Hockey

Hockey, NHL Draft

Night one craziness, by Matt Blitner,The New York Extra/TheNYExtra.com

There’s nothing like the influx of new blood. That’s what the NHL’s Annual Entry Draft is all about; bringing new faces into the NHL pipeline. Some lucky draftees will even jump straight into the Opening Night lineup of whichever team selects them. Others spend time in the various minor leagues or abroad, but the concept is still the same.

However, there’s something else that also happens when this new blood is brought into the professional hockey family and that is the change in scenery for numerous players. You see, for various reasons — cap space, lineup room, change in management, etc. — there’s usually several players traded during the leadup to, as well as during, the draft. It’s really a game of musical chairs. But instead of watching the league’s General Managers run around chairs while music plays, they instead pull the strings as players get shipped all over the league.

So, with the NHL’s Annual Entry Draft beginning Friday night, it really shouldn’t surprise anyone to know several trades went down in the hours leading up to the Buffalo Sabres officially being on the clock.

The trade that most concerns us here in New York is the one that saw “Captain Happy” Pavel Buchnevich sent to St. Louis shortly before 4pm(EST), in exchange for left-winger Sammy Blais and a second-round pick in the 2022 Draft. (On a separate, yet related note, earlier in the day, the Rangers began the process of officially buying out defenseman Tony DeAngelo).

Before you get the pitchforks ready, this is a move we knew was coming and it had to happen. Buchnevich is a pending RFA and seeking a well deserved raise over his current cap hit of $3.25M. The substantial raise Buchnevich is seeking, plus his status as a top-six winger, were problematic for Rangers GM Chris Drury.

You see, over the next couple years, the Rangers are going to owe big money contracts to the likes of Mika Zibanejad, Adam Fox, Igor Shesterkin and Alexis Lafreniere; among others. With the salary cap not expected to go up for at least another year or two — and when it does it won’t be by much — things are going to get tight in order to keep these players. Plus, Kaapo Kakko and Vitali Kravtsov are knocking on the door of being steady top-six wingers, so, somebody had to go in order to make room for them.

There’s no denying Buchnevich has grown as a player over the past few years. He’s a consistent 20-goal scorer, who plays in all situations and is a favorite amongst teammates. Artemi Panarin, Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider won’t be happy about losing Buchnevich but it was a move that needed to be made.

The Blueshirts want to add grit to the lineup and in order to do that some skill has to be sacrificed. The return is no doubt on the light side, but Blais — when healthy and in shape — does provide that extra level of grit the Rangers have been lacking. Unfortunately, he’s only a bottom-six forward so he won’t get many chances to make an impact. His cap hit is a scant $1.5M though, so that’s a plus.

Other notable trades to take place prior to the start of the draft were: 

1) Philadelphia acquired Rasmus Ristolainen from Buffalo.

2) Arizona sent Oliver-Ekman Larsson and Conor Garland to Vancouver in a blockbuster deal that shocked the hockey world.

3) Columbus sent Seth Jones and a pair of picks to Chicago in another blockbuster trade. And Jones agreed to an eight-year extension with the Blackhawks that will carry a $9.5M cap charge.

4) Carolina sent Jake Bean to Columbus.

In addition to these trades, Taylor Hall signed a new contract with the Bruins for four-years with a $6M cap hit and Carey Price underwent knee surgery and is expected to be ready for the start of the season in October. 

Keep in mind, that all happened BEFORE the draft got underway!

Then, when the draft finally got going, University of Michigan defenseman Owen Power went — as expected — to the Buffalo Sabres. The 6’6’’ 213lbs. D-man is smart with the puck and skilled at making short passes to activate the offense. There’s some thought he’s going to go back to school for more seasoning, so fans shouldn’t necessarily expect to see him in Buffalo on Opening Night.

Several of Power’s University of Michigan teammates also populated the top-five selections as center Matthew Beniers went to Seattle with the second pick and center Kent Johnson went to Columbus with the fifth pick.

Mason McTavish — a center from Peterborough of the OHL — went to the Ducks third overall and Luke Hughes — youngest of the three Hughes brothers — went to the Devils with the fourth pick to round out the top-five.

Luke Hughes was on many scouts’ radars for several years as some feel he’s the best of the trio of brothers. Quinn went seventh overall to Vancouver in 2018 and Jack went first overall to New Jersey in 2019. And just like older brother Quinn, Luke is a highly skilled defenseman. He is fully healed from a springtime lacerated tendon injury in his foot and has already committed to attending the University of Michigan in The Fall. As a fun note, the Hughes boys are the first United States born trio of brothers to all be drafted in the first-round of the NHL’s Entry Draft.

It was a heartwarming moment to watch Jack and Luke celebrate when the pick was announced.

Long Island’s own Matthew Coronato (right-wing) went to the Calgary Flames 13th overall — really 12th overall due to Arizona’s forfeiture of the 11th pick for improprieties during the scouting combine — after an excellent season with the Chicago Steel of the USHL. Coronato is from Hunington, Long Island and had been a target of the Rangers but instead is headed North of the border.

Speaking of the Rangers they drafted Brennan Othmann with the 16th overall (really 15th). Othmann is from Pickering, Ontario and played for Flint (OHL) during the 2019-20 season as a left-winger. During that season, he accumulated 17-goals and 16-assists in 55-games. He measures in at 6’0’’ and 175lbs.

According to Joey Tenute (NHLCSB), Othmann has “good playmaking ability and great puck skills. He plays with an edge and is always in your face.”

Othmann also told the media “I’m an offensive player who likes to put the puck in the net. But at the same time, I play a physical game and I like to get under guys’ skin.” He also gave Rangers fans something to dream about as he expressed his thoughts on what would happen if he were to play with Alexis Lafreniere and Kaapo Kakko: “I think if I’m able to play with those guys, they’re playmakers. And if I find the right spots on the ice, I think they feed me and I’ll put the puck in the back of the net all the time.”

That was the only pick the Rangers had in the first-round and it was a slight shock the team actually used it as many thought they would package the pick as part of a deal for somebody like Jack Eichel. Not to say that can’t still happen but this move definitely clouds the picture a bit. 

As for the Islanders, the team did not have a first-round pick, having traded it to the Devils as part of the Kyle Palmieri/Travis Zajac deal. 

That’s all for night one of the NHL’s Entry Draft. We’ll see you later for Rounds Two through Seven. And to all who were selected during the first-round, welcome to the NHL family.

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