By Hannah Stuart – thescore.com
The NHL draft kicked off Friday night with a touching tribute to the Humboldt Broncos. Team president Kevin Garinger accepted the 2018 E.J. McGuire Award of Excellence, given annually to the prospect “who best exemplifies the commitment to excellence through strength of character, competitiveness and athleticism as selected by NHL Central Scouting,” on behalf of the Broncos team.
After tears were wiped away, things got weird.
Arizona Coyotes general manager John Chayka went off the board and took Barrett Hayton of the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds fifth overall. The league’s other 30 GMs seemingly took that as permission to do whatever they pleased, and the resulting chaos left quite a bit of confusion in its wake.
Joe Veleno, the first player to obtain exceptional status and play in the QMJHL at age 15, fell to the Detroit Red Wings at 30th overall (he’d been ranked consistently in the top 10 by many for most of the season). Bode Wilde and Serron Noel fell out of the first round entirely. Suffice to say no one could’ve predicted exactly how the 2018 first round played out.
Here are our winners and losers after Day 1.
Washington Capitals: Before the draft began, the Capitals traded Brooks Orpik and Philipp Grubauer to the Avalanche for Colorado’s second-rounder at 47th overall. The trade dumps Orpik’s cap hit and leaves Washington room to sign pending unrestricted free-agent defenseman John Carlson, which is expected to happen over the weekend. That’s great news for a team that wants to try to win a second straight Stanley Cup.
Colorado Avalanche (conditionally): According to Joe Sakic, the Avalanche intend to either trade or buy out Orpik. If that happens, they got Grubauer for a second-round pick and that trade, one for one, looks good for them, too.
Buffalo Sabres: Rasmus Dahlin is a literal game-changer for the franchise. Yow.
Detroit Red Wings: Boy, things are looking up for Red Wings general manager Ken Holland after last year’s forgettable draft. Taking Michael Rasmussen when several better players were still on the board was widely criticized. He didn’t make that mistake this year. Filip Zadina fell to sixth overall, and Holland practically swan-dove onto the stage to select him. Later, Veleno fell to 30th, and you can bet Holland didn’t miss there, either. A great first day for him and Detroit.
New York Islanders: With back-to-back picks at 11 and 12, the Islanders selected Oliver Wahlstrom (who should not have fallen to 11th) and Noah Dobson (who probably shouldn’t have dropped to 12th). Take a minute and imagine Wahlstrom playing with Mat Barzal.
Ryan Merkley: Lots of pre-draft chatter had Merkley’s boom-or-bust style and reports of attitude problems knocking him out of the first round. The San Jose Sharks took a chance on him at 21st overall, and if he turns into the player his ceiling suggests he could be, the Sharks will reap major benefits.
Arizona Coyotes: John Chayka knows what he’s doing in a lot of situations, but taking center Barrett Hayton at fifth overall was a head-scratcher. While Hayton is a solid player, he’s not a game-breaking, top-10 talent. Who knows, though, a few years down the road, we could be proven wrong.
Ottawa Senators: Let’s make one thing clear: the Senators aren’t on this list because they drafted Brady Tkachuk. Tkachuk, while not the best player available at fourth overall, is a very good player. But it feels like by choosing to keep this year’s pick, with the uncertainty surrounding Erik Karlsson and with chances being good the Senators are worse next year, Ottawa’s sealed its fate. Next year’s first-round pick goes to the Avalanche, and the Senators are really going to regret it if that pick somehow turns into Jack Hughes. Colorado sure hopes it does.
Philadelphia Flyers: This one is a maybe, because their first pick at 14th overall, Joel Farabee, is a fantastic player. But their second pick is suspect. Jay O’Brien would be a good mid-second-round pick, but the Flyers grabbed him at 19. While no one outside the draft floor knows the chatter that took place, surely O’Brien wasn’t such a hot commodity that the Flyers couldn’t trade down and still get him.