The red flag kids got their time on the podium in Philadelphia, while goaltenders and defensemen were largely ignored in favor of skilled forwards in the first round.
Josh Ho-Sang and Anthony DeAngelo were two of the most controversial players available in the 2014 draft class and it had nothing to do with their hockey skills. In fact, both are gifted producers. But character issues dogged both Ontario Leaguers in the run-up to the first round, casting doubt as to whether they would be picked on Friday at all.
As it turned out, DeAngelo went 19th overall to Tampa Bay, while the New York Islanders traded up to take Josh Ho-Sang with their second pick of the evening 28th overall. The draft is always nerve-wracking, but for DeAngelo, who hails from the Philadelphia area and has seen more games than he can count at the Wells Fargo Center, being up for the draft at home was a double-edged sword.
“It was 50-50,” he said. “If I didn't go tonight, it would have been way worse.”
DeAngelo is a gifted offensive defenseman, but was suspended twice during his year with the Sarnia Sting due to derogatory comments hurled at an official and a teammate. Al Murray, Tampa Bay's director of amateur scouting, said his team did more research on the blueliner than they had ever done on a player.
“We've met almost everybody who has ever been in contact with Anthony and there was nobody who didn't speak very well of him," Murray said. "He gets mad every now and then and that anger manifests itself into behavior that he's going to have to learn to control. But we feel the risk is not very high. We love the competitiveness in him, he just needs to dial it down a notch and show better self-control.”
As for Ho-Sang, he has been tabbed as an individualist and his outspoken nature has sometimes raised eyebrows. But he was more than happy to address the topic and his early meetings with New York.
“They talked to me about me,” he said. “When they took the time to get to know me, I knew the Islanders would be interested because they understand I'm really not that different, I'm just opinionated.”
GM Garth Snow was asked if he was worried the hockey world (and Canadian media) would criticize him for giving up a second-rounder in order to move up for Ho-Sang and he dismissed the notion pretty quickly.
“They can't (dump) me anymore than they already do up there,” Snow said. “I don't care.”
Elsewhere, a couple forwards proved the Russian factor isn't as severe as some have grown to expect, as Nikita Scherbak (Montreal) and Nikolay Goldobin (San Jose) went directly before Ho-Sang.
Overall, the big winners on the night were skill players. Kevin Fiala (Nashville, 11th overall), Jakub Vrana (Washington, 13th) and Julius Honka (Dallas, 14th) easily could have slid to the latter half of the round and no one would have been shocked. But when Sonny Milano (Columbus, 16th) and Nick Schmaltz (Chicago, 20th) came off the board, it was clear what the theme of the night was. Milano and Schmaltz are both gifted offensive players, but not overly aggressive or big. That might have hurt them more in previous years, but not this time.
As for losers, not a single goaltender went in the first round, marking the second straight year netminders were blanked in the top 30. Boston College's Thatcher Demko would have been the candidate, but it has been pretty well established that the difficulty in forecasting what a teen goaltender will turn into in five or six years has sent a collective chill through the NHL's draft tables.
Defensemen also took it on the chin tonight, even though Aaron Ekblad went first overall. Only five blueliners went total, well down from previous years when in most cases at least nine were selected. Some of the top names who had to wait until Saturday include Kingston's Roland McKeown and the NTDP's Jack Dougherty and Jack Glover.