30 teams, 30 questions on draft day

Matt Larkin
draft lottery

It’s Christmas morning, your dad Santa has bitten his cookies and sipped the milk, and you’re tossing and turning in bed, waiting to head downstairs and open presents. That’s the feeling the NHL draft brings to us THN folk, especially when this year’s carries more movin’-and-shakin’ buzz than any other in recent memory. While you count down the hours, here’s one burning question each NHL team should ponder today.

ANAHEIM (10th overall): Can the Ducks win the Ryan Kesler sweepstakes?

To me, there’s no better destination for Kesler. He’s an ideal fit as a No. 2 center on a contending team, capable of playing a shutdown role and contributing offense. How great would he look on a line with Devante Smith-Pelly? The Ducks are the No. 1 team in Future Watch. They have more assets to spare than any other team in the NHL. The advantage is yours, Bob Murray.

UPDATE: And Murray capitalized for a fair price. Perfect trade for the Ducks.

ARIZONA (12th overall): Can the Coyotes find immediate help on offense today?

It’s a near given Phoenix drafts a forward today. The Desert Dogs already have a logjam on defense, with prospects Brandon Gormley and Connor Murphy climbing the depth chart. This team needs to score, and that means adding another high-end piece to complement Max Domi and Henrik Samuelsson. Will a Nikolaj Ehlers or Brendan Perlini be available? Maybe, but it’s disappointing to see Don Maloney shrug off the idea of trading up. How good would Leon Draisatl look in a Yotes uniform?

BOSTON (25th overall): Should the Bruins start planning for life without Zdeno Chara?

Dougie Hamilton projects as a fine defensive pillar and Torey Krug looks like he’ll be a premier offensive defenseman for years to come, but is that enough? Chara will start to age one of these years. Targeting someone like Roland McKeown late in the first round, if he’s available, would make sense.

BUFFALO (2nd overall): Who will become the face of the Sabres?

Even if Aaron Ekblad falls to No. 2, it would be shocking to see Buffalo take a defenseman after it nabbed Rasmus Ristolainen and NIkita Zadorov last summer. It’s not a matter of if the Sabres nab a forward – just which one. Do they go safe and NHL-ready with Sam Reinhart, or think higher-ceiling and take Sam Bennett or Draisaitl?

CALGARY (4th overall): How much does size matter, a.k.a. how big is Brian Burke’s influence on the Flames?

New Calgary GM Brad Treliving can significantly shape the franchise’s direction tonight, but what happens if Draisaitl is gone by pick No. 4 and the Flames end up choosing between Bennett, Reinhart and Ekblad? Reinhart makes too much sense given the Calgary connection, but we know how much president of hockey ops Brian Burke loves big boys. If any team makes an ugly reach on hulking Nick Ritchie, this is the one to do it.

CAROLINA (7th overall): Will the Hurricanes ever have a superstar defenseman?

Hey, no disrespect to Justin Faulk. He’s a great young blueliner and a big part of Carolina’s future. But defensemen to Carolina over the last decade have been like goalies to Philadelphia. The team struggles to find that Shea-Weber-like workhorse. Will Ron Francis’ first decision be to target a blueliner like Haydn Fleury at No. 7 and hope he catches lightning in a bottle?

CHICAGO (27th overall): Is Ryan Kesler worth it for the Blackhawks?

Chicago has been mentioned in the same breath as Anaheim as a Kesler frontrunner. Even though the Hawks are a “now” contender, however, is it worth whatever it will cost to get Kesler? Given Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane are rumored to command as much as $12 million a season when their contracts expire in a year, I can’t see Stan Bowman re-signing Kesler, and Teuvo Teravainen is the No.2 pivot of the future, anyway. Kesler would be a two-year rental, albeit a good one.

UPDATE: Kesler going to Anaheim did Chicago a favor. Maybe the Hawks can take a blueliner with their first-rounder now.

COLORADO (23rd overall): How will the Avalanche upgrade their defense?

Colorado beat writer and THN correspondent Adrian Dater lists five draft day targets, and none is a defenseman. The analytics told us the Avs were lucky this season, far too reliant on goaltending. This team needs to upgrade on defense. If it won’t do so at the draft, that means looking for a free agent or trading Ryan O’Reilly. The latter is a scary idea if Paul Stastny walks as a free agent, though.

