2015 NHL Draft Results: Biggest Takeaways from This Year's Event
The 2015 NHL Draft was supposed to be all about Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel.
Instead, the consensus top picks were quickly overshadowed by big trades and other intriguing picks in what was a very deep draft that led to plenty of debate.
McDavid and Eichel will no doubt leave lasting impressions in Edmonton and Buffalo, respectively, but so much happened over the weekend that the takeaways are plenty.
Making History Is Still Possible
If you think you've seen it all at the NHL draft over the years, you're wrong.
There are still things that can be considered firsts. This year, it was a sixth-round selection who may never suit up in the NHL but made a splash on the draft floor in Florida on Saturday when the New York Islanders called his name.
Andong Song became the first player born in China to be drafted into the NHL. He was born in Beijing but moved to Ontario when he was 10 and now attends prep school in New Jersey. He played against Isles owner Charles Wang's Project Hope teams in China and became a member of Wang's franchise in historic fashion.
The Goalie Market Was, and Is, Unpredictable
It was an interesting couple of days to be a goaltender. Some teams stocked up on backups, while others brought former second-stringers in to see if they can take over as top 'tenders. And a total of 24 netminders were drafted, including a half-dozen in the third round.
So many deals were made that you'll have to check out all the details through the NHL trade tracker.
The Carolina Hurricanes played musical goalies, shipping out Anton Khudobin in a deal with the Anaheim Ducks but bringing in Vancouver Canucks backstop Eddie Lack to see if he can be their goalie of the future when Cam Ward's contract is done.
The Ducks, for some reason, added Khudobin to the already impressive duo of Frederik Andersen and John Gibson. Common sense suggests they saw enough from Andersen in the playoffs to warrant him being the guy next year with Gibson taking more time to develop in the AHL and Khudobin providing competition and solid backup duties.
The Dallas Stars aren't guaranteed to get Antti Niemi signed, but the San Jose Sharks peddled the veteran's negotiating rights to the Stars for a late pick knowing he was going to walk as an unrestricted free agent. The Stars weren't happy with their performance between the pipes last year and now have first crack at Niemi before he hits the open market.
Cam Talbot will get a chance to start in Edmonton after the Oilers parted with picks to bring the former New York Rangers backup to the Great White North. Talbot was good in a small sample size but we'll see what he does with more playing time and pressure—not to mention a much more porous group of players in front of him.
The goalie movement was all started by the Buffalo Sabres picking up Robin Lehner from the Ottawa Senators for a first-round pick, which turned out to be a pretty good price for the Sens.
If Lack, Lehner, Talbot and Niemi all end up being successful starters in their new spots, it will be an impressive coup for the GMs that made the efforts to bring them in.
Size Doesn't Matter
It's quite a statement when the Toronto Maple Leafs pick a pair of relatively diminutive kids with top-end talent as opposed to perhaps safer and more sizable selections.
In fact, the Leafs picked just three players over six feet—two defensemen and a Russian winger in the seventh round. Their fourth overall selection of Mitch Marner was telling for a team that once dressed a pair of goons regularly. Marner is listed rather generously at 5'11" and 150 pounds but has top-end skill and vision.
The way rookie Johnny Gaudreau worked out for the Calgary Flames this year as a Calder candidate may have opened even more doors for smaller players.
The Leafs followed up the Marner pick with 5'11" defenseman Travis Dermott and then took one of the draft's biggest sleepers in Jeremy Bracco with their second pick of the second round. Bracco is a 5'9" forward with great agility and playmaking ability. He was the smallest prospect on record at the combine.
If the first pick proved size no longer matters to the Leafs, the other choices just reaffirmed the notion.
The Salary Cap Sure Makes Things Interesting
At times it was tough to remember whether it was the NHL draft or the trade deadline.
Because of the salary cap, which didn't rise a tremendous amount to offer teams that were tight much in the way of relief, many deals had to be made in order to dump salary or future earnings.
The New York Rangers were forced to move speedster Carl Hagelin, a restricted free agent who is going to make more than $3 million when he signs. In return, they got beefy Emerson Etem from the Anaheim Ducks—a much more affordable RFA with upside.
