It’s Saturday, June 24th around 7:00 o’clock at night. Today may be just another day on the calendar for the huddled masses either enjoying time with family or completing chores around the house, but for the avid hockey fan it is so much more. You see, today is the completion of yet another year that the now 31 NHL teams add to their crop of young talent. Today is the culmination of another season of NHL hockey. That’s right, the NHL Entry Draft is now complete, and 217 young men have been selected to continue their childhood dreams of following in the footsteps of Orr, Gretzky, Lemieux, Messier and the newer crop of superstars. Here are some reflections on the NHL draft…
Let’s first look at the newest NHL team, the Las Vegas Golden Knights. While they just completed the expansion draft, where they were allowed to select one player from each current NHL team, this was their chance to build on their future as well and add to what should be an interesting farm team. After choosing what should be their cornerstone goaltender in Marc-Andre Fleury as well as 29 other players, they started this weekend with 12 picks in the 7 rounds that encompassed Friday night and Saturday. The Knights started with a young center, Cody Glass, who in the next two years or so should be their top line center. He has talent to spare, excellent hands, but more so a top notch hockey IQ. He doesn’t make many mistakes and when he does, he learns from them in an attempt to not repeat them. It is reported that he is dangerous on the attack and he should be an electric player that puts people in the seats. Las Vegas had 3 picks in the first round alone, and all 3 are expected to be impact players at some point in the very near future.
Other teams that had an extensive amount of picks are the Detroit Red Wings and Los Angeles Kings. The Red Wings had a total of 11 picks throughout the 7 rounds of excitement, stocking up on big, beefy defensemen such as Gustav Lindstrom, Kasper Kotkansalo and Malte Setkov. In all they took five d-men, all are 6 feet 2 inches or taller. They also took a projcect goaltender in Keith Petruzzelli, a 6’5″ body who could someday be a serviceable NHL goalie. In all, only one of the 11 picks is listed under six feet tall, Brady Gilmour (I don’t believe his nickname is Happy). He is 5’10” and 170 pounds. He is certainly a project, but if he can put on a little weight and work on his fundamentals there may just be something there. He is considered a “high character” kid and he was one of the best players on a bad team.
There were 23 Finnish players taken in this year’s draft. This has led some of the talking heads to question whether the country is just getting better or if the rest of the European countries are getting worse. To me, this is all cyclical, just as it is here in North America. I would love to make the blanket statement that American born players are better than Canadian born ones, but I would be ignorant of the fact that it took 20 plus years for an American to win the Conn Smythe trophy (as playoff MVP). the Fins have been slowly improving their talent pool over the last many years, Players such as Patrik Laine and Sebastian Aho show us just how good they have become. So it is no surprise that the Fins increased their number of draftees from 7.1% in 2016 to 10.6% in this past draft. As a trend, I would say this will increase again next year as well.
One of those previously mentioned Finnish players was selected 18th overall by the Boston Bruins. Urho Vaakanainen, a left shooting defenseman will be calling Boston his home in the NHL at some point in his future. The biggest buzz however was over their second round pick, Jack Studnicka. A six foot, 172 pound forward, Jack has played the last two seasons as a center with the Oshawa Generals. His numbers are not good, not bad, just middle of the road is the best way to put it. He did double his point production from years one to two, and he had 15 points in 11 playoff games this past season, which could be the start of the excitement. Overall, it wasn’t a very enthralling draft from a fan’s perspective with three defensemen, two forwards and a goaltender, its almost as though they were following some formula for a team that needs a goal scorer but most likely won’t find one in free agency. They drafted for the future, or depth, or both. I’ll have a better feel for the youngsters drafted after this year’s development camp.
Until then, keep listening to the Two Man Forecheck…the sage and I wax poetic from week to week about everything hockey!