COLUMBUS (16th overall): Are the Blue Jackets ready to enter win-now mode?

Watch out for Columbus in 2014-15, I’m telling you. Ryan Johansen and Ryan Murray are blossoming, as is Boone Jenner, and the Jackets aced their draft last year, nabbing Alexander Wennberg and Kerby Rychel in the first round. This team is already fairly stocked with young talent and, as the Rangers and Canadiens have proven, the East is up for grabs. Echoing what my colleague Rory Boylen said, it would be interesting to see the Jackets join the Kesler sweepstakes as a sleeper

UPDATE: Hey, I used the word sleeper, not frontrunner. Still, it would be interesting to see what other deals Jarmo Kekalainen pursues.

DALLAS (14th overall): Will the Stars find their puck-moving D-man in the draft?

The Stars have two clear needs: a No. 2 center and a puck-moving blueliner to succeed Sergei Gonchar. Theoretically, they could target one with the 14th overall pick and the other via trade or free agency. Finnish D-man Julius Honka sure would make sense at No. 14.

DETROIT (15h overall): Will the Red Wings’ patient philosophy change?

The Wings are known for gradually nudging prospects along, but necessity forced them to bring youngsters like Tomas Jurco up to The Show earlier than normal this season. There’s talk of Anthony Mantha making the big club, too. Does that mean GM Ken Holland will think about grabbing more of an NHL-ready player in the first round?

EDMONTON (3rd overall): What happens if Leon Draisaitl goes first or second?

Oilers fans have done a good job convincing me that a big, Anze Kopitar-like center is what Edmonton desperately needs. If Draisaitl goes to Florida or Buffalo and Ekblad is on the board, however, does Craig MacTavish sing a different tune?

FLORIDA (1st overall): Should Florida trade the first overall pick?

When the first four picks in the draft appear in different permutations in every mock draft, it means (a) this draft lacks a generational talent or (b) this draft has four generational talents at the top. Whatever you believe, it’s a thought that should give GM Dale Tallon pause. Is it worth trading down to land another asset when you could get just as good of a player a few picks down the board anyway?

LOS ANGELES (29th overall): What do you buy when you have everything?

This team has no weaknesses and is expected to endure very little turnover this off-season. In theory, that means the defending champs have the luxury of going best-available, right?

MINNESOTA (18th overall): Should the Wild trade down?

Minnesota is in a nice spot, loaded with enviable young talent at almost every position. Except in goal, that is. The Wild net is a huge question mark between Josh Harding’s multiple sclerosis and Niklas Backstrom’s abdomen, and the jury remains out on Darcy Kuemper’s ceiling. Thatcher Demko is thus a logical draft day target – but do the Wild really want to take a goalie that high? Then again, the Flyers could snake them a pick earlier.

MONTREAL (26th overall): Will the Habs reach for size again?

Michael McCarron is a tantalizing prospect because of his massive fame, but to me he was raw and thus a reach at 25th overall last June. Size up front remains the Canadiens’ biggest need, but what if that means passing on a better available talent again?

NASHVILLE (11th overall): Will the Predators trade their first-round pick for a top-six forward?

David Poile has stated he’s open to moving his first-round pick for a top-six forward. Can he find a taker? He needs a team willing to blow things up. The Senators would make sense if Nashville wasn’t on Jason Spezza’s no-trade list. How about Bobby Ryan?

NEW JERSEY (30th overall): Where will the Devils find high-end skill?

The Devils can’t trade the 30th overall pick. They have to use it as part of their penalty from the NHL for the Ilya Kovalchuk fiasco. Can Lou Lamoriello find a diamond in the rough and net this team some high-end skill at forward? It might mean taking a gamble on an enigmatic talent like Josh Ho-Sang.

NEW YORK ISLANDERS (5th overall): Is there any choice for the Islanders besides Michael Dal Colle?

The pick feels like the most predictable of round 1 to me. Assuming the big four are gone, Dal Colle appears to be in his own tier at No. 5. He’s a natural trigger man to groom alongside John Tavares for years to come.

NEW YORK RANGERS (59th overall): Should the Rangers try to reacquire a first-round pick?

The Blueshirts should be proud of their run to the final, but the future looks a bit grim. Their farm system ranks dead last in Future Watch, and the Martin St-Louis trade leaves them with no pick until the end of round 2. Should Glen Sather try to correct that problem, or should the Rangers embrace their identity as the perpetual win-now operation?

