy players…a lot of them. Winger Kieffer Bellows (19th) is the Claude Lemiuex of the 2016 class – rugged, strong, physical, a super shot and an unconscionable agitator. He’s going to Boston University in the fall, but something tells us he knows he’s a lot closer to the NHL than most people think. The decision to draft Russian super-skilled triple-overager Anatoli Golyshev (95th) isn’t as odd as one would think – the right wing was one of the KHL’s top players and some felt he would be a hot commodity if he ever hit the free agent market.
Finnish winger Otto Koivula (120th) was a mean streak away from being a first round pick, but he’s big with a scary shot that can knock a goalie backwards, while undersized left wing Collin Adams (170th) is a feisty North Dakota-bound pepperpot who loves to get involved on the forecheck and excel on the power play. Team USA’s Nick Pastujov (193rd) is a great find in the seventh round. The left wing from Florida will take his physical play and big-game production to the University of Michigan. Lastly, defenseman David Quenneville (200th) is a jackhammer on skates who enjoys hammering both opponents and the puck with equal force, but as a 5’8 blueliner, you wonder how legitimate an NHL career he’ll carve out.
New York Rangers
The Rangers have been caught with their pants down the last few offseasons, beginning with the 2014 draft which to date produced two remaining viable prospects, and they’re both goalies. Last season – the first under new GM Jeff Gorton – the Rangers overplayed their hand in losing both Carl Hagelin and Cam Talbot, then traded the best prospect of their 2015 haul (Aleksi Saarela) to borrow from Carolina an unproductive Eric Staal. Oh, and then there’s that whole thing about not having a first round pick since 2012.
But I digress. The Rangers came to Buffalo without a first or second round pick and a relatively thin pool of prospects, especially on the blue line. The process would have to be brick by brick, beginning with a huge upper cut in the form of taking talented Mississauga defenseman Sean Day (81st), an elite skater with size whose road to the draft was a bit bumpier than most for a variety of reasons. The Rangers are good at developing defensemen, and if there’s one thing Day can do, it’s move the puck out of harm’s way – something the parent club desperately needs help with. Finnish blueliner Tarmo Reunanen (98th) is another preseason favorite who dropped in the rankings after a season-long injury. He is silky smooth with the puck and can quarterback a power play, but both Day and Reunanen have work to do with coverage and reads. Power forward Tim Gettinger (141st) was a once thought of as a first rounder but had a strong enough campaign to hold some serious value in the fifth round. He has a good set of mitts and can make skill plays off the rush.
The Blueshirts need center depth as well, and since everyone and their mother was going the overage route, they played ball and were smart in taking two-way pivot Gabriel Fontaine (171st) – a key cog in Rouyn-Noranda’s march to the Memorial Cup. Drafting a big goalie Tyler Wall (174th) not only made sense from a talent standpoint, but it improved the Rangers’ chance to have at least two legitimate prospects tending goal for their AHL affiliate in Hartford. Lastly, Vancouver right wing Ty Ronning (201) is a charismatic kid with a deadly shot who bounced back from a collarbone injury to lead the Giants with 31 goals. Vancouver’s offense took a big hit when star Tyler Benson went down for the season, and it was Ronning who helped stabilize the attack. He’s a tad undersized, but also quick and can pick the corners with regularity.
Toronto Maple Leafs:
I’ll preface this by making it clear – top pick Auston Matthews (1st) had a lot to do with the grade. The Leafs were otherwise confusing me during all of Day 2, opting for overager after overager with picks they acquired from trading away significant pieces. Five of their 11 picks were draft leftovers, including super-scoring center Adam Brooks (92nd) and offensive defenseman Jack Walker (152nd) – two players in their fourth CHL season. Our point? Any kid who makes it to the CHL is talented. Give him four years and he’ll start exploiting the age/experience advantage he holds over the youngsters. Yegor Korshkov (31st) was a top-50 European prospect in each of the two drafts prior to 2016, but a strong WJC (surprise, surprise) gave him enough exposure to warrant a high draft selection at the very top of the second round. For the record, we understand it was a thin draft and teams were obviously incorporating that fact into their respective draft boards. We don’t have a problem with Korshkov getting drafted as much as we do with how high he went. And while some will say draft position is moot once a kid produces, we feel the Leafs should have used their second on a two-way defenseman anyway.
