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Experts Analysis

Grading the Draft - Part I

by Ryan Dadoun
Updated On: October 4, 2018, 4:04 pm ET

The last few days have been nothing if not eventful between talent up for grabs in the draft and the flurry of trades that occurred.

 

What follows is an overview of how the draft went for each Metropolitan and Pacific Division team.  You'll find information on every first round pick taken by them (or top selection if they didn't pick in the first round) as well as analysis on the trades made over the last few days.  Check back in Tuesday for Part II featuring the Atlantic and Central Divisions.

 

NEW YORK RANGERS

 

Grade: B

First Round Selection(s): None (Top pick was Ryan Gropp at 41st overall)

 

The Rangers surrendered their top pick in the Martin St. Louis deal.  In Gropp they got an offensive-minded forward that stands at 6-foot-2, but still needs to bulk up.  He's a project as among other things he needs to improve defensively.  Overall, he wasn't a bad mid-second rounder, but he certainly wasn't a steal either.

 

More noteworthy was the trades that the Rangers made as they shipped Cam Talbot to the Edmonton Oilers in exchange for the 57th overall pick (which New York then flipped for the 62nd and 113th overall picks) and the 79th overall pick (Sergey Zborovskiy).  Edmonton and the Rangers also swapped seventh rounders in that deal.

 

The Rangers dealt Talbot because he only had a year left on his contract and giving him the substantial raise that he had coming to him didn't make a lot of sense given their continued commitment to Henrik Lundqvist.  The return for Talbot ultimately wasn't great, but it is at least decent given the uncertainty of his contract situation.

 

The Rangers surrendered Ryan Haggerty to the Blackhawks in exchange for Antti Raanta to fill the void left by Talbot in a relatively minor move that nevertheless made a lot of sense for both sides.

 

Finally, the Rangers got Emerson Etem and the 41st overall pick (Gropp) from Anaheim in exchange for Carl Hagelin, the 59th pick (Julius Nattinen), and the 179th pick (Garrett Metcalf).  Etem has a lot of offensive upside that he hasn't been able to realize with the Ducks, so while that trade is an obvious gamble for New York, it's one that has the potential to look like a steal in a few years.

 

All-in-all, this was a solid showing for the Rangers and that's saying something for a team that lacked a first round pick in a strong draft.

 

WASHINGTON CAPITALS

 

Grade: C+

First Round Selection(s): Ilya Samsonov (22nd)

 

Samsonov might be the best netminders available in a draft over the last couple of seasons, but Washington's pick is perhaps the highest risk/reward gamble of the top round.

                                                

That's the case for two reasons: 1) He's a goaltender and they are bigger gambles than forwards and even defensemen by virtue of being longer projects.  So in a draft as rich and deep as this one, for Washington to spend its best pick on a netminder is a potential waste.  Which brings us to 2) He's locked into the KHL for the next three seasons.  In other words, his development is out of the Capitals' hands and whether or not he eventually goes to the North America is still something that remains to be seen.

 

I can't dismiss his upside though or the fact that there is a level of inherit risk when you're talking about draft picks.  At the same time, the first round is also about taking managed risks and I don't see this as one of them.

 

NEW YORK ISLANDERS

 

Grade: B+

First Round Selection(s): Mathew Barzal (16th) and Anthony Beauvillier (28th)

 

Going into the draft, Barzal was seen as a potential top-10 pick, so when he wasn't even taken in the top-15, the Islanders felt it was worth trading for Edmonton's pick, even if it meant giving up top prospect Griffin Reinhart for the Barzal pick and the 33rd overall.

 

The Islanders then sent the 33rd and 72nd selections to Tampa Bay in exchange for the 28th pick.  In effect, they used Reinhart as the catalyst to secure two first rounders in this year's draft.

 

In Barzal, the Islanders are getting one of the best playmakers of the draft and Beauvillier is another offensive dynamo who scored 42 goals and 94 points in 67 contests.  While Barzal's stock might have dropped due to the knee injury he suffered last season, the knock on Beauvillier is that he stands at 5-foot-10.  It's certainly possible for small forwards to excel in the NHL though and it's not hard to envision a scenario where these two are seen as great picks in a few years time.

 

It can never be forgotten though that the Islanders paid a high price to get them.

 

PITTSBURGH PENGUINS

 

Grade: C-

First Round Selection(s): None (Top pick was Daniel Sprong at 46th overall)

 

Sprong is coming off of a strong campaign where he scored 39 goals and 88 points in 68 contests.  He's a project, but one with enough upside to justify the his place in the middle of the second round.

