Draft winners and losers? Here are my picks ... and the reasons why
As one colleague is fond of saying, picking winners and losers the day after the draft is a fool's errand.
No wonder they keep asking me to do it.
It's no easy task, but it's all in fun, right? Most of us understand that it will take years to truly appreciate what happened this weekend in Pittsburgh ... but that hardly does the trick for the instant gratification types out there. The key is to look beyond what makes sense on the surface ("I've heard of this guy, so he must be better than this guy I've never heard of!") and get a feel for the overall value of the haul that each team brought home. After seeking professional help (yep, I rang up a couple of old scouting buddies), I'm ready to take a stab at it. Feel free to print out a copy to attach to your "I told you so" e-mails that you'll send me five years from now.
Here, then, are seven teams I thought improved their long or short-term fortunes, and three that didn't do themselves any favors.
Faced with the likelihood of a season that could end with Jordan Staal walking away for nothing as a free agent, Pittsburgh GM acted promptly to address the situation before it became a distraction (are you listening, Scott Howson?), consummating a deal in less than three hours that send Staal to the Hurricanes.
In return, the Pens received Brandon Sutter, a diligent checking center with some offensive upside who is a more natural fit on the third line and allows the team to maintain its strength down the middle, Brian Dumoulin, a 6-foot-3, 220-pound defender highly regarded for his mobility and playmaking, and the eighth overall pick, which the team used to select Derrick Pouliot, a slick, offensive-minded defender who appears to be a Kris Letang starter kit.
Shero also added about $2 million in cap space, putting him in a position to make some noise on July 1. If he can land Ryan Suter or Zach Parise, that's the part of the deal Pens fans will truly love.
When talking trade, it's always best to deal from a position of strength, and that's exactly what Shero did, both in terms of the team's wealth of riches down the middle, and the timing of the deal. He came away with a return that didn't feel like two dimes and a nickel for a quarter. And it didn't hurt that he was able to make a splash for the home fans at Consol Energy Center.
With their own first, the Pens tabbed Olli Maatta at 22. I don't believe he has the offensive game that some touted heading into the draft, but he has great size (6-2, 200) and is rock steady in his own zone. It's easy to imagine him and Dumoulin teaming up to form an effective second pair before long.
Shero also made a couple of interesting picks in Matt Murray (83rd), a lanky goaltender who'll step into a starting job next season at Sault Ste. Marie (OHL) and Matia Marcantuoni (86th), a speedy center who entered the season as a potential first rounder, but lost ground due to injuries and a downgrading of his offensive potential.
I like the upside of smallish wingers Phil Di Giuseppe (38th) and Brock McGinn (47th), but that's hardly the main story in Raleigh, is it? Jim Rutherford brought home a new No. 1 center in Jordan Staal. 'Nuff said.
It's the chug-a-beer quote that fuels raucous draft parties across the land: "We couldn't believe he was still there."
It's was teams always say ... but in the case of the Caps' GM George McPhee and prospect Filip Forsberg, this wasn't just another cliché. Everybody was shocked that the Swedish forward fell into Washington's lap at 11.
Expected by many observers to be off the board by the sixth pick, Forsberg's extended slide was no knock on him. It was just a case of the preceding teams just liking a particular defenseman a little bit more.
That played out perfectly for Washington. "Best value pick in the first round," a Western Conference scout said afterward of the aggressive winger, who could slide into a top-six role on the Caps as soon as 2013-14.
That pick was acquired from Colorado last summer in the Semyon Varlamov deal. The Caps used their own first (16th) to take Tom Wilson. The 6-3, 205 winger is a project who will require some patience, but if he makes it, he brings the sort of barely controlled aggression that will make Washington a much tougher team to play against, especially in the postseason.
With their long-term issues addressed, McPhee took care of a pressing concern -- the glaring need for a second-line center -- by trading for Mike Ribeiro. One of the game's most gifted playmakers, and a dangerous option in the shootout, Ribeiro is an interesting choice for the role. He has a bit of grit for an undersized player and can go on scoring binges that carry a team for weeks on end, but there are times when it seems like he's playing in a different game and you wonder about his focus and decision-making. Still, for the price -- Cody Eakin and a second rounder -- it was a quality patch job by McPhee.
Habs fans were less than enthralled with new GM Marc Bergevin's choice of Michel Therrien as the team's coach, but they won't complain about his first go-round at restocking the prospect cupboard. If this assessment didn't consider trades and was based strictly on the names up on the big board, the Habs would have come out on top.
After making the obvious choice at No. 3 -- American center Alex Galchenyuk -- the Habs took a pair of players in the second that were ranked by some observers (yours truly included) as likely first-rounders. Sebastian Collberg is undersized (5-11, 165), but blessed with the sort of dazzling offensive potential that earned him comparisons to Jeff Skinner. He slipped to the second due to concerns about his strength and his ability/willingness to play a more physical game (never a problem for Skinner), but he could be a home-run pick at 33. Dalton Thrower (51st) is a hard-nosed defender who plays much bigger than his size (5-11, 200) suggests. With an upside that hints at Kevin Bieksa with a bit more offensive touch, he looks like a future No. 4 defender.
I also like Tim Bozon, Montreal's third rounder and the son of former French Olympian Philippe Bozon, and Brady Vail, ranked 38th by Central Scouting but taken by the Habs at 91. Concerns over his offensive upside pushed him down, but I think those are overblown. He plays a smart, aggressive defensive game similar to New Jersey's Adam Henrique that will make him a strong third liner. If the offense follows, which I think it will, he could move into a top-six role.
