***This is the first of five articles previewing the NHL Draft beginning Friday at the First Niagara Center in Buffalo, NY***
Washington Capitals (Finished 1st Overall in 2016)
The Capitals have 6 total picks heading into the draft starting with the 26th overall. They’ll then select 117th in the 3rd round followed by two selections in the 5th (145, 147), and one pick each in the 6th (177) and 7th (207). After finishing first overall in the division, conference and the league Washington entered the post-season as a Stanley Cup favorite. The eventual winner the Pittsburgh Penguins sent the Caps home after a 2nd round match-up.
The Caps have a solid foundation starting with Braden Holtby in goal up through Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom up front. Defensively they have a great mix of youth and experience, power and skill. Evgeny Kuznetsov is a great, young talent on offense and led the team in points during the regular season. He had a rough playoff performance but gained considerable experience. Along with TJ O’Shei and Justin Williams the Caps find themselves in great shape up front but could use some more youth considering the age of these vets.
Look for Washington to add a skilled winger or centerman with their 1st pick and try to add more picks in the early rounds. Not having a 2nd in this years draft isn’t ideal but it’s the price you pay when building a winner. Mortgage the future to win now, the Caps are long overdue.
Players that could be available when the Caps are on the clock at 26 are center Logan Brown (OHL), Alex Debrincat (OHL) and Yegor Korshkov (Russia). Brown would have to fall, he’s expected to go in the top 20 but stranger things have happened. He’s the son of former NHL defenseman Jeff Brown. Debrincat is finishing up another strong season with the Erie Otters and played with Connor McDavid. He isn’t a big player but has great hands and can score. Korshkov is known as an elite skater with excellent playmaking ability, he was a standout at the WJC last winter.
Pittsburgh Penguins (Finished 2nd in Division, Won the Stanley Cup)
Pittsburgh has just 5 picks in the draft and none in the 1st round. What can you say, they just won they’re 2nd Stanley Cup in seven years. They can thank the youngsters for that. Conor Sheary and Bryan Rust scored big goals this post-season and goaltenders Jeff Zatkoff and Matt Murray got the job done between the pipes. And it looks as though this roster will stay in tact heading into 2016-17.
With that in mind the Pens could go in any direction at the draft. They have the 55th and 61st picks in the 2nd round. Who could be available then, most anybody. Center Oskar Steen (Sweden) brother of Alexander (St Louis) and son of Thomas (Winnipeg) or William Bitten (OHL). The real question Pens fans will be asking this off-season is whether or not the team should move goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury. My guess is they keep him and try to move Zatkoff instead.
New York Rangers (Finished 3rd in Metro)
The Rangers have serious cap issues heading into 2016-17. Surprising right? That’s the mark of a championship organization though. That’s one of the reasons I have always respected the Rangers. They go all out every season. They don’t waste a cent in trying to bring a Stanley Cup home. Of course, the practice hasn’t worked since 1994 but kudos for trying.
The Rangers have just 5 picks in the draft, none of which are in the first 2 rounds. Rumors are swirling that Jeff Gorton (GM) is looking to move forward Rick Nash who is a $7.8 million-dollar cap hit through 2017-18 in order to obtain a 1st or 2nd round selection. That’s a hard sell but for a team that might be a player away from making a Stanley Cup run, they may bite. Perhaps the Florida Panthers or even the Colorado Avalanche would entertain the thought.
Should there be no takers for Nash, I have a feeling the Rangers will be forced to mortgage future draft choices in order to obtain a 1st round pick in this year’s draft. NY traditionally drafts well. There is a plethora of prospects that have flourished on Broadway and elsewhere over the years. They have a fantastic scouting department.
Where could NY use help? Henrik Lundqvist isn’t getting any younger. Antti Raanta is a quality back-up, worthy of an opportunity to play somewhere. There is a chance another team approaches the Rangers about his availability. I wouldn’t be surprised if “King Henry” himself isn’t being considered as a moveable object. He’s another player with a huge contract and I’m not sure he hasn’t already reached his peak. He turned 34 this past March.
The Rangers are a great team, top to bottom and should compete for a spot atop the Eastern Conference next season, even if they don’t make major changes. At the draft, they need picks more than prospects. Look for NY to acquire early round draft choices and look for Lundqvist’s replacement.
The Rangers first pick comes in the 3rd round, 81st overall. I whole-heartedly expect them to deal themselves into the 1st or 2nd and grab a defenseman. In the 3rd round though I have them taking a hard look at goaltenders Joseph Woll (USHL, US U18) or Filip Larsson (SWE).
