2016 NHL Draft Results: Biggest Takeaways from This Year's Event
All in all, the 2016 NHL Draft was fairly...uneventful.
Of course, you had the usual excitement of a consensus top pick in Auston Matthews, a couple of surprises here and there and plenty of talented young players getting to hear their names called through two days and seven rounds of action. However, the sideshows that often take over come draft time were more local circus than Barnum and Bailey.
There was little movement in the first round on Friday, especially when it came to the top picks, and the big names that circulated as potential trade bait in advance of the draft are still members of their respective teams.
Still, there were some intriguing occurrences and choices made over the two days in the spotlight. Click ahead to take a look at the biggest takeaways from this year's draft.
Sorry Canada, Your Southern Neighbors Are Taking over
It's been a banner week for the U.S.A. when it comes to the NHL.
Another American city got a franchise when Las Vegas was announced as an expansion team, and Chicago Blackhawks superstar Patrick Kane became the first American player to claim the Hart Trophy as the league's most valuable player after giving the U.S. its first scoring title winner with a 107-point season.
Then, in Friday's first round at the NHL draft, a dozen of the 30 youngsters selected were born in the U.S., setting a new benchmark.
Auston Matthews of Scottsdale, Arizona, was the first United States-born player to be picked No. 1 since the Blackhawks took Kane in 2007. Another five followed in the first half, with Matthew Tkachuk (No. 6, Calgary Flames), Clayton Keller (No. 7, Arizona Coyotes), Logan Brown (No. 11, Ottawa Senators), Charles McAvoy (No. 14, Boston Bruins) and Luke Kunin (No. 15, Minnesota Wild) all taken in the top 15.
Jakob Chychrun (No. 16, Coyotes), Kieffer Bellows (No. 19, New York Islanders), Max Jones (No. 24, Anaheim Ducks), Riley Tufte (No. 25, Dallas Stars), Tage Thompson (No. 26, St. Louis Blues) and Trent Frederic (No. 29, Bruins) rounded out the American selections in the opening round, equaling the number of Canadians taken in the top 30.
Nine of the Americans taken played for USA Hockey's National Team Development Program, including Keller, who told reporters, per NHL.com's Adam Kimelman, American hockey is growing:
The NTDP is unbelievable with the weight training and everyone there that helps you succeed. Unbelievable to be there with such great guys and people that make you feel at home. The program [USNTDP] is probably the best place to play in the world if you're a 16-year-old kid looking to get stronger and better.
The Montreal Canadiens Are Going to Be Annoying
One of the smaller trades made this weekend with a potentially big impact is the one that brought the Montreal Canadiens the pesky Andrew Shaw from the cash-strapped Chicago Blackhawks.
The Blackhawks sent the versatile forward to the Habs for two second-round picks (39th and 45th overall) on Friday.
The Canadiens are desperately in need of more scoring, and while Shaw isn't the most accomplished player in that department, he does have one 20-goal season under his belt and added 29 over the past two years with the Hawks.
He has two Stanley Cup wins in five NHL seasons and had arguably his best personal performance this spring in the first round against the St. Louis Blues, netting four goals and six points in the seven-game series.
Habs general manager Marc Bergevin alluded to Shaw's work ethic and peskiness after the deal, playing with the notion of putting Shaw on a line with their superpest Brendan Gallagher when talking with NHL.com's Dan Rosen.
"I wouldn't want to be a defenseman playing against them," Bergevin said. "They're guys that will drag you into the fight with them. I know our fans love Brendan Gallagher and I know they're going to feel the same way about [Shaw].
"You notice him out there. He's not fun to play against."
Patience Pays Off for the Calgary Flames
Desperate to find a goaltender, the Calgary Flames couldn't land Frederik Andersen and likely scoffed at the asking price after kicking the tires on Marc-Andre Fleury.
Other options included one of the Tampa Bay Lightning backstops, with Bolts GM Steve Yzerman stating on live TV during the draft (via NHL.com) he is looking to deal ahead of next year's expansion draft. Of course, James Reimer of the San Jose Sharks becomes a free agent on July 1 as well.
