Winners and losers after the first round of the draft

Noah Hanifin (photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

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:

Winners

Carolina

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.

Russians

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 NCAA

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.

Ottawa

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.

Losers

Small Guys

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.

Boston

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?

2015 Draft Preview – Columbus Blue Jackets prospects like to move

Ryan Kennedy
Sonny Milano (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

The Blue Jackets will draft players from any and all circuits, but those kids tend to wind up in either major junior or the AHL. Sonny Milano chose Plymouth over Boston College, Peter Quenneville left Quinnipiac for Brandon, Markus Soberg went from Sweden to Windsor and Marko Dano dumped the KHL for the AHL. Will the trend continue?

Read more

Report: Sergei Kostitsyn close to NHL deal after two seasons in KHL

Jared Clinton
Sergei Kostitsyn (Kirk Irwin/Getty Images)

Sergei Kostitsyn last played in the NHL in 2012-13 during the lockout-shortened season, but, after two seasons in the KHL, he’s eying an NHL return for the upcoming season.

According to Sports.ru’s Igor Eronko, Kostitsyn is close to signing a contract that will bring him back to the NHL for the 2015-16 campaign. He hasn’t suited up for an NHL contest since the end of the 2012-13 season, in which he played 46 games for the Nashville Predators, scoring three goals and 15 points. For the past two years, Kostitsyn has been plying his trade in the KHL with Ak Bars Kazan.

In the past two campaigns in the KHL combined, Kostitsyn numbers aren’t world-beating totals by any means, but the former Montreal Canadien has been a steady producer. Over his 103 games in the primarily-Russian league since leaving the NHL, Kostitsyn has racked up 17 goals and 61 points. Read more

Report: Sabres’ Mikhail Grigorenko could sign KHL deal

Jared Clinton
grigorenko-183586054

When the Jack Eichel era starts in Buffalo, the Sabres could be without 2012 first-round pick Mikhail Grigorenko.

According to TSN’s Bob McKenzie, there has been some speculation the 21-year-old center is considering signing a deal in the KHL. Grigorenko is set for restricted free agency and McKenzie reports the Sabres were hoping to get 2012’s 12th overall pick signed to a two-way deal and have him fight for a roster spot next season, but Grigorenko may not be interested in competing for a spot in the lineup and venture instead to the KHL where there would likely be the promise of more money and a guaranteed roster spot. Read more

Scotty Bowman: Sergei Fedorov ‘could have been an all-star defenseman’

Scotty Bowman (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

When it comes to knowing the impact of Russian players on the NHL, few coaches can speak to it better than Scotty Bowman. Bowman, during his days in Detroit, helped recreate the five-man unit that the Soviet style of play was built on.

In the documentary Red Army, which hit shelves Tuesday, Bowman talks about his experience utilizing his five Russian players – Slava Fetisov, Igor Larionov, Vladimir Konstantinov, Sergei Fedorov and Slava Kozlov – and what those players meant to the Red Wings at that time. The ‘Russian Five,’ as they came to be known, dominated opponents with their incredible play and helped lead the Red Wings to the 1997 Stanley Cup.

Bowman spoke with THN about the first time he saw the Soviets play, the incredible resiliency of the Fetisov and what modern players he sees some of the Russian style in: Read more

Blues GM Armstrong says he has no confirmation Sobotka will stay in KHL

Jared Clinton
Vladimir Sobotka (Photo by Mark Buckner/NHLI via Getty Images)

Reports of Vladimir Sobotka staying in the KHL may have been greatly exaggerated. At least according to St. Louis Blues GM Doug Armstrong, they are.

Armstrong spoke with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s Jeremy Rutherford Thursday and said that he has not received confirmation from Sobotka’s agent regarding the center’s contract status. It was reported by Avangard Omsk’s official webste earlier this month that Sobotka would, in fact, be back with the KHL club for the upcoming season. Armstrong went on to call the reports of Sobotka staying in the KHL, “premature.”

The news that Armstrong hasn’t received confirmation from Sobotka’s agent comes as somewhat of a surprise, especially considering Armstrong seemed to more than back the 27-year-old pivot’s choice, regardless of what that choice was. Read more

Report: Dany Heatley could head to the KHL next season

Jared Clinton
Dany Heatley (Jeff Gross/Getty Images)

Dany Heatley has had his fair share of difficulties over the past few seasons and now the struggling sniper could be leaving North America altogether for a shot to reclaim his career in the KHL.

According to Championat.com, CSKA Moscow and SKA St. Petersburg have contacted Heatley about possibly joining their respective clubs next season. After the situation this past season in which Heatley failed to catch on with the Anaheim Ducks before spending the bulk of his campaign in the AHL, it seems unlikely he’ll get another shot at an NHL deal for 2015-16, so playing in the KHL might be his next best option. Read more

‘Red Army’ doc director: Soviet style of play was inspiring, today’s game celebrates status quo

Jared Clinton
Viacheslav Fetisov (Sony Pictures Classics)

When it comes to hockey documentaries, Gabe Polsky’s Red Army sets a new gold standard.

The incredible 85-minute documentary covers the legendary teams from the Soviet Union and centers around Hall of Fame blueliner Slava Fetisov, one of the most unique characters whose story is astounding and perseverance and triumphs provide the perfect backdrop for the remarkable tale.

Red Army hit shelves on Tuesday and Polsky, who wrote, directed and produced the documentary, spoke with The Hockey News about the film’s creation, the Soviet style of play, his relationship with Fetisov and why hockey has never been as good as the 1987 Canada Cup. Read more