Draft day has come and gone, and while there wasn’t too much action in the form of trades this year, there was still plenty to be excited about - at least for some teams. Below I will be breaking down the winners and losers from the first round of the NHL draft.
*Note* - Shoutout to Byron Bader and his site hockey prospecting.com. I use a lot of his information to make my judgments on draft-eligible players. Bader’s site is one of the best out there for finding realistic comparables for NHL prospects as well as predicting future success. If you haven’t heard of it you should give it a look.
Winner - LA Kings
It might be a bit of a cop-out calling the team that picked 2nd overall one of the day’s winners but there is a reason they are here and the New York Rangers aren’t. While I have nothing against 1st overall pick, Alexis Lafreniere, and fully expect he will be an absolute star in this league, I believe the Kings made out like bandits with the 2nd pick drafting Quinton Byfield.
The 6’4 215lb centre not only has the top three skills in this draft he also happens to be one of the youngest players in his class. Byfield is 10 months younger than Alexis Lafreniere which is essentially a full season of development behind him.
Byfield projects to be an elite number one centre in the NHL in the same vein as Evgeni Malkin and Joe Thornton. The fact that Byfield is a centre and not a left-wing like Lafreniere is why he, and the LA Kings, are on this list of winners. Elite Centres win championships and Byfield being able to learn from one of the best two-way players in the game in Anze Kopitar is going to do wonders for his development. I firmly believe that as rookies Lafreniere will outproduce him but Byfield will be the better player three to five years down the road.
Loser - Ottawa Senators
This one may come as a bit of a surprise since the Senators had two picks in the top five and three total in the first round, you’d think it should be nearly impossible to screw that up but Ottawa did their best.
Let’s start with 3rd overall pick Tim Stutzle. According to most experts, Stutzle was the clear cut number three prospect in this draft so as of right now, Ottawa did the right thing, didn’t waver from the expectations and took the safe choice. However, according to some models (Byron Bader’s to be precise), Stutzle’s numbers didn’t jump off the page quite the same way as many players in this draft who were taken after him.
Two picks later the Senators drafted again at number 5. The beauty of this pick for Ottawa was they had a chance to grab anything they viewed as the biggest need for their team. Do you want to add more to your forwards? Lots to choose from including one of the best forwards in the entire draft, who I will get to later. Do you want that number one goalie? Well, the highest-rated goalie since Carey Price is still available. Or maybe you want to shore up your defensive prospects? Well, you are in luck as the clear cut number one rated defensive prospect is still on the board in Jamie Drysdale.
But what did they do? They went off the board and drafted a shutdown defenceman in Jake Sanderson. He is a good prospect but there are so many red flags here. 1) Just don’t go off the board with a top-five pick. Sure, they do bust sometimes but if you go off the board and miss you set yourself back years. 2) Shutdown defencemen with limited offensive potential should not be in your top five plans - especially in a draft this deep and especially when you have 4 second-round picks to work with (see Adam Larsson). 3) Even if he is a defensive specialist, he’s still going to need time to adjust to playing defense at the NHL level and you won’t even have the bonus of getting offense from him while he is learning the ropes.
Finally, the Senators drafted Ridley Greig 28th overall. At that point of the draft, it is hard to argue any picks as it becomes more of a crapshoot but with 4 second-round picks (3 now as one was traded for Matt Murray) and 2 3rd round picks Ottawa had more than enough ammunition to trade up for one of the high skill players who fell or they could have taken a higher upside player like Mavrik Bourque.
Winner - Anaheim Ducks
Picking at 6th overall the ducks were the immediate beneficiaries of Ottawa going off the board at five for Sanderson because that meant Jamie Drysdale was theirs to take and they wasted no time doing so.
For a team that loves its defense prospects, this pick was a no-brainer for them. Drysdale is a dynamic skater with great offensive abilities that they hope turns into the next in a growing line of smaller but elite defensive players in the league that includes Cale Makar, Quinn Hughes, and Miro Heiskanen.
Anaheim wasn’t done there either. With the 27th pick that they received from Boston in the Andrej Kase trade, they took Jacob Perreault of the Sarnia Sting. Perreault is one of the handful of players with huge offensive upside who fell in this draft. In fact, based on Bader’s model Perreault ranks within the top ten and has an 82% chance to be an NHLer. That is some great value for a 27th overall pick.
Winner - Minnesota Wild
I am going to go back to back winners here but you will see why in just a moment. The Wild were the owners of the 9th overall pick and with most experts agreeing that this draft had a drop off around 11 or so they were in a position to basically pick whoever was left from the higher tier. Luckily for them, the player I alluded to above fell to them. That player is Marco Rossi.
Rossi’s numbers are off the charts good. How good? Potential to be the most dynamic player in this entire draft, according to Bader’s model. Rossi is a goal generating machine and put up over 2 points per game in the OHL this past season. That was a better pace than Byfield and the exact same as Lafreniere.
So why then did he fall all the way to the 9th spot? The only reason Rossi wasn’t a top 3 pick in this draft was that he is 5’9. If he were an inch and half taller and he would have, without a doubt, been in the conversation for 1st or 2nd overall.
Whether or not he ends up being a centre in the NHL shouldn’t matter too much to the Wild seeing as how they might have just had the steal of the draft with this kid.
Loser - Buffalo Sabres
Buffalo gunna Buffalo, I guess. You’d think a team that has wallowed in mediocrity for the last decade would eventually learn how to hit on a pick outside the top five, but here we are. Picking at 8, one spot above Minnesota - if you see where I’m going with this - the Sabres selected Rossi’s teammate, Jack Quinn. Quinn is a 6-foot-tall, right-handed, right-winger who knows how to put the puck in the net. This is proven by his 52 goals this past season. But the two obvious red flags with Quinn are: 1) He had 15 more goals than he did assists this past year which could indicate he was the beneficiary of what someone else created for him more so than what he created for himself. 2) He had a whopping 40 more goals than he did the season before which also could point to him being the beneficiary of someone else *cough* Marco Rossi *cough.*
The worry with Quinn is that the uber-talented Marco Rossi inflated his numbers this past season and Buffalo fell for it instead of just taking the guy who was responsible for Quinn’s great season. That is why the Sabres have once again found themselves in the loser category.
Winner - Calgary Flames
Now before you go calling me a homer for this one, Flames GM Brad Treliving made what could end up being some of the shrewdest moves of the first round. While many Flames fans, including myself, were waiting with bated breath hoping that the risky but hyper-talented centreman, Hendrix Lapierre, fell to us at 19th overall, Treliving was working the phones. Sure enough, pick 19 rolls around and there sits Lapierre, looking like a match made in heaven until Commissioner, Gary Bettman, said the words “we have a trade to announce.” The Flames traded down from 19 to 22 and acquired an additional 3rd round pick. Despite my desire for the Flames to draft Lapierre, making a trade-in that situation means that they viewed a handful of guys similarly and could move down a few spots and still take one of them.
Calgary's guy must have still been there because they ended up trading down again and picked up another 3rd round pick from Washington who then took Lapierre.
I was ready to call the Flames one of the losers of this draft until I saw the celebration inside the Flames room when it came to their pick and the guy they clearly wanted in Connor Zary was still there.
According to Bader’s model, Zary projects just outside the top ten of this year’s draft class and has a 65% chance of being a legitimate NHL player. The Flames have been some of the best drafters in the league over the last five years so for them to get their guy while acquiring two more 3rd round picks makes this a win for the Calgary Flames and their fans.
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