The 2014 NHL Draft allowed the New Jersey Devils to better address some of their organizational needs and I gave a grade to their selections. Now I have some observations on the other teams in their division, the Metropolitan Division, and some general observations of the Draft. I do not want to grade these other teams because I think that should be left to the media and the fans who know these teams better than I do. I know the Devils well enough that I know that I can grade their draft with a greater degree of credibility.
New York Rangers – did not have a first round pick. They chose a young goaltender, Brandon Halverson, in the second round and with the age of their current players at this position in their system that appears to be a good pick. In the 3rd round they selected Keegan Iverson who is a center from Portland in the WHL which is the same team which groomed a top 5 pick in last year’s draft, Seth Jones, so they definitely got a high end prospect there. They polished off the draft with two defensive players, Daniel Walcott and Tyler Nanne (his grandfather, Lou Nanne is a Hall of Famer)in the 5th round. Overall, it looks like they did the best they could with a limited amount of picks.
New York Islanders – took two offensive players in the first round Michael Dal Colle and Joshua Ho-Sang both of whom are highly touted by scouts throughout the league for their offensive potential. Some mock drafts this week had Ho-Sang linked to the Devils at the 30th spot. The Islanders made some bold moves in this draft including the 3rd round selection of a young Russian goaltender, Ilya Sorokin, who presumably will be the goalie of the future, or at least a candidate for that role. The team drafted another goalie, Linus Soderstrom, from Sweden in the 4th round and defenseman Devon Toews who has committed to Quinnipiac (which is a rival school to my alma mater, Marist College) also in the 4th round. The Islanders added center Kyle Schemp and Lukas Sutter in the later rounds. Sutter is of note because he was ranked at 39th and was drafted at 200 and is of the famed hockey Sutter family. The Islanders certainly are building for their future in Brooklyn with some of these moves particularly the two first round selections.
Philadelphia Flyers: The Devils rival from the City of Brotherly Love bolstered their defense with the addition of Travis Sanheim in the first round. Their second round choice, an offensive player named Nicolas Aube – Kubel graded out as the 40th prospect and they took him at pick #45. He was pretty solid in great junior league competition in Canada with 53 points in 65 games. Mark Friedman a defenseman in the USHL was their 3rd round pick. They had no 4th round choice and in the 5th round they took Swedish left winger Oskar Lindblow. The Flyers also took a project player in the 6th round Radel Fazleev who played in the WHL last season. This struck me as a safe draft for Flyers, with a new front office regime that makes sense, and there is also nothing wrong with doing that.
Pittsburgh Penguins: The Penguins have really shaken up their roster with the trade of James Neal which many see as a necessary move to free up salary cap space in order to lock up other current roster players into long term deals. Their first round pick was Kasperi Kapanen an offensive prospect and the son of longtime NHL player, Sami Kapanen, so you figure his hockey pedigree is very good. Pittsburgh selected Sam Lafferty a right winger in the 4th round and center Anthony Angello in the 5th round. Angello played in the USHL and was born in Albany, NY, the home of the Devils top farm team. Jaden Lindo was taken in the 6th round after his stint in the OHL which rounded out new GM Jim Rutherford’s first draft running the Penguins. He had a limited amount of picks and this is a “win now” team, so the priority is addressing the NHL level roster at this point.
Washington Capitals: What I noticed about their draft was it was filled with high value picks. In the first round they selected Jakub Vrana a center from the Czech Republic but who played in the Swedish League last season. In the 2nd round they selected Vitek Vanecek a goaltender also from the Czech Republic who was ranked the 8th prospect overall and the Caps selected him with the 39th pick. He will be groomed as the future at that position being such a high draft choice. Washington grabbed another top 25 level prospect with the 89th pick, Nathan Walker, a left wing player who is from Great Britain, and slid down the draft board to them. The final two selections were both right wingers: Steven Spinner and Kevin Elgestal both of whom project to be solid potential NHL players.
Carolina Hurricanes: In his first draft as new GM in Carolina Ron Francis brought in 6 new players and I think did overall a nice job with the picks they had available. This is a franchise that has changed course from spending money on veterans to going with younger players with better cost controls from an organizational perspective. Carolina added a potential future star with first round pick Haydn Fleury who spent last season in the top notch WHL with Red Deer. He has good size and great skating ability. He had a +15 rating and 46 points last season. Fleury can shoot from the point on the power play and pass the puck well (38 assists in a tough league) and ISS rated him the 2nd best defenseman in the draft next to Aaron Ekblad who of course was the first player taken in this Draft. They followed that up with a stellar pick in the 2nd round of workhorse goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic who played in the OHL and was very good last season there. They went offensively with their 3rd round pick Warren Foegele a left winger from Canada with big imposing size was added there. The ‘Canes had two 4th round picks in succession and they obtained Swedish center Lucas Wallmark and Josh Wesley a defenseman and son of former NHL player, Glen Wesley, who also becomes the first player from North Carolina to be drafted into the NHL. Francis rounded out his first draft with two very good looking prospects Clark Bishop, a center and Kyle Jenkins a defensive player with a high ceiling.
Columbus Blue Jackets: The Blue Jackets added 7 players in the Draft to build upon their playoff run from last season. Sonny Milano was their first round pick (16th overall) a left wing player from the USHL and a big time offensive player with 85 points scored for the U.S. Under -18 team. He is committed to Boston College, a big time program, for the Fall of 2014. Their second round pick was Ryan Collins a skilled defender who is committed to the University of Minnesota, another big time collegiate program. In the 3rd round, the Jackets had back-to-back picks at 76 and 77 overall and used them to select goalie Elvis Merzlikins from Latvia but who played in the Swiss league and is 20 years old, and Blake Siebenaler a defenseman. In the 4th round Columbus selected Julien Pelletier a left wing player who was projected as a 2nd round pick, and they got him at 107. Two young prospects and longer term projects: Tyler Bird and Olivier Leblanc closed out their draft class. I think the Blue Jackets could have two high impact players in Milano and Collins down the road after their college commitments.
The Metropolitan Division overall had strong draft acquisitions and these players will most likely represent the future of some outstanding rivalry games within this competitive division in the years to come.
(Some background and statistics courtesy of NHL.com, SI.com, and CBS Sports)