The NHL playoffs might be over, but the fun is just beginning.
When 30 general managers and their groups descend on the Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh this weekend, the "second season" will start with a bang.
The topsy-turvy nature of this year's postseason means that more teams than ever could be active at the draft—trading up, trading down, trying to get ahead in an NHL that's currently wide open.
Here are 25 predictions of what we'll see on draft weekend and beyond.
Hosting the draft can be a nice boost to the local economy and creates a fun summer spectacle for hockey fans, but it doesn't seem like that translates to sure-fire success with draft prospects.
Way back in 1990, the host Vancouver Canucks took Petr Nedved with the second-overall selection—when Jaromir Jagr went at No. 5—and Shawn Antoski at 18 when Winnipeg took Keith Tkachuk one pick later. Some guy named Martin Brodeur was the No. 20 pick that year, too.
The Nashville Predators bucked the trend when they hosted in 2003, picking Ryan Suter in a stacked year that also included first-rounders Jeff Carter, Dustin Brown, Eric Staal, Brent Seabrook and Dion Phaneuf, to name just a few.
The Penguins last hosted in 1997, when they chose Robert Dome with the 17th pick. This year, they pick 22nd, so they'll likely be in tough again.
Gary Bettman has now been NHL Commissioner for more than 19 years. That's a long tenure for any corporate job. Still, many fans are quick to lay blame at his feet for everything they perceive to be wrong with the sport.
Before awarding the Stanley Cup to the LA Kings in the Staples Center this year, Bettman had the misfortune of doing the honors in front of hostile road-crowds for several prior seasons. He is often roundly booed but takes it all in stride.
The draft crowd is a little friendlier. With local fans and prospects' families on hand, the event feels a bit more like a school assembly, and everyone behaves accordingly. Like a good principal, Bettman keeps things moving while never letting the focus shift too much to himself.
Despite the fact that Nail Yakupov has been the top prospect all year long, as the days count down to the draft, pundits, including Bleacher Report's Kevin Goff, are imploring Edmonton to bypass the Russian winger in favor of a defenseman, or to trade their pick.
Steve Tambellini has indicated that the Oilers are not eager to deal. And Yakupov's agent, Igor Larionov, has made every move possible to assure the Oilers that Yakupov wants to stay in North America, would love to play in Edmonton and is not planning to defect back to the KHL.
Don't believe the hype. In the end, the Oilers will take the best player available, and that's Yakupov.
Yakupov may want the prestige of being a No. 1 pick, but there are no sure things in the NHL draft.
Just ask Mike Milbury, who traded Roberto Luongo from the New York Islanders in 2000, then used his top pick to select Rick DiPietro.
Luongo takes his fair share of abuse, but DiPietro has played just 315 games in his 11-year NHL career. Luongo's played more than that since joining the Canucks in 2006. His career total is 727, with just one additional year in the league.
TSN.ca has a story on some of the biggest busts who went first overall in their draft years.
Nothing speaks louder to Nail Yakupov's commitment to becoming a prime-time NHL player than his choice of agent, Igor Larionov.
"The Professor" was part of the first wave of Soviet hockey greats to make the transition to the NHL and had by far the most successful transition. He assimilated culturally and went on to win three Stanley Cups with Detroit.
During a time when many young Russians might opt to earn a good living in the KHL and stay closer to home, Larionov is the mentor of choice for those who aspire to the NHL.
As an agent, Larionov now has about 25 clients. In addition to Yakupov, watch for his prospect Alex Galchenyuk to also be selected in the first round.
Even with talented players like Yakupov in the spotlight, the bias still exists that the NHL is best-suited to North American players and the North American game.
Though many European players now commit to Canadian major junior in an effort to improve their transition, scouts and media continue to trumpet North American players at every turn.
The US now turns out more quality players than ever, and Canada's storied hockey history is also a factor.
The Russian wave has receded to some degree. Now, only the most committed choose the North American route. The road can be difficult well beyond the rookie year—witness the Alex Radulov experiment this past spring.
Even if Yakupov goes first overall, expect to see other Russians fall in the rankings as the draft progresses.
If you'd told the scouts in 2008 that Adam Henrique would be a clutch playoff goal-scorer in his rookie NHL season in 2012, you can bet he would have gone a lot higher than No. 82 in the draft.
