The 2016 NHL entry draft has come and gone. The big trades that were rumored did not occur. This week is the free agency talking period in which teams can communicate with unrestricted free agents, but not make them a contract offer until July 1. With that it will be a wait and see week or two where the free agent class picks their destinations and trades may happen as precursors to signings or as reactions to who signs where.
So back to the draft. There are many, many draft recaps out there so I will bounce around a bit to the interesting points. A list of the first 2 rounds is at the bottom of this post.
The proceedings started off as expected with Auston Matthews going first overall to the Toronto Maple Leafs and Patirk Laine second to Winnipeg.
Columbus held the third slot and went off the board a bit to take Pierre-Luc Dubois. The vast majority of scouts, draft lists, and mock drafts had Jesse Puljujarvi as part of a top-3, a cut above the other prospects. Personally, I believe Puljujavi will be the best player to come out of this draft. However, clearly Columbus felt differently. To me this is a mistake they will live to regret. It feels very much like the Benoit Puliout pick by MInnesota a decade ago. He is a player that was nowhere near the top-5 in preseason and had a great year, but generally the pedigree of top end talent displays itself prior to draft year. Also, when I read scouts describe him as a, “meat and potatoes player” that does not make me think dynamic third overall pick.
Onto pick four, held by Edmonton.
Jesse Puljujarvi is intrigued by Edmonton.
So even in a season the Oilers don’t win the draft lottery, they still have great luck and see Jesse fall to them. With all of Puljujarvi’s attributes, the one least thought about was his ability to play with great players. Now looking back at the WJC and how he and Laine complemented each other so well, with JP having the more complete game, I can only imagine him riding shotgun with McDavid and the offense those two will create. As much as some might suggest Gretzky/Kurri, I see JP as a more dynamic player than Kurri if a slightly lesser goal scorer.
The fifth pick saw Vancouver reach and take Olli Juolevi. I think Matthew Tkachuk and Alex Nylander are both better talents and Vancouver needs all positions, so I would not have taken Olli here. I think Juolevi will be a fine player, but the Canucks missed on a couple of better forwards.
Sixth sat Calgary, and Tkachuk fell into their laps. Similarly to how Puljujarvi and Laine played so well together, Tkachuk made Auston Matthews go at the WJC. Now he can bring energy and dog the puck constantly to set up Sean Monahan and/or Johnny Gaudreau for the Flames. Good luck for the slide and great pick by Calgary. Arizona was seventh and though their greater drama was to come later in the round, here they reached a bit and took Clayton Keller. Rated outside the top-10 he apparently caught the Coyotes interest. That move paved the way for Alex Nylander to fall to Buffalo. See more below on the Sabres draft, but I think this was a great pick. I thought there was a top-6 overall, all forwards that went top-3, then another 3, before other players factored in. With the Juolevi and Keller picks, Nylander was the last of those 6 and the Sabres got to take a player that should not have still been there.
At 9, Montreal took top-9 rated Mikhail Sergachev. This was the right pick at that slot and strengthens their blueline. What the big club needs most is scoring forwards, but you cannot expect to get a player that steps right in at this position.
The only player I had in my top-9 that fell brings us to a move that could have much greater impact around the league than just a draft slot. From 10-15 players all rated for the first round were drafted, no big surprises. At 16, Detroit traded their pick and the contract of Pavel Datsyuk to Arizona. For the Coyotes this meant they could take Jakob Chychrun, the last of the top-9 and a preseason favorite to go in the top-3. For Detroit this means they have salary cap room to chase Stven Stamkos and the top line center spot to offer him. This made for a very interesting transaction that will continue to play out until at least July 1. Overall I detest the ability of a team to trade a ‘contract’ of a player that will not play in the NHL. That is the subject of another blog post for another day, but how that is not circumvention of the salary cap for the league I don’t know, and how the NHLPA does not object to $7.5-million being essentially taken away from players mystifies me.
The rest of the first round played out fairly predictably, with probably the biggest drop being Max Jones falling to Anaheim at 24.
