Grading an NHL draft immediately after it takes place is like tasting a cake after all the ingredients are together, but before you've actually given them time to bake. The draft is an imperfect science at best, which is why giving this crop some time to gestate is the only way to accurately judge the winners and losers. Still, the early returns suggest that a few clubs got a leg up on the competition with some savvy choices or aggressive asset management.
Here are the teams we viewed as coming out on top after the weekend's festivities, and a couple that left Montreal with more questions than answers.
This could turn out to be a career-making weekend for new GM Bob Murray. First, he learned his team would have Scott Niedermayer and Teemu Selanne back next season. Then he did a masterful job of addressing the salary cap concerns caused by those returns, dealing Chris Pronger to the Flyers for former Duck Joffrey Lupul, promising blueliner Luca Sbisa and a pair of first-rounders.
Lupul is a talented, if streaky, winger who gives the Ducks a nice option in terms of secondary scoring. Sbisa, a 2008 first-rounder with 39 games of NHL experience under his belt, can step right into a blueline role at a price that might allow Murray to re-sign UFA Francois Beauchemin.
Murray then used his two first-rounders to take centers Peter Holland (15) and Kyle Palmieri (26), adding to one of the deepest, most promising groups of forward talent in the league. Third-rounder Igor Bobkov (76) is likely to backstop Russia at the upcoming World Juniors. At 6-4, 192, he has the size and mobility to mature into a No. 1 netminder.
Odds are that new GM Greg Sherman kept his mouth shut and let his scouts do what they do best, but he still ends up looking like a hero. Maggie the Monkey could have tabbed Matt Duchene with the third pick, but that doesn't negate the fact that the Avs may have come away with the best player in the draft.
Heart-and-soul center Ryan O'Reilly (33) fell into Colorado's lap in the second round, as did Stefan Elliott (49), an offensive-minded blueliner some scouts expected to go in the first. But the icing on the Avs' draft came in the fifth and sixth rounds when they addressed their long-term goaltending needs with a pair of proven winners. Kieran Millan (124) led the Boston University Terriers to the NCAA title as a freshman. Brandon Maxwell (154) backstopped the U.S. to gold at the World Under-18 tournament. Neither is anywhere close to answering Colorado's most pressing need, but it's conceivable that both could be between the pipes in three to five years.
You can make the argument that the Preds needed another defenseman like Nashville needs another country music hopeful, but the inspired choice of Ryan Ellis (11) was the sort that gives David Poile some real options to maximize his assets down the line. Ellis is a dynamic talent who'll revolutionize the Preds' lightweight power play, and his eventual arrival will allow Poile to move a veteran blueliner for some immediate forward help. Poile may also have scored a pair of hits in back-to-back second-rounders Zach Budish (41) and Charles-Olivier Roussel (42). Budish, a linebacker on skates who'll play for the Minnesota Gophers this fall, was considered a first-round talent by some bird dogs. Roussel is a big, offensive-minded blueliner who one scout described as "the next-best prospect in the QMJHL" after Dmitri Kulikov (14).
New York Islanders
Hard not to be a winner when you select first overall, Alexandre Daigle notwithstanding. But in taking John Tavares, the Isles got more than just a scoring machine who shattered theOHL career record for goals. They got a player who can energize a long-suffering fan base and put a positive face on a franchise that's been wearing a kick-me sign for far too long.
GM Garth Snow then showed some stones, utilizing his deep stockpile of picks to move up in the first round to take offensive defenseman Calvin de Haan (12). It might have been too aggressive a move -- several league executives expressed a belief that de Haan would have been available later in the round, and most observers agreed that Kulikov (14) and John Moore (21) were more highly regarded. Still, you have to admire Snow for going hard after the player he wanted.
And don't overlook the potential impact of second-rounder Mikko Koskinen (31). The 6-5 stopper was 17-7-9 with Espoo of the Finnish League last season, with a 1.91 GAA and .931 save percentage. He'll be 21 next month, and could see duty in North America in 2010-11. Considering the frailty of Rick "Mr. Glass" DiPietro, Koskinen can't get here soon enough.