TSN's scout Craig Button has compiled a list of 20 to Watch, which highlights some potential late-round selections that could end up exceeding their current projections. Is there another Henrique on the list?
Pedigree can bring a lot of clout in the NHL draft. If your dad played in the league, it not only means that you share those genes, it also means that your family has an understanding of the game, both on and off the ice.
Like his father, Griffin's a big body who will likely bring that old-school WHL style to his blueline duties. Paul Reinhart was a physical player who could produce on the power play and was well liked as a person and a player in Calgary and Vancouver.
Griffin's bloodlines will likely help to get him chosen in this year's top 10.
Moose Jaw Warriors prospect Morgan Rielly clearly had an ancestor who followed the "i before e" rule to the letter, leading to a very uncommon spelling of his last name.
Rielly's name has already been misspelled all over the Internet, including websites like tsn.ca that should really know better. He's a top defensive prospect who will be picked high, but that level of fame won't be enough to prevent a spelling gaffe somewhere in the draft proceedings. Let's watch for it!
Griffin Reinhart and Morgan Rielly are just two of the top blueliners who are projected to go high.
Michael Traikos of the National Post says we could see as many as seven defensemen selected in the top 10 this year. He thinks that could put this year's class on par with the great young defenders who are now making a name for themselves out of the class of 2008.
2004 was the last year that more than two goalies were taken in the first round of the draft. That crop included Cory Schneider, Devan Dubnyk and Al Montoya.
Central Scouting is predicting a reversal this year, saying that as many as five goaltenders could be selected in the first round.
Top prospects include Belleville's Malcolm Subban and Russia's Andrei Vasilevski. Will one team find another Jonathan Quick in the bunch?
Speaking of Cory Schneider, the Vancouver Canucks need to try to resolve their goaltending logjam by this weekend.
Schneider is scheduled to become a Restricted Free Agent on July 1, just a week after the draft. On that date, a window opens where he can be presented with offer sheets from other teams.
The Canucks retain the right to match any offer that Schneider receives, but if they do so, they can't trade him for at least a year. A high-value offer sheet could also cause salary cap pressure for the team.
Mike Gillis must determine before the draft if he can re-sign Schneider at a reasonable salary and move Luongo. Otherwise, his best move might be to take advantage of the high-stakes atmosphere at the draft and see if he can't trade Schneider to the highest bidder.
The Rick Nash chatter is reaching critical mass. Expect a deal to go down this week.
Aaron Portzline of the Columbus Dispatch says the New York Rangers are the most likely destination for Nash. A deal was close at the trade deadline, but the sticking point was young prospect Chris Kreider. After Kreider's strong performance in the playoffs, his value has only increased.
Now that the Los Angeles Kings have proven that it's possible to make big deals for star players and win a Stanley Cup, expect some fireworks on the trade front at this year's draft. Nash will lead the parade.
Remember in 2006 when Alex Ovechkin announced the Caps' draft selections? I wonder if we'll see anything like that this year.
The Flyers got us off to a rollicking start last year when they dealt Jeff Carter and Mike Richards on the eve of the 2011 draft.
Carter went to Columbus for Jakub Voracek and the Blue Jackets' first-round pick. At number eight, the Flyers grabbed instant NHLer Sean Couturier.
Richards went directly to Los Angeles along with prospect Rob Bordson in exchange for Brayden Schenn, Wayne Simmonds, and the Kings' second-round pick in 2012.
While the Flyers had some ups and downs in net thanks to the mercurial Ilya Bryzgalov, it was generally agreed that the trade was a success. Claude Giroux stepped up offensively, Jaromir Jagr made a great comeback and youngsters like Schenn and Couturier proved to be pleasant surprises.
Then the Flyers got bounced in the second round, and the Los Angeles Kings won the Stanley Cup.
There hasn't been much buzz about potential changes in the Flyers camp, but that doesn't mean it won't happen. Expect Paul Holmgren to make another flashy move this year.
Brian Burke is another general manager who likes to play hard at the draft. His coup de grace was likely his deal to acquire the Sedin twins for the Canucks back in 1999.
Burke is in the midst of a particularly rough stretch, with rumours swirling about his personal life and job security on top of the usual gripes about the Leafs missing the playoffs.
If neither of those, it'll be something else. Burke will make himself noticed in Pittsburgh for sure.