Round two saw most players being drafted already rated for the top 60 or so. Most notable to me was Chicago getting Alex DeBrincat. While undersized, he is a pure goal scorer and having an opportunity to play with the skill Chicago can ice might give both team and player a great boost – see Artemi Panarin this year.
The two teams I thought did best this year are Edmonton and Tampa Bay. The Oilers had great luck with Puljujarvi falling to them at 4 and they took advantage of it, then picked up some well regarded talent in rounds 2 & 3 with Tyler Benson, Markus Niemelainen, and Matthew Cairns. Tampa Bay took Brett Howden at 27 and then got a nice array of talent with 3 second round picks that included Libor Hajek, Boris Katchouk, and Taylor Raddysh. They did trade for pick 37 and gave up former first round pick Anthony DeAngelo, so they may deserve a demerit for that selection in a prior draft.
The two teams I thought missed the boat start out with Columbus first and foremost. In my opinion they will rue the day they picked Dubois over Puljujarvi, but only time will tell. That miss is coupled to the fact that they are a building team which only had 5 total picks in this draft. It will be hard to get better with both quality and quantity lacking in their drafting acumen. Next was Florida, with both their 1st and 2nd round picks being taken high above where they were rated. Henrik Borgstrom at 23 and Adam Mascherin at 38 are two forwards who will have to overachieve to justify their draft slots.
A couple other notable items were the 3 Finns going in the top-5 and the record 12 Americans in the first round. The American note is slightly skewed by Chychrun, who is a dual citizen and has declared his allegiance to Canada for international play. Including the 1st round, 55 Americans were selected overall.
The Sabres ended up using 10 selections on the day and gained some quality talent in the first 3 rounds as well as making a trade for an established top-4 defensemen in Dmitry Kulikov.
1st round – Alex Nylander – very talented, shone with Sweden at WJC after his brother was knocked out of tournament; his OHL Mississauga squad is loaded with 2016 NHL draftees, so his numbers and team performance should get better next year; his skill can complement any line and player, assume he is a top-6 forward in 2-3 years time.
2nd round – Rasmus Asplund – played with Nylander at WJC and did well as team finished 4th, could be bigger, but has skill and tenacity; for a Sabres team flush at center he provides depth.
3rd round – Cliff Pu – this may be a huge steal, Pu was rated anywhere from 25-50 and Buffalo got him at 69. He played for the Memorial Cup champion London Knights and was therefore a bit buried on the depth chart with current and former first rounders filling the Knights lineup. He had a decent regular season and a very good playoff. Next year he will be a featured first liner and could have a big year. A 6′-1″ forward with a ton of skill, Pu could be a sleeper in the Sabres system.
With another 3rd, a 4th, two 5th rounders, a 6th, and 2 seventh rounders the Sabres added assets to the system. While all of the defensemen they chose came 86th or later they definitely added skill and talent to the forward ranks with their first 3 picks. Defense will continue to be a need, but at this point in the development of the team they can afford to wait and utilize the assets in the system to address future needs.
The Trade – Buffalo essentially gave up a 3rd to flip-flop in the second round and draft Asplund, they also improved their defense with Kulikov coming aboard and Mark Pysyk going to Florida, all in the same deal. I like the move for what it does for the defense today and adding Asplund to the forward mix for the future. Pysyk will be a steady NHL contributor, but never a dynamic presence. Kulikov will provide an upgrade on D, but the question is how much of an upgrade. His first three seasons saw steady progression in both offense and defense, but the last few years the offense has fallen off. Is that a result of regression, building up his D at the expense of offense, or coaching directives that may be different up north? I think we can establish his floor as a competitive D-man, good skater, and a bit of a shot blocker – but his ceiling may be a lot higher. As far as logistics, he is in the last year of his current contract, so if he and the team enjoy a good season he may agree to sit by during the expansion draft as a UFA and then resign with Buffalo once Las Vegas stocks their team.
That is all for now. Check out the Sabres draft board below and the NHL list for rounds 1 & 2 at bottom.
List of first two rounds of draft picks