We are covering tonight's first round of the NHL Draft in Philadelphia (7 p.m. ET, NBCSN). Our updated pick-by-pick tracker is below. I'll be adding my thoughts and observations as the festivities move along.
The Pittsburgh Penguins have traded James Neal to the Nashville Predators for Patric Hornqvist and Nick Spaling. No picks changing hands. This is all about adding some depth, some much needed net-front presence and saving a few bucks for the Penguins. Pens had to free up cap space since they were so tight with the surprisingly low $69 million ceiling. Great deal for the Preds who haven't developed a scoring forward on their own since taking Alex Radulov back in 2004.
Florida Panthers GM Dale Tallon said he'd make his decision to use or swap the No. 1 pick by 5 pm today. That self-imposed deadline came and went as negotiations with the Philadelphia Flyers--who reportedly were dangling Vincent Lecavalier along with Brayden Schenn and their first pick (17)--heated up. Now, sources close to the Panthers say those talks are dead and the Panthers will be using the pick themselves. Another source says he believes that Florida has settled on Aaron Ekblad, although Sam Reinhart remains an option. Panthers also passed on Vancouver's offer of #6, #24 and Hunter Shinkaruk for No. 1 overall.
Lots of talk that the St. Louis Blues are moving on from Jason Spezza. Price (player/prospect/pick) was too rich for Doug Armstrong's blood. Expect them to focus now on unrestricted free agent Paul Stastny. Blues are about $17 million under the cap, so they have plenty of room to make something happen.
Interesting note from Kevin Kurz of CSN Bay Area that the Dallas Stars inquired about the availability of Joe Thornton. The Stars have the young talent to catch the eye of Doug Wilson, but Jumbo Joe has shown no willingness to waive his no-trade clause...yet. Gotta love Philly fans. As every team name is announced for the pre-draft roll call, they yell out "SUCKS!" Good effort, guys. Gave the Commissioner an equally warm welcome, but that guy welcomes the scorn of crowds like a lover's gentle caress.
Ekblad: "I'm confident I can step in and play next year and I think Florida thinks the same." Second Windsor, Ont. native to go first overall to the Panthers (Ed Jovanovski being the other). Dale Tallon raves about his maturity. Says several teams came close with their trade offers, but "it wasn't quite the deal we needed. We want to continue building the way we're building."
Reinhart on Buffalo: "It's a young team. I've pictured myself in that lineup quite a few times. I can't wait to get there."
Note: Leon Draisatl becomes the highest German-born player ever selected in the NHL Draft. Exactly the player the Oilers needed: a big body for the middle of the ice who can play behind Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. Great playmaker, uses his body well. There's real concern about his skating--he lacks the dynamic first step that you'd like to see in a player taken this high--but that's something that you can work on. You can't teach size.
Draisaitl on playing in Edmonton. "Wearing the same jersey as Gretzky and Messier is a huge honor." Interestingly, he does not make it seem like he expects to be in Edmonton next season. Nice to see him being realistic about his chances.
Note: The Calgary Flames with the highest pick in franchise history take Sam Bennett. I really believe they didn't expect him to be there for him in this spot and were ready to take Nick Ritchie, but they couldn't pass on Bennett here. He's small but not soft. He backs up a tremendous offensive skill set with gritty, tenacious play that'll fit in perfectly with the way they want to Calgary. GM Brad Treliving on Bennett: "It's the intangibles, the juice he plays with. We're excited he's a Calgary Flame."
Note: Islanders kept this pick and took the risk of surrendering next year's first rounder to Buffalo. They need a home run at 5 and they might have one with winger Michael Dal Colle. He's been compared to Jeff Carter, Ryan Getzlaf and Eric Staal--a big body with high-end offensive talent and an even higher upside. Pretty exciting to consider what he might be able to do skating alongside John Tavares. The concern is his play away with the puck. Does he have the desire to put in the work to be a 200-foot player?
Note: Big day so far for new Vancouver GM Jim Benning. Three trades and now, at No. 6, Calgary winger Jake Virtanen. Out four-to-six months after having shoulder surgery, but he's not someone who had a realistic chance of playing in the NHL next year. Seems to have the two tools that are in highest demand--skating and goal-scoring ability--and there are plenty of scouts who'll say he has 30-40 goal potential in the NHL. Benning on Virtanen. "He's got the meanness, the ruggedness...we're trying to change the culture of our club a little bit and he's another piece to that puzzle."
