After a sluggish first round of the 2016 NHL draft Friday night, Day 2 offered a much faster pace along with a few surprises.
The Maple Leafs got things off to a shocking start, selecting Yegor Korshkov, a 19-year-old Russian winger many didn’t expect to come off the board until late in the third round. Edmonton, the big winners on Day 1 with Jesse Puljujarvi at No. 4, had another highly rated player fall into their laps at No. 32. Tyler Benson was regarded as a first-round talent, but slipped after being limited to just 30 games this season by injuries. He has the potential to be a point-producing middle-six winger.
Carter Hart was the first goalie selected in this year’s draft. The Everett Silvertips star was taken 48th by the Flyers, who had a brilliant second day at the table. Tyler Parsons (54th, Calgary), Filip Gustavsson (55th, Pittsburgh) and Evan Fitzpatrick (59th, St. Louis) all came off the board before the second round was up.
Filip Helt was Mr. Irrelevant. The Blues claimed the 6’1”, 176-pound winger out of Litvinov with the final pick in the draft. Helt was one of just two players drafted out of the Czech Republic. Detroit second-rounder Filip Hronek was the other.
Two Belgians were selected in the third round. Sean Day (more on him in a minute) was trained in North America, but born in Leuven. Wouter Peeters (83rd, Chicago), born and raised in Turnhout, is the real deal though. The NHL-sized netminder (6’5”, 208 pounds) spent this past season in Austria, but will continue his development with Finland’s Jokerit in 2016–17.
There were several other eye-catching picks on the day. Here are six who could emerge as stars down the road:
Alex DeBrincat (Blackhawks, 39th): The rich get richer. DeBrincat is severely undersized (just 5’7”) but that didn’t stop him from posting back-to-back 51-goal seasons with the Erie Otters. He plays a gritty game and is at his best down low where he’ll fearlessly battle bigger, stronger defenders. Don’t bet against him.
Wade Allison (Flyers, 52nd): A second-half breakthrough had some (myself included) thinking the 6’2” power forward might slip into the back half of the first round. The talent is there. Allison was the top scorer in the USHL playoffs, scoring nine goals and 16 points in just 11 games. He could be a perfect fit in Philly’s middle-six within two or three years.
Vitali Abramov (Blue Jackets, 65th): There was speculation that Abramov, who scored 38 goals and 93 points in just 63 games for Gatineau of the QMJHL, might go as high as the first round. Concerns about his size (he’s listed at 5’7”) dropped him into the third round, where the Jackets pounced. He brings a dynamic skill set, including top-five wheels and shot. Is he the next Johnny Gaudreau…or the next Rocco Grimaldi?
Adam Fox (Flames, 66th): He set the USNTDP defenseman scoring record last season. He’s undersized, but flies on his skates and loves to join the attack, off the rush and on the cycle. This kid generates offense.
Sean Day (Rangers, 81st): It’s clear now that Day never should have been granted exceptional status by Hockey Canada and would have been better served by waiting another year to enter the OHL. The tools are there, but the maturity wasn’t. There are lingering questions about his hockey sense as well. The Rangers gambled at the right point of the draft, and may end up with a real value if the mobile defenseman gets his act together.
Victor Mete (Canadiens, 100th): Mete is highly mobile and a reliable point producer who one scout referred to as “a Brian Campbell-type.”
* Interesting to see that while the rest of the league embraced the smaller player, the Maple Leafs went big. Toronto made 11 selections over the weekend. On average, they stand 6’2” and weigh 201 pounds.
* So much for the anticipated wave of trades over the weekend. There were just four deals on Day 2 that involved warm bodies. I offered my thoughts on the Dmitry Kulikov-Mark Pysyk deal here. Here are quick takes on the others:
— The Coyotes seemed to get the better of the deal that saw them send the 37th pick to the Lightning in exchange for Anthony DeAngelo. The 20-year-old defender, the 20th pick in the 2014 draft, has a wealth of offensive talent but was lapped in Tampa’s system by Slater Koekkoek. Maybe that’s reason enough to move on, but it feels very early in his development to give up on a first-rounder. DeAngelo carries some heavy baggage and it’s fair to wonder if that in some way led to his fall from grace in the organization. Lightning GM Steve Yzerman, who used the pick on Libor Hajek, later said he made the deal expressly because he wanted the low-ceiling Czech defender. Doesn’t seem like strong asset management if that’s the case. DeAngelo has the higher upside, so give the Coyotes the nod on this one.
— The Devils sent a third-round pick to Penguins for winger Beau Bennett. It’s a great move for the player, who desperately needed a fresh start in a new organization to get his career back on track. And it’s a low-risk move for New Jersey GM Ray Shero, who drafted Bennett in the first round in 2010 and believes he might be able to squeeze some offense out of the oft-injured 24-year-old. For Pittsburgh, it’s one less contract that needs to be fit under the cap next season, while adding rugged defender Connor Hall with pick No. 77. Good deal for all.
— The final swap saw the Jackets send 2013 first rounder Kerby Rychel to Toronto for defenseman Scott Harrington. Mark this down as a clear win for the Leafs. Harrington was caught in a logjam of low to mid-level D prospects and was unlikely to make an impact. Rychel might not be a star either, but he has the look of an NHLer. He could become a solid bottom-six winger who brings energy and some scoring touch as soon as next season.
* Every year sees a handful of kids get overlooked despite having some legitimate prospect cred. The most glaring oversight this time around? Moose Jaw Warriors netminder Zach Sawchenko. There were 18 goalies selected this year, and somehow Central Scouting’s sixth-rated North American keeper wasn’t among them. Hard to figure that out, because Sawchenko has some impressive skins on the wall. He was a first-team All-Star in the WHL’s Eastern Conference and carried the load for Team Canada at the U18 Worlds. No one would be surprised if he earned a roster spot on Canada’s World Junior club next December, but apparently there were 211 better options this year.
* Also I’m a bit surprised to see Czech winger Simon Stransky and Russian forward Vladimir Kuznetsov left on the table. Stransky was a point-per-game scorer for Prince Albert, while Kuznetsov, who was the first pick in the 2015 CHL Import Draft, had 58 points in 68 games with Acadie-Bathurst. Obviously these kids have warts, like every other player taken in the draft, but both appear to have real upside. We’ll see if they prove scouts wrong down the road.
* The Ontario Hockey League reaffirmed its status as the sport’s top developmental loop, leading the way with 48 draftees. The WHL came in second with 34 while the USHL finished third with 28 selections, including a strong run of 12 prospects selected in Saturday’s second and third rounds.
The rest of the North American picks, by league:
US High School: 6