Winners and Losers of Round 1 of the 2021 NHL Draft

Lyle Fitzsimmons@@fitzbitzFeatured ColumnistJuly 24, 2021

Winners and Losers of Round 1 of the 2021 NHL Draft

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    It was the ice hockey equivalent of a virtual debutante party.

    The next generation of NHL stars took initial strides onto a global stage Friday night when the league held the first round of its annual selection process from myriad North American sites.

    The draft was broadcast live on ESPN2 in Bristol, Connecticut, while NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman appeared from the NHL Network studios in Secaucus, New Jersey.

    Bettman pivoted to various team executives and personnel at their respective facilities for the actual picks, which were followed by the requisite reaction shots with the players and their families.

    It was the second straight remote draft session for the NHL, though Bettman said the league will return to an in-person draft next year at Bell Centre in Montreal.

    As for the Canadiens, they made the most controversial pick at No. 31 when they chose defenseman Logan Mailloux days after he'd renounced himself from the draft.

    Mailloux's statement came in the wake of a report by Katie Strang and Corey Pronman of The Athletic reporting that he took a photograph of a woman performing a sexual act without her consent and circulated it among some of his teammates. 

    The Canadiens said in a statement they "are aware of the situation" he's involved in and they are "by no means" minimizing the severity of his actions. 

    Rounds two through seven will begin at 11 a.m. ET on Saturday on NHL Network.

    The B/R ice hockey team was on hand for the whole process and went through the picks with a fine-tooth comb to come up with a list of real winners and losers.

    Read on to take a look at our picks and drop a comment or two to let us know where we might have gotten it right—or wrong.

Winner: Buffalo's Hockey Future

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    It's been a long stretch of rough road for the Buffalo Sabres.

    The team marked the 50th anniversary of its arrival to the NHL last season, but has never won a Stanley Cup and will begin the 2021-22 schedule in possession of the league's longest active playoff drought.

    But Friday night presented at least some reason for hope in Western New York.

    The Sabres executed a sound financial maneuver hours before the first pick when they sent underachieving defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen and the final year of a contract paying him $5.4 million to the Philadelphia Flyers in exchange for the No. 14 pick in the first round and a second-round pick in 2023.

    Ristolainen had 18 points in 49 games in 2020-21.

    Buffalo used the acquired selection to grab Swedish winger Isak Rosen just 13 picks after it plucked defenseman Owen Power with the No. 1 overall selection.

    It was the fourth time in franchise history that the Sabres picked first, following Hall of Famer Gilbert Perreault in 1970, Pierre Turgeon in 1987 and Rasmus Dahlin in 2018.

    Power is a 6'6", 213-pounder coming off a freshman season at the University of Michigan where he had three goals, 13 assists and a plus-18 rating in 26 games.

    "It's pretty special. It's something I dreamed about my whole life," he said.

    "I don’t know if my younger self would have really believed it. I'm super excited to be a part of the franchise and I'm ready to get going."

    The 18-year-old has suggested he may want to return to the Wolverines for another season before turning pro, but ESPN analyst Jeff Gorton had a feeling he'd wind up in the NHL come opening night.

    Power said Friday that it's something he'll worry about down the road.

    "I think when you take the first pick overall and everything that goes along with it, you'd like to have him on your team right away," said Gorton, who was the GM for the New York Rangers when they selected Alexis Lafreniere with the first pick last year. "If I'd have sent Lafreniere back to Rimouski (in the juniors), they might have sent me there with him.

    "If you went out and tried to acquire this in the free-agent market, it would cost you a fortune."

Loser: Jack Eichel's Hockey Future

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    OK, so it's not all sweetness and light on the shores of Lake Erie.

    Though the Sabres took a giant step toward the future with the aforementioned selection of a blue-chip 6'6" defenseman at No. 1, it wasn't exactly a banner night for the team's disgruntled captain.

    Jack Eichel, who missed much of the season with injuries and went public with a disconnect with the organization regarding surgical options, was considered a prime candidate for a draft-day trade thanks to the rumors that have swirled since the moment the 2020-21 schedule ended.

    But analyst Elliotte Friedman appeared on the draft-night broadcast and reported that Buffalo's asking price for Eichel is still seen as "too high" around the league and instead suggested there'd been far more recent action surrounding teammate Sam Reinhart, who scored 25 goals in 54 games.

    Friedman said the Florida Panthers and Columbus Blue Jackets were among the teams interested in Reinhart, while Eichel's position—five years remaining on a contract paying $10 million apiece—was less advantageous from the player's perspective. 

    "There are some teams that felt like they weren't willing to pay what Buffalo was asking," he said.

    "The disagreement (between the team and Eichel) is still not sorted out and he's probably a little frustrated and was hoping tonight would be the night for him. Teams are playing a waiting game with Buffalo to see if the ask does come down."

