SUNRISE – The start of the draft went 1-2-3 as expected, but as the first round got deeper, things veered in surprising directions. Who were the winners and losers on the night? I didn’t count Edmonton and Buffalo, since we always knew they’d have a good night. Otherwise, here’s how I saw things go down:
My intel was that Noah Hanifin was not going to fall past Carolina at No. 5 and sure enough, the Canes pounced on the exceptional defenseman when Toronto passed on his services. Hanifin had an amazing second half at Boston College and should he return, he’ll be the cornerstone of the Eagles.
The first big shock of the draft came when Dallas tabbed right winger Denis Gurianov with the 12th pick. Though the ‘Russian Factor’ may still be a thing for some franchises (Columbus, for example), Stars GM Jim Nill has not been afraid to take Russians who played back home during his tenure. After all, Valeri Nichushkin was his first-ever pick.
“I’m not too worried about him going back to Russia,” Nill said. “He’s going back there next year, we knew that all along. But we’re looking for the best player available three, four years down the road and we’re comfortable that he’s going to come over and play for us.”
Another Russian with KHL ties, goalie Ilya Samsonov, went to Washington. Thanks to Alex Ovechkin, the Caps have been a mecca for talented young Russians for years and in Samsonov the Caps landed the most highly-rated netminder in the draft class.
Add in CHLers Ivan Provorov (Philadelphia) and Evgeny Svechnikov (Detroit) and you have the most Russian first rounders since 2004, when Ovie and Evgeny Malkin headlined the festivities.
The college ranks set a new standard with three first-rounders in the top eight picks thanks to Hanifin, Jack Eichel (Buffalo) and Zach Werenski (Columbus). It was a grand year for NCAA hockey and this first round was the capper. Miami-bound Jack Roslovic (Winnipeg) was a nice surprise too, as he was seen as a borderline first-rounder.
The Sens, who already have a great young roster, added a smart, slick-skating defenseman in Thomas Chabot and then a fast two-way/shutdown center in Colin White. Ottawa will be very tough to beat in a couple years if these kids shake out the way they are projected.
Once again this year, scouts sang the praises of players in the 5-foot-10 range, but couldn’t convince their bosses to pull the trigger early. While I didn’t expect Travis Konecny or Nick Merkley to go in the top 12, I thought one or both would go in the top 20. As it turned out, Konecny went 24th to Philly, while Merkley lasted until No. 30 when Arizona scooped him up.
“Obviously there were only a few guys 5-foot-10, 5-foot-11, and you get nervous about that,” Merkley said. “You just take it as it is and enjoy the moment.”
On the bright side, 5-foot-10 Anthony Beauvillier was a surprise first-rounder when the Islanders traded up to grab him 28th.
I don’t mean to pile on, but from an outsider’s view, the Bruins panicked tonight. Certainly when they acquired picks from Los Angeles and Calgary, they didn’t intend to use all three of their selections (which came 13, 14 and 15). But no trade emerged and the Bruins took two players they could have gotten later while passing on immense talents still on the board. Why didn’t they grab White, a Massachusetts product, or Kyle Connor, a future No. 1 center? Or, incredibly, Matt Barzal, who slipped to the Isles one pick later?