 

And that about sums things up for Pittsburgh.  That was the team's only top-100 pick and the Penguins didn't make any trades either.

 

Pittsburgh gave up its top pick to Edmonton in the David Perron trade back in January and that move didn't improve the Penguins' fortunes any, although they still have one more season with him.

 

COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS

 

Grade: B+

First Round Selection(s): Zach Werenski (8th) and Gabriel Carlsson (29th)

 

Columbus drafted six defensemen this year, including Werenski and Carlsson.

 

Werenski entered the University of Michigan at the age of 17 and more than held his own against his older competitors, scoring nine goals and 25 points in 35 contests.  Although he might not be the best all-around defenseman from this year's draft class, he arguably as the most offensive upside, which makes Werenski a name that fantasy owners will want to remember.  Be patient though as he's expected to spend at least one more season at the University of Michigan.

 

The Blue Jackets dealt the 34th and 68th picks to Toronto to trade up to get Carlsson, although one has to wonder if that was necessary as it was debatable if he would end up going in the first round anyways.  Either way, Carlsson is in contrast to Werenski as he's much more of a defensive defenseman.

 

Both of Columbus' top selections were solid without being stunning.  If they work out and Ryan Murray moves past his injury problems, then the Blue Jackets will have a great defensive foundation in a few years.

 

PHILADELPHIA FLYERS

 

Grade: A

First Round Selection(s): Ivan Provorov (7th) and Travis Konecny (24th)

 

There were three standout defensemen in this year's draft, and Philadelphia got one of them in Provorov.  He's known for his offensive abilities as evidenced by his 15 goals and 61 points in 60 WHL contests, but he's just as good defensively and that's a big part of what makes him so valuable.  Although Noah Hanifin deservingly got a lot of attention going into the draft, Provorov really wouldn't have looked out of place being taken ahead of him, so the fact that the Flyers got him with the seventh overall pick is a nice break for them.

 

In order to get Konecny, the Flyers had to deal the 29th and 61st overall picks to Toronto.  There was pre-draft speculation that Konecny would be a top-15 selection, so Philadelphia was definitely justified in trading up to get him with the 24th pick.  He'll need some time to develop, but he could develop into a versatile two-way forward.

 

Philadelphia's next pick was goaltender Felix Sandstrom (70th overall).  As is normal for even high-end goaltenders going into the draft, he's years away from competing, but he has a high ceiling and is well worth the risk for when he was taken.

 

With all that in mind, there's a lot to like about what the Flyers did this weekend.

 

NEW JERSEY DEVILS

 

Grade: B

First Round Selection(s): Pavel Zacha (6th)

 

Between running into injury troubles and making the transition to North American hockey after playing in the Czech Republic, Zacha was limited to 16 goals and 34 points in 37 OHL games in 2014-15.  That's nothing to get excited over from a top prospect in a high-end draft, but it also doesn't change the fact that Zacha's a center that brings a desirable blend of skill and size to the table.

 

He was handed two suspensions last season, which highlights his need to play a more disciplined game, but the fact that he's already very physical should still be seen as a plus.  He's far from a safe bet to play with the Devils next season, but he's nevertheless someone worth getting excited over.

 

The Devils also acquired Kyle Palmieri from the Ducks in exchange for the 41st overall pick (which Anaheim then moved once again in the Carl Hagelin trade) and a 2016 seventh round selection.   Palmieri is a solid forward with top-six potential that should help the Devils given their current lack of NHL-ready offensive talent.

 

CAROLINA HURRICANES

 

Grade: A+

First Round Selection(s): Noah Hanifin (5th)

 

The first defenseman taken in the draft, Hanifin is one of the big three blueliners in this year's draft along with Provorov and Werenski.  If Werenski was the best offensive defenseman and Provorov was the top all-around blueliner, then what gives Hanifin an edge over them?  A big part of it is his skating ability and high hockey IQ.  It certainly doesn't hurt that the 18-year-old is 6-foot-3 and already weighs in at 205 pounds.  He'll help out Carolina at both ends of the ice and in all situations, perhaps as early as next season.

 

Carolina also added a strong goaltender in Eddie Lack for the modest cost of the 66th overall pick (Guillaume Brisebois) and a 2016 seventh-round selection.  That made Anton Khodobin expendable, so the Hurricanes gave him to Anaheim in exchange for top-four defenseman James Wisniewski.

 

Those two trades made the Hurricanes significantly better at a low cost and when you throw in the addition of Hanifin, it's easy to be thrilled with how things went for Carolina.