But the Flames patiently went about their business of making calls for every potential partner and found one of great value in St. Louis, per Dan Rosen of NHL.com.
The Flames picked up a solid starter for a second-round pick that was used by the Blues to grab center Jordan Kyrou of the Sarnia Sting and a conditional third-rounder next year that will only be turned over if the Flames are able to sign Elliott before his contract expires.
Calgary had the worst save percentage in the NHL this past season at .898 with goalies Jonas Hiller, Karri Ramo and Joni Ortio. Elliott led the NHL (among goalies with 40 or more appearances) with a .930 save percentage, and the Blues were first with a .924 save percentage.
The Blues were looking to move to Jake Allen as the full-time starter in goal even after Brian Elliott got the team into the Western Conference Final with his impressive play. A potential unrestricted free agent after next season, Elliott's days with the Blues were numbered.
Flames GM Brad Treliving explained why the Flames made the trade, per Rosen.
I think we were linked to every goaltender from Timbits to senior men's league Sunday night; we might have talked to them all too. As we looked around, this one really made sense for us. It made sense from a contractual standpoint and acquisition cost, but we really like the player. You start going out in the market and start talking about Brian Elliott, it's hard to find people who say a bad word about him.
The Columbus Blue Jackets GM Is No Homer
Jarmo Kekalainen is the Finnish general manager of the Columbus Blue Jackets.
A match seemingly made in heaven was there for the third pick of the night in the first round with the consensus top pick remaining being Finnish winger Jesse Puljujarvi.
But Kekalainen passed over his countryman in favor of Cape Breton Screaming Eagles center Pierre-Luc Dubois, making the Edmonton Oilers very happy to land Puljujarvi at the fourth spot. Kekalainen told NHL.com correspondent Chris Stevenson he wasn't concerned about backlash in his home country over the choice:
I'm not too worried about that. I'll go to my cottage and nobody will find me in Finland. I don't need to go to Helsinki and walk around the city there. I really don't think of that at all, to be honest with you. I work for the Blue Jackets, so I want to get the best possible player for the Columbus Blue Jackets. That is my only priority.
Blue Jackets beat writer Tom Reed of the Columbus Dispatch suggested the team is taking the long-view approach with Dubois and hoping he can turn into the big-bodied center they lost when they dealt Ryan Johansen to the Nashville Predators last year for cornerstone defenseman Seth Jones.
Dubois switched to center from the left wing midway through last season and thrived.
Kekalainen told Reed he hopes the pick will pan out in the middle of the ice at some point.
“He showed us that he has tremendous hockey sense in slowly moving to center,” Kekalainen said. “He could play wing for us. He could play center for us. But I think we see him as a future centerman, and we see a lot of potential in him being able to play both.”
On a Related Note...the Edmonton Oilers Can't Lose the Draft Lottery
Even when the Edmonton Oilers lose the NHL draft lottery, they somehow find a way to win.
The Oilers have had a fortunate streak of four first overall picks in the previous six drafts but actually fell a couple of spots from second overall to fourth overall this year when the lottery balls bounced to determine the order at the top.
With a clear line drawn in terms of potential after the consensus top three prospects, the Oilers were looking at picking a second-tier talent or trading back for more picks or a defenseman, which is of urgent need on their NHL roster.
Then the Columbus Blue Jackets went rogue and picked Pierre-Luc Dubois instead of Finnish right winger Jesse Puljujarvi, a 6'4", 205-pounds prospect who is considered NHL-ready by most.
It was such a surprise, the Oilers didn't even have a name on the back of the jersey they presented to Puljujarvi on stage. They didn't expect him to be available.
Puljujarvi was the center of attention in December when he led Finland to gold at the World Junior Championship, scoring five goals and 12 assists in seven games. He was named the tournament's most valuable player and best forward as a result.
Oilers GM Peter Chiarelli told reporters the team stopped looking at trading down when it thought Puljujarvi might be available:
I like his big, strong stride. He shoots the puck very well, is good in traffic and he can make plays too. Maybe he's more of a playmaker than a shooter. He's got a real good wrist shot and sees the ice well. You don't accomplish what he's accomplished at the men's level and international level without being a real good player. He does all this stuff and he's a big, strong body.
