It is way too early to assign grades to draft classes or draft picks, for obvious reasons, but we can assess how the knowledge and opinions we had line up with how 26 teams made scouting decisions earlier this evening.
Instead I would rather start by patting our hard-working scouting team on the collective backs, as 26 of our projected first round picks heard their names called this evening. Considering the amount of relative parity in the tier after pick 13 (Seth Jarvis to Carolina), there were 40 players would have had a projected argument to be selected in the first round. And that doesn’t even count the Hurricanes’ surprise selection of Russian overage winger Yegor Chinakhov, who we had ranked in the sixth-round range, while much of our peers didn’t have notes on at all.
Of the players we had in our top 31 who were not selected, none are overly surprising, even if we preferred them to others. John-Jason Peterka was inconsistent in league play. Noel Gunler is enigmatic and has a poor reputation vis-à-vis coachability. Jan Mysak was tough to scout having spent the 2019 portion of the schedule playing in his native Czech Republic before coming over to the OHL in the second half and succeeding despite going through some adjustments. Ryan O’Rourke was good, but not great, in a lot of areas and might be someone you like without loving. Ty Smilanic is similar, but as a forward, and there have been whispers about locker room issues. They should all go early in the second round in the morning.
We will get to the guys we didn’t foresee later on, but first a note about the top 13 being very predictable. Our top 11 ranked players were the first 11 players chosen. I had thought that the bigger tiers of players might lead to more trading, but there was next to none, with only Calgary making a pair of trades to move down twice, from 19 to 22 and then to 24. A good move for the Flames to get two extra third round picks to replenish a very shallow system. Not to mention, Connor Zary, whose average feet likely kept him from being selected 10 spots higher.
I expect the top three picks of Lafreniere to the Rangers, Byfield to the Kings, and Stutzle to the Senators, to be given every opportunity to play in the NHL right away, with an outside shot at Marco Rossi jumping right to the Wild’s lineup as well.
The next group was shaken up slightly by Detroit not selecting Cole Perfetti, to whom they had been strongly connected for months. We actually had Lucas Raymond ranked fourth overall anyway, so the pick made sense, even if it mucked up a great number of mock drafts. It seems as if more than a few other teams had also expected Detroit to take Perfetti, as he stayed on the board until Winnipeg ended the torture by selecting him tenth overall. He is not nearly the same skater, but he could eventually have a Brayden Point-type impact on the Jets.
Buffalo also gave us a bit of a surprise, although considering we had zero reason to expect anything in particular from first-time GM Kevyn Adams, we should not have had any expectations. Jack Quinn was in that next tier outside of the top three, but it was still surprising to see him selected before teammate Marco Rossi, who led the entire CHL in scoring in his draft year. The Austrian was taken with the next pick, by Minnesota. As hinted at above, don’t be surprised if Rossi is given the chance to win a job in the NHL right away.
About the Russians…we knew Askarov would be selected early, and I figured he would either go to New Jersey with their first pick, Minnesota, or Nashville. Nashville took him and we know he is the Pekka Rinne exit plan, with Saros the stop gap/future 1B. Amirov was a likely first rounder with upper level skills. He went at the high end of our anticipated range for him, but he fits the Maple Leafs’ scouting mantra of skills and smarts. We thought if there was a third first round Russian prospect, it would be strong all-around center Marat Khusnutdinov. That thought was put on its ear after the Rangers traded up to 19 to draft right-handed defender Braden Schneider.
Without proof, I am imagining that the Devils were anticipating getting the Brandon blueliner and jumped on an incredibly rangy Russian defender named Shakir Mukhamadullin, who has a mature defensive game, having spent his age 17 season in the KHL, but about whom there were questions as to his offensive upside. Being a 6-4” defenseman who can skate well will always get some people’s attention, but there were serious questions about his offensive upside. Perhaps he has benefited from the late draft, as he has six points through his first 13 games in the KHL this season.
