Buffalo, NY – The Penguins do not have a dog in the race that is the first round of the NHL Draft, but that doesn’t make the evening any less intriguing.
The draft is the first step towards rebuilding your franchise, reloading it or simply giving your fanbase hope for the future. That is especially true here in Buffalo where the Sabres fans were out en masse to watch their beloved team use the No. eight overall selection on Alex Nylander.
General manager Tim Murray and his staff have done a great job of kicking off the Sabres’ rebuild and they might not be far away from getting back to the playoffs. Nylander joins Jack Eichel, and Sam Reinhart to give them a great core moving forward.
The draft picks aren’t the only thing on tap today.
Friday was full of storylines, trade rumors and more, including lots of chatter surrounding the St. Louis Blues Kevin Shattenkirk, and the Montreal Canadiens P.K. Subban. Neither moved, but that doesn’t mean the groundwork isn’t being laid for movement in the coming week. The Penguins built the foundation of the Phil Kessel deal in Florida during last year’s draft and pulled the trigger on the deal on July 1.
Here are some of my thoughts on the first round and the other goings on that surrounded it.
The Toronto Maple Leafs had the first overall pick and we’ve known it for quite some time. We also knew that they were going to select Auston Matthews from the moment the lottery balls fell their way.
So what was the hold up in their getting to the stage to make the pick? Lou Lamoriello and company allowed their three minutes to elapse before venturing to the stage and doing exactly what we thought would happen.
Their entrance struck me as showing off in front of a Buffalo crowd that greeted them with hearty boos. They also made a Floyd Mayweather entrance seem quick and with a smaller entourage.
I guess that is what we all have to deal with when a team gets the first overall selection for only the only time in it’s long history.
The Chicago Blackhawks made one of the first deals of the night trading Andrew Shaw to the Montreal Canadiens. That came as a bit of a shock to me after seeing them clear cap space by trading Bryan Bickell last week. To move him they had to include Teuvo Teräväinen who had a breakout season scoring 13 goals and 35 points.
Losing the gifted young Fin seemed like a necessary evil to keep Shaw, but apparently his ask was too high and they moved him on. Could the Hawks finally be feeling the brunt of big deals for Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook and a ton of wheeling and dealing over the past several seasons? It sure seems like it.
The Canadiens shipped Lars Eller out to the Washington Capitals. Eller has been mentioned in trade rumors for the past several seasons and it was interesting to see if finally come to pass.
Eller will be a nice addition to the Capitals bottom six. He is a quality two-way player, who can kill penalties and chip in offensively. He is a bit inconsistent and has two-years remaining on a contract that pays him $3.5 million per season.
That is probably the biggest reason he was moved out. That and the fact that the Habs picked up what could be dubbed the better, younger and more consistent version of Eller in the form of Shaw.
The Calgary Flames were in the market for a goaltender and it wasn’t a secret. They checked in on a number of guys including the Penguins’ Marc-Andre Fleury and the Tampa Bay Lightning’ masked man Ben Bishop, but ultimately came away with Brian Elliott. Elliott, who has spent the past several seasons being pushed into and out of the starting job with the St. Louis Blues, gets a chance to be the number one man with the Flames.
Jim Rutherford addressed his goalie situation during an availability with a group of Pittsburgh media members on Friday night.
On being concerns about Calgary being out of the mix — “No, it had nothing to do with anything we were doing.”
On if he’s following the goaltending market — “Not that close. Lots of things happen over a season and there’s a few different ways of accomplishing what we may need to come expansion draft.”
Some other thoughts on his goaltending situation —
On if MAF or Murray is looked at as the starter — “We’re not playing any games until next fall. I’ll let the coach sort that out. We have two very good goalies.”
On entering next season with both guys — “That’s the preference. That’s been our preference from the end of the season. Unless something really strange happens that’s what we’re going to stick to.”
