While I mentioned last week that much of the excitement that surrounds the NHL Draft is due to it being the unofficial birth of the next season, the real drama and entertainment comes from the trades or surprise picks that are made during the weekend. While there was the anticipation that Jason Spezza would be dealt, as well as rumblings that the Sharks were going to acquire Patrick Sharp from Chicago, there were not as many trades as expected, not to mention that the draft itself was fairly predictable. The Panthers took the best available player in Aaron Ekblad, the Oilers selected a big centreman in Leon Draisaitl, the Hurricanes continued to build a young defensive unit by drafting Haydn Fleury, etc.
While the drama and surprise may have been lacking, there were two teams that emerged as the clear winners on Friday: Vancouver and Anaheim. New Canucks GM Jim Benning acted quick to try and clean up the mess left by former GM Mike Gillis. Benning freed up cap space by shipping the disgruntled Ryan Kesler to Anaheim (for a great bottom-six player in Nick Bonino and the continually developing Luca Sbisa), as well as moving Jason Garrison to Tampa, while also acquiring solid depth players in Derek Dorsett from the Rangers, and Linden Vey from the Kings. Even after accounting for the salaries of Bonino, Sbisa, and Dorsett, plus re-signing RFA Vey (who should have a cap hit under $900,000), the Canucks will have about $15 million in cap space, which should allow them to pursue a goalie in free agency, maybe even the most coveted UFA netminder in Ryan Miller, and a #2 centreman. Not only did Benning make the right trades, but he and his scouting team did a beautiful job at the draft. Their top three picks included pure goal-scorer Jake Virtanen (who joins other point-producing prospects in Bo Horvat and Hunter Shinkaruk), underrated two-way centre Jared McCann, and arguably the best goalie in the draft in Thatcher Demko who will have plenty of time to develop. Mr. Benning, you deserve a round of applause.
Also, the Anaheim Ducks improved in the short-term without harming their future. By acquiring Kesler, they get that big #2 centre they had been missing to compete with San Jose and Los Angeles, and they still have $19 million in cap space to bolster the scoring depth. Also, they picked up the best power-forward in the draft by nabbing Nick Ritchie at #10. Ritchie has the potential to be the next Milan Lucic, and while it’s unlikely he cracks the Ducks lineup next year, he will likely be on the team the year after, assisting in the Ducks remaining a powerhouse in the Pacific Division.
Other storylines from Friday night include the Islanders slowly becoming the ‘New York Generals’ by selecting Michael Dal Colle at #5. If Dal Colle plays for Long Island next year, New York will feature four former Oshawa Generals, including John Tavares, Calvin de Haan, and Cal Clutterbuck…the Leafs selected a 13-year old, but very talented Swede in Michael Nylander and, what? He’s 18? Oh, fooled me…the only real ‘surprise’ picks were the selections of the “controversial” kids. Tampa took high-scoring, yet trouble-making defenseman Anthony DeAngelo at #19 (if anyone can straighten him out, it’s Lightning GM Steve Yzerman), while the Isles picked the outspoken Josh Ho-Sang at #28. Both have the talent to have been deserving of being picked lower, and could end up being the steals of the draft…finally, the Penguins sent James Neal to Nashville for Patric Hornqvist and Nick Spaling. This trade confused me on Pittsburgh’s part. They need to better their depth scoring but also have cap issues. They basically gave up Neal’s production and cap hit for a player who may reach Neal’s production and carries a cap hit only $750,000 less than Neal in Hornqvist, and inherited Spaling, an RFA, meaning he becomes another contract the Pens have to deal with, while having only $10 million in cap space.
The rest of the weekend revolved around storylines in Ottawa and Toronto for the most part. The Sens were undoubtedly the losers of the NHL draft weekend. Not only were they not able to get a pick in the first round, they were also unable to move Jason Spezza, who rejected a trade to Nashville. Because of Spezza’s age, salary, and unwillingness to move to a large list of teams, the options are fading fast for GM Bryan Murray…On the other hand, the Leafs did make a move, and may have another one in the works. Toronto shipped Carl Gunnarsson and a 4th round pick to St. Louis for Roman Polak in an effort to toughen up the defensive unit, and this also allows the Leafs to try and find a partner better suited to play the top pairing with Dion Phaneuf…It was also reported Sunday night that James Reimer has requested a trade. Honestly, I’m surprised he hasn’t been traded already…Does anyone know if Don Cherry’s head exploded? It must have, as the Leafs did not select one good ol’ Canadian kid in the draft, instead picking three Americans, two Swedes, and a Russian…Smart moves made by three teams as well on Sunday night. The Lighting freed up close to $6 million in cap space by sending B.J. Crombeen and Teddy Purcell to Edmonton, giving the Oilers some excess grit that they desperately need. Tampa then moved Sam Gagner, acquired in that deal with Edmonton, to Arizona for a draft pick. This gives the Coyotes a possible #2 centre now that they will be buying out Mike Ribeiro…Finally, the Red Wings selected two players you have never heard of in the seventh round, drafting Swede Axel Holmstrom and Russian Alexander Kadeykin. I’m calling it now, within three years, these two become the next Zetterberg/Datsyuk combo.
Happy Canada Day to all you hosiers out there. Enjoy your day off tomorrow and if you’re like me, you’ll be glued to the TV for the beginning of free agent frenzy to watch who overpays for the likes of Paul Stastny, Matt Moulson, and Thomas Vanek.
Photo credits to vancouversun.com, peoples-history.com, and sportstalkflorida.com