NHL draft winners and losers: The Islanders are full of promise
Winner: Buffalo Sabres
Four picks among the first 49, including potential franchise center Sam Reinhart at No. 2 and gritty winger Brendan Lemieux at 31, provide four more reasons to believe that better days are ahead. Keep an eye on Jonas Johansson, the big Swedish goalie the Sabres took at 61.
Loser: College hockey
While 20 of the top 30 players who were selected, including the first seven overall and nine of the top 10, honed their craft last season in the Canadian Hockey League, just four are heading down the cap-and-gown path next season: Dylan Larkin (15th, Detroit), Sonny Milano (16th, Columbus), Alex Tuch (18th, Minnesota) and Nick Schmaltz (20th, Chicago). That number could actually decrease if any of the teams that drafted them encourage the player to switch to junior hockey, but as long as one of them sticks to the college plan, it'll be a better result than last season when not a single first rounder had dorm life in his future.
The NCAA recovered slightly on Day 2 of the draft when 58 collegians were called among the final 180 names, including promising goaltender Thatcher Demko of Boston College, who went 36th overall to Vancouver, but it didn't make up for that Day 1 disaster. College hockey remains a viable path to the NHL and other ports of call for developing players, but for the cream of the crop, it's still just a fallback option.
Winner: Czech Republic
This year marked the end of a nightmarish cycle for the former world hockey power. The Czechs had two first rounders -- Jakub Vrana (Capitals) and David Pastrnak (Bruins) -- and five picks among the first 50 after going 0-for-2013.
The Slovaks had just one player selected: goaltender Maximilian Pajpach who went to Colorado with the 174th pick. No way to sugarcoat that disastrous showing.
Winner: Jim Benning
You may not like all his moves during the weekend, but you have to be impressed by how quickly and decisively the new GM is putting his stamp on the Vancouver Canucks. I like his move for potentially NHL-ready center Linden Vey -- if Benning keeps stockpiling centers, he'll find someone who can play. And his draft has the potential to be outstanding. Winger Jake Virtanen (6) and center Jared McCann (24) were good values where they were taken, but Benning really made hay with top-rated goaltender Thatcher Demko (36) and 6-foot-7 Russian defenseman Nikita Tryamkin (66).
Loser: New York Rangers
Maybe adding that second first rounder (conditional or not) to the Martin St. Louis trade package with Tampa Bay wasn't such a good idea after all.
Winner: Anaheim Ducks
What a weekend for Bob Murray. First he makes a move to upgrade at the No. 2 center position and grabs Ryan Kesler without having to give up any of his top prospects or the No. 10 pick in the draft. Then he uses that pick to acquire hulking winger Nick Ritchie. Amazing. I also really like the pick of defenseman Brandon Montour in round two. There's some real offensive potential there.
Loser: Colorado Avalanche
Not only does it seem more likely that they'll part ways with Paul Stastny this week in free agency, but their first-round pick of forward Conner Bleackley was a small ball move. Not suggesting that he won't play, but his top side seems to be as a 20-goal energy guy. There were players with more impact potential on the board.
Winner: Nashville Predators
So GM David Poile is finally serious about scoring. He brings in James Neal, a legitimate sniper in his prime, and he does it without sacrificing his first rounder. He then uses that pick, No. 11 overall, to select Kevin Fiala, a feisty Swiss winger who has almost every scout convinced that he'll be a scorer in this league. Second rounders Vladislav Kamenev and Jack Dougherty are regarded as high-potential acquisitions as well.
Who do ya gotta know to get ahead in this game? Preferably, your dad. Bloodlines were a big draw in Philadelphia with William Nylander (8th, Toronto), Kasperi Kapanen (22nd, Pittsburgh), Brendan Lemieux (31st, Buffalo), Ryan MacInnis (43rd, Arizona), Ryan Donato (56th, Boston), Dominic Turgeon (63rd, Detroit), Josh Wesley (96th, Carolina), Daniel Audette (147th, Montreal), Lukas Sutter (200th, New York Islanders) and Jack Ramsey (208th, Chicago) earning a chance to follow in their fathers' footsteps.
Pop didn't make it to the pros? No problem. John Quenneville (30th, New Jersey, nephew of Joel), Hunter Smith (54th, Calgary, nephew of Brad) and Tyler Nanne (142nd, New York Rangers, grandson of Lou) will all get a chance to extend their families' legacies.
Winner: Aussie hockey
The Capitals traded their 104th and 118th overall picks to the Rangers and moved up to 89th overall to select center Nathan Walker, who became the first Australian ever to be drafted into the NHL. The 20-year-old forward had been passed over in the two previous drafts, but proved his mettle last season. He skated at Washington's development camp last summer and ended up signing with the Hershey Bears of the AHL where he scored five goals and 11 points in 43 games. Although he's sure to be a inspirational figure to Antipodean icemen, don't expect to see a horde of Aussies on the horizon. Walker became a nomad to pursue his love of the game, training primarily in the Czech Republic before catching the eyes of the Caps.
Loser: Ottawa Senators
Not only did they have to sit on their hands on Friday night while Anaheim used their first rounder (acquired in the Bobby Ryan trade), but GM Bryan Murray had as many as three potential trades vetoed by Jason Spezza. It's starting to look more likely that the reluctant captain will start next season in Ottawa...or worse, force Murray to take 50 cents on the dollar just to get him out of his hair.
Winner: St. Louis Blues
They wanted skill, they got skill. Forwards Robby Fabbri (21st) and Ivan Barbashev (33rd) are both terrific talents with high-end offensive gifts. Adding Carl Gunnarsson via trade with Toronto strengthens a defense corps that is already regarded as one of the best in the league. And the Blues avoided the urge to overpay for Spezza. Not a bad weekend.
Loser: Toronto Maple Leafs
Nylander has a chance to be a star in this league, but as one scout said about the rest of Toronto's draft crop, "Maybe they know something we don't." And Roman Polak? Really?