If you were able to tune into the wonderful NHL Draft on your Friday night, good for you. If you weren’t so fortunate, you didn’t miss much. For the most part, the players who were expected to go high, went high. Those expected to be scattered from 10-30, went there. There weren’t many surprises. There weren’t many trades. It was a relatively quiet night. And for that, it wasn’t too easy to pick winners and losers (Spoiler alert: I think the clear winners are the New York Islanders). I’m not an NHL general manager, scout, player, or anything directly related to the National Hockey League. I may be totally right about this, or totally wrong. My advice is to not read this like I can tell the future. Enjoy my winners, scowl at my loser, and let me know what you think!
Florida Panthers – (1st overall: Aaron Ekblad)
The Florida Panthers won big in the Draft Lottery, leapfrogging the Buffalo Sabres to get the #1 overall pick. After taking forwards Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau in recent drafts, the Panthers were looking for an impact defenseman to anchor their blue line for years to come. Ekblad certainly fits that description, as he is by far and away the best defenseman in the draft and one of the top three players overall. The 18-year-old should certainly have a chance to crack the Panthers’ roster once the season starts. He stands at 6’4″ and 216 pounds, so even though he was born in 1996, his body is ready for the NHL level. Last year for the OHL Barrie Colts, Ekblad had 23 goals and 30 assists.1 He is dominant on both sides of the puck and is the definition of a two-way defender. He’s been the consensus #1 pick for months now, and rightfully so. The Panthers should see an impact right away.
Calgary Flames – (4th overall: Samuel Bennett)
Even though the man couldn’t do a pull-up at the NHL Draft Combine2, Bennett was arguably my favorite player in this year’s draft. The six-foot center has dominated everywhere he has played. Last year with the OHL Kingston Fromtenacs, he had 36 goals and 55 assists in only 57 games.3 While Bennett has an excellent skill set, scouts love the passion and effort he brings every night. The kid lives and breathes hockey and will do whatever it takes to help his team win. Who cares if he couldn’t do a pull-up. Sure it is embarrassing. But goodness, the most ridiculous day of the year is the NFL Combine, when a player can drop from the 1st to 4th round because of his grades in kindergarten. These combines are little better than a skills competition. Bennett can play. NHL Central Scouting had the forward as the top North American Skater. The Flames have done squat in recent drafts.4 As Brad Treliving’s first pick as the Flames’ GM, this pick should change their fortune.
Pittsburgh Penguins – (22nd overall: Kasperi Kapanen)
Even before the Penguins took Kasperi Kapanen with the 22nd pick, they were already having a good day. About an hour and a half before their pick, the Penguins traded winger James Neal to the Nashville Predators for wingers Patric Hornqvist and Nick Spaling.5 This was Jim Rutherford’s first big move as GM for the Penguins, and boy was it a good one. James Neal has put up big regular season numbers for years now, but has been a dud in the playoffs, known for taking dumb penalties and not showing up in the clutch. Hornqvist and Spaling will be great additions to Pittsburgh and I know Pens’ fans will be happy. Now, back to their Kapanen pick. The six-foot Finnish winger is still only 17 years old and has been rated one of the top international prospects for the past year. Many mock drafts had him going in the high teens, some even the top 10. For Kapanen to fall to the Penguins is a steal. His numbers weren’t spectacular in Finland’s elite league, but it isn’t too much to worry about. It will be interesting to see how his body and game transfer to North America.
New York Islanders – (5th and 28th overall: Michael Dal Colle and Josh Ho-Sang)
The easy, clear-cut winners of the 1st round have to be the New York Islanders. With the 5th pick, the Islanders were able to score Michael Dal Colle, who has been ranked the 5th best player by most scouting experts for over a year now. He has been known to be a wizard with the puck and a great set-up man. Shawn Reznik from TheHockeyWriters.com proclaimed that “Dal Colle is a rangy, gifted center with hands that can dangle in a phone booth.”6 He had 39 goals and 56 assists in 65 games for his Oshawa team this past OHL season. He is still under 180 pounds, but he should be able to add to his frame.