OTTAWA (40th overall): Will a Jason Spezza trade kick off a full rebuild?

This team isn’t good enough, and it doesn’t pick until round 2. It needs more pillars to build around alongside Erik Karlsson and Curtis Lazar. A first-round pick would really help, and moving Spezza today is probably the only way to get one.

PHILADELPHIA (17th overall): Is 17th overall too soon to draft a goalie?

Ron Hextall has stated he would take a goaltender in the first round, theoretically. But for every Carey Price that delivers on first-round pedigree, there’s a Pekka Rinne, a Henrik Lundqvist and a Jonathan Quick stolen in the late rounds. Is Demko worth picking 17th?

PITTSBURGH (22nd overall): Should the Pens move backward to move forward?

The Penguins are one of the teams Kesler wants to play for, and they’d have to surrender a pick and prospect to get him, in all likelihood. But what if Jim Rutherford decides the Penguins have to regress and retool before they move forward? It’s not like Sidney Crosby is 35 and running out of time. Maybe the Pens use the 22nd pick.

UPDATE: It’s more likely than ever that they do, now that Kesler is off the table.

ST. LOUIS (21st overall): How much can a first-round pick help St. Louis right now?

The Blues are loaded at virtually every position. Playoff flops aside, this team is ready to contend now, and it has more than enough strong prospects in its pipeline (Ty Rattie, Dmitrij Jaskin, etc.). Trading a pick on draft day isn’t the easiest thing to do, but would it not make sense for Doug Armstrong to try and land a veteran asset?

SAN JOSE (20th overall): Will the Sharks trade Antti Niemi?

It likely won’t happen tonight – if you take every one of these team questions seriously, every team in the league is making a trade today – but we know Doug Wilson is rumored to be shopping Niemi. Today is as good a day as any to make the move. And if the Sharks do move their starting goalie, does that mean it’s Miller Time?

TAMPA BAY (19th overall): Should Tampa try to get better on defense immediately?

At 19th overall, the Lightning have a good shot at someone like Travis Sanheim, who could blossom into a long-term pillar to couple with Victor Hedman. But time is of the essence in the wide-open East and we know Steve Yzerman is open to a trade. Should he move one of his picks to acquire veteran help?

UPDATE: There you go. Yzerman did just that, albeit with a lower pick, surrendering a second-rounder to land Jason Garrison.

TORONTO (8th overall): What is the future of the Leafs’ blueline?

It’s nothing new when draft-day rumors swirl around the Leafs. The most common names mentioned include Jake Gardiner and Dion Phaneuf. If GM Dave Nonis moves one in an attempt to climb up in the draft tonight, however, who will eat the minutes on Toronto’s blueline this season? That’s an especially important question if Toronto finds a taker for Phaneuf.

VANCOUVER (6th overall): Can the new Canucks regime accomplish what Mike Gillis couldn’t?

Today is Jim Benning and Trevor Linden’s chance to show the Canucks fan base that they aren’t Gillis. Successfully executing the Kesler trade is the way to deliver, plain and simple.

UPDATE: Mission accomplished. The return doesn’t knock one’s socks off, but Nick Bonino, Luca Sbisa and a first-rounder are nothing to sneeze at.

WASHINGTON (13th overall): Will the Capitals reach on a defenseman?

Most mock drafts suggest Ekblad and Fleury will be gone by the time the Capitals pick, but that Honka will remain on the board. At the same time, someone from a promising second tier of forwards (Perlini, Jake Virtanen, Robby Fabbri, etc.) should be there, too. Does new GM Brian MacLellan decide to shape the team in his own image? He was a big forward in the NHL.

WINNIPEG (9th overall): Is tonight Evander Kane’s swan song?

If Kane truly wants out of the city, it’s smart to cash him in. If not, Kevin Cheveldayoff has to tread carefully. The last time a team gave up on a top-four pick in his early 20s because of his questionable off-ice behavior, the player went on to be the league’s fourth-leading scorer. His name: Tyler Seguin.

Matt Larkin is an associate editor at The Hockey News and a regular contributor to the thn.com Post-To-Post blogFor more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazineFollow Matt Larkin on Twitter at @THNMattLarkin