VANCOUVER, British Columbia — The 2019 NHL draft is in the books. From Jack Hughes to Jeremy Michel, 217 players have a new team, but that’s hardly the only news to come out of the event.
We break down our favorites from the first round to the last, along with thoughts on the wild P.K. Subban trade that kicked off Saturday, our choices for the best weird draft thing and of course, our picks for the best name in the 2019 draft class.
What was your favorite first-round pick?
Greg Wyshynski, senior NHL writer: Bowen Byram going to the Colorado Avalanche at No. 4. For a minute there, it appeared that Byram wouldn’t make it past the Chicago Blackhawks at No. 3, but he was there for GM Joe Sakic to draft. He’s a terrific offensive player who needs to grow defensively, but as our own Chris Peters said, “he’s the best defenseman in this draft by a fairly large margin.” Putting him in the same blue-line corps as Cale Makar and Samuel Girard gives the Avalanche a foundation on which to build some great things. The draft pick they snagged from Ottawa didn’t end up netting them Jack Hughes, but this is still a stellar pickup for the Avs.
Emily Kaplan, national NHL reporter: Cole Caufield to the Montreal Canadiens at No. 15. Maybe the playoff obsession with heavy hockey skewed this draft, because I’m shocked the 5-foot-7 Caufield made it to No. 15. (Other shorter players like Nick Robertson, Bobby Brink and Kirill Slepets also slid.) Caufield is the best pure goal scorer in this draft. Alex DeBrincat scored 69 goals over his first two years in Chicago, and he’s a good comparison for Caufield.
Were you impressed by the P.K. Subban trade?
Wyshynski: I think the word is “fascinated” more than anything. I was fascinated that the Devils were the ultimate destination for Subban, but it makes sense. When Taylor Hall is noncommittal about his future with the franchise ahead of unrestricted free agency next summer, and says the team doesn’t have enough talent, then one can read the combination of drafting Jack Hughes and acquiring Subban as GM Ray Shero’s response to that. I was fascinated by the weaponizing of cap space, as the Devils were the only team among the four teams with whom GM David Poile was speaking that was willing to take the full freight of the defenseman’s $9 million cap hit through 2022. (I was also fascinated by there being only four teams after him.) Mostly, I’m fascinated with how Subban fits with the Devils, and how the Predators plan to wield this financial flexibility, with the assumption that it’s to re-sign Roman Josi and sign free agent Matt Duchene.
Kaplan: I love it for the Devils, who transformed the complexion of their franchise with two huge moves in 16 hours. I like it for the Predators, who cleared cap space and made a much-needed change, but took on inherent risk by parting with an elite defenseman still near his prime. The Devils didn’t give up much: a depth defenseman in Steve Santini, a decent prospect in Jeremy Davies and two second-rounders. New Jersey had stockpiled picks lately, so it won’t miss those picks as much as most teams would. The Devils now have two marquee players who will sell a bunch of jerseys, and also made a decent pitch for Taylor Hall to re-sign as they keep up with the Joneses in the suddenly competitive New York-area market. As for the Predators? It’s worth it if they sign a marquee forward free agent — ahem, Matt Duchene — with all of that new cap space. If not, I don’t like this move as much.
Wyshynski: Based on previous history, the Rangers aren’t scheduled to win until 2048, so … just kidding. The Devils are going to be better, and are slowly putting together the essential DNA of a championship team: two elite centers and a foundational defenseman, although there’s still work to be done in goal. I really like what the Rangers are doing, and will forever be impressed that they publicly declared they were rebuilding and then actually rebuilt. But if Hughes is what we think he is, Hall comes back and Subban has at least three more great years left in him, look out.
Kaplan: On paper, the Devils are better right now, contingent on Taylor Hall returning 100 percent healthy. That’s the 2018 NHL MVP, plus a solid one-two punch at center in Jack Hughes and Nico Hischier, and an elite defenseman in Subban. But the Rangers — whose roster is already fortified this offseason with Jacob Trouba and Kaapo Kakko — have ample cap space they’re willing to spend. (Nobody would be shocked if Artemi Panarin ends up there.) Then there’s the issue of goaltending. It’s a huge question mark for New Jersey, while New York has it solidified. All of that leads me to believe the Rangers are better built to win over the next three to four years.
The Columbus Blue Jackets didn’t pick until the middle of the fourth round due to a number of trades. Was it worth it?