New York Islanders (Finished 4th in Metro)
The Isles reached the 2nd round of the Stanley Cup playoffs for the 1st time since 1993. John Tavares a former No. 1 draft choice was at the center of the excitement after scoring the dramatic double-overtime winner over the Florida Panthers. Islanders fans have been patiently waiting for Tavares (’09 1st RD, 1st) and other former top picks such as defenseman Travis Hamonic (’08 2nd RD, 53rd) and right wing Kyle Okposo (’06 1st RD, 7th) to lead them to greatness.
The truth of the matter is the Isles have been drafting well, and the results are starting to show. Calvin de Haan, Brock Nelson, Ryan Strome, Ryan Pulock, Frans Nielsen and Josh Bailey all played big roles this past season. In the pipeline are four former 1st round picks in Michael Dal Colle, the flashy Josh Ho-Sang, Mathew Barzal and Anthony Beauvillier are all widely considered NHL bound within the next two seasons.
The Isles could be in very good shape for years to come. They will however need to continue drafting well if they want to re-build the dynasty for a new generation of fans. Heading into the 2016 draft the NYI have just a 1st, 4th, 6th and 7th round selection to make. Not having a 2nd or 3rd round pick will hurt but I expect GM Garth Snow to move some veteran pieces around in order to acquire additional picks in this year’s draft, perhaps even mortgaging future draft year selections.
The question remains though, where do the Islanders need help? Are goaltenders Thomas Greiss or Jean-Francois Berube capable of playing in big games? Can Jaroslav Halak rebound from his most recent surgery and play like he did while a member of the St. Louis Blues? These are all questions that cannot be answered with a resounding yes. So, this is an area I expect the Isles to address. Multiple mock drafts have NY selecting a defenseman with their 1st pick. Every team is looking to add depth at the blue line and this draft isn’t as rich as in years past, especially in the later rounds. Goaltenders are like franchise quarterbacks. They don’t grow on trees and at the end of the day, you aren’t winning without an elite netminder. The Isles need to address this issue, the other pieces are in place to make a run.
At 19, the Isles should be in great position to address this need. I like goaltenders Filip Gustavsson (SWE) or Tyler Parsons (OHL).
Philadelphia Flyers (Finished 5th in Metro)
The Flyers are an interesting story heading into the draft. You have to respect what GM Ron Hextall has done with his club. Last off-season he made headlines for hiring Dave Hakstol, out of the University of North Dakota to be the teams head coach. It was a surprising hire considering the number of head coaches with NHL experience available. Hakstol repaid his GM with a stellar rookie season behind the bench and in my opinion deserved serious consideration for the Jack Adams award, traditionally given to the league’s best coach.
The Flyers earned a playoff berth after a disappointing finish in 2015 where they selected 7th overall in the 2015 entry draft. This time around, and thanks to the Nashville Predators exiting after the 2nd round of the 2016 Stanley Cup playoffs, the Flyers will select 17th.
The past three seasons the Flyers drafted defensemen with their first pick. It should be noted that not one Flyers draft choice from the previous three drafts have appeared in an NHL game yet. In fact, only six have appeared in an NHL game since 2010. That does not reflect well on the scouting department. However, one thorn in the cap for the scouts is defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere, drafted 78th overall back in 2012. Gostisbehere put together one heck of a rookie season. He’s the front runner to win the Calder Trophy this year as the league’s top rookie.
Couple “Ghost” (his locker room nickname) with 2015 1st round selection Ivan Provorov, Travis Sanheim (2014), Sammy Morin drafted in 2013 (11th overall) and Radko Gudas (free agent signing) and it would appear Philadelphia has the makings of a stellar defensive unit in the making.
Like the Islanders, the Flyers need to look at goaltending in order to contend long-term. Steve Mason was ok during the regular season but looked really bad in the post-season. Michal Neuvirth played well in reserve but has trouble staying healthy. Expect the Flyers to take a serious look at Anthony Stolarz (2012, 45th pick) in training camp and select another goaltender or two in June. The Flyers historically draft the best available player, so we’ll see where the chips fall in June.
Philly has 10 total picks in the draft and five in the first 3 rounds. They have the 18th selection in round 1 and they could be looking at two Swedish centerman, Linus Lidstrom and Jonathon Dahlen, however if defenseman Mikhail Sergachev is there for the taking, he is there man.
