NHL Draft: Several Interesting Storylines Including James Neal, DeAngelo

James Neal
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The 2014 NHL Draft took place over the weekend in Philadelphia. There were plenty of interesting picks and trades that were made that could fill up thousands of words on this screen.

Rather than go through each pick and predict “boom” or “bust,” or give grades to individual teams – there are plenty of other websites that can do that – I’d rather look at how the selections fit into the plans of the teams as well as the relative value of the interesting trades that were made.

For those that want to take a full look at the 2014 NHL Draft class, TSN has a breakdown of the first round and each consequent round after that.

RW James Neal (PIT) traded to Nashville for RW Patric Hornqvist and C/W Nick Spaling

For Nashville, the move is obvious. They haven’t had a prolific offensive talent since Alex Radulov took his talents to Ufa. Neal is an established goal scorer under control for a fairly cheap hit ($5-million each of the next four years).

I don’t see why Pittsburgh would do this. Hornqvist is a fine player who can go a long way in helping their depth problem. No issue there. Spaling, on the other hand, is not.

The problems in Pittsburgh are well-documented. While people are arguing whether or not Sidney Crosby needs fixing (Hint: No he doesn’t), the Penguins’ bottom-six forwards have been getting caved in regularly. In case people haven’t been watching the NHL for the last half-decade, a complete team is needed to win the Cup. Having two superstars in the top six isn’t enough, there needs to be skill and prowess in the bottom-six. Spaling is a guy who was regularly getting outshot in his role with the Predators, and nearly every teammate was better off not playing with him than being on the ice with him.

This trade did nothing to address Pittsburgh’s problem with depth, and they will be paying about the same for Spaling and Hornqvist as they would for Neal and a replacement player, assuming they even offer a contract to Spaling (he’s a restricted free agent, via Capgeek).

Leon Draisaitl (Edmonton) – Center, Third Overall

The young centerman was the highest draft pick ever used on a German player.

Draisaitl might have the most offensive gifts for a natural center in this draft. My own observations from the limited time I’ve had to view him – which is a couple of junior games only – is that he has great puck handling/movement skills, can play in high-traffic areas, and can play all phases of the game. For a bit more detail, I recommend Hockey’s Future profile.

There was talk that this was the guy the Oilers wanted more than anyone else. It didn’t make a lot of sense, because considering this was a team that hadn’t made the playoffs since their Cup run in 2006, they had holes to fill everywhere. It made more sense on Sunday night, when centerman/future winger Sam Gagner was traded to Tampa Bay for winger Ted Purcell. That created a hole at the number-2 center position, presumably to be filled by Draisaitl.

While Draisaitl might not be ready for top-six minutes right away, it seems he’ll have that chance. And what can possibly go wrong with an 18-year-old who was a high draft pick being shoved into the NHL right away by the Oilers? Oh, right

Anthony DeAngelo (Tampa Bay) – Defenseman, 19th overall pick

Anthony DeAngelo started his hockey career as a 14-year-old. That’s not a typo, he signed with the Cedar Rapids Roughriders of the USHL (a U-20 developmental league that allows player to remain amateurs so they can attend college) three days before his 15th birthday. He tallied 15 points in 28 games that year.

The big knock on DeAngelo has nothing to do with his hockey ability. It has to do with the fact that he’s been suspended, twice, for what would be considered offensive slurs. The first suspension was by his own junior team, the Sarnia Sting, the second was by the Ontario Hockey League.

I’m not one to sit back and judge the merits of character in drafts. Nor am I one to judge the quality of a teenager of whom I’ve never met.

One thing I do know is that the character of Patrick Kane was judged harshly as a young man, with some reason, and all he’s done is win two Stanley Cups (one with his own Cup-clinching overtime goal), and the Conn Smythe Trophy as the NHL’s playoff MVP in 2013.

Tyler Seguin was traded from Boston, presumably because of “off-ice issues.” In his first year in Dallas, Seguin finished fourth in the NHL in points – the three ahead of him were all nominated for the Hart Trophy as league MVP – and led the team to their first playoff appearance since 2008.

Jeff Carter and Mike Richards were shipped out of Philadelphia for, presumably, refusing to take part in Dry Island. They each have two Stanley Cups since.

The point here is that at the highest level of hockey in the world, teams need talent. Character flaws can come and go, but skill wins championships. Has DeAngelo had character issues in the past? Sure. It also means that it likely hurt his draft position and presented the Lightning with a great value opportunity. DeAngelo tallied 152 points in three OHL seasons. The four defensemen drafted ahead of him fell far short of that mark: Aaron Ekblad had 118 in three OHL seasons, Haydn Fleury had 65 points in parts of three WHL seasons, Julius Honka did manage 56 points in 62 games in his first full WHL season, Travis Sanheim had 29 points in 67 games in the WHL last year.

Not all defensemen are created equal, and different players are drafted for different skill sets. The point of this is DeAngelo profiles to be an elite puck-moving defenseman who can quarterback a power play (something lacking for the Lightning). He’s probably a top-10 pick without the “off-ice issues.” That’s a risk more than worth taking (ditto for Josh Ho-Sang to the Islanders at pick 28; another guy with “issues” who has top-10-or-15 talent).

Final Thoughts

Like any draft, a lot of this is a crapshoot. No one knows for sure whether any player will fully pan out to their capabilities, and we won’t know true “grades” for at least five years’ time – Nazem Kadri and Victor Hedman, both drafted in the top-10 in 2009, didn’t really start to come into their own until the start of the lockout-shortened 2013 season. In 2019, we’ll talk about this draft again.

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