2015 NHL Draft: Report Cards for Central Division


2015 NHL Draft: Report Cards for Central Division

The NHL Draft is officially over, which means it's time to take an early look at how each team in the Central Division fared. Rather than breaking down and projecting how each player will turn out, we took each team's circumstance under consideration and based our grades by looking at the big picture.

Chicago Blackhawks: C

The Blackhawks cashed in their 2015 first-round pick for Antoine Vermette — who scored three game-winning goals in the final two rounds of the postseason — meaning they had to wait until pick No. 54 to make their first selection of the draft. It's difficult to make a big splash when you don't have a first-rounder, which general manager Stan Bowman would have liked to acquire, and are handcuffed due to salary cap restraints, so it was a quiet weekend for the Blackhawks. The most important part about it was, Bowman didn't make any impulse decisions, and rarely ever does, knowing he has the rest of the summer to shed salary. Second-round pick Graham Knott, a physical, skilled defensive player, highlights the class.

[MORE: Blackhawks make seven picks in 2015 NHL Draft]

Colorado Avalanche: B-

The Avalanche traded away center Ryan O'Reilly to Buffalo minutes after the NHL Draft began on Friday, gaining an extra second round pick (which eventually turned into pick No. 39) and three other young players in return. While you'd rather have a guy like O'Reilly on a team looking to take the next step, the Avalanche feared the two sides wouldn't have been able to reach a long-term agreement when his contract expires next season so they got what they could for him before it was too late. The Avalanche quickly shifted their attention to the No. 10 overall pick, where they selected one of the more intriguing prospects in 18-year-old Finnish winger Mikko Rantanen, the best European skater in the draft. He may get a chance to compete for a roster spot as early as next season, adding to the collection of young studs developing in Colorado.

Dallas Stars: C+

The Stars only had five draft picks, but wisely sacrificed their seventh-rounder for the negotiating rights to goaltender Antti Niemi. That alone addresses a gaping hole. The problem is, the Stars may be spending close to $10 million on their goaltenders alone — assuming Niemi signs — with Kari Lehtonen already carrying a $5.9 million cap hit for three more years, so it certainly comes at a steep price. But the Stars are also excited about their No. 12 overall pick, Denis Guryanov, a talented Russian forward who may need a year to develop.

Minnesota Wild: B-

The best news over the weekend for the Wild was the six-year contract extension goaltender Devan Dubnyk signed to stay in Minnesota. It solidifies they can officially move forward with their long-term plan rather than approach free agency trying to stay above water by looking to replace a goaltender who played his way into the Hart Trophy discussion last season. The Wild strengthened their roster by selecting center Joel Eriksson EK, a highly-touted European player, at No. 20 overall and snagged a couple decent value picks in the later rounds.

Nashville Predators: C+

Like the Blackhawks, the Predators didn't have a first-round selection after they traded it to Toronto for Cody Franson and Mike Santorelli before the trade deadline last year. And they could've used one this year to continue adding young talent with 2012 first-round pick Filip Forsberg, who led the team in scoring. The Predators are looking to prove that last year wasn't a fluke and the only way to build a consistent winner is through the draft. It's no secret they're also looking to improve up the middle, and they addressed that by taking three centers with their first three picks. But they'll need time to develop.

[NBC SPORTS SHOP: Get your Blackhawks Stanley Cup champs gear right here]

St. Louis Blues: D

Entering the 2014-15 season, the Blues, on paper, looked like a complete team from top to bottom. But after another early playoff exit, rumors have swirled all offseason about the possibility of the Blues moving a big name such as David Backes or T.J. Oshie, making it difficult to assess their draft without having a clear sense of direction. Are the Blues looking to sacrifice picks for a chance to go all-in next season or stockpile them to plan for the future? If it's the latter, they're not off to a good start considering they only had one selection in the first three rounds, which didn't include a first.

