Winger Valeri Nichushkin could be the biggest impact pick not named MacKinnon. (Bill Wippert/Getty Images)
By Allan Muir
Let’s face it. Evaluating a draft class before the kids have even donned their new team sweaters for real is a fool’s errand. But it’s a game we all love to play … and we all want a winner declared.
Obviously, we won’t know who really came out ahead for a few years, but we can make a fairly educated guess as to which teams did the most to better their fortunes with their choices at Sunday’s draft.
The grades below are based on two primary criteria. Did the team maximize the value of each pick? Did it address obvious organizational needs? Both are highly subjective assessments, but hey, this is a subjective piece. Feel free to present your counter-arguments below.
MUIR: Eastern grades | First round recap | HACKEL: Hidden draft heroes | Team-by-team picks
The Ducks tabbed puck-moving defender Shea Theodore (26) in the first. He's a Mike Green starter kit, all offensive fury, but an adventure in his own zone. Nick Sorenson (45) never quite lived up to the hype during a frustrating season with a Quebec team that tried to juggle three Europeans. He plays a solid defensive game and has high-end skill, but there was always a sense that he could do more. Keaton Thompson (87) was well-regarded for his two-way play on the USNTDP blueline. B-
Three picks to change the destiny of a franchise. That's how GM Jay Feaster laid it out leading up to the draft, so expectations were high. No arguments with Sean Monahan (6), a strong, two-way center who has size and high-end skill, or Morgan Klimchuk (28), a hard-working forward who was dynamite playing alongside Connor McDavid at the U-18 tournament in Sochi. The question mark is Emile Poirier (24). He's gritty and has great wheels, but he may be limited to a depth role by his (lack of) scoring at the next level. Keegan Kanzig is big (6'-7", 241), mean (15 fights this season) and fills an obvious need for pugnacity on Calgary's back end. A
GM Stan Bowman did his best work away from the draft table, trading Dave Bolland and Michal Frolik to clear cap space for the re-signing of Bryan Bickell. He made a nice call at the podium, adding Brad Marchand 2.0 in Ryan Hartman (30), but may have jumped the gun in trading up to grab Swedish defender Carl Dahlstrom at 51. He has great size (6'-3", 210), but probably could have been picked up in the third. Tyler Motte (129) is short (5'-9") but stocky (190) and showed some real touch with the USNTDP. B
They took the best player available in Nathan MacKinnon first overall, then grabbed a couple of interesting pieces in all-around defenseman Chris Bigras (32) and goaltender Spencer Martin (63) in the second and third. Martin was more highly thought of early on, but his late-season struggles dented his draft stock. The Avs are hoping the kid who looked pretty stout playing for Team Canada and at the Top Prospects game is the one who shows up in their camp. Incoming USA U-18 freshman defender Will Butcher was a value add at 123. He's a little undersized, but has good offensive instincts. A
Sometimes it's better to be lucky than good. Valeri Nichushkin may end up being the best player from this highly touted class, but the Russian Factor (and some Combine-related concerns) allowed the massive power forward to fall into GM Jim Nill's lap at 10. Nichushkin could play for Dallas next season and make an instant impact with a game that's equal parts raging bull and soft touch. Center Jason Dickinson (29) brings versatility and skill. Remi Elie (40) plays a gritty, honest game and could mature into a Brenden Morrow-type power forward. If his scoring touch develops, he could be a steal. Philippe Desrosiers led Canada to gold at the U-18. His quickness and compete levels hint at his potential to be a 1B-type goalie. A+
The Oil addressed an obvious need by tabbing the Chris Pronger-influenced Darnell Nurse at 7, but decided to trade down twice with their next pick. Maybe they have better luck with the quantity approach, but there were some solid prospects available at 37 that they passed on. I like the two Russians they tabbed with that handful of picks. Both Bogdan Yakimov (83) and Anton Slepyshev (88) are big forwards with skill and size. Aiden Muir (133) is on a long developmental curve, but could mature into a third-line power forward. B-
Los Angeles Kings