The Chicago Blackhawks Know a Little Steal When They See One
In a year when the tiny 5'9", 157-pound Johnny Gaudreau of the Calgary Flames finished sixth in league scoring, and the somewhat diminutive Patrick Kane of the Chicago Blackhawks dominated with a 107-point season that landed the 175-pounder the Hart Trophy, it's hard to believe that size still scares teams away from talent at the NHL draft.
Well, the Blackhawks recognized it and couldn't pass up on the 5'7", 165-pound Alexander DeBrincat in the second round on Saturday.
The Hawks scooped DeBrincat up with the 39th pick after a second stellar season with the Erie Otters in the OHL. He was one of just two 50-goal scorers from this past season drafted this weekend—the other being Kieffer Bellows, whom the New York Islanders selected 19th overall.
DeBrincat had 51 goals and 111 points with the Otters, and it was his second straight 50-goal, 50-assist, 100-point year after posting 51-53-104 in his first year in Erie. It should be noted he went 54-57-111 at Lake Forest Academy the previous year, a school that's about 45 minutes away Chicago.
Needless to say, Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman was happy to land the gritty but skilled competitor. He told Mark Lazerus of the Chicago Sun Times the 18-year-old is a special player:
It’s pretty special what Alex has been able to do. I don’t know the exact number of guys that scored 50 goals back-to-back in the OHL. It’s a very small list. ... He’s not a big guy, but he has unique skill and has great hands and great anticipation and he knows how to put the puck in the net.
DeBrincat was arguably top-10 in talent, but teams still seemingly look for size when it comes to their forwards. With the luxury of time before he will be needed by the Blackhawks, DeBrincat can season his game at the junior ranks and maybe in the minors before joining Patrick Kane and company.
The Detroit Red Wings Are Going to Gun for Steven Stamkos
The retirement of Pavel Datsyuk not only left a massive hole at center for the Detroit Red Wings, but it left the franchise with a $7.5 million set of handcuffs, per Cap Friendly.
That mammoth salary-cap hit the Red Wings were stuck with was a real road block to finding a replacement for Datsyuk—one of the most talented centers ever to play the game of hockey.
It turns out all they had to do is drop four spots in the first round to shed that noose, and now they can go in full force in the Steven Stamkos sweepstakes with teams now able to start talking to impending unrestricted free agents.
The Wings traded Datsyuk's rights and the 16th overall pick to the Arizona Coyotes for the 20th overall pick, a late second-round pick (53rd overall) and the $1.1 million contract of the concussed Joe Vitale.
"It's huge," Holland told the Detroit News, (via NHL.com). "It's $7.5 million; every day we were looking. There were a lot of different teams, more than I expected, with a lot of different scenarios. But in some cases, obviously, they wanted to move bad contracts.
"I was OK waiting until July 1 (the start of free agency), but we were going to have to pay a steeper price. But I didn't want to pay a lot of assets."
Tampering rules didn't allow Holland to say he was going after Stamkos in free agency, but he did tell NHL.com's Nicholas J. Cotsonika he was looking for forwards. Top pending UFA centers include the Tampa Bay Lightning captain and David Backes of the St. Louis Blues.
"Obviously, we've got the flexibility now to do what we want to do," Holland said. "We'll see."
The Biggest Trades Are the Ones That Didn't Happen
One of the best reasons to watch the NHL draft are the potential trades that take place with first-round picks in play.
Sadly, not many materialized on Friday, and the trade front was equally low-key on Saturday. Of the dozen deals made over the two days, the biggest involved the contract of a player who isn't even suiting up in the NHL again when the Detroit Red Wings shed Pavel Datsyuk's cap hit.
Not one of the top 10 picks moved this year, either. Not for a current NHLer or other picks.
