Now that I’m back in California from Dallas, I thought I’d give my final thoughts on the 2018 NHL Draft weekend. Here are some major things I’ve noticed:
- Buffalo Sabres Fix the Problem
Last season, the Sabres needed another top defenseman, but now they have one of the best d-corps in the league. In a year or two, the team could look like this:
Mattias Samuelsson Rasmus Dahlin
Jake McCabe Rasmus Ristolainen
Nathan Beaulieu Marco Scandella
Now that’s defensive depth.
The Sabres still need to resolve some other issues (Ryan O’Reilly, forward depth, and Goaltending), but this is definitely a step in the right direction. Eichel, Nylander, and Bennett will certainly have help from the backend for years to come.
- The Kings Get Their Scorers (Both Now and Later)
Ilya Kovalchuk is back in the NHL. While he left on a bad note, the 35-year-old has returned after signing a 3 year deal in Los Angeles. Moreover, he hasn’t lost his scoring touch, as he tallied 30+ goals and over 63 points in each of the last two seasons in the KHL (Russian top league). While there’s no guarantee he’ll be able to replicate that in the NHL, he should provide a boost to a team that finished 2018 in the bottom half of goals scored.
Although that contract has the potential to look bad over the next 3 years ($6.25 cap hit for 3 seasons that is a 35+, meaning they can’t save money by buying it out), signing Kovalchuk will have paid off if he helps the Kings make a deep playoff run. This past season showed that the Kings have a legitimate chance of contending with more forward help. It’s a risk worth taking at this point, especially with Doughty’s deal coming up and the need to contend quickly.
Additionally, the Kings drafted Rasmus Kupari in the first round (20th overall). Kupari is a wing/center who is a creative scorer and passer and should be NHL ready in a couple seasons. His creativity should fit in well with Anze Kopitar, Adrian Kempe, Jarett Anderson-Dolan, and Gabriel Vilardi as the forward core going future.
- Islanders Made One Hell of a Pitch to Keep Tavares
If the New York Islanders are going to keep Tavares, they needed to show him they are committed to winning. Well, the last week has shown that is the case. Lou Lamarillo has turned this team around, firing former GM Garth Snow and former coach Dough Weight, hiring coach Barry Trotz, and making a bunch of solid draft picks to help prepare them for the future regardless of the outcome of Tavares’ decision.
At 11th overall, the Islanders took my ranked 4th prospect, elite goal scorer Oliver Wahlstrom.
At 12th overall, the Islanders took my ranked 10th prospect, two way defenseman, Noah Dobson.
While neither will likely be playing in this league next season, the Islanders have an extremely bright future in two areas they badly needed to address. They also recently offered JT an $88 million dollar deal over 8 years. To me, it’s looking more and more like Tavares remains on Long Island and even if he doesn’t, boy you can’t fault New York’s management for trying. Plus, they have a really good fallback plan if he leaves.
- Detroit Red Wings Are Back
Going into this draft, the Wings had a lack of young talent, as Center Michael Rasmussen and winger Evgeny Svechnikov, and defenseman Dennis Cholowski were the only high level prospects in their system. For a team that needs to add to the young trio of Dylan Larkin, Anthony Mantha, and Andreas Athanasiou, Detroit hit a home run. Now, the Red Wings add elite playmaker and PK player Joseph Veleno, elite scoring prospect Filip Zadina, and second round winger Jonatan Berggren.
If Detroit continues building towards the future, they are going to need a fantastic defensive prospect to compliment Cholowski. But at least now, they have good building blocks for the future since Veleno and Zadina are going to be a nasty duo. Veleno loves setting up his teammates, while Zadina just wants the puck in the slot. This reminds me of a story:
When looking back at the 2003 draft, one of the major stories was how the Ducks took a great duo of Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry who had an amazing run playing with each other. Veleno and Zadina might have the potential for a Getzlaf/Perry-esque duo for years to come in the Motor City. Detroit were the big winners of this draft.
- Anaheim Preparing for the Future
Speaking of the Ducks, with Kesler not coming back to the NHL until he’s 35, and Getzlaf and Perry getting older, the Ducks need to think about the future. This weekend, without making a single trade, Anaheim successfully built for the future and Ducks fans should be excited.
Going into the draft, Max Jones, Sam Steel and Maxim Comtois made up an outstanding crop of forward talent, but they were going to need more to help them retool in the next few seasons. Now, they have added two fantastic centers (Isac Lundestrom and Benoit-Olivier Groulx) to the mix. Lundestrom was my 15th ranked prospect and my 2nd favorite player in this draft, while Groulx has the potential to be a great forward in his own right. That will be an impressive middle six or top 6 if everything goes to plan. GM Bob Murray finds steals in the draft (again).
- Capitals Saving Money to Lock Up Carlson
Although they traded Grubauer, the Capitals hit a homerun with their deal. It was obvious they couldn’t keep Grubauer and he wanted to be a starter anyway. So how much leverage did the Caps really have? He also performed poorly in the playoffs and was seeking a raise. So, the Caps did the smart thing and moved a valuable asset to help replenish their prospect system and clear needed cap space (both of which they did). Additionally, if the Caps traded Grubauer within the East, it would have been a nightmare if they had lost to him in a future playoff series.
While the Caps turned down a higher pick from Carolina in order to move him to the Avalanche, the Caps still won this swap all around. They moved Grubauer to the West (thereby moving him out of their division and conference), also relieving themselves of Brooks Orpik’s massive $5.5 million contract in the deal (which allowed them to spend on resigning John Carlson without having to waste $1.5 million in 2019 and 2020 on an Orpik buyout), while they acquired a 2nd rounder (which they used to take Kody Clark who should be a great addition to their prospect system). All around, it was a great weekend for DC.
With John Carlson locked up now ($64 million over 8 years), things are looking up for the future of the Capitals. Although that deal has the potential to be bad in year 8/8, locking up a stud defenseman now for under $9 mill should count as a win.
- The Lack of Other Resolutions Within the League
While this turned out to be a great weekend in the NHL, the league still has so much uncertainty after the draft. What will Montreal do about Max Pacioretty? Is John Tavares still re-signing with the Islanders? What are the Senators doing with Erik Karlsson and Bobby Ryan? Will Edmonton acquire a defenseman or dump a contract? What will Anaheim do about next season? Will Vegas go for a big trade? Are the Rangers moving anyone else? Is O’Reilly getting moved out of Buffalo? Is Stastny staying in Winnipeg?
While some questions have been answered, many still remain and other GMs still have a job to do. It should be a fun week to watch. Keep those NHL notifications turned on