Toronto did make three straight picks we applauded, beginning with speedy crash-and-banger Carl Grundstrom (57th), a relentless forechecker who led his age group in hits and likes to play inside. Goalie Joseph Woll (62nd) had a bigger role than previous NTDP goalies in that he wasn’t backstopping a loaded juggernaut like his predecessors had. The Boston College commit was forced to steal games and put on impressive performances at several international competitions. He went a little higher than I thought, but the Evan Fitzpatrick pick to St. Louis at 59th overall likely elevated Woll as a no-brainer. Rangy defenseman J.D. Greenway (72nd) has the hands, size, mobility and understanding to become a serious two-way threat, but he stays within himself and picks his spots rather than force the issue and turn the puck over. It cliché as hell, but he is the definition of a pick with a high ceiling, and I’m hoping Wisconsin unbridles him next season.
Keaton Middleton (101st) is another blueliner with size, although he plays it safe and rarely ventures into scoring areas. He doesn’t like shooting, and his passes are as simple as you can get. But he’s a tough customer and can develop into a solid one-on-one crease clearer who will always stand up for his teammates. London’s Nicolas Mattinen (179th) has potential to be a reliable stay-at-home type, but you’d like to see him play more physical and make oppenents pay for entering the low slot. And two Russian overagers – playmaking winger Nikolai Chebykin (182nd) and speedy power forward Vladimir Bobylev (122nd) – are both skilled and work hard, making them good value picks in the later stages of the draft.
The Jets have one of the league’s deeper prospect pools, so it wasn’t as if the future of the franchise was hinged on events in Buffalo. Their situation was significantly reinforced, however, with the obvious choice of Finnish star Patrik Laine (2nd), a gifted and charismatic goal scorer who will make an immediate impact on both the team and the city. Improvements to the defense required a slight bump into the teens, where Winnipeg took project defender Logan Stanley (18th) with the second of its two first round picks. Stanley has some impressive traits; others rather ghastly. At 6’7, however, he could develop into the kind of top-pairing defender most teams desire.
Winnipeg stuck to the defense theme back taking a pair of mobile right-handed rearguards – Saint John’s Luke Green (79th) and Sweden’s Jacob Cederholm (97th). Both are smart and simple despite having the ability to run the attack and create plays. Hard-charging winger Jordy Stallard (127th) has a pro shot and can moonlight as a center. He plays an in-your-face style and is versatile enough to be used on special teams. And while some thought the Jets were set in goal, they made a good call by taking Russian netminder Mikhail Berdin (157th), who was the better netminder for the U8 team but lost his chance to shine at the world championships due to the meldonium scandal.
The Bruins weren’t as active in Buffalo as they were a year ago in Sunrise, where they owned 10 picks, including seven in the first 90. They addressed depth issues on defense by taking Boston University’s mobile, hard-hitting blueliner Charlie McAvoy (14th), then adding a similar player in Team USA’s Ryan Lindgren (49th), who will play for the University of Minnesota. Boston later added another defense prospect — double-overager Cameron Clarke (136th) with an NCAA commitment to Ferris State.
Up front, the Bruins took two excellent defensive-minded centers with legitimate offensive upside – Team USA’s Trent Frederic (29th) and Finland’s Joona Koppanen (135th). Lastly, Swedish scorer Oscar Steen (165th) was one of the country’s top under-18 players and even earned a promotion to the Elite League. The Bruins took seven players from the CHL in last year’s draft, but in Buffalo avoided Canadian-born or trained players altogether. If you thought the Bruins are tough to play against now, just wait until the picks from these last two draft’s are make it to the Big Show.