Rutherford addressed a few other items during his availability —
He’s pretty darn excited about having two second round draft picks available for Saturday morning —
“Ah yeah, we feel good about tomorrow. It’s a very, very deep draft and our guys feel good that we’re getting two good players that will play with the Penguins some day.”
If you follow my work, radio appearances etc, you might have heard me speaking about the Penguins diminishing supply of defensemen and how the position would be a priority heading into this draft. GMJR confirmed that —
“Yeah, that’s usually my philosophy but I think based on where our organization’s at ideally we get one defenseman and maybe two but we’ll see how it falls. The preference is to get a defenseman.”
He also talked about why he wanted to keep as many picks as possible heading into this draft —
“It was one because it was a deep draft and two because over the years we’ve done it — traded a lot of draft picks. We’d like to get more young players, so we were able not to move many picks. I mean, we moved the one for Schultz, but it paid off and we still sit in a good spot here for the second round.”
He has no interviews set up with unrestricted free agents. The window for meeting with UFAs opens at midnight.
“No… we’re gonna have our nose right up against the cap. We’ll maybe be a little bit active on the first of July, but it’s not gonna be one of the top guys. It’ll be maybe some other guys that we’ll look at, but we’re not gonna interview anybody.”
He had no updates available on Ben Lovejoy or Matt Cullen.
As for the draft itself? It provided a few intriguing moments.
First, all three teams at the top took their entire allotment of time before hitting the stage for their picks. The Winnipeg Jets went along with most mocks and selected Finnish forward Patrik Laine with the second overall, but then it veered off course a bit.
The Columbus Blue Jackets opted not to go with the third rated player coming into the draft — Jesse Puljujarvi — and instead went a bit off the board by selecting Pierre-Luc Dubois from the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles. Dubois was the fifth rated player by the International Scouting Service in their final rankings.
One other surprise involved Jacob Chychrun, son of former NHL defenseman Jeff Chychrun, falling down the board and going to the Arizona Coyotes (trade was made for this pick) at number 16. There were some who thought he might go as high as number four to the Edmonton Oilers.
Speaking of the Oilers, they were the beneficiaries of the Blue Jackets going a bit off the board and grabbed Puljujarvi in the four slot. That gives them another talented forward and has all eyes on them during day two. Will they finally make a deal to land the number one defenseman that they have coveted for so many years?? We shall see…
Auston Matthews, who has the unique distinction of growing up and being trained and developed in Scottsdale, AZ, admitted to being nervous as he waited to hear his name called by the Leafs. He has long seemed very sure of himself and confident, but I appreciated this quote from him when he was asked about being a savior for Toronto.
“Well, hockey is a team game, so there’s really no savior. I want to be an impact player. I believe I can be a franchise centerman, the No. 1 centerman in the NHL, so that’s my ultimate goal.”
The ISS breaks him down as such —
Franchise center, Matthews is at the top of the draft class for a reason. Combining his great skating, soft hands, incredible skill and solid frame to dominate games. Played very well at IIHF 2016 World Championship for Team USA, finished with 6 goals 9 points in 10 games. Easily the most talented player in the Swiss NLA. He adapted instantly to playing against men. Finesse forward, who controls the play and is a scoring threat whenever he is on the ice. Tremendous puck handling as he can make even bad passes count, taking them from his skates to his stick at full speed. Can play with anyone as he owns elite hockey sense and sees the plays before they develop. Willing to go into the corners and in front of the net.
I almost forgot to mention — the Arizona Coyotes traded former Penguin Joe Vitale for the rights to Pavel Datsyuk. I can’t imagine that Vitale every thought he’d see that headline.
The Coyotes were mentioned all week as a possible destination for Datsyuk’s contract after he left the Detroit Red Wings for the KHL. Will be interesting to see if he ever decides to return to the league, though that is doubtful.
There are a few other things that I will comment on from round one, but this was the bulk of it. Stay tuned for a ton more on Saturday. Will keep you up to date here at FTP as well over at Timesonline.com.