As Greg Wyshnyski of Yahoo Sports explains, David Poile's hands are tied. He can't trade Suter's rights because it would be construed as a show of bad faith. But he can't re-sign Suter himself until after free agency opens.
Nashville has a strong track record of re-signing their free agents and is coming off one of their strongest seasons ever. In the end, expect Suter to stay where he is.
When the New Jersey Devils were found to be in circumvention of the CBA with their Ilya Kovalchuk deal, they were required to surrender a first-round draft choice in either 2012 or 2013 as their penalty.
So far, Lou Lamoriello has indicated that he's keeping this year's pick, even though it's No. 29.
Adam Proteau of the Hockey News speculates that part of the reason is because the Devils feel like they need young prospects in development immediately. To that end, he doesn't rule out the possibility that they may acquire another team's first-rounder and then give up that 29th pick.
We'll see what the Devils do on draft day.
Top draft picks like Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin generate big headlines. Recent No. 1s like Stamkos, Tavares, Hall and Nugent-Hopkins look prepared to carry the weight.
But plenty of late draft choices go on to carve amazing NHL careers.
Look at Brett Hull. Despite the notoriety that comes with being the son of one of the greatest of all time, Hull was drafted 117th in 1984 by Calgary, then traded to St. Louis along with Steve Bozek in 1997 for Rob Ramage and Rick Wamsley. Only after becoming a Blue did he start to build his reputation and his stats. He retired at No. 3 on the NHL's all-time goal-scoring list.
The Detroit Red Wings have the reputation as the gold standard of late-round drafting. It was never better than 1989, when they took future Hall of Famers Nick Lidstrom at No. 53 and Sergei Fedorov at No. 74.
Will there be another player of that caliber selected sometime late on Saturday afternoon?
Despite the fact that league revenues are up and player salaries are higher than ever, it's possible that the NHL will face a brief work stoppage this fall. The New York Times suggests that the key date for the owners will be the Winter Classic.
The Players' Association has a new Executive Director in former baseball head honcho Donald Fehr. He spent 26 years as head of the MLB Players' Association but has played his cards pretty close to the chest so far in terms of the NHL negotiation.
It's believed that owners are looking for a larger share of league revenue and that more restrictions will be introduced to contract lengths and front-loading. That may mean that many teams will try to lock up their stars before the new rules come into play—another factor that could lead to more drama than usual through the draft and free-agency seasons.
All are now solid NHL players. But if they had a do-over, do you think the Thrashers might have gone instead for a different defenseman? Other blueliners chosen in the first round that year included Alex Pietrangelo, Luke Schenn, Tyler Myers, Erik Karlsson, Jake Gardiner, Michael Del Zotto and John Carlson.
Tyler Myers is the only Calder Trophy winner in the bunch, but Stamkos has already collected two Rocket Richard trophies for goal-scoring, and Doughty just added a Stanley Cup to his resume. Karlsson, Gardiner, and even Carlson have also made big strides this year.
This draft class is a reminder to general managers—don't make snap decisions with your prospects.
After getting passed over last year in the draft as an 18-year-old, Tomas Hyka of the Czech Republic came to Canada to play major junior and is now listed as the 45th-ranked North American skater by Central Scouting.
NHL.com's Adam Kimelman suggests that Hyka will be chosen in the second round this year. He's still on the small side, listed at 5'11" and 160 lbs, but mass can be acquired with age. Expect his maturity and commitment to be attractive to a team looking for immediate help at forward.
Every team has their own scouting department. No matter how much the hype machine builds these kids up, reality never quite meshes with the projections for a couple of the "sure-fire first-rounders."
Last year, diminutive American Rocco Grimaldi was left waiting at the end of the Friday broadcast. He was eventually taken with the 33rd pick by Florida in the second round. Grimaldi had a rough year for development in 2011-12, playing just four games for the University of North Dakota while dealing with a knee injury.
Which prospect will be unexpectedly sitting on the sidelines at the end of the first round of this year's proceedings?
Part of the fun of watching the draft is seeing these young boys in their first nice suits, and their proud parents nervous with anticipation.
It's fascinating to hear many of these players' back stories and see their parents interviewed.
Family always factors in, and the mothers tend to be the most emotional. Expect a few tears along the way.