St. Louis Blues
The Blues are generally sound when it comes to evaluating talent, but they decided to literally ignore at least one defenseman for the first time in 20 years. To be fair, they do have a strong pool of blueline prospects closing in on the big club. But with expansion looming and the unpredictable nature of the salary cap, overlooking any single position is steeped in folly. St. Louis traded up with Washington to take UConn sniper Tage Thompson (26th), a big winger with a hard shot who is lethal on the power play but needs to become a well-rounded player. Speedster Jordan Kyrou (35th) was one of the draft’s top playmaking wingers and will develop into a real gem if he works hard at cutting down on turnovers. Goalie Evan Fitzpatrick (59th) was a smart grab in the late second round, as he was nothing short of heroic for an abysmal Sherbrooke squad that tilted the ice towards him on a nightly basis.
Power forward Tanner Kaspick (119th) is a perfect fit for the organization – hard-working, physical and a team-first attitude. The potential for offense is there, but playing for a loaded Brandon Wheat Kings squad held him back a bit (Kaspick also missed time due to an upper-body injury. Northeastern’s double-overage winger Nolan Stevens (125th) was a fast riser who garnered attention by playing on the Huskies’ top line as they assaulted the NCAA schedule in historic fashion. The son of former Flyers’ head coach John Stevens, Stevens is an opportunistic kid who works well with others and knows how to utilize his strengths with theirs. The Blues took a chance on much-maligned former first rounder Conner Bleackley (144th), who Colorado took 2014 before he was acquired (then released) by Arizona. He missed most of this season with injury and didn’t perform the way you’d think a fifth-year CHL’er would. Danish center Nikolaj Krag (209th) is pretty slick with the puck and showed good chemistry with various linemates during the WJC. St. Louis closed out the drat by taking obscure Czech Filip Helt (211th) a hard-working, pass-first winger with good speed who played on a dominant Extraliga Juniors line with 2017-eligible Jan Becvar. Helt has the ability to absorb more than one hit as he drives his way into the offensive zone, but what’s puzzling is he was chosen over a handful of other Czech players, namely center Kristian Reichel, Simon Stransky and Ondrej Najman, who simply are better prospects.
The Canucks hinted they were taking a defender once they were scrapped from a shot at the top three picks, so choosing cerebral puck mover Olli Juolevi (5th) doesn’t come across as that big of a reach. Juolevi became the darling of the scouting community following a solid WJC, and he parlayed that success into a strong second half and Memorial Cup win with the London Knights. They lost their second rounder when they traded for Eric Gudbranson, then went off the board (sort of) by taking speedy energy winger Will Lockwood (64th) from the NTDP. Lockwood is a battler who makes money in the trenches, but I felt the Canucks could have used more skill and take a player like Vitalii Abramov or power winger Matt Filipe. Vancouver took hard-shooting defender Cole Candella (140th) in the fifth round – a good pick up and someone who can shoot off the pass with accuracy.
Overage forwards Jakob Stukel (154) and Rodrigo Abols (184th) both play in the WHL, so you have to figure the Canucks saw a lot of them. Stukel is a fast kid who was an Oilers camp invite in 2015 after a knee injury hurt his draft stock. The Latvian Abols, passed over in both 2014 and 2015, is a big center with very good speed. Vancouver capped their weekend by taking strong defensive center Brett McKenzie (194th), another tall kid who shouldn’t have been passed over a year ago. He’s a big reason why North Bay is such a dominant defensive team, and he developed a scoring touch after spending most of his first draft year on the bottom six.
The Hawks were quite active in Buffalo, which would have been crazy to think back in May when they were slated to begin picking in the late third round. Trading forwards Andrew Shaw, Teuvo Teravainen and Bryan Bickell returned three second rounders — the first being used on undersized sniper Alex Debrincat (39th), a Michigan native who was one of the CHL’s top goal scorers in each of the last two seasons, and in our view a first-round talent. Their second pick netted Team USA two-way defenseman Chad Krys, a top preseason prospect who deservedly fell out of Top 30 contention when he began to struggle with consistency before the new year. They made up for it by nabbing Russian winger Artur Kayumov (50th), an excellent playmaker with speed who played on the top line of Russia’s U18 team, and a kid we pegged for the top-60 pick since the fall. Belgian goalie Wouter Peeters (83rd) looks more like a consolation prize as the high number of netminders taken between picks 48-75 may have forced Chicago’s hand to take one early before it was too late. (Note: only two goalies were taken in last year’s Top 60).
