The Eight teams making up the Atlantic Division had their paw prints all over the NHL Draft. The Montreal Canadiens were in the rare spot of holding the top pick while also holding the No. 1 overall selection. The Ottawa Senators were another team going big game hunting, as well. Elsewhere, the Tampa Bay Lightning and instate rival Florida Panthers kept quiet, with a bulk of their assets used up in trades for postseason pushes. Getting right into things, here is how the entire division made out.
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To near-universal distaste in the city of Boston, Don Sweeney and Cam Neely once again entered the NHL draft heading the Bruins. The duo responsible for passing on Matt Barzal, Brock Boeser, and Thomas Chabot in 2015 entered this draft without a first-round pick. Granted, that was due to getting Hampus Lindholm at the deadline, whom they locked up long-term. The Bruins also made a pair of in-draft trades, turning a third and seventh-rounder into a fourth and fifth-rounder this year, along with a seventh next year.
With that out of the way, Sweeney selected six players in total, including three straight centers, to kick things off. Matthew Poitras from the Guelph Storm in the OHL. Along with Minnesota-Duluth commit Cole Spicer and 6-footer Latvian Dans Locmelis, who spent the year in Sweden. Spicer is the name that jumps out from this group the most. He looked good with the U18 National Development program. That includes a six-game stint in the U18 World Juniors, where he was just shy of a point per game. He is also going to a hell of a program in Duluth, MN, this fall.
Sweeney also doubled dipped on the defensive front, with Frederic Brunet and Jackson Edward with two of their last three selections. Brunet was big time in the QMJHL this year, racking up 34 assists on the year, 18 of which came on the power play. Edward, meanwhile, has missed a ton of game reps due to COVID shutting down the OHL. However, there is some upside with the intangibles and size. Between those two picks, Sweeney picked up Swift Current Broncos (WHL) netminder Reid Dyck. Safe to nearly all of these picks are years out from making an NHL impact. Not what they need with their current injury predicament.
Via shipping out Boston University icon Jack Eichel along with Sam Reinhart, Buffalo wound up with three first round picks this draft, all of which were top 30. In total, Kevyn Adams made 11 picks thanks to a multitude of other trades, including one which sent Ben Bishop to Buffalo from the Dallas Stars. Matthew Savoie of the WHL’s Winnipeg Ice kicked things off, and he had a monster season in ’21-’22 (35-55-90). He also reunites with former teammate Peyton Krebs, whom Buffalo got as a part of the Eichel trade last year. Scoring and, in general, playmaking is something the Sabres need badly, and Savoie provides that.
With the next two picks, Adams went with Swedish center Noah Ostlund at No. 16 overall, then Czech center Jiri Kulich at 30th. Ostlund put up over 30 assists this year in the Swedish J20. Kulich, meanwhile, didn’t match Ostlund’s point production but has highly touted skating ability. He was, however, over a point-per-game player at the International U18s this last go ’round. It sounds like both will stick in Europe for at least one more year before coming over to Buffalo.
With the remaining eight picks, five of them were forwards, two were defensemen, and a lone goalie, who was up next for the Sabres at 41st overall. That was Topias Leinonen of Finland, who will turn 18 years old in 10 days. The No. 1 ranked European netminder (by NHL Central Scouting) has already made four starts in the SM-Liiga. The Sabres were unwilling to wait beyond Round 2 to get him and made sure they got their guy. Not a stretch to say that Buffalo is still not back, but this was a solid draft that addressed some big needs, especially at goalie.
Detroit Red Wings
Steve Yzerman went into his fourth draft heading the Wings with nine picks in total. He also went on to acquire now-former St. Louis Blues goalie Ville Husso for a third-rounder. Ville would have led the Red Wings in just about every meaningful category, which isn’t saying much, but he was solid in 40 tilts. For just a third-rounder, when Yzerman had three picks in the fourth, that is a nice move for Detroit.
Of the nine players they added on, seven of them were forwards, the most notable of which was the pride of Austria Marco Kasper. Yzerman continues to tap into the European pipeline after the great Lucas Raymond pick a few years ago. Kasper captained the short-lived Austrian World Juniors team earlier this year while also putting up 7-4-11 in his first real season in the SHL.
Right after Kasper, “Stevey Y” picked up University of North Dakota-bound Dylan James. Spending time in the USHL this year, he put up 28-33-61 for the Sioux City Musketeers. He has been a proven goal scorer for years as an amateur, something he hopes to keep up at the NCAA level. Detroit may not see it now, by Yzerman has a plan, and he may outright be the best GM in hockey.
As a result of going all-in to win just four playoff games, the Panthers didn’t have much of a role in this year’s draft. Not even for the Claude Giroux trade, but for the Sam Reinhart and Sam Bennett moves in 2021. Florida had seven picks but just three in the first five rounds. With those top three picks they had, they went across the pond with each of them. Czech defenseman Marek Alscher was the first of those in round three for Bill Zito and company.
After a few years in Finland, Alscher made the jump to the Portland Winterhawks of the WHL, where he picked up 16 points, 48 penalty minutes, and a plus/minus of +20. He is also 6-foot-3 and just shy of 200 pounds at 18 years old, which is a nice plus. Heading into a massive free agency period which includes three pending UFA defensemen, picking up guys like Alscher definitely helps. However, there may be some major cap crunch to watch out for as well.