The Ducks moved out expensive defenseman James Wisniewski in a deal with the Carolina Hurricanes, bringing in backup goaltender Anton Khudobin, and parted ways with Kyle Palmieri ahead of the final year of his current contract in order to avoid giving him a raise.
But the biggest moves were made by the Colorado Avalanche and Boston Bruins. The Bruins traded young defenseman Dougie Hamilton for essentially peanuts—something that rarely happens in a league that covets big, mobile blueliners—and dumped power winger Milan Lucic on the Los Angeles Kings. Lucic will be an unrestricted free agent next summer and the Bruins realized they were not going to be able to sign him long-term.
The Avs finally rid themselves of the Ryan O'Reilly problem that had plagued them since the Calgary Flames signed him to an offer sheet a couple of years ago. He is making $6 million a season but becomes an unrestricted free agent next July—barring an extension from the Buffalo Sabres.
The Boston Bruins Are Blowing It...Up
Bruins fans may be shaking their heads for weeks, or months, if the team doesn't find a way to swing another significant trade or two, or get in on the bidding for the most palatable targets of a less than thrilling free agent market.
Sure, they managed to pick three consecutive times in the first round on Friday after making a couple of trades, but they gave up a couple of big names that won't be replaced on the roster anytime soon by any of the three newcomers from the opening round blitz.
Trading away defenseman Dougie Hamilton, who finished 23rd in scoring among all NHL blueliners last season, for the Calgary Flames' first-round pick and a pair of seconds was a head-scratcher. They might have done a little better for Milan Lucic, who they sent to the Los Angeles Kings in return for the 13th overall pick, goaltender Martin Jones and defensive prospect Colin Miller—but all seemed for naught when they went off the board with two of their three picks.
The only player of the trio who ranked in the top 25 of TSN analyst Bob McKenzie's final rankings was defenseman Jakub Zboril. Both wingers Jake DeBrusk and Zach Senyshyn were considered reaches. Granted, it's a deep draft, but analysts like former Buffalo Sabre Matthew Barnaby reacted with bewilderment on Twitter.
The New York Islanders Aren't Afraid to Pounce on Players They Like
Without a first- or second-round pick heading into the weekend, the New York Islanders ended up with a pair of firsts after dealing away defenseman Griffin Reinhart to the Edmonton Oilers for a first and second, and then packaging the second with a later pick to get up into the first round for a second time.
The Isles couldn't believe their good fortune when they unloaded the underachieving Reinhart in time to scoop up Mathew Barzal—a highly rated prospect that Bob McKenzie had in his top 10—down at the 16th spot. TSN's Craig Button compared Barzal to the Los Angeles Kings' Justin Williams. He isn't big but plays with great vision and patience and will have time to develop his strength for a couple of years if needed.
They also really liked winger Anthony Beauvillier and made sure to lock up the quick, versatile and competitive forward at the 28 spot by giving up the 33rd and 72nd picks. Beauvillier isn't unlike last year's late first-round pick, Josh Ho-Sang, who comes with some question marks but has tremendous skill.
The Isles know what they like and go after it in the draft.
The Edmonton Oilers Still Struggle to Get It Right
Connor McDavid was a no-brainer. He's a generational talent. He's an instant franchise favorite. He's the best player of the last 30 years, according to arguably the best player ever to suit up in the NHL.
Even the Oilers couldn't botch that pick.
But they followed up that move by paying a puzzling price for defenseman Griffin Reinhart, a former fourth-overall pick by the New York Islanders. Despite his high draft status, Reinhart has struggled to find consistency and hasn't made himself a full-time NHLer in three seasons since his 2012 selection. Yet the Oilers offered both a first-round pick and a second-round selection to bring him back to Edmonton, where Reinhart played his junior hockey.
Considering their provincial rival Calgary Flames got an established and dynamic defenseman in Dougie Hamilton for only one more second-round pick, the price was steep for Reinhart. And there were some solid prospects on the board at the 16 and 33 spots who could have helped the Oilers up front and on the back end. If a defenseman picked in that window goes on to make a bigger splash than Reinhart in the NHL in the next couple of years, fans will never let new GM Peter Chiarelli forget it.