    Gorton, in fact, said a deal is still likely before the team opens training camp.

    The Sabres begin preseason play Sept. 28 at Columbus.

    "It's been so out there that it just has to happen before they come back," Gorton said. "(Eichel) has many years left at $10 million, so they can send him wherever they want if they have the right deal."

Winner: Big-Deal Hunting

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    It was the main takeaway of last year's first round.

    Though executives still spoke in draft-day code and analysts continued to forecast backroom deals that'd trigger significant trades up and down the board, not all that much happened.

    But 2021 was determined to be different. 

    The transactional ball got rolling with deals that sent goalie Alex Nedeljkovic to Detroit, defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere to Arizona and forward Tyler Pitlick to Calgary on Thursday, and was followed by a flurry of action Friday in the hours leading up to Bettman's first actual player introduction.

    Defenseman Seth Jones was the highest-profile player to move, thanks to a deal that sent him from Columbus to Chicago. Jones had indicated several months ago that he would not commit to staying with the Blue Jackets as he entered the final season of a six-year, $32.4 million contract, and he agreed to an eight-year extension at $9.5 million per year with the Blackhawks.

    Chicago acquired Jones' brother, Caleb, earlier this month in a trade with the Edmonton Oilers.

    Also moving Friday were forward Pavel Buchnevich, who was sent to St. Louis from the New York Rangers; defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen, who went to Philadelphia from Buffalo; and teammates Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Conor Garland, who went from Arizona to Vancouver.

    The Ristolainen deal gave the Sabres the No. 14 pick in the first round and the Ekman-Larsson/Garland trade gave the Coyotes the No. 9 pick. Arizona had been slated to pick at No. 11 but forfeited the pick after the league found the organization guilty of pre-draft violations last year.

    Chicago also received the No. 32 pick in the deal that got them Jones, while Columbus got the No. 12 pick.

Winner: The Hughes Family

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    It's getting to be a draft night tradition.

    For the third time in the last four NHL drafts, the Hughes family celebrated one of their own in the first round when 17-year-old Luke Hughes went fourth overall to the New Jersey Devils.

    The defenseman becomes an immediate teammate of brother Jack, a center who went first overall to the Devils in 2019. The family's first NHL offering came another year before when defenseman Quinn Hughes was picked at No. 7 by the Vancouver Canucks in 2018.

    But it's not just the kids.

    Hockey dad Jim Hughes played collegiately at Providence and later was both an assistant coach with the Boston Bruins and a front-office employee with the Toronto Maple Leafs.

    Meanwhile, hockey mom Ellen played at the University of New Hampshire and was a silver medalist with the U.S. National Team at the IIHF Women's World Championship tournament in 1992.

    Quinn Hughes was named to the league's All-Rookie Team and played in the NHL All-Star Game in 2020, while Jack Hughes has scored 18 goals in 117 games with the Devils in two seasons.

    "I can ask them anything," Luke Hughes said. "I watch most of my brothers' games. Every time they're playing and I'm not, I'm usually watching them. We talk a lot and talk about plays and little areas, what you can do and what you can't do. I think that's huge for me. It's a really good tool that I use a lot.

    "Another thing, I skate with them in the summer, train with them. Our pro group is really good, and to skate with them, battle against them every day. I think that's huge for me."

    And it'll help him become a success when he takes NHL ice.

    "The ceiling is massive for this guy," ESPN analyst Kevin Weekes said. "There's an extreme amount of confidence with the puck and a feeling that he can do anything with it at any time. The foundation for all the Hughes brothers is that skating ability. It works well in today's game."

Winner: Michigan Hockey Street Cred

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    The Michigan Wolverines didn't have a particularly satisfying 2020-21 hockey season.

    The maize and blue finished fourth in the Big 10 during the regular season, was bumped out in the semifinals of the conference postseason tournament and didn't participate in the subsequent NCAA tournament because of positive COVID-19 results, despite getting an at-large bid.

    But they made up for it in a big way on draft night.

    Three members of the 2020-21 team—defenseman Power and forwards Matthew Beniers and Kent Johnson—were picked at numbers one, two and five overall, while another player who's committed to Michigan for 2021-22, defenseman Luke Hughes, was picked at No. 4 by the New Jersey Devils.

    Power was picked by Buffalo, Beniers went to Seattle and Johnson was drafted by Columbus.

    Power became the first Michigan player picked first in the NHL Draft and the fourth college player selected No. 1 overall after Michigan State's Joe Murphy (1986), Boston University's Rick DiPietro (2000) and Minnesota's Erik Johnson (2006). Powers and Beniers became the first college teammates to be selected with the first two picks and Michigan is the first collegiate team to have a player drafted by all 32 NHL franchises.

