For a weekend that was supposed to be all about the kids, the biggest winners of the 2008 NHL Entry Draft included a pair of teams that chose to go with experience over potential.
Obscured by a flurry of trade activity, the Lightning made the most of the first overall pick, adding center Steve Stamkos, a player with all the offensive talent of last year's top choice -- Patrick Kane -- bolstered by high intensity blasts of defensive awareness and the ability to make an impact away from the puck. Though they didn't pick again until No. 117, the Lightning hit their home run. Stamkos will be an important player for Tampa next season.
The Bolts also won the Good Guys award for tabbing David Carle in the seventh round. The brother of San Jose defender Matt Carle wasexpected to be a second-round selection, but was diagnosed with hypertrophic cardiomiopathy at the scouting combine -- the same condition that killed basketball stars Hank Gathers and Reggie Lewis -- thereby ending his NHL dreams. New owner Oren Koules ordered the pick to honor the kid's efforts. Classy start to his term with the organization.
As much as Tampa Bay improved, top marks go to the Phoenix Coyotes, a team that last week lost Blake Wheeler, its 2004 first-rounder, and desperately needed some positive news. They got it by adding a veteran No. 1 center, Olli Jokinen, in a swap with the Panthers, and now have established themselves as a team ready to make life interesting in the Western Conference.
With their turns at the podium, the Desert Dogs made several bold choices. Mikkel Boedker, taken seventh overall, has world-class speed and two-way smarts. He could step immediately onto the second line alongside last year's top pick, Kyle Turris. GM Don Maloney then traded up to grab flashy American/Russian winger Viktor Tikhonov with the 28th pick.
Tikhonov, grandson of the legendary Russian coach, was the top forward at the 2008 World Juniors and, at 20, could join Boedker in the 2008-09 lineup. He projects as an exiting 25-30 goal winger. Jared Staal, sliding deep into the second round on concerns about his conditioning and drive, could be a steal if he finds his focus. Brett Hextall, a 5-9 center and son of former goalie Ron Hextall, could be the fourth generation of his family to make the NHL.
Although they were relatively quiet in the drafting process, selecting just five players, Montreal spent the weekend making splashy moves designed to keep them among the top teams in the East.
The Canadiens avoided the standard incubation period associated with the 25th overall pick by dishing the choice to the Flames in exchange for Alex Tanguay. The fully-developed 29-year-old forward could be an immediate point-per-game addition to a Montreal team that captured the Eastern Conference last season, but struggled to generate offensive options in the playoffs. He may end up playing on a line with another former All-Star: Mats Sundin. The Habs were given exclusive negotiating rights to the veteran Maple Leafs center, who becomes a free agent on July 1, in exchange for a conditional pick that is believed to be a 2009 second-rounder.
Danny Kristo (56th overall) was a swing-for-the-fences pick, a potential second-line goal scorer with some zip in his pins. The second-leading goal-scorer for the U.S. National Team Development Program last season, Kristo's several years away from the NHL, but the Habs' long wait can be ameliorated by the instant impact of Tanguay and Sundin.
The Kings went into the weekend with 15 picks total, including 10 of the first 101. They ended up making just nine after a series of swaps, but came away with three prime blueline candidates in Drew Doughty (2), Colten Teubert (12) and Vjateslav Voinov (32). All three are close to being locks to play in the league, and they bolster a promising group that already includes Jack Johnson and Thomas Hickey.
The Kings also made a couple of interesting late-round selections in Justin Azevedo (153) and Garret Roe (183). Both are severely undersized, but bring plenty of fire and offensive creativity. It wouldn't surprise me to see at least one of the two find his way to the NHL.
The Devils traded down to add a second- and third-rounder to their arsenal of picks, but still managed to land Mattias Tedenby in the first. The smallish Swede ranked among the fastest skaters in his class, and is a fierce competitor. Brandon Burlon (52) and Patrice Cormer (54) look like a pair of high-value picks. Two-way center Adam Henrique (82) could develop into a reliable replacement for John Madden.
To Anaheim, simply for parlaying the 12th overall pick into two first-rounders, the latter of which was flipped for a pair of high seconds.
To Columbus for snatching Nikita Filatov sixth overall, then adding the versatile R.J. Umberger in exchange for the first-rounder they acquired from Colorado in the Adam Foote deal.
To Nashville for filling two obvious organizational needs with first rounders Colin Wilson and Chet Picard
To the New York Islanders for making hay with potential first-rounders Corey Trivino, Aaron Ness, Jyri Niemi and Kirill Petrov on Saturday.
While it's easy to guess which teams beat the odds, it's tougher to label a team a loser at this early junction. Still, a couple made some curious decisions over the weekend.
While every other club was loading up on skill in the first round, the Leafs gave up a pair of valuable assets (a second- and third-rounder) to move up two spots in the first to grab shutdown defenseman Luke Schenn. It was a bold move to be sure, and Schenn seems a good bet to be a stabilizing force on the Leafs' blueline for years, but a defensive-defenseman in the top five? That's the sort of talent you're supposed to pick up with those second- and third-rounders. When you get a chance to draft that high, you have to grab a difference-maker.
Among the six other players selected by Toronto was Mikhail Stefanovich (98). The Belorussian scored 32 goals in the Quebec League, but left scouts wondering if he has the passion to succeed at the next level. It could turn out to be a high value pick if he gets his head right with the puck, but Stefanovich has bust written all over him.
Florida added a nice piece in Jacob Markstrom in the second round, but the lack of a first-rounder, and the decision to add depth instead of star power in the Jokinen deal, gives little reason to think they're any closer to breaking their lengthy streak of early golf.
Boston will need to get some value out of second-rounder Max Sauve and third-rounder Michael Hutchinson to get past the sting of selecting the contact-averse Joe Colborne in the first.