Note: Former Flyer favorite Rod Brind'Amour makes the pick for the Hurricanes at No. 7 and grabs Fleury. He's a big, strong defenseman who skates especially well (and not just "for his size"). He's good at both ends of the ice but not particularly great at either...yet. It's all about projection with Fleury and the best-case scenario suggests he could be a solid offensive contributor and a physical menace in his own zone. That kind of development takes time though, and he's probably three years away from making an appearance in Carolina.
Note: Dave Nonis steps to the podium for Toronto and at No. 8 selects Nylander. He's an amazing individual talent, but some scouts say he's too individual. That said, he might be the most dynamic, most dangerous offensive player in the draft with a terrific shot and a wildly creative streak. If he ever learns to trust his teammates, he could be the steal of the draft.
Nylander on his awesome flow: "I got it from my mom's side. I hope to keep it!"
Note: Terrific value here for a team that needs somebody with some flash to his game. Not the biggest kid but he's a magician with the puck. Blistering speed makes him the most dangerous player off the rush in this year's draft. Scored 49 goals this year as a rookie in the Q and projects to be a first-line winger in the NHL...if he can put on some muscle. Right now he's just not physically ready to compete against men. Two or three years at least, but he'll be well worth the wait.
Note: Lots to love about him. Massive 6-2, 220-pound frame already. Scored 39 goals. Has a heavy, heavy shot. Tremendous skater, good hands...all the tools are there, but questions linger about his intensity and effort. Does that come eventually with maturity, or is this something that will continue to dog him? If he gets it together, this tilts the Ryan trade heavily in Anaheim's favor.
Note: This might be the offensive wizard the Preds have been waiting for. Small frame, big, big heart. Scores everywhere he's played, from the juniors up to the Swedish senior league to the World Championships. You still have to worry about how he'll handle the size and strength he'll face in the NHL, but has the upside to be a high-end second-line forward.
Note: Big-bodied scorer makes a nice counterpoint to the diminutive Max Domi who they took in the first round last year. Heavy shot and good speed seem to fit team needs.
Note: Really thought the Caps would go D here, but the flashy Vrana obviously dazzled them. Listed as a center, but I think he slots better as a wing. Will shoot the puck from anywhere on the ice. Sounds like someone they'd like.
Note: The Stars go for the small, mobile defenseman at 14. When you're this size, you've got have something special going for you and for Honka it's his hockey sense. He has that knack for reading the play before it happens which allows him to rely on his positioning in the defensive zone and to make plays in the offensive zone. Can't have too much skill on the blueline, so he'll be a nice add to a pool that includes Jamie Oleksiak and Patrick Nemeth.
Note: The Wings make Larkin's dream come true. Local boy made it clear he wanted to play for Detroit, so you can imagine how he's feeling right now after they take him at 15. He can play it any way you want, matching you with speed, tenacity or pure skill. He's not going to be a huge scorer at the next level (maybe 20-25) but he does everything so well that you know he's going to be a perfect fit for their system.
Note: Ville Siren welcomes Milano to the Blue Jackets at No. 16. Most ridiculous hands in the draft and a game-breaking offensive threat. Can make defensemen look silly with this dekes. Needs to work on his play away from the puck and get stronger, but he'll have a few years at U of M to take care of those concerns. Terrific addition to the stable of young talent in Columbus. We might be wondering how he dropped this far in a couple years.
Note: Hometown team finally gets to feel the adoration at 17. Former GM Paul Holmgren dedicates the draft to Keith Allen, the architect of Philadelphia's two Stanley Cup teams. Nice touch. Ron Hextall then steps up and welcomes defenseman Travis Sanheim to Philadelphia. Every year there's a player who rockets up the charts from out of nowhere and this year that player is Sanheim. Has ideal size (6-3, 191) and is a terrific skater, but it was his late-season offensive play that powered his rise. Really impressed with his poise and creativity with Team Canada at the U-18 tournament. Probably two or three years away, but he joins a really promising stable of young defensemen in Philly. That group has the size, mobility, puck skills and nastiness to become a dominant unit.
Note: A couple of scouts suggested he might be the best power forward in the draft. Already has that big, NHL-ready body. He can dominate a game physically, taking the puck hard to the net or devastating a defense on the forecheck. Just plant him in front of the net on the power play and watch him wreak havoc. He'll be a fan favorite at Xcel.
Note: Steve Yzerman steps to the podium and makes DeAngelo the first of Tampa's two first rounders at No. 19. Local boy is the first surprise pick of the draft. No argument that he's the top offensive defender in the draft, but there are so many red flags. He's small (5-10, 170) and was suspended three times this past season for character-related issues. High risk, high reward choice here.
