Leafs blow it up real good with Phil Kessel blockbuster

Phil Kessel (Photo by Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images)

The first thing fans of the Toronto Maple Leafs will have to get their heads around is that there’s a very good chance Phil Kessel will go to the Pittsburgh Penguins and score 40 goals a year. He might even score more. He could end up being wildly successful with the Penguins and might even win a Stanley Cup there. Kessel could end up being happier and more productive than he ever was in Toronto. And people will have to learn to be perfectly OK with that.

Because that’s very well what might happen here. But the Maple Leafs traded their franchise player on free agent day because they knew he was never, ever going to do those things for them. Kessel was a terrible fit from the day he first signed with the Leafs, cast in the role of the face of the franchise and the undisputed leader by a GM who obviously failed to do his homework on the player. And the problem was perpetuated when his successor signed Kessel to an eight-year deal worth $64 million prior to last season.

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Saad return underwhelming, but what did you expect?

Brandon Saad (Photo by Megan Bearder /Sports Illustrated/Getty Images)

At first glance, it’s pretty tempting to look at the return Chicago Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman got for Brandon Saad and deem it to be underwhelming. Like, really underwhelming. But Bowman also realizes, perhaps better than any other GM in the business, that when you’re not dealing from a position of strength, your pals in the GM fraternity are more likely to throw you an anchor than a life preserver.

Either that, or Marko Dano is going to be a lot better than everyone thought. Or perhaps Bowman, who seems to know a little bit about evaluating talent, saw in Saad a player whose value was perhaps a little inflated by playing with Jonathan Toews so much and being part of such a strong team. No doubt, he saw an offer sheet coming. But if that offer sheet had contained a six at the front of the salary number, the Blackhawks would have received a first-, second- and third-round choice. Instead, they dealt Saad and two prospects to the Columbus Blue Jackets in exchange for Artem Anisimov, Dano, Jeremy Morin, Corey Tropp and a fourth-round pick in 2016.

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CHL Import Draft: who is coming over?

Oliver Kylington (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

The CHL’s Import Draft was held today, giving every major junior team on the continent a chance to pick up some prime European talent. Franchises are allowed to play two Euros on their roster, but no goaltenders. Teams that have a European player taken in the first round of the NHL can select a third player’s rights as well, in case the first-rounder ends up leaving.

With that out of the way, let’s look at how things went down. Consider this a non-comprehensive list, as I am cobbling together commitments or denials as I receive them from various sources in the industry.

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Report: Visa issue may prevent top prospect Auston Matthews from playing in Switzerland

Jared Clinton
Auston Matthews (Photo by Richard T Gagnon/Getty Images)

Auston Matthews was close to becoming the first major North American prospect to eschew both major junior and college in favor of playing professional hockey in Switzerland before his draft year, but it appears an issue with his work visa will prevent the Arizona native from playing overseas next season.

According to multiple reports, including Swiss news outlet Limmattaler Zeitung, Matthews has yet to receive a work permit and his participation in the upcoming Swiss NLA campaign.

The 17-year-old Matthews is considered the top prospect heading into the 2016 draft. Read more

Colorado goes with big-time upside at the draft

Ryan Kennedy
A.J. Greer (left) and Nicolas Meloche (photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

SUNRISE – It would have been pretty easy for left winger A.J. Greer to have returned to Kimball Union Academy in New Hampshire this season and plunder the prep ranks. Instead, the Quebec-born power forward went to Boston University, where he was a teenaged freshman on a premier team.

Early on, Greer was a fourth-liner at best, sometimes a healthy scratch while teammate Jack Eichel destroyed the college ranks. But Greer persevered and by the time Boston was playing for the national title, he was a scoring winger on the second line. Now, he has been rewarded at the draft, as Colorado took him 39th overall.

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Before they were stars: the risky business of trading prospects

Mike Brophy
Jarome Iginla after being drafted by Dallas in 1995. (Photo by Marco Campanelli/Getty Images)

The Dallas Stars were thrilled when they drafted Jarome Iginla in 1995 and, yes, they did think he’d be available when they chose 11th.

“I believe Central Scouting had him ranked in the twenties,” recalled former Stars director of player personnel Craig Button.

The Stars envisioned Iginla as a future power forward; a John MacLean-type winger who would one day provide them with 25-to-30 goals a season.

Turns out Iginla was better than even the Stars imagined. It also turned out he’d never play a game for the Stars.

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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 – Heavily armed Winnipeg Jets can shift focus to contending

Matt Larkin
Nikolaj Ehlers (Photo by Jeff Vinnick, NHLI via Getty Images).

The Winnipeg Jets farm system led our 2015 Future Watch Rankings and boasted six of the league’s top 75 prospects. Anything extra GM Kevin Cheveldayoff nabs at the draft is gravy. It also will provide him with trade bait should his team ascend to Cup contention next year.

PICKS:
Round 1, picks 17 and 25
Round 2, pick 47
Round 3, pick 78
Round 4, pick 108
Round 6, pick 168
Round 7, picks 198 and 203

SHORT-TERM NEEDS:
Winnipeg has potential franchise players on the way, but there’s no guarantee those players are ready to be elite. The Jets are competitive now and could use immediate help, especially among their top six forwards. A true first-line center and/or sniper would do wonders.

LONG-TERM NEEDS:
The Jets are set for young blueliners and have some dynamic scoring forwards in the pipeline. They have outstanding goalie prospects, too. But the divide between the Western Conference’s haves and have-nots correlates with which teams have big, strong pivots and which don’t. Winnipeg needs a monster center. Mark Scheifele took a nice leap this year, but, as good as he is, he’s not physical enough to make defensemen shake in their boots.

CAP SITUATION:
All the Jets’ core players have at least a year left on their deals. Scheifele and blueliner Jacob Trouba have another season before restricted free agency. So there’s space for a significant splash, though it would make things messy a year from now when Dustin Byfuglien and Andrew Ladd hit free agency. Cheveldayoff must work hard to keep UFA Michael Frolik. Frolik has been a revelation in a checking role.

IN THE SYSTEM 2015-16:
Nikolaj Ehlers lit up the QMJHL in 2014-15. He’s sure to make the NHL and challenge for the Calder Trophy this fall. Puck-moving defenseman Josh Morrissey isn’t far off, but the Jets are deep enough at ‘D’ that they don’t have to rush him. They’re solid with a top four of Byfuglien, Trouba, Toby Enstrom and Tyler Myers.

DID YOU KNOW:
Connor Hellebuyck, Winnipeg’s top goaltending prospect, won the inaugural Mike Richter Award in 2014 as the top NCAA Div. I netminder, posting a 1.79 goals-against average and .941 save percentage.

THN will be releasing its Team Reports from Draft Preview for each of the 30 NHL franchises in the week leading up to the NHL Draft. Read them in our “Draft” channel.