The Hawks went the overage route on four of their final six picks, beginning with mobile Swedish defender Lucas Carlsson (110th) who improved his defensive play with Brynas but has limited point-producing potential. The selection of Saint John center Nathan Noel (113th) is perplexing because he had a better year in his first draft look than he did in 2016, but Bowman stabilized things with two excellent late-round picks – Danish power forward Matthias From (143rd) and two-way defenseman Jake Ryczek (203), the latter heading to Providence nest season. Lastly, double-overage defenseman Blake Hillman (173rd) is a steady rearguard who makes good outlet passes and covers his zone well, but a project with limitations nonetheless.
The Stars have a solid mix of NHL-ready prospects in the AHL affiliate to augment the young stars they have with the big club. So in my view, this draft was like playing with house money…except for one major detail – they needs goalies and need them bad. If there was ever a draft to stockpile on netminders regardless of the amount of picks one has, it’s this one. This wasn’t a deep draft in terms of skill by any stretch of the imagination, so we were hoping the Stars would attack it with said need in mind. The selection of mammoth left wing Riley Tufte (25th) showed GM Jim Nill was willing to take a chance on a boom-or-bust type, and they can let him marinate in college for a year or two before deciding whether to cut sling load or not. Swedish two-way center Fredrik Karlstrom (90th) joins Radek Faksa, Devin Shore and Jason Dickinson to form one of the NHL’s top collections of big pivots, but Nill didn’t stop there. He added another big center at 116th overall in Rhett Gardner, a freshman from the University of North Dakota who is good on faceoffs and will be groomed for an expanded role next season.
It wasn’t until early in the 5th round when Nill grabbed a backstopper, but it was a good one. Colton Point (128th) is a 6’3 netminder with hawk-like vision who’ll play for Colgate. Point is a four-year NCAA candidate with a habit of losing the net, so his development will take longer than most CHL or European types. Still, this kid has No. 1 written all over him. Flint gunslinger Nicolas Caamano (146th) can snipe with the best of them but didn’t have a whole lot of help getting chances. His overall game needs a ton of work, but he’s a solid pick late in the fifth nonetheless. They wrapped things up with a good pick to keep an eye on– Swedish two-way defender Jakob Stenqvist (176th), who we admittedly never cared about because he was a depth defenseman. But a closer look revealed he became one of MoDo’s reliable defenders as the season progressed and played on both the top PK unit and the point on the power play. All that said, the Stars should have added another goalie, more for the expansion ramifications but also to address a critical need.
The Penguins were smart to address the need to replenish their depleted pool of defensemen, using the last four of their six picks on blueliners. But the amount of quality forward prospects in their system is thin, so we were thinking they would use their first two picks on a skilled center or finisher. That didn’t happen, as Pittsburgh utilized their first of two second rounders on talented Swedish goalie Filip Gustavsson (55th). Some pegged him to go a little higher, so it’s not like the Pens went off the board to grab him. And while the talent gap between the poised Gustavsson and the rest of his available peers isn’t that great, he’s a solid pick with No. 1 potential nonetheless. Taking Finnish overage energy forward Kasper Bjorkqvist (61st) was a move we questioned, only because of how high he went. He was a depth player on most international teams but tore up Finland’s junior circuit, albeit without displaying an endearing skill other than an acute understanding of the game. Bjorkqvist has a shot at decent minutes as a freshman with Providence College due to their mass exodus of forwards.
The four aforementioned defensemen differ in skill set, beginning with Kitchener’s Connor Hall (77th), a physical, shutdown specimen who didn’t look out of place for Team Canada at the U18’s. Ryan Jones (121st) from Lincoln of the USHL is a double-overager with size and mobility that will play for Nebraska-Omaha. Finnish defenseman Niclas Almari (151st) is quite mobile and positionally sound but has trouble completing breakout passes. I see him as a long-shot to ever crack the top two pairings. Lastly, Connecticut’s Joe Masonius (181st) may turn out to be the best of the skaters the Penguins selected. An overager that should have been drafted out of the NTDP last year, Masonius is a gifted puck mover and power play specialist who loves to take chances and kickstart the offense.