DeAngelo on what he told teams that questioned his character: "I learned from my mistakes. I'm ready to change."
Yzerman: "We think he's a great offensive talent. He's a great skater. We think he has a chance to be a top-four defender in the NHL. We did our homework. We know his history. We talked about how he handled certain situations, but we believe in him. We expect him to change for the better."
Note: Stan Bowman obviously wanted someone here to pay that price to trade up. No doubt Schmaltz has elite skills to dominate, but he can leave you wanting more. Coaches love his work ethic, but there are maturity questions that dog him. The Hawks must not be concerned.
Note: The Blues hold on to their pick, transferring next year's first rounder to Buffalo, and take small forward Fabbri. Scouts will tell you he plays bigger than his 5-10, 166 size. He's tenacious with and without the puck and is fearless when it comes to battling for space. He scored 45 goals this past season, so he knows what to do around the net, but there are some scouts who feel those numbers were inflated by playing with a pair of overagers on the eventual Memorial Cup champion. Still, you can't teach touch, and Fabbri has it.
Note: Former Flyer Rick Tocchet steps up to make the announcement and gets booed lustily. "I told you it wouldn't work," he said, laughing. He ends up picking small forward Kapanen, the top-ranked Euro and the only player whose hockey sense comes close to matching Sam Reinhart's. Surprising that he slid this far given his skill level, but his poor performance in the U-18 cost him. You knwo what they say about buying low. This could work out pretty well for the Pens.
Note: I had him tagged as a high second rounder, but that's not a knock. One scout evoked Winnipeg's Mark Stuart as a comparison. Bleackley might not be the most talented guy, and he's definitely not the best skater, but he does everything pretty well. His real selling point, though, is his intangibles. He's a born leader like Stuart, one of those guys who can maybe get more out of others than he can out of himself. He's captain material.
Note: Vancouver uses the pick it acquired earlier today from Anaheim on center McCann. He definitely fits with that character rebuild that GM Jim Benning talked about after his first selection. He's solid in every aspect of the game and projects as a 200-foot player. He hasn't scored the way he was expected to (24 goals last year) with the Sault, but he finds different ways to contribute when the puck's not going in.
Note: Boston takes Pastrnak, an electrifying winger blessed with tremendous speed--the one quality Boston lacks both in the NHL and in its system. Not the biggest kid (6-0, 167), but he's not afraid of traffic, which should go over well with Bruins fans. He's probably three-four years away from competing for a job.
Note: Not the big forward they were looking for, but Scherbak plays bigger than his 6-0, 172 suggests. Sometimes he tries to do too much on his own. Needs to learn how to play away from the puck--and prove he "wants" to play hard away from the puck, but scouts love how hard he works in the offensive end. Has the puck skills and the will to be a reliable secondary scorer for the Habs.
Note: San Jose traded down because they probably felt secure that they could get their man, flashy forward Goldobin, at 27. Nice asset management...if they made the right choice. In terms of pure skill, especially his one-on-one play, he's someone who could generate top-10 buzz. He had 38 goals and 94 points for a weak Sarnia squad, so the offense is there, but so are the concerns about how he plays away from the puck. I'm surprised he went before Ivan Barbashev.
Note: The Isles trade up and take the ultimate wild card, Windsor forward Ho-Sang at 28. One of my absolute favorite players in the draft. Jaw-dropping one-on-one skill--he'll bring you out of your seat at least once a game. Cocky, sure. Selfish, sometimes. But man, the potential. Yeah, this pick could blow up in their faces, but the Isles already have a "safe" first rounder in the bank with Dal Colle. They were swinging for the fences here and I'm betting they knocked it out of the park.
Note: Los Angeles takes a guy who fits perfectly with the Kings system. Better offensively than his numbers playing against men in the Swedish league would suggest, but even if that part of his game doesn't mature they way they hope, Kempe does everything else you'd want. Plays a heavy physical game and can really fly. Very reliable in his own end. Smart and determined. I can see him playing on the second line, but it's more likely he tops out as a high-end third liner.
Note: And with the final pick of the first round, the Devils select raw forward John Quenneville. One scout described him as "industrious" which is a nice way of saying he gives it all he's got even if the results aren't there. He's a strong skater, though not particularly fast, and has decent puck skills. Hard to get excited about him, but there's a sense that he'll be a reliable worker bee. For a pick they didn't know they were going to have a couple months ago, that's not a bad asset.