The Sabres have needed some size and skill in the middle since the end of the Gilbert Perreault era. They might have solved the problem in the span of three picks on Friday night.
The book on Mikhail Grigorenko (12th) has been well read: an unbeatable combo of size and the sort of world-class offensive skills that might be the best in show, coupled with prolonged bouts of inconsistent play and the flight risk that goes along with drafting any high-skill/low-effort Russian. Maybe he's Alexei Yashin. Maybe he's Evgeni Malkin. He can be an incredibly frustrating player, but at the 12 spot, this was a pick that Darcy Regier had to make.
What really impressed was the way Regier immediately hedged his bet, trading the 21st and 42nd picks to Calgary to move up to pick 14 where he grabbed Latvian center Zemgus Girgensons. He's more of a No. 2 center in terms of his offensive upside, but you'll never hear anyone question this kid's compete level. He'd just as soon go through you as around you to get the puck, and he plays a true 200-foot game. Regier then tabbed Justin Kea (73rd), another jumbo pivot who plays like Paul Gaustad with a serious chip on his shoulder.
For the third straight year, the Oilers come away with the consensus BPA, No. 1 overall pick Nail Yakupov. He should play a top-six role in Edmonton next season. Mitch Moroz was a reach at 32, but he projects as a Dwight King-type power forward who contributes in ways you won't see on the score sheet. Still ... way too early to take him. I really like Daniil Zharkov at 91. He may have been born in Russia, but he considers himself Canadian after just a year in Belleville. He definitely plays like one -- think of him as a Milan Lucic-type ... with even more of the consistency issues.
The first win of the day for these sadsackers? When the Blue Jackets spared them great embarrassment by rejecting an offer that reportedly would have sent New York's complete slate of picks -- 4, 34, 65, 103, 125, 155 and 185 -- to Columbus for the second overall choice. You hear stories like that and you have to be impressed that the Isles remember to put the ice in their old barn before the start of the season.
After dodging the bullets they had aimed directly at their own feet, the Isles braintrust managed two large steps toward respectability with the acquisition of veteran defender Lubomir Visnovsky from Anaheim and the drafting of Griffin Reinhart at fourth overall. Even at 36, the former Duck will can play 20-plus minutes and should be a reliable weapon on the power play. His cap hit will also ensure that the Isles are above the floor (at least, as it is set now). Reinhart -- who might have been the player the Isles had targeted at No. 2 -- is a high-end, two-way defense prospect, exactly what they needed after taking forwards with their previous nine first round picks. More than a few scouts suggested that he might mature into the best player in the class. It's all hype at this point, but the consensus is that Reinhart has the potential to become a No. 1 defenseman. Having vets like Visnovsky and Mark Streit to lean on will help him learn the ropes.
Trading away a first rounder for Kyle Quincey -- even in a weak draft -- seems like an egregious misuse of an asset. So after sitting on their hands through Day 1, the Wings spent Day 2 swinging for the fences trying to make up for that early deficit.
That strategy may pay off in the end, and to give them their due, the Wings have certainly done better than most teams at mining gems from deep in the draft mine. So maybe seventh-rounder Rasmus Bodin, a 6-6 winger out of Sweden, ends up being a supersized Tomas Holmstrom five years down the road.
More likely though, these kids are never heard from again. Second-rounder Martin Frk is a pure goal scorer with high-end hands and low-end feet. Consistency is a big issue, as is his inattention to defense. Jake Paterson? Maybe changing his goalie coach addressed his technical problems, but he still projects as a third-stringer. Andreas Athanasiou? All skill, no will. Kid has amazing tools, but settles for the easy play far too often. Lots of areas you can work on with a prospect, but you can't teach courage.
The Blueshirts made just four selections over the weekend, limiting their chances to make any appreciable impact. Brady Skjei (28th) is off the charts in terms of sheer skating ability, but beyond that opinions varied widely on his potential. Some see him as a Brett Hedican-type, a second-pairing defender who can reliably kick start the offense from the back end. Others wonder if he has the hockey sense necessary to advance his game when size and speed no longer give him a natural advantage.
High school center Boo Nieves (59th) attracted a lot of attention for his size (6-3, 184) and skating ability, but like Athanasiou, he didn't show a lot of willingness to work down low ... and if he didn't have the jam to compete against high schoolers, you have to wonder what would happen if he saw Shea Weber between him and the net?
Nothing wrong with their first rounder Brendan Gaunce -- if you feel like intangibles are reason enough to draft a kid in the top-30. After that though, the Canucks made four selections ... and all were overagers who had been passed on in previous drafts. You can argue, as the Canucks did, that players like 20-year-old Alexandre Mallet (57th) are closer to being pro-ready than those who are freshly draft eligible. And in some cases, like L.A. pick Tanner Pearson, a prospect really can blossom after his being rejected the first 210 times. But Mallet, who wasn't even rated by Central Scouting, and Ben Hutton (147th) and Wesley Myron (177th) didn't have the kind of breakout seasons that Pearson did. They got a little bigger, maybe scored a little more ... but that's what older, bigger kids do against younger, smaller competition. These picks feel like a restocking of the Chicago Wolves, not a legitimate bid to improve the Canucks down the road.