Carolina Hurricanes (Finished 6th in Metro)
The Hurricanes missed the playoffs once again. They made news last week in acquiring Bryan Bickell and Teuvo Teravainen from the Chicago Blackhawks in exchange for draft picks, including a 2nd rounder this year. That means the ‘Canes have their 2 picks in the opening round and three in the 3rd, then a 4th, 5th and 6th round selection. GM Ron Francis has a grocery list a mile wide. “Just because we’ve done this one deal, it doesn’t mean we’re sitting tight,” Francis said. “We will still be working the phone lines and exploring what’s out there. I’m not saying we will get something done, but I won’t say we’re not trying to do something either.”
Cam Ward signed a two-year deal Friday, he’s a Stanley Cup winning goaltender and still capable of playing in big games. Prior to last season they brought in Eddie Lack from Vancouver but the jury is still out on him. Carolina will most likely address the offense or lack thereof. They have the 13th and 21st picks to start. The reality is that nobody outside the top 4 picks will see much time in the NHL this season. Still Carolina isn’t in a position to give up these picks and are in full rebuild mode. No UFA is going to sign there while this transition is going on. I don’t expect Francis to bring in any top talent on July 1st, if they happen to land a free agent it will be 2nd and 3rd tier guys, most likely players like Nathan Gerbe and Riley Nash, players who know the system, still young and just played out their current contracts.
They can’t afford to pass up on center Logan Brown if he’s there.
New Jersey Devils (Finished 7th in Metro)
The Devils will enter June’s NHL Entry Draft with nine picks, a 1st, 2nd, two 3rd and 4th round picks, and 1 each in the 5th, 6th and 7th rounds. The Devils have a couple of solid prospects that are close to playing in the NHL. Pavel Zacha (1st, 6th Overall 2015) had a great season with the OHL’s Sarnia Sting and was called up late last season. He appeared in one game with the Devils and registered two assists. He’s an 18 year old with incredible upside. The other prospect is John Quenneville (Coach John Quenneville’s 2nd cousin and Johnny Boychuk’s nephew), a dynamic forward currently with the WHL’s Brandon Wheat Kings. Zacha and Quenneville are expected to push for roster spots in 2016. After Zacha and Quenneville though the Devils prospects start too thin out.
With plenty of cap room heading into 2016-17 I expect Shero to be active in free agency. Currently, the Devils are set in goal with Cory Schneider as the starter and Ken Appleby (Undrafted) and Mackenzie Blackwood (2015, 2nd Round) waiting in the wings. Offensively, New Jersey needs support. Travis Zajac and Adam Henrique are top 6 forwards on most NHL clubs and locked up with long-term contracts. Patrick Elias has a year left and quite honestly, a lot closer to retiring than signing an extension. Kyle Palmieri has a year left on his original deal and the Devils should be looking to extend him. On the blue line they have Andy Greene, Adam Larsson and John Moore. After that, I’m surprised I didn’t see my name listed.
Shero has big holes to fill and the Devils do not have a lot of prospects capable of making an impact anytime soon, besides the two I mentioned earlier. I expect them to stockpile weapons on offense, specifically on the wings. Either way, the Devils cannot afford to waste any picks this June. They’ll have 9, one in each of the 1st two rounds and then two each in the 3rd and 4th rounds respectively.
The Devils have the 11th pick in the draft, either defenseman Olli Juolevi (OHL) or center German Rubtsov (RUS) is a good start.
Columbus Blue Jackets (Last in Metro)
Columbus has the 3rd overall selection and rumors are swirling that they could trade out with either Buffalo or the New York Rangers. The Sabres have plenty to offer including NHL ready defenseman, something the Jackets can use immediately. Rick Nash is on the table and there is no secret the Rangers are looking to jump into the 1st round. I don’t believe Columbus would be serious about acquiring the former Blue Jacket Nash but stranger things have happened. Stay tuned to this one.
The Blue Jackets made news last off-season in acquiring forward Brandon Saad and then again during the season when they dealt center Ryan Johansen to Nashville for defenseman Seth Jones. Columbus severely underachieved last year. Injuries and a coaching change didn’t help matters. Fans were expecting a lot more especially with the way things had ended in 2014-15 when they marched into the 2nd round of the playoffs.
If I’m Columbus trading out of the 3rd spot for a player that can help you now and more picks this year is the way to go. They currently have 5 total. The Sabres can send them a player like Mark Pysyk and they have four (4) selections in the 3rd round alone, they would be the ideal trade partner for Columbus.
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