 

ANAHEIM DUCKS

 

Grade: B+

First Round Selection(s): Jacob Larsson (27th)

 

Larsson is a two-way defenseman that could develop into a top-four blueliner at the NHL level, but not right away.  He'll needs to bulk up and eventually make the transition to North American hockey as he's been playing in Sweden.  He's also been somewhat inconsistent. Still, his upside makes him worthy of a late first-round selection.

 

On the trade front, Anaheim was very busy.  The Ducks dealt away Kyle Palmieri for a pair of picks and added goaltender Anton Khodobin while getting rid of defenseman James Wisniewski.  Finally Anaheim and the Rangers swapped Emerson Etem and Carl Hagelin respectively in a deal that also saw each team getting a second round selection and Anaheim getting an additional sixth round pick.

 

In each case Anaheim was parting ways with a player that has potential, but didn't work out as intended in Anaheim.  The Ducks didn't use Wisniewski at all in the playoffs, for all Etem's upside, he's never been able to earn regular minutes with the Ducks, and Palmieri was in danger of losing his top-six spot in Anaheim due in part to the rise of Jakob Silfverberg.

 

So while I wouldn't classify any of the three trades as steals for the Ducks, I will say that they made a lot of sense given how Anaheim is currently set up.

 

VANCOUVER CANUCKS

 

Grade: B-

First Round Selection(s): Brock Boeser (23rd)

 

Boeser needs to work on his defensive play in particular, but despite that he has the potential to become a great all-around forward.  He's good at putting himself in positions to succeed in the offensive zone and shines with the man advantage.  His offensive play has led to some listing Patrick Sharp as a comparable.

 

There's nothing wrong with that pick, although the Canucks decision to trade Eddie Lack in exchange for the 66th overall pick (Guillaume Brisebois) and a 2016 seventh-round selection is a little more questionable.  It's not a great return and while GM Jim Benning might have felt his hand was forced because of Jacob Markstrom's stellar play in the minors, this is a trade that might sting for years to come as Lack could prove to be a pretty solid starter.  You could argue that he's already there after posting a 2.45 GAA and .921 save percentage in 41 games.  Granted he struggled in the playoffs, but it was also his first taste of postseason action.

 

 That's not to cast the draft as a big loss for Vancouver though.  It's surprising that the market for Lack was so poor, it ultimately it wasn't what defined the Canucks' weekend.

 

CALGARY FLAMES

 

Grade: A+

First Round Selection(s): None (Top pick was Rasmus Andersson at 53rd overall)

 

Andersson is an offensive defenseman that recorded 12 goals, 64 points, and 88 penalty minutes in 67 OHL contests in 2014-15.  That kind of skill and grit from a defenseman makes fantasy owners salivate, but the catch is that he needs to improve defensively and we'll have to wait to see if he can reach the point where he doesn't look out of place on an NHL roster.

 

So let's not get overly excited about him at this stage.  But you know what?  It doesn't matter that the Flames aren't walking away with a home run prospect because they've instead added one of the best young defensemen in the league today.

 

The Flames managed to pry 22-year-old Dougie Hamilton from the Calgary Flames for the cost of the 15th (Zach Senyshyn), 45th (Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson), and 52nd (Jeremy Lauzon) overall selections.  Not to take anything away from those prospects, but that's an insanely good price for a top pairing defenseman that could become a cornerstone of the Flames' franchise.  It's especially good timing for the Flames because Mark Giordano only has one season left on his contract and this takes a lot of the pressure off that situation.

 

So sure, the Flames might not have had an exciting draft from a picks taken perspective, but it's for all the right reasons.

 

LOS ANGELES KINGS

 

Grade: A

First Round Selection(s): None (Top pick was Erik Cernak at 43rd overall)

 

Like Calgary, Los Angeles surrendered its first round pick (13th - Jakub Zboril) to Boston, although the Kings also packaged goaltender Martin Jones, and defenseman Colin Miller in order to get Milan Lucic.

 

This isn't the runaway steal that the Hamilton deal was, partially because Lucic is already 27 years old and is eligible to enter the free agent market in the summer of 2016.  So the Kings might have sacrificed a fairly high first round pick in a great draft for what might prove to be a rental.  On the plus side, Lucic's blend of skill and grit will provide the Kings with a big boost as they look to rebound from a disappointing 2015-16 campaign.  Getting him is a great answer to the likely departure of Justin Williams.