Late in the draft, the Islanders traded their 35th and 57th to the Tampa Bay Lightning for their 28th pick. And with that pick, the Islanders took one of my favorite players in the draft, Josh Ho-Sang. He has a lot of scrutiny around him, as many scouts and GMs had him on their “Do Not Draft” list.7 Some say he has an attitude problem. Some say he is “all-about-me”. Some say he is just an entertainer. He’s been late for practices. But talent wise? He could be the most talented player in the draft. He and Connor McDavid played on the same team years ago, but all the focus was on Ho-Sang. He was the one wowing everyone who watched. He loves the game of hockey. He is now playing with a chip on his shoulder. His father is Jamaican and his mother is Jewish. He has always been different. But that won’t stop him. Be ready hockey world.
Washington Capitals – (13th overall: Jakub Vrana)
I wrote an article about the Capitals not too long ago, talking about their new head coach Barry Trotz and newly promoted GM Brian MacLellan. Many argued promoting MacLellan from within wouldn’t be a change from the past, which many were looking for. I defended MacLellan, using a wait-and-see approach to see what he would do. Their Jakub Vrana pick was everything the Capitals have done for years now, a talented European winger. That’s fine and dandy and all, but the Caps need defense. They need a center. They need a guy who can score but who can grind it out too. First, Vrana was a reach with the 13th pick, as many scouts and experts had him ranked in the early 20’s. Second, it was business as usual. Andre Burakovsky, Filip Forsberg, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and Marcus Johannson have been flashy European 1st round picks since 2009.8 All the same type of player. And now Vrana fits that picture as well. It really isn’t anything against Vrana, but it doesn’t make sense for Washington. For a team looking to change their direction, it looks like they are taking the same path.
Tampa Bay Lightning – (19th overall: Anthony DeAngelo)
Anthony DeAngelo is an immense defensive talent. He had 71 points in 51 games for the Sarnia Sting of the OHL. No other defenseman came close to those kind of numbers. Unfortunately for 5’11” defenseman, that’s not what many GMs and scouts are looking at. The right-handed shooter was suspended by the OHL for eight games for slurs directed towards a referee and then he was kept away from his team for two weeks for slurs directed towards a teammate.9 And it wasn’t the first time this happened with a teammate. It has never been reported exactly what DeAngelo has said, but to be suspended by the league and kept away from your team, it must of been pretty serious. If it was an isolated incident, it would be understandable. It is was directed towards a referee in the heat of the moment, we would learn to move on. But this happened with teammates as well. It really scared some teams away. The talent is there. He could be a very good offensive defenseman in a few years. But scouts and experts were projecting DeAngelo in the high 2nd round, so the Lightning certainly reached for a very polarizing player.
Chicago Blackhawks – (20th overall: Nick Schmaltz)
If you were watching the draft, we heard the Blackhawks were making a trade. For a quick minute, the Twitter world couldn’t contain themselves. Were they acquiring Jason Spezza? Were either Hossa, Sharp, or Seabrook being moved? It had to be something big. After all the commotion, it was nothing special. The Sharks gave the Hawks their 20th and 179th pick for their 27th and 62nd pick. I know, boring right? For the Blackhawks, it seemed like they really wanted this pick because they were sold on someone. Kapanen was there. Ho-Sang was there. Jared McCann was there. But, they took center Nick Schmaltz. There isn’t really anything wrong with him, but he was a bit of a stretch. He was ranked the 19th best player in North America, and there were many other players on the board above him left. He will be attending the University of North Dakota, where Jonathan Toews attended. He will probably spend three years there. I’m not sure why the Hawks traded up to get this guy and we won’t find out if this worked out years from now. I will say, the Blackhawks rarely miss on their draft picks and for the most part (actually, the whole part), they know what they are doing. Time will tell.