The NHL Draft began as expected on Sunday with the Colorado Avalanche selecting Nathan MacKinnon from the Halifax Mooseheads, but the day was far from short on surprises. Though big names Kris Letang and Tyler Seguin were not dealt, the drama started early.
Consensus top defenseman Seth Jones was the focus of attention at the top of the first round, falling to the Nashville Predators at number four. The big American was considered by many to be the top prospect in the draft, but the Florida Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning inexplicably opted to pass on the defenseman in favor of forwards.
The Panthers took Finnish center Aleksander Barkov, who is viewed as an NHL ready center after two strong seasons in Finland’s SM-liiga, and the Lightning opted for prolific scorer Jonathan Drouin. Drouin’s numbers this season dwarfed those of teammate Nathan MacKinnon, leading some to compare the winger to Tampa veteran Martin St. Louis. Though Drouin could be a superb successor to the aging star, he hardly fills a need for an offensive juggernaut that ranked 26th in the league in goals-against per game this past season.
Shocked to see Seth Jones fall into his lap, Predators GM David Poile was more than happy to overlook Nashville’s offensive holes to welcome Jones to Tennessee. The son of former NBA player Popeye Jones, Seth will now play alongside Shea Weber as he develops, and he could quickly make Preds fans forget about Ryan Suter, who signed with Minnesota a year ago.
With Jones off the board, attention shifted to the trade market, and the draft-hosting New Jersey Devils took center stage. Instead of making a selection at number seven, the Devils dealt their pick to Vancouver for goalie Corey Schneider. With Martin Brodeur nearing retirement, the young Schneider now becomes the heir apparent in the Devils’ net, and his arrival should allow for a seamless transition into the post-Brodeur era.
Vancouver selected London Knights forward Bo Horvat with the seventh overall pick, as the hockey world soaked in the shocking news. It is well known that the Canucks had long hoped to deal out-of-favor netminder Roberto Luongo, but in the end it proved easier to deal Schneider.
Luongo’s mammoth contract has been an albatross for Vancouver and Luongo, who will once again assume the lead role in Vancouver’s net. Other questions swirled about the compensation Vancouver GM Mike Gillis accepted. Rumor has it that the Edmonton Oilers had offered a much more attractive package for Schneider, but the Canucks were presumably reluctant to deal with a division rival.
New Canucks head coach John Tortorella will now be tasked with reviving the career of Roberto Luongo, which has been in shambles since the netminder’s memorable meltdown in the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals. On the opposite side of the continent, Schneider will have at least a year before facing the pressure of replacing Martin Brodeur.
The Chicago Blackhawks picked up the remainder of the headlines with a pair of deals, fresh on the heels of their Stanley Cup parade. Less than a week after scoring the Cup-winning goal in Boston, Dave Bolland was dealt to the Toronto Maple Leafs, and soon after Michael Frolik was dealt to the Winnipeg Jets.
The Blackhawks memorably held a yard-sale following their 2010 title, and a similar situation is emerging. As GM Stan Bowman’s club fights to get under the descending salary cap, sacrifices have to be made.
The Maple Leafs gave up a second round pick and two fourth rounders for Bolland, who will be a free agent next summer. The physical center was superb in the postseason with his physical forechecking and clutch scoring. Frolik netted the Hawks a third rounder and fifth rounder from the Winnipeg Jets, and the young Frolik should be an integral part of a quickly improving team in Manitoba.
Besides the moves mentioned above, the trade market was surprisingly quiet after days of wild speculation. The new CBA has seemingly complicated trade talks, and it should set the scene for a wild free agent frenzy on July 5.