Wyshynski: The bar was set at “make it out of the first round of the playoffs for the first time in franchise history,” and they not only did that, but swept one of the best regular-season teams in NHL history in the process. So yeah, it was worth it.
Kaplan: Yes. This was a franchise stuck in neutral and the Blue Jackets needed to do something to get over the playoff hump, and that meant going all-in with the group they had last season, even if it meant their own marquee UFAs would walk this summer without the team getting any return. For the record, I love what they did with their first pick in the fourth round: Erik Hjorth, a bit of a sleeper considering he played in only four games this season. As my colleague Chris Peters pointed out, if you don’t have much to work with, why not swing for the fences? I admire general manager Jarmo Kekalainen‘s conviction.
What was your favorite weird draft thing?
Wyshynski: My favorite goof was when Dallas Stars senior owner Bob Gaglardi read No. 18 overall pick Thomas Harley’s name as “Harley Thomas,” leaving everyone completely baffled for a moment. But my favorite discovery of the draft was that each pick was able to select his own walk-up music. The tie for most amazing choice: “Shallow” by Lady Gaga/Bradley Cooper for Peyton Krebs and “Donald Trump” by Mac Miller as the secondary choice for Samuel Poulin, with the emphatic caveat of “INSTRUMENTAL ONLY!!!”
Kaplan: The draft floor is a spectacle. All 31 teams are crammed into one square pen, their tables just inches apart from each other. Any time a GM gets up to talk to somebody, journalists begin buzzing about what it could possibly mean. (Usually, it’s nothing substantial.) However, there’s a particular optic that happens every year, but for me it never gets old, or less bizarre: the GM working two phones:
Kyle Dubas really working the phones pic.twitter.com/pZriQPE1mb
– Brady Trettenero (@BradyTrett) June 22, 2019
What team did you think would be more active over the weekend?
Wyshynski: Vegas Golden Knights GM Kelly McCrimmon was working the room like a party host during the draft, including a long conversation with Carolina Hurricanes GM Don Waddell. There was talk before the draft that the Golden Knights could have had Paul Stastny and Max Pacioretty on the block. I still think they make a big push for an upgrade on defense. But as every general manager pointed out, the lack of a definitive salary cap from the NHL and the NHLPA — which was set at $81.5 million about 20 minutes after the draft ended — kept those phones from ringing too much.
Kaplan: Minnesota Wild GM Paul Fenton has made some interesting moves in his first year-plus on the job, and I thought he’d make at least one trade on draft weekend. Really, I was expecting one player to be on the move: winger Jason Zucker, who has been the subject of two failed trades and seems to now have a fractured relationship with the club (check out this clapback from his wife, Carly, on Twitter). I still believe there’s a good chance Zucker gets moved, it just hasn’t happened yet.
Best name in the draft class?
Wyshynski: Arsen Khisamutdinov for the Canadiens, for the “ARSEN TORCHES LEAFS” headlines alone. Unless, of course, you prefer Devils pick Arseny Gritsyuk of the same genre.
Kaplan: The Rangers picked a kid named Hunter Skinner. That’s all.
OK, which team did the best overall this weekend?
Wyshynski: The Carolina Hurricanes. So smart. So shrewd. For a playoff team to have 12 draft picks is a heck of a thing. For a team with 12 picks to nail as many of them as the Hurricanes did — especially Ryan Suzuki at No. 28 and Patrik Puistola all the way at No. 73 — is exemplary. Then there’s the trade: Essentially paying $6.5 million for Toronto’s first-round pick in 2020 (unless it’s in the lottery, and then it’s 2021) and, if they can convince him to play in Raleigh, Patrick Marleau. (But don’t count on it.) I’m really excited to see what the Hurricanes do in the summer, starting with what one source said is their priority: a goaltender.
Kaplan: I loved what the Los Angeles Kings did in the first two rounds. It’s no secret the Kings need to get faster and younger. They landed Alex Turcotte (a player many projected to Chicago at No. 3) with the No. 5 pick. Turcotte is a smart, two-way player, lauded for his work ethic and coachability, but also his high offensive upside. They also got a defenseman (with the pick acquired from the Jake Muzzin trade) in Tobias Bjornfot, the organization’s first blueliner taken with a first-round pick since 2010. Add in Arthur Kaliyev, one of the best scorers in the draft, and this team is starting to stockpile well for the future.