A move to boost their goaltending was made on Day 2 with the acquisition of Cam Talbot of the New York Rangers. But the backup to Henrik Lundqvist didn't come cheap with second-, third- and seventh-round picks going to The Big Apple in return. A seventh came back in the deal, but detractors of the Oilers' early-round moves rightly note that the team gave up four picks in a deep draft for two unproven players.
They also traded defensive prospect Martin Marincin, who may have more raw talent than Reinhart, to the Maple Leafs.
Good thing they got McDavid. Hope the kid lives up to the hype.
The Buffalo Sabres Aren't Planning on a Lengthy Rebuild
In the hours leading up to the selection of what should be the pivotal piece of their franchise going forward, the Sabres also managed to bring in one of the game's best two-way forwards and a No. 1 goaltender via trades.
Add the more established pieces—including power winger Evander Kane, snatched from Winnipeg at the trade deadline, new goalie Robin Lehner and top centre Ryan O'Reilly—to a growing young core and the rebuilding of the franchise might yield positive results sooner than expected.
"The reason you prepare yourself and you draft properly and you make trades like this is so you get better and you move up the standings," Sabres GM Tim Murray told reporters, via NHL.com's Dan Rosen. "I expect that's what we're going to do."
Much of that may hinge on the readiness of second overall pick Jack Eichel, who isn't a bad runner-up choice in the NHL draft lottery behind Connor McDavid. Eichel is a big, strong and slick center who at some points this season had people wondering if he might be a consideration for first overall in spite of the presence of McDavid.
He now gets time to grow into a starring role with O'Reilly and last year's first-rounder Sam Reinhart in the mix in the middle.
The defense was hurt by the loss of the promising Nikita Zadorov, but the Sabres have salary-cap space to make more waves at the position in free agency next week.
The Calgary Flames Made a Splash to Steal the Spotlight
When the draft began, the Flames had six picks in the first three rounds, including three in the second. They got those assets by dealing away Curtis Glencross and Sven Baertschi at the trade deadline in March.
Baertschi was unhappy with his spot in the prospect pool and would have held out as a pending restricted free agent. Glencross was displeased with a decreased role and unlikely to return as an unrestricted free agent this summer. On top of the obvious contractual reasons to ship out those two Flames, general manager Brad Treliving wanted to add picks and create options during the draft.
He made the most of those options by stealing a young defenseman with elite potential for a reasonable price of their first-round selection and two of their three second-round picks. Bringing in Dougie Hamilton from the Boston Bruins, who determined salary-cap confinements would make him impossible to re-sign as a restricted free agent, gives the Flames a dynamic group of blueliners led by Hamilton, Mark Giordano, T.J. Brodie, Kris Russell and Dennis Wideman.
"This is a good player that a lot of teams had interest in," Treliving told reporters, via Sportsnet's Chris Johnson. "You're hopeful, but until you know you have a deal you don't have a deal. When (Bruins GM) Donny (Sweeney) told me those words, we were pretty happy."
Without even making a first-round pick, the Flames stole the headlines and somewhat overshadowed the generational player picked at first overall in Connor McDavid.
They added a nice prospect in Swedish defenseman Rasmus Andersson in the second round, then again used their multiple picks by trading up to grab more defensive depth. They gave up the pair of third-rounders to grab arguably the best remaining talent on the board in Oliver Kylington, another Swedish rearguard. Kylington was ranked as a first-round talent on Bob McKenzie's big list.
The Trade Market Still Boasts Some Big Names
As many names as were moved over the weekend, there were plenty of big ones that were expected to change addresses but didn't.
Phil Kessel and Dion Phaneuf are still members of the Toronto Maple Leafs, Patrick Sharp is a Chicago Blackhawk, Kyle Okposo doesn't appear to be leaving the New York Islanders and Jiri Hudler remains a Calgary Flame. Brandon Sutter still calls Pittsburgh home, while Kevin Bieksa continues to sport the Vancouver Canucks colors and Mike Richards remains in limbo in Los Angeles.
The Blackhawks would have liked to get a high draft pick in return for Sharp, but that didn't materialize. Same goes for the Leafs with Kessel and Phaneuf. But there is still plenty of time to work out deals that involve picks for next year, prospects, players or a combination of those things.
Jason Spezza was moved on the first day of free agency last July, and that's just days away.