Random thoughts from the floor of the 2010 NHL Entry Draft on Friday night ...
Biggest Surprise I: Joey Hishon going 17th overall to the Avalanche
A year ago, this pick wouldn't have raised an eyebrow. Hishon, at the time, was widely regarded as a player worth watching, a smallish center with a high skill level who was recognized via a coaches' poll as the top stickhandler and playmaker in the OHL's Western Conference. But his 2009-10 season, limited to just 36 games due to a broken foot and a sprained knee, was a disappointment. And in the games he did play, he earned criticism for an approach that was deemed to lack the necessary intensity at all times. The Avs obviously saw something in him that warranted a mid-round pick (and after they plucked Ryan O'Reilly from the second round last June, they've earned a little leeway), but this is one of those choices that makes you wonder why a team didn't trade down to add an asset while acquiring the player they wanted all along.
Biggest Surprise II: The slides of Cam Fowler and Brandon Gormley
As one NHL executive said after the watching these defensive studs slip into the middle of the first round, "I thought [those two] would have gone a lot earlier, but you never know what teams are really thinking." Ultimately, the willingness to pass time and again on this duo -- Fowler went 12th to Anaheim, Gormley 13th to Phoenix -- was likely more a matter of teams preferring to load up on front-end talent rather than a sign of concern over their perceived shortcomings. Still, the snubs were a shock to both observers and the players' families. I talked to Fowler's father briefly in the concourse after his son's name had been called and the disappointment was palpable. In time though, both players will realize they've landed in ideal situations. Fowler goes to the Ducks just as power play QB and offensive catalyst Scott Niedermayer (the man who handed Fowler his first pro jersey) steps into retirement. Gormley goes to the Coyotes, a team that is loading up on back-end talent, and should excel under Dave Tippett, the man recently christened as the NHL's coach of the year. Either of these two could wind up regarded as the steal of the draft.
Best Rumor of the Day: The Oilers tried to obtain the second overall pick to go along with the first
If the offer was made -- and multiple sources suggested it was -- you have to love the aggressive Taylor-Tyler approach Steve Tambellini was hoping to employ in his rebuild of the Oilers. Whispers suggested that it would have cost Edmonton their top prospect, Jordan Eberle, and established NHL forward Ales Hemsky. Seems like a pretty fair package in terms of talent, but it makes little sense for the Oil to give up on Eberle and less sense for the Bruins to take on two salaries in exchange for one entry-level deal. Don't be surprised if the actual details of the offer surface over the next few days.
Most Impactful Performance: Dale Tallon, Florida Panthers
Tallon promised a makeover in Miami, but even the most hopeful Cats fans couldn't have dreamed of a result this promising arising from Friday night's action. With the third overall pick, Florida grabbed Erik Gudbranson, the massive, ill-tempered defender described by scouts as a Dion Phaneuf clone. Tallon then traded the 15th overall selection (acquired earlier in the week from Boston) to Los Angeles for a pair of picks, including the 19th which he used to select power forward Nick Bjugstad. ("A great move for both teams," said a scout). Tallon then sent Keith Ballard and Victor Oreskovich to Vancouver for Michael Grabner, Steve Bernier and the 25th pick (Quinton Howden). Grabner, the 14th overall pick in 2006, had 11 points in 20 games last season and has the potential to become an impact forward as early as next season. Bernier adds to the team's size and depth up front, as does Howden. While the latter is likely to return to junior hockey next season, the other two can contribute right away, with a cap hit of just over $2.75 million between them. Tough to top young and cheap these days.
Feel-Good Pick: Emerson Etem going 29th overall to Anaheim
Seemed like there were at least half a dozen situations earlier in the draft where calling the name of Long Beach, Calif., native Etem would have made sense (didn't Montreal have him, instead of Jarred Tinordi, in mind when they traded up to 22?), but none of them came to pass. Instead, Etem suffered through an unexpectedly long wait before being selected by the Ducks. Nice that he ends up with his hometown team. Nicer still that the partisan crowd at Staples Center -- a group that vociferously booed even little children in Anaheim gear when they appeared on the big screen -- relaxed the rivalry for a moment to honor a local boy made good.
Biggest Reach: Mark Visentin at 27
The Coyotes had their eyes on Jack Campbell (taken 11th by the Stars) with the hope of grooming him to eventually replace Ilya Bryzgalov. Time may prove that Visentin was a brilliant back-up plan, but at the draft, it's all about maximizing your assets. Clearly there's no way of knowing for sure where other teams had the Niagara Ice Dogs netminder rated, but with other more highly rated goalies still on the board, the sense around the arena was that Visentin would have been available for Phoenix when they next picked at 57. Seems like a misplay of his hand by GM Don Maloney.
Best Values, Friday Edition: Fowler and Etem
Fantastic job by Ducks' GM Bob Murray to obtain a pair of players widely regarded as the third and 16th best prospects with the 12th and 29th overall selections, respectively.
Best Values, Saturday Edition: Jon Merrill, Tyler Toffoli, Calvin Pickard
The word out of the NHL draft combine was that Merrill badly damaged his standing with several teams during the interview process. The fact that a player with his package of talent slid out of the first round seems to corroborate that. Initially, it would be surprising to see the defender slip past Boston at 32, but after that first round, there clearly aren't any sure things. No such issues for Pickard -- with him, it's simply a matter of the next team that's looking for a high-end goaltending prospect. Toffoli brings a nice, two-way package with a potentially higher offensive upside than several of the players taken late in the first. He'll go within the first 10 picks in the second round.