P.K. Subban is still a member of the Montreal Canadiens. The signing rights to Tampa Bay Lightning captain Steven Stamkos remain with the Bolts. Evgeni Malkin has not been shipped out of Pittsburgh. Likewise for Rick Nash in New York.
Outside of the Datsyuk paper transaction that shed cap space and the Brian Elliott trade to give the Calgary Flames a legitimate starting goaltender for at least one season, no deals involved top-tier names. Instead, the short list on the NHL's trade tracker showed a focus on depth with the likes of Beau Bennett, Dmitri Kulikov and Nick Holden changing uniforms.
The start of free agency should be much more exciting.
The Draft Is Becoming a Family Affair
Between Tyson Jost's bawling grandfather and the NHL bloodline picks taken this weekend, there was a real family feel to the 2016 NHL draft.
Let's start with the bloodlines. There were seven sons of NHLers drafted in the first round and another sibling to make eight of 30 first-round picks connected to the league through their blood.
Defenseman Lucas Johansen, the brother of Nashville Predators center Ryan Johansen, was picked 28th overall by the Washington Capitals. Sons Matt Tkachuk (Keith) went to Calgary at No. 6, Alexander Nylander (Michael) went to Buffalo at eighth overall, Logan Brown (Jeff) was picked up by Ottawa at No. 11, Jacob Chychrun (Jeff) was taken by Arizona 16th, Kieffer Bellows (Brian) went to the New York Islanders at No. 19, Max Jones (Brad) was selected 24th by Anaheim and Tage Thompson (Brent) went to St. Louis with the 26th pick.
There were many more connections, with third overall pick Pierre-Luc Dubois' dad a former Quebec Nordiques draft choice, Winnipeg Jets defenseman Logan Stanley the cousin of Washington Capitals player Michael Latta, Julien Gauthier of the Carolina Hurricanes the nephew of former Calgary Flames blue-line bully Denis Gauthier and Brett Howden drafted by the Tampa Bay Lightning to join brother Quinton in the battle for Florida hockey supremacy.
More heartwarming than those storylines, though, was the viral video of Jost's grandpappy crying, who was so thrilled to see his grandson go to the Colorado Avalanche 10th overall that he lost it on national TV (via NHL.com).
The Future Is Bright in Toronto
It helps when you have the first overall pick in a draft that includes the kind of center who can become a franchise player and solidify the position for a decade, but the Toronto Maple Leafs are really starting to look like a team of the future.
The rebuild got a massive boost with the drafting of Auston Matthews, a big and responsible center capable of playing a 200-foot game. The 6'2", 220-pounder is their most dynamic man in the middle since Mats Sundin and should make the Leafs lineup next season with head coach Mike Babcock already hinting he would slot the 18-year-old in as the third-line pivot, per the Toronto Star's Kevin McGran.
Along with the acquisition of goaltender Frederik Andersen earlier this week and the graduation of a couple of other offensively impressive draft picks in Mitch Marner (fourth overall, 2015), William Nylander (eighth overall, 2014) and defenseman Morgan Rielly (fifth overall, 2012), the Leafs have an impressive core to build around with the addition of Matthews.
Marner led all OHL players in playoff scoring, and Nylander had 13 points in his first 22 NHL games last year.
"I think we'll be really exciting," Babcock told Jonas Siegel of the Canadian Press (via CTV News). "I think you go fast and I think sometimes you go to the wrong places. But that's a way better group than we started with last year. To me that's what it's about, it's about progress."
The team also added size with 6'4" Russian winger Yegor Korshkov, 6'4" defenceman J.D. Greenway, 6'6", 235-pound defender Keaton Middleton and 6'5" blueliner Nicolas Mattinen. Regina center Adam Brooks was the WHL's leading scorer last season, and the team rounded out its picks with American defenseman Jack Walker and Russian wingers Vladimir Bobylev and Nikolai Chebykin.
Korshkov, the 31st overall pick, impressed at the World Junior tourney and has great upside thanks to his strength and skill. Fellow second-round pick Carl Grundstrom has drawn comparisons to feisty winger Leo Komarov.
The 2016 draft, though, will be remembered for the addition of Matthews.