The NHL Draft weekend wasn’t quite as dramatic as some experts predicted, but a lot happened. Several teams improved their standing via trades and high draft picks.
Other franchises moved into position to make big plays in free agency or the trade market during the weeks ahead. Many teams were looking to upgrade and here are some that clearly succeeded:
- Pittsburgh Penguins: When No. 3 center Jordan Staal forced the team’s hand, it proved to be a blessing. Staal rejected a 10-year, $60 million offer and signaled his intention to depart as a free agent if the team didn’t move him to a desirable location. General manager Ray Shero sent him to his dream destination, Carolina, and got back a young No. 3 center (Brandon Sutter) and a first-round pick he used to take Derrick Pouliot. That move and his subsequent salary dump of defenseman Zbynek Michalek freed up $6 million salary cap space. Suddenly the Penguins are positioned to chase both Zach Parise and Ryan Suter in free agency. Who wouldn’t want to play in Pittsburgh with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin?
- Carolina Hurricanes: The Jordan Staal-Eric Staal reunion is most promising. Jordan was overdue to graduate into a lead role. He is a big goal-scoring center who can kill penalties and match up against top opposing centers. GM Jim Rutherford vowed to get an impact scorer and he jumped at this opportunity. Little brother’s arrival should help Eric Staal regain his elite goal-scoring status. Interestingly, the Hurricanes remain the Rick Nash hunt despite making this move.
- Buffalo Sabres: After watching his team go stale this season, GM Darcy Regier made a big first-round play at center. Mikhail Grigorenko, a classic risk/reward pick, fell to the Sabres at No. 12 when other teams got nervous about the dreaded “Russian Factor.” Regier then swapped picks Calgary to move up in the first round to No. 14 and nab Zemgus Girgensons, a physical No. 2-type center. “To acquire two centers – two different centers – is good,” Regier told The Hockey News. “We had a list of four forwards and we wanted to get two of them. Grigorenko was there and so was Girgensons.”
- Philadelphia Flyers: In a swap of semi-busts from earlier drafts, the Flyers sent forward James van Riemsdyk to Toronto for defenseman Luke Schenn. Given the high inherent value in physical D-men, this was a big gain for the Flyers. That team is dealing with the loss of Chris Pronger to a career-threatening concussion and it needed to add toughness on the back line. The Flyers also gained $650,000 in cap space, which should make it easier to retain pending free agent defenseman Matt Carle. Philadelphia sacrificed some depth up front to make this deal, but van Riemsdyk never advanced past the “supplemental scorer” level in his three NHL seasons. Toronto coveted his size/skill combo and felt more inclined to move Schenn after drafting offensive defenseman Morgan Rielly fifth overall.
For more draft weekend winners and some notes and links, check out my story on STLToday.com.