I can accept that we were low on Mukhamadullin, ranking him as a 3rd rounder. But then Columbus GM Jarmo Kekalainen stepped to the microphone and shocked the hockey world. I can’t remember ever being this surprised by a first-round pick. He drafted Russian winger Yegor Chinakhov, a 19-year-old who was passed over last year altogether, becoming the first overager taken in the first round since the Kings took Tanner Pearson in 2012. We had Chinakhov ranked 171st, and many other scouting services didn’t have him listed at all. He has solid offensive tools and understands the game at a mature level, but he would likely have stayed on the board for another 50-60 picks if Columbus would have had a pick in the second round. Instead, their next selection will not be until 78, and that was only the result of the day’s earlier trade of Josh Anderson to Montreal for Max Domi. Chinakhov was apparently the guy they had targeted, could not find a trade for a second rounder, and could not bear to risk waiting until their third pick for him. He produced nicely in the Russian junior league last year and is off to a solid start this year in the KHL, but to say the pick was out of left field is to gravely overestimate the size of ballparks. Then again, he was our highest ranked player who was not selected last season.
Of the other players we did not have as first rounders, Colorado pick Justin Barron was considered, but kept off due largely to medical concerns. The Avalanche have better access to his health records than we do. Flyers pick Tyson Foerster would likely have been on our list if it were not for his heavy skating. His other skills are first round caliber. Skating is one of the more improvable skills, though, and better physical conditioning and technical training, could improve that area of his game. Finally, we were simply too low on Lukas Reichel. We stand by ranking countryman John-Jason Peterka ahead of Reichel, but perhaps 21 spots were too much.
We were a little bit too low on Dylan Holloway and Rodion Amirov. Holloway has the tools but just needs to learn to alter his pace and not always rev at 100% in order to be more effective. The Oilers will need patience, but he can be a rare power forward if he can. Amirov is simply exceptionally talented. He struggled to establish a foothold in the KHL last year but has seemingly found his footing early this season. We might have been wise to reevaluate him based on early season results.
Beyond those who fell to Day Two, there wasn’t anybody who was taken significantly lower than we thought was their rightful range, with the possible exception of Brendan Brisson going 29th to Vegas and Mavrik Bourque, 30th to Dallas. Between Brisson and last year’s first rounder, Peyton Krebs, the Golden Knights are placing their future eggs in the hands of gifted playmakers. Bourque plays a shifty and skilled style that can crack open a defense and that has been lacking from the Dallas organization for a while, Stanley Cup Finals appearance or not.
I will say that there were two late first rounders who, while we had them ranked in the first round, were not convinced that they would end up being drafted this early. Jake Neighbours was drafted 26th by St. Louis. He is not an exciting prospect, but he does so much well and plays a moderately heavy game. His ceiling is not that high, but his floor is, and he will help St. Louis continue to compete, on an affordable contract, while the league’s finances work to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. Similarly, Ozzy Wiesblatt, the last pick of the night, to San Jose. Smaller than Neighbours, but much more of a pain to play against, Weisblatt, he can be compared stylistically to a Brendan Gallagher. Also, do yourself a favor and check out his backstory. Google it.
Finally, a few thoughts (mostly) unrelated to who went where and who didn’t.
While I naturally prefer to attend the draft in person, and very much look forward to being in the building next June/July, the NHL largely did a very good job presented the virtual event. They cannot be held accountable for some video quality issues in some of the draft pick homes. I especially liked the visual of seeing some teams who used their home dressing room as their draft day war room. A very sharp look.
Very nice touch by Winnipeg bringing in Dale Hawerchuk’s widow, Crystal, to announce their pick. Dale Hawerchuk embodied the type of impact a great player can have on a community, and that a community can have on a great player. A very thoughtful, and emotional moment. Hawerchuk passed far too soon. F cancer.
Speaking of F’ing cancer, I am not alone in absolutely loving the Senators’ use of Alex Trebek, currently in his own battle, to announce Ottawa’s first pick, third overall selection Tim Stutzle, in the form of a Jeopardy segment. Clever, entertaining, and frankly, awesome.
Finally, congratulations to Quinton Byfield, taking second overall by Los Angeles, the highest ever drafted Black player, or (to my knowledge) any player of color. The NHL, and specifically, NHL players, showed the ability and presence of mind to pause the action this summer after the shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin (~45 minutes north of my home) around six weeks ago. The lack of diversity in the NHL, and the sport of hockey writ large has long been a sore point for the sport, but we can hope that the stand taken by players at the time, coupled with the organization of the Hockey Diversity Alliance, and the emergence of future stars such as Byfield, can help turn the phrase “Hockey is for Everyone” into a reality, instead of mostly empty marketing.
Congratulations to the 31 young men drafted in the first round. 185 more will follow on Wednesday morning. We will continue tracking the draft, and after the dust settles, will provide complete reviews of every draft class, to finally put a bow on the 2019-20 season. Thank you for taking a part in this ride with us.