San Jose Sharks:
San Jose came to the draft at a disadvantage, trading their first rounder to Boston in last year’s Martin Jones trade after sending a third to Dallas in 2014 for Brendan Dillon. Still, the Sharks have a decent track record when it comes to the draft, which is why their picks pegged us as off-the-wall. Taking double-overage winger Dylan Gambrell (60th) seems like a good move, but trust us when we say he was the same player peer-to-peer in 2014 and 2015 as he was with Denver this past season. Again, I think it’s extremely odd to use such a high pick on a kid – any kid – you could have drafted one or two years ago. Gambrell is no surprise – he was always a skilled player who contributed offense with limited minutes, which is exactly what he did with the Denver Pioneers. To clarify – I’m not knocking the pick. I’m knocking the process (or lack thereof).
Drafting speedy Moose Jaw forward Noah Gregor (111th) may turn out to be steal. He’s an extremely versatile player who I had ranked in my Top-40 since April and showed no signs that previous injuries had an impact on his fearless, aggressive style. He’s produced everywhere, and I expect him to be a candidate for Canada’s 2017 WJC squad. German-born center Manuel Wiederer (120th) is another overager who was a top producer as a rookie for Moncton in the QMJHL and used a strong postseason to springboard into the conversation. Shocking to me was how he was picked over forward Tobias Eder, Germany’s best draft-eligible prospect and almost two years younger. San Jose made a smart choice with it’s sixth rounder – heavy-hitting blueliner Mark Shoemaker (180th), an intimidating kid with size who fit North Bay’s defensive-style like a glove. He played on the power play but he likely tops out as a top-four shutdown type. Danish sniper Joachim Blichfeld (210th) is another selection with the chance of a high return. He was one of the more noticeable players on a thin WJC team, and outperformed the majority of his peers in Sweden’s J20 Superelit.
The Capitals had assets to work with, but I got the impression they went into the draft without even thinking about going BPA on any pick. For starters, the traded down two spots to take Kelowna puck mover Lucas Johansen (28th), a power play quarterback with mobility that was inconsistent in both coverage and one-on-one play. Center Garrett Pilon (87th) was a solid pick late in the third round because he can play the role of playmaking center or sniping winger. His skating may be suspect, but he has the ability to set up quality chances once he gets inside the opposing zone. Washington took overage Swiss forward Damian Riat (117th) in the fourth round. He’s a hard-nosed winger who will battle along the board and cause problems in front of the net.
A need for hard-working wingers to augment the Capitals’ skill up front was addressed by taking WHL’er Beck Malenstyn (145th) and Swede Axel Jonsson-Fjallby (107th) – both wingers who have speed and love to get involved on the forecheck. Jonsson-Fjallby has more skill than Malenstyn, but the latter seems to get a ton of chances on a nightly basis. Two more skill defenders were added in the later rounds, beginning with Russian Dmitry Zaitsev (207th), a physical blueliner who can run a power play, and double-overager Chase Priskie(177th) from Quinnipiac. Priskie is an exceptional puck mover with a long stride that loves to join the rush or drop down deep into the circles.
The Av’s have been horrid at drafting the last five years, so they needed to hit a home run in Buffalo. Grabbing two-way skill center Tyson Jost (10th) and power winger Cam Morrison (40th) set the foundation for a strong draft, but taking defenseman Josh Anderson (71st) early in the third round is when things started going south. This isn’t on Anderson – he’s a big, mobile defender who makes your body pay a steep price. But he missed half the season (and the combine) with a back injury, and he wasn’t all that productive to begin with. Granted, he was the third overall pick in the 2013 WHL Bantam Draft, but in our view he not only went too high, but was on par with dozens of healthier options. Swedish goalie Adam Werner (131st) is a kid we had getting drafted a year ago, and while he lived up to expectations, the Av’s should have used their third rounder on a top-ranked goalie rather than an injured stay-at-home defender. Colorado made two shrewd picks in the late rounds – Notre Dame-bound defenseman Nathan Clurman (161st) and physical two-way forward Travis Barron (191), who like Anderson was once a top CHL draft pick but adapted well to his depth role without losing the ability to make plays off the rush.