    Power, Beniers and Johnson combined for 22 goals and 45 assists in 26 games. 

    "I felt like I was getting picked when those guys got picked, too," Johnson said. "I was super fired up. It's awesome and I can't wait to keep playing with those guys."

Loser: The Master Plan in Edmonton

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    It's the day Edmonton hockey fans were waiting for.

    A few months past a gut punch of a playoff loss to the Winnipeg Jets, Oilers Nation was looking for a gesture that'd indicate progress toward making Connor McDavid's stay in northern Alberta worthwhile.

    The team held the No. 20 pick in the first round heading into Friday and still had its first-round slots for the next two seasons, too, and all were on the table for GM Ken Holland to use as would-be deal bait.

    Instead, it's more of the same for the franchise that traded Wayne Gretzky.

    Not only did the Oilers not convince Taylor Hall to return to the team that drafted him No. 1 overall in 2010—Hall re-signed Friday with the Boston Bruins—they also didn't factor into any of the league-wide series of deals in which several medium- to high-profile players changed workplaces.

    Top-four defenseman Adam Larsson was left unprotected for the expansion draft, got plucked by the Seattle Kraken and agreed to a free-agent deal with the league's newest team.

    They're also not guaranteed to keep imminent free-agent blueliner Tyson Barrie in the fold later this month, and the one pre-draft move they did make—bringing 38-year-old Duncan Keith in via trade from Chicago—came with a $5.5 million annual price tag and cost them 24-year-old Caleb Jones, who in turn helped the Blackhawks get older brother Seth Jones.

    Last, but not least, any chance at getting goaltending prospect Sebastian Cossa, who went 17-1-1 with a 1.57 goals-against average and a .941 save percentage with the Western Hockey League's Edmonton Oil Kings, was snatched away when the Detroit Red Wings traded up to get him at pick No. 15.

    They ultimately traded the 20th pick to Minnesota for the 22nd pick and an additional pick in the third round. The next-best goaltending prospect, Jesper Wallstedt, went to the Wild at No. 20 and the Oilers wound up selecting center Xavier Bourgault from Shawinigan in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.

    At least some salve could come within days, however, according to a report by The Athletic's James Mirtle that suggests Edmonton will acquire winger Zach Hyman from the Toronto Maple Leafs.

    Hyman is due to become an unrestricted free agent later this month, but could go to the Oilers before that if the teams agree to a sign-and-trade deal before July 28.

    If that occurs, Hyman could sign an eight-year deal before heading to Edmonton. If no deal is worked out in advance, the Oilers could only get Hyman on a seven-year deal as a free agent.

All Picks from 1st Round of the 2021 NHL Draft

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    1. Buffalo Sabres: Owen Power

    2. Seattle Kraken: Matthew Beniers

    3. Anaheim Ducks: Mason McTavish

    4. New Jersey Devils: Luke Hughes

    5. Columbus Blue Jackets: Kent Johnson

    6. Detroit Red Wings: Simon Edvinsson

    7. San Jose Sharks: William Eklund

    8. Los Angeles Kings: Brandt Clarke

    9. Arizona Coyotes (from Vancouver Canucks): Dylan Guenther

    10. Ottawa Senators: Tyler Boucher

    11. Forfeited pick (Arizona Coyotes)

    12. Columbus Blue Jackets (from Chicago Blackhawks): Cole Sillinger

    13. Calgary Flames: Matthew Coronato

    14. Buffalo Sabres (from Philadelphia Flyers): Isak Rosen

    15. Detroit Red Wings (from Dallas Stars): Sebastian Cossa

    16. New York Rangers: Brennan Othmann

    17. St. Louis Blues: Zachary Bolduc

    18. Winnipeg Jets: Chaz Lucius

    19. Nashville Predators: Fedor Svechkov

    20. Minnesota Wild (from Edmonton Oilers): Jesper Wallstedt

    21. Boston Bruins: Fabian Lysell

    22. Edmonton Oilers (from Minnesota Wild): Xavier Bourgault

    23. Dallas Stars (from Detroit Red Wings): Wyatt Johnston

    24. Florida Panthers: Mackie Samoskevich

    25. Columbus Blue Jackets (from Toronto Maple Leafs): Corson Ceulemans

    26. Minnesota Wild (from Pittsburgh Penguins): Carson Lambos

    27. Nashville Predators (from Carolina Hurricanes): Zachary L'Heureux

    28. Colorado Avalanche: Oskar Olausson

    29. New Jersey Devils (from New York Islanders): Chase Stillman

    30. Vegas Golden Knights: Zach Dean

    31. Montreal Canadiens: Logan Mailloux

    32. Chicago Blackhawks (from Columbus Blue Jackets): Nolan Allan