Darryl Sutter started the week by hiring brother Brent to coach his squad then took the bold step of acquiring Jay Bouwmeester's negotiating rights from the Panthers. The brief window of opportunity cost Sutter a third round pick (and the rights to UFA Jordan Leopold, who they weren't going to re-sign). That's a small price if Sutter is able to ink Bouwmeester before July 1, and a worthwhile risk even if he doesn't.
Tampa Bay Lightning
Years of incompetent drafting contributed to the woeful state of the franchise, but new GM Brian Lawton got it right this time around. Defenseman Victor Hedman (2) could be the immediate answer to the prayers of coach Rick Tocchet, who dressed everyone short of Guido Tenisi on the blueline last season. Lawton then showed some moxie, trading up to take Carter Ashton (29), a hulking power forward with top-six potential. Lawton might also have struck gold with Jaroslav Janus (162) a feisty stopper whose acrobatics made him a crowd favorite at the 2009 World Juniors, and Richard Panik (52) a high-end talent from Slovakia who'll benefit from the tough love approach of Bob Boughner when he joins the Windsor Spitfires this fall.
There was only one player acquired during the draft who's a lock to improve his new team's immediate fortunes and that's Pronger. Say what you want about the price paid by Paul Holmgren -- he sure wasn't shopping in the bargain aisle -- but in exchange for picks and prospects he added a No. 1 defenseman who gives the Flyers a legitimate shot to challenge in the East. And if he manages to extend Pronger a few more years (a good bet considering the investment), this deal ends up looking even better.
In Evander Kane (4), Carl Klingberg (34) and Jeremy Morin (45), the Thrashers added three potent offensive talents who were ranked as first-rounders by several observers. Kane -- a tenacious forechecker with great hands and better wheels -- is the safest bet, but Morin is the most intriguing. He's the sort of player who can disappear for long stretches but manages to find open space at a critical moment to bury the game winner. Sound like anyone who was voted into the Hall of Fame last week?
Goaltender Edward Pasquale (117) and center Jimmy Bubnick (155) both slid deeper than most expected, suggesting teams focused more on their flaws than their potential. Still, their selection prompted one scout to say the Thrashers got "great value" with the picks. Much-maligned GM Don Waddell also did a nice job of asset management, sending his fourth-round pick (95) to the Kings for three choices (117, 120, 203) and his sixth-rounder (177) to the Blackhawks for their fifth-rounder in 2010.
Detroit Red Wings
They aren't the all-knowing draft wizards they're painted to be, but the Wings might have picked up a couple of players who could make significant contributions down the road in second-rounders Landon Ferraro (32) and Tomas Tatar (60). Ferraro is a gritty, if undersized, center who always looks for an opportunity to shoot.Tatar is a shake-and-baker who one scout compared to Martin Straka. Both will spends a few years honing their craft, but it wouldn't be a surprise to see the two of them earning top-six roles in time.
Toronto Maple Leafs
Brian Burke spent weeks laying out his plans for changing the face of his team at the draft, either by moving up to take Brayden Schenn or John Tavares, or by making a big deal. Not only did he fail on both counts but a botched trade with the Bruins may have damaged his bargaining position with one of his prime chips, Tomas Kaberle. First-rounder Nazem Kadri clearly has potential, but he has his detractors. "Seems like he needs a kick in the pants to bring out his best," one scout said.
Assuming Phil Kessel reads the papers, he probably understood that his contract demands combined with Boston's cap concerns mean that he might not be a Bruin for life. Still, it's one thing to work it out in your head. It's another to hear that you were thisclose to actually being dealt. GM Peter Chiarelli either has some fences to mend or he has to deal Kessel from a weakened position.
Hard to get excited about this team's work at the draft table, either. Jordan Caron (25) has an NHL build, but questions about his skating and decision-making hint at a player with upside as a third-liner. The B's had no second rounder, losing it to the Isles after inexplicably playing depth winger Petteri Nokelainen in his 50th game. Ryan Button (86) might help Boston salvage some pride. He's small, but he eats minutes and his decision-making earned him high praise from a pair of WHL-based scouts.