Detroit Red Wings
The Red Wings seem to get a reputation mulligan every draft, but not this year. While they get an “atta boy” for unloading the remaining year of Pavel Datsyuk’s costly contract, they somehow felt that Jakob Chychrun was the wrong guy for them, so they traded down four spots and took fast-riser Dennis Cholowski (20th), a smart puck distributor who is nowhere near ready for the NHL and likely stays four years at St. Cloud State, which has a logjam of offensive defensemen to begin with. We hate to be curt, but GM Ken Holland and crew struck out gunning for an impact defender in 15 straight drafts while , and they passed on their best chance in years to take the one with the highest upside. Power winger Givani Smith (46th) and heady two-way defender Filip Hronek (53rd) are strong bounce-back picks – Smith is a terror in the low slot and in board battles, while Hronek is in our view far more polished in all three zones than the aforementioned Cholowski.
Make it 24 straight drafts the Wings took a bite out of Sweden’s prospect pool, this time with three players – physical depth defender Alfons Malmstrom (107th), a mediocre project goalie in Filip Larsson (167), and overage power winger Mattias Elfstrom (197th). Elfstrom was another odd pick since he was selected ahead of Malmo linemate Joachim Blichfeld, who had the size/skill combo but is a year and a half younger and owns the better shot. The Wings also gambled on Erie defenseman Jordan Sambrook (137th), a middle-pairing two-way type with good instincts but a propensity for bad penalties and turnovers.
Los Angeles Kings
Let me just preface my rant by stating that the players the Kings picked – all four of them – are fine prospects, each with legitimate chances to make the NHL and stick. The problem was the fact that the Kings flew over a dozen people 3000 miles to sit at a table for a combined seven hours, probably spending more time on “remember when…” stories than anything else. Their Draft Day situation reminded me of those people with 137 dollars in their savings account but go house hunting in the Hamptons for “fun”. Seriously, why bother? You’re telling me GM Dean Lombardi couldn’t swing one deal to add a pick or two? The Kings need defensemen in the worst kind of way, and if you don’t believe me, just ask the Hockey News, who rated Derek Forbort as the Kings’ top blueline prospect – a good six years after being drafted! Nevertheless, the Kings came away with some good players despite showing up to the Queen City with little to work with (their own doing, I may add).
Defenseman Kale Clague (51st) was a strong pick in that he was both BPA and filled a need. The wiry yet nimble puck mover was Brandon’s de facto top defensemen for stretches of the season, and he is among the best in his class at whipping a hard, accurate breakout pass. Swedish blueliner Jacob Moverare is a similar player from the red line in, but far less reliable defensively. Each player needs to add muscle or get used to losing more puck battles than they ever saw in their respective junior league. NCAA standout Mikey Eyssimont (142nd) is a double-overage skill forward, but a darn good one. He produced in a limited role as a freshman with St. Cloud State and would have been a sought-after UDFA had his name not been called in Buffalo. The Kings closed out their busy second day by taking overage meanie Jacob Friend (202nd), who had a solid season for Owen Sound as a physical defenseman.
The Wild was in the same boat the Kings – lots and lots of time to kill. They too had only four picks, but at least one of them was in the first round. Minnesota used it to nab Wisconsin sniper Luke Kunin (15th), an electrifying winger with a deadly shot who can also play center. The Wild didn’t pick again until Round 4, where it took aggressive power forward Brandon Duhaime (106), a Providence-bound overager who played a key role in Tri-City’s USHL title run. They took another goal scorer with the first of their two sevenths, albeit one with far less certainty than the aforementioned Kunin. Russian import Dmitry Sokolov (197) was to some a preseason lottery pick, but even leading OHL rookies in goal scoring wasn’t enough to stop him from garnering the dubious distinction of the being the draft’s biggest faller. He’s big and deceptively quick once inside the offensive zone, but issues with work ethic and a bum shoulder make him a risk, even for a seventh rounder. Lastly, the Wild took 6’8 blueliner Brayden Chizen from Kelowna – an obvious shot in the dark on a kid with size and physicality but was either the Rockets’ sixth defensemen when he wasn’t a healthy scratch.