The 2017 NHL Entry Draft didn’t have many major surprises, starting with Nico Hischier and Nolan Patrick as the first two picks of the night. Still, the first round was full of interesting decisions as the league’s 31 teams scooped up new prospects at the United Center.
There wasn’t a ton of intrigue for the Devils and Flyers with the No. 1 and No. 2 picks other than which order Hischier and Patrick would go in. Once New Jersey announced Hischier as the top pick, joining the likes of Connor McDavid and Auston Matthews, it became apparent Philadelphia would be going with Patrick.
The Stars shook things up from there by taking defenseman Miro Heiskanen, and then we finally got to some really tough choices for teams.
When it comes to the draft, basically every a team is a winner until their picks can be properly evaluated years from now. But some did better than others Friday, so let’s break down which came away as winners, and which get the dreaded losers label.
Devils AND Flyers
New Jersey had its pick of any player in the draft and got a great one in Nico Hischier. That left Philadelphia to select Nolan Patrick, who over the past year seemed like the future No. 1 pick unless Hischier could unseat him. Either way, the Devils and Flyers have to be thrilled to get potential franchise players out of the draft.
The Devils are slowly but surely building out a core of exciting talent in New Jersey, but didn’t really have a true cornerstone to build around. Taylor Hall is a great scoring winger, and Pavel Zacha and Michael McLeod are great prospects, but none of them project as the kind of dominant No. 1 center that often anchors great teams.
Hischier could be that for the Devils. The same goes for Patrick in Philadelphia, where they already have Claude Giroux, Travis Konecny, and Jakub Voracek.
Neither player may make the immediate impact that Connor McDavid and Auston Matthews have in Edmonton and Toronto, respectively, but these teams clearly came away happy Friday.
Vegas had three picks in the top 15 of the draft, and used them to add three quality prospects to its system. Cody Glass was the first pick in franchise history at No. 6 overall, and he could be a No. 1 center down the road.
The Golden Knights also had two extra picks thanks to expansion draft trades, and used them on center Nick Suzuki (No. 13) and defenseman Erik Brannstrom (No. 15). That’s a major influx of talent to an organization that had just two players on its books a few days ago.
Between Glass, Suzuki, Brannstrom, Alex Tuch, Shea Theodore, and Reid Duke, the Golden Knights have already started assembling a strong group of prospects. For a team with an eye on the future, the pieces are starting to fall into place.
The kid who tried to announce the Canucks’ pick
Bettman asked who was announcing the pick, the kid raised his hand, strided to the microphone and ALMOST PULLED IT OFF pic.twitter.com/XgsrzrPXeI— Dave Lozo (@davelozo) June 23, 2017
And, hey, who knows, maybe that kid would’ve made a better pick than Jim Benning.
Gabriel Vilardi was widely considered one of the best players in this draft class. TSN’s Bob McKenzie ranked him No. 5 among all prospects. ESPN’s Corey Pronman ranked him No. 3, behind only Nico Hischier and Nolan Patrick.
The Kings managed to get him No. 11 overall after the first 10 teams all passed him over. This only benefits Los Angeles, which wasted no time nabbing Vilardi to add to a prospect pool that’s among the thinnest in the league.
Vilardi brings the size (6’3, 201 pounds) and skill to be a true No. 1 center in the NHL. He’s not blazing fast, but there aren’t many players who can match his upside. For a team picking outside the top 10, the Kings did quite well.
What an absolute haul for St. Louis. The Blues got a great young two-way center in Robert Thomas with the No. 20 overall pick, which was solid value. And then they managed to trade Ryan Reaves to move up 20 spots to No. 31, where they made the no-brainer pick to land Russian winger Klim Kostin, who could’ve been a top-10 talent if not for an injury-marred season.
Whatever you think of Reaves’ impact on the game, this was a great night for the Blues. They got two of the top 25 or 30 prospects in the draft Friday night, and did it while entering the night with the No. 20 pick, No. 51 pick, and Reaves. Impressive work by GM Doug Armstrong.
Maybe Michael Rasmussen ends up becoming the dream power forward the Red Wings are hoping he’ll be after selecting him with the No. 9 overall pick. But there are massive red flags in Rasmussen’s production at the junior level that beg questions about picking him in the top 10 with guys like Gabriel Vilardi and Owen Tippett still on the board.
Rasmussen recorded 55 points in 50 games with the WHL’s Tri-City Americans, but 29 of his points came on the power play. Just 24 of his points came at even strength, and even fewer at 5-on-5, which isn’t a good sign for his ability to translate production to the NHL level.
There’s a ton to like about Rasmussen’s game as a 6’6 forward who’s comfortable with the puck, solid defensively, and knows how to use his size to win puck battles. Bob McKenzie ranked him No. 9 in the class, so it’s not like it’s a pick totally out of left field.
But it’s hard to get over the lack of even strength production in the WHL from a top-10 pick, particularly given the other talent still available.
It’s not that acquiring Ryan Reaves in general is a totally bad idea. But giving up the No. 31 pick, and a chance to acquire a talent like Klim Kostin, in order to acquire an enforcer-type with a career-high of 13 points in seven seasons is a puzzling decision.
The Penguins wanted to go out and get more physical this summer after watching Sidney Crosby take some rough shots in the playoffs. That’s not a surprising response from an NHL team to one of its stars getting hit. This was quite the premium for Pittsburgh to pay to add Reaves, though. You have to wonder if they could’ve found a physical presence elsewhere without giving up a shot at a top-10 draft talent.
Anyone hoping for big trades
The draft is often hyped up as a time for wheeling and dealing, but that didn’t really happen Friday. We didn’t get any trades through the first 20 or so picks, until the Blues and Flyers announced the Brayden Schenn trade. Then we got Reaves-to-Pittsburgh, which will certainly elicit its fair share of debate.
But for anyone hoping to see a big name like Matt Duchene, Jonas Brodin, or Evander Kane on the move, the wait continues. Those names could still be on the move between now and training camp.
Luckily we got Friday morning, when Artemi Panarin, Brandon Saad, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Connor Murphy, Derek Stepan, and Antti Raanta were moved in a series of trades. That was fun.