 

As far as Cernak goes, he's a big, defensive defenseman.  He's a bit more complicated than that description though as he can also contribute with the man advantage.  As you might expected for a mid-second round pick, you shouldn't expect him to play in the NHL next season, but he looks like a solid enough pick.

 

SAN JOSE SHARKS

 

Grade: B

First Round Selection(s): Timo Meier (9th)

 

Meier broke out in 2014-15 with 44 goals and 90 points in 61 games with QMJHL Halifax.  He's been living under Winnipeg Jets prospect Nikolaj Ehlers' shadow, but Meier is a superb forward in his own right with a commanding shot that helped him set a franchise record with 23 power-play goals.  There's a physical element to his game too and he's already got an NHL ready 6-foot-1, 210-pound frame.  There's still a good chance that he'll end up returning to the QMJHL to hone his game further, but he's got the potential to be a very valuable asset for San Jose in the not too distant future.

 

It's worth noting that San Jose also moved the negotiating rights to Antti Niemi to Dallas in exchange for the 193rd overall pick (Jake Kupsky).  That obviously confirms that the Sharks are moving in a different direction with their goaltending, which isn't surprising.  At the same time, it's important that they at very least get a very strong backup goaltender because Alex Stalock isn't a safe bet to run with the starting job.

 

EDMONTON OILERS

 

Grade: A+

First Round Selection(s): Connor McDavid (1st)

 

Odds are, you don't need to hear anything more about McDavid at this point.  He's been the most talked about junior player in quite some time and the hockey world hasn't been bashful when it comes to piling on the praise.  He really does have the potential to be a generational talent though.  A guy that might hang up his skates after winning the Art Ross and Hart Trophy multiple times.

 

At the same time, we knew before Friday that Edmonton was going to take McDavid.  What surprised people was their ability to pry Griffin Reinhart from the New York Islanders in exchange for the 16th (Mathew Barzal) and 33rd (which got traded again) overall picks.  Reinhart is a top-tier defensive prospect, which is exactly what the Oilers need as they look to build around the glut of skilled forwards they already possess.

 

Edmonton also came into the draft with goaltending issues and helped address that by prying Cam Talbot away from the New York Rangers.  Talbot only has 57 games worth of NHL experience, but he's posted a 2.00 GAA and .931 save percentage over that span.  Now that he has the opportunity to get out from under Henrik Lundqvist, he might be able to stabilize Edmonton's goaltending situation.

 

ARIZONA COYOTES

 

Grade: A

First Round Selection(s): Dylan Strome (3rd) and Nick Merkley (30th)

 

Rather than start with what Arizona got in the draft, let's talk about the fact that they got Nicklas Grossmann and Chris Pronger from the Philadelphia Flyers in exchange for Sam Gagner.  Now the Coyotes had soured on Gagner despite the fact that he was the team's leading scorer among forwards, but the important thing here is that they got Pronger's contract, which comes with a cap hit of nearly $5 million despite the fact that Arizona will only have to pay Pronger a salary of $575,000.

 

Obviously Pronger's not playing, but what this move does is put Arizona much closer to the salary floor without actually having to pay that much money.  Throw in the Mike Ribeiro buyout and the fact that they retained part of Keith Yandle's salary when they shipped him to the Rangers and the Coyotes will have about $9 million in cap space consumed by people that will never wear a Coyotes jersey in 2015-16.  So if Arizona's goal is just to meet the minimum requirements by operating with a cap hit near the floor, then around 17% of its cap will be non-playing players, which means that Arizona will be putting significantly less money into its on-ice product than the floor technically prescribes.

 

The Coyotes have their own financial considerations of course, but it would be unfortunate as the team tries to work its way back into the playoffs and win over fans.

 

Moving to a more positive note though, Arizona actually has a pretty good collection of prospects at the moment, including some that should make the Coyotes much more exciting to watch from an offensive perspective in the not too distant future.  You can certainly count Strome among that group.  He had 45 goals and 129 points in 68 contests with OHL Erie in 2014-15.  Although that team was headlined by Connor McDavid, Strome was in no way dependent on the emerging star to produce, as evidenced during McDavid's absence with a hand injury.  Strome has the potential to be a top-line center in the NHL and there's a fair chance that he'll earn a spot on Arizona's opening game roster.

 

Merkley has plenty of offensive upside also.  In fact, in Arizona's dream scenario, Merkley will be the one feeding Strome the puck in a few years.  Merkley is certainly further away from the NHL than Strome is, but he has top-six potential.

Ryan Dadoun

Ryan Dadoun is an Associate Editor for Hockey on NBC Sports Edge. Feel free to follow him on Twitter or check out his blog.