Winnipeg Jets: A

The Jets easily had the best draft out of any team in the Central Division. While the Blackhawks, Predators, and Blues watched the first round pass without making a pick, the Jets made two of them: winger Kyle Connor at No. 17 and center Jack Roslovic at No. 25. The one Winnipeg has to be excited about is Connor, who fell into their laps. The 18-year-old who was named MVP of the United States Hockey League will give the Jets a much-needed boost on offense whenever they feel he's ready to be on their NHL roster full-time, which may take a year or two. Great value pick as the Jets continue their rise.

Blackhawks edge out Senators in shootout: 'It was really nice to get a win'


Blackhawks edge out Senators in shootout: 'It was really nice to get a win'

It was a rare sight to see the Blackhawks in a shootout on Wednesday night.

It was just the second time this season — and first time at the United Center — that the Blackhawks made it past 3-on-3 overtime. 

The last came on Dec. 2, 2017, a 3-2 shootout loss to the Stars in Dallas. On Wednesday night, the Blackhawks were on the other end, beating the Ottawa Senators 3-2 in a seven-round shootout. Nick Schmaltz netted the game-winner.

"We'll take it," coach Joel Quenneville said. "I thought we had a decent game tonight. Overtime not so good, I liked the shootout victory, Fors made some big saves for us particularly as the game got deeper. Our third was OK, I thought our first two were way better, and overtime we gave up some high quality, some bells were rings for a bit there. But it was nice to see the shootout win."

Patrick Kane had a goal and an assist, recording another multi-point game, his 16th of the season.

"I mean we need every point we can get at this point," Kane said. "There's still belief in this locker room. Obviously we need to go on quite a run and have a big record here down the stretch. But take it a game at a time and nice to get two points."

Anton Forsberg was a big reason the Blackhawks even recorded those two points. The 25-year-old netminder stopped 34 of 36 shots and made a handful of big saves down the stretch.

"It was really nice to get a win for sure," Forsberg said. "I would love to have a lot more wins, but right now just gotta look forward and get as many wins as possible."

Added Quenneville: "I think it was good for him to win a game the way he did. Lot of shots were on the line, as we progressed, got deeper, hitting the point first was big for him and for us and then finding a way to get the extra one was a good win."

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks collide with Senators

NBC Sports Chicago

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks collide with Senators

Here are Three Things to Watch when the Blackhawks take on the Ottawa Senators tonight on NBC Sports Chicago and streaming live on the NBC Sports app. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live.

1. Trade chips.

The Blackhawks have reached the point in their season where they have no choice but to become sellers before the Feb. 26 deadline, and we saw that when they traded Michal Kempny to the Washington Capitals on Monday for a conditional third-round pick in 2018. Tommy Wingels could also be an attractive piece for a team looking to fill out their depth.

The Senators will definitely be sellers, and wow do they have some names potentially on the market that can fetch large returns: Derrick Brassard and Mike Hoffman are two players who log top-six minutes on a nightly basis and also have term left on their contract, which is great for teams looking to load up for this year and beyond.

The biggest name to watch, probably in the league altogether, is Erik Karlsson, who could be on the move if a team offers a big enough package for the Senators to pull the trigger now as opposed to in the offseason if they feel him re-signing is a long shot. He was the best defenseman last season, and if a team steps up to get him, they're getting two possible postseason runs out of him.

2. Artem Anisimov's experiment at left wing not working.

Joel Quenneville has tried rekindling the magic between Anisimov, Nick Schmaltz and Patrick Kane as of late, only this time Anisimov is playing the wing and it just hasn't been very effective. The trio was on the ice for each of the two 5-on-5 goals the Kings scored on Monday, and Anisimov completely lost his man on the first one.

It's important to establish a consistent left winger for Schmaltz and Kane, and maybe putting Alex DeBrincat up there is something you consider going forward as part of a long-term solution. Move Anisimov back down as the third-line center to play in more of a defensive role and continue using his big body on power plays for his offensive abilities might be the best bet.

3. Win the special teams battle.

In their last meeting against Ottawa on Jan. 9, the Blackhawks went 4-for-6 on the power play and 4-on-4 on the penalty kill in an 8-2 win. And those are two areas to look out for again.

The Senators own the 28th-ranked power play with a 16.1 percent success rate and 29th-ranked penalty kill with a 74.5 percent success rate. Get ready for another offensive outburst?