With the Draft in their backyard and with Jeff Gorton and Kent Hughes running the show, Les Canadiens were the star of the show for better or worse. Holding the No. 1 overall pick, they opted not to take Shane Wright, the consensus No. 1 prospect for well over a year. Instead, they went for Slovakian winger Juraj Slafkovsky with their first No. 1 pick since Doug Wickenheiser in 1980. This wasn’t a complete shock, as the betting market for Slafkovsky notably jumped big time in the last few weeks. However, the home crowd gave the pick a notable mixed reaction. Wright even gave the Canadiens draft table the 1000-yard stare once he went to the Seattle Kraken.
What the Bell Centre crowd didn’t know was that Montreal had a plan for a center. They made two separate trades which landed them Chicago Blackhawks centerman Kirby Dach for multiple picks, plus Alexander Romanov, who went to the New York Islanders. Dach has struggled in his first few years in the league, but the dumpster fire of a situation he was in could be blamed for that. That said, trading Romanov on top of three top 100 picks for him is a steep price.
Back to the Canadiens. They made a second first-round pick as a result of trading Tyler Toffoli to the Calgary Flames. Once again, they took another Slovakian winger, Filip Mesar, at 26th overall. The biggest stunner of their 11 picks was that just one was a French Canadian; somewhere Marc Bergevin fainted at that result. How Slafkovsky acclimates himself to the NHL will be a big storyline this year, as will how Dach fits in on the Montreal depth chart. That Stanley Cup drought is nearing three decades for those keeping track.
Pierre Dorion went from potentially ending up in the outhouse to the penthouse on day one of the draft. After almost moving back to dump Matt Murray‘s contract to Buffalo, the Senators committed theft on the Blackhawks. They acquired Alex DeBrincat for the price of picks 7, 39, and a future third-rounder. That is a heist in every sense of the word for a 41-goal scorer whom they can re-sign as he is on an expiring deal after next season.
Although Dorion lost out on some early picks, he still had over a half dozen to work with, and he worked on the backend, selecting four defensemen. Filip Nordberg was the first at 64th overall out of Stockholm, SWE. The consensus was that the pick was a reach, but he put up over 20 assists in the Swedish juniors. On the whole, the Senators made out of this week in great shape, largely due to the DeBrincat trade. If they get a real solution at goalie (short or long term), look out in 2022-23.
Tampa Bay Lightning
The Bolts were in a similar spot to the Panthers but, unlike them, had a first-round pick at their disposal. On top of that, they had six additional picks, which turned into five after they got a third-rounder from the Los Angeles Kings for a fourth and sixth-rounder. At the second to last spot in round one, Julien BriseBois picked up Minnesota-Duluth bound Issac Howard, who made headlines for his draft outfit on Thursday night. This may have been a big-time value pick, as Howard racked up 30-plus goals with the National U-18 squad and over 70 points.
With the pick acquired from the Kings, Tampa went with Lucas Edmonds out of Kingston in the OHL. Although the consensus was that this was a reach, he put up an absurd 34-79-113 in this most recent season. Those two picks should have Tampa fans excited for down the road, as the beginning of the end for the bulk of this core’s run is about to begin this offseason.
Toronto Maple Leafs
After yet another first-round exit where they made some splashes beforehand, Toronto wasn’t making an abundance of picks in Montreal. However, boy wonder Kyle Dubas made several trades over the last two days. For the price of dropping from pick 25 to 38, they dumped Petr Mrazek‘s contract to Chicago. Feels like a steep drop for a goalie making just south of four million dollars a year, but the Leafs need the cap space. Dubas also spun a third-rounder and a future fourth into a third, fourth, and fifth-rounder in two separate moves.
Although they picked up goalie Dennis Hildeby in this year’s draft, he is years away. Seeing their current goaltending situation, Toronto’s priority is to get a goaltender at this point. Jack Campbell is all but gone by the sounds of it, so he is not a realistic option pending anything last minute. However, Darcy Kuemper won’t be back with the Colorado Avalanche either. Seems like a logical fit if the money works.
Best Pick: Marco Kasper
Although Juraj Slafkovsky to Montreal was not an inherently bad selection, there was at least one better player on the board at the time. Additionally, he will be tied to Wright for better or worse for years to come. Don’t let Kasper’s nationality fool you; the Austrian can flat-out play. The numbers will for sure improve in his second year in the main Swedish league, and by Yzerman’s admission, Kasper “Checks all the boxes”.
Worst Pick: Dans Locmelis
Locmelis wasn’t a bad pick by the Bruins because he is a bad player. However, Sweeney picking three consecutive centers was a very odd move. It’s not like Sweeney and Neely deserve the benefit of the doubt by any stretch, either. Although center will be an issue after this next season, the tandem hasn’t exactly knocked it out of the park in the draft these last few years. In fairness, Sweeney also picked Jeremy Swayman around the range Locmelis went and seems to have turned out well.
Sleeper Pick: Lucas Edmonds
Getting a player who scored over 100 points in the third round is nothing short of absurd for the Lightning. There is a chance Edmonds goes straight to the AHL as well, which is a fantastic sign for the brass in Tampa. Depending on how things develop with the NHL roster, could Edmonds maybe even hit the show next spring? If he impresses, it shouldn’t be ruled out.
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