With no first-round pick in their pocket, the Kings had to trade up to grab Valentin Zykov (37) in the second. He plays a Kings' game: heavy on the puck, strong, aggressive and enough touch to lead all QMJHL rookies in scoring. RW Hudson Fasching (118) had a higher profile early in the season, but he never quite found his scoring touch.He has the size to play the power forward game, but needs to start showing some finish if he hopes to advance. C
The Jason Pominville trade cost the Wild their first-rounder, leaving them with just six picks. They spent four of them on long-shot defenders, all of them over 6'-1". There's some skill there, especially in second-rounder Gustav Olofsson (46), a Swedish kid who was playing high school hockey in Colorado a year ago. But they're all so raw that's it's pretty hard to get enthused about this group. C
Better lucky than good, Part II. The Preds were hoping to add an elite scorer who could add some skill to their crew of muckers and grinders up front, but when Seth Jones was there at four, he was a no-brainer choice. He could earn a spot alongside Shea Weber on Nashville's top pair next year. Jonathan-Ismael Diaby (64) is a 6'-5", 223-pound defender who is light on skill but big on bash. Center Felix Girard (95) was bypassed in last year's draft, but caught Nashville's eye with a gritty two-way effort. Goaltender Juuse Saros (99) is a fierce competitor who simply finds a way to stop the puck. He's wildly undersized, but anyone who has witnessed his big-game ability knows not to count him out. A
First rounder Max Domi (12) has earned comparisons to Sidney Crosby for his creativity and strength on the puck. He was a high-value pick at that spot, especially for a team in dire need of a little razzle-dazzle up front. Laurent Dauphin (39) is a skilled center who needs to add some strength -- no, a lot of strength -- before he can fulfill his potential. Brendan Burke (163) isn't highly regarded at this point despite a great season in Portland, but the chance to work with his father, Phoenix goalie coach Sean Burke, on a regular basis might get him where he needs to be. B
St. Louis Blues
The Blues had just four picks, but managed to add a couple of high risk/high ceiling players. Tommy Vanelli (47) is a highly skilled, high school defenseman out of Minnesota. William Carrier (57) is coming off an injury plagued season, but has the size and ill temper to mature into a depth line banger. C
San Jose Sharks
A smooth-skating defenseman loaded with offensive potential, Mirco Mueller is exactly what a team with an aging defense corps could use in its system. Winger Gabryel Paquin-Boudreau (49) can light the lamp, but needs to work on taking care of his defensive zone responsibilities. He might have been a reach at this position. LW Emil Galimov (207) is a speedy overager (21) who already has three KHL seasons under his belt. He's frighteningly slight, so nothing happens before he gains some weight/strength, but he did manage 20 points in 33 games for Lokomotiv Yaroslavl this season, so he could fit a depth role as soon as 2013-14. B-
Well, they went big, didn't they? The ninth overall pick, acquired in the Cory Schneider trade, was used on Bo Horvat. The MVP of the OHL playoffs brings a complete, 200-foot game to Vancouver. The kid competes every step of the way and if the scoring touch comes with him, he'll be on the second line before long. Hunter Shinkaruk (24) could emerge as a top-six scorer. He has 86 goals over the past two seasons and competes almost as hard as Horvat, but at his size, if he's not scoring, he's not contributing. The Canucks may have added a checking center in Cole Cassels (85) and a Brian Rafalski type in Jordan Subban (115). B+
While other teams focused on size, the Jets went for speed and skill. Blueliner Josh Morrissey was a bit of a reach at 13, but GM Kevin Cheveldayoff has a rep for simply taking the player he wants when it's his turn and not screwing around. We'll give him the benefit of the doubt here. Morrissey has elite hockey sense, vision and playmaking ability, but he's going to need a few years to put on some weight. In time, he could play on their first pair. Center Nic Petan (43) trades on immense skill and a fierce competitive drive to work past the fact that he's just 5'-8". Goaltender Eric Comrie (59) is a high-end prospect picked up cheap from the scratch 'n' dent shelf. Center J.C. Lipon (91), passed over in two previous drafts, proved himself as a speedy checker with Team Canada at the WJC. B+