If you were hoping for some unpredictability with the order of first-round picks, you weren’t disappointed on Friday. However, if you were looking for some significant trades or just simply the nasally voice of Gary Bettman stating “We have a trade to announce!” then you were left wanting more. I guess we’ll just have to wait at least one more day for the deals.
Jack Hughes and Kaapo Kakko were drafted 1-2 by the Devils and Rangers respectively, just as we all expected. Let the comparisons begin. Who’s the better bet for your fantasy team? Well, pick up your Prospects Report and you’ll find out lots more. If you have yours already, you can now compare the actual results of the draft to the pre-draft rankings and the mock drafts.
One big surprise was the selection of Kirby Dach at number three by the Blackhawks. I don't believe Dach was listed in the top 5 of many mock drafts, but the Hawks obviously valued his upside as a potential number one center. Another surprise (at least in the first half of the first round) was the number of blueliners picked. In a draft year that wasn’t considered overly deep on defense, five blueliners were chosen within the top 15. Many mock drafts might have had only three in the first 15.
One pick of interest locally was Vancouver Giants’ defenseman Bowen Byram, who was the first d-man chosen, going fourth overall to the Avalanche. I had a thought that Byram could fall as far as sixth, given the needs and perceived interests of the teams drafting third, fourth, and fifth. The Avalanche already appear stockpiled with young promising blueliners such as Cale Makar, Samuel Girard, and Connor Timmins, so I’m a bit surprised that they went with Byram, in spite of his growing upside.
Immediately following the Byram pick, there was plenty of buzz that a Tyson Barrie trade was imminent (especially from Canucks’ fans). With a year left on his contract, Barrie seems like trade bait at this point. However, would one of Makar or Girard be ready to step into a PP1 role for a team that looks ready to take the next step? As for Byram, junior hockey fans in the Lower Mainland should safely assume that he’ll be back with the Giants in 2019-20.
For more draft analysis, you’ll want to check out this week’s The Journey. I promised Brayden that I wouldn’t overlap his writing, which is why I’m not going through the draft pick by pick. He’s covering some first-round picks of interest from Friday, and he’s also listing some notable names that are still on the board for the second round and beyond.
You can also watch this four-minute recap of the draft from NHL.com:
A specific question from Twitter that I didn’t get a chance to answer, and I’m sure others are probably wondering the same thing: If Kakko is more NHL ready than Hughes, would it be better to pick Kakko first overall in your keeper league? I’ll agree with Dobber in saying that the long-term gain in owning Hughes should outweigh the short-term gain in owning Kakko. In a pure single-season league, I could see the argument in picking Kakko ahead of Hughes for the reason that he is considered more NHL-ready and the fact that he’s a left winger, a position that doesn’t have as many top scorers as the center position. There’s a few factors to consider, though, which I described in an earlier Ramblings.
With Hughes and Kakko the two most likely draft picks to play in the NHL, let’s look at how their additions will affect their respective teams from a near-term perspective (assuming they both reach the NHL right away).
Fellow first overall picks Hughes and Nico Hischier should form a solid 1-2 combination up the middle for the Devils in the years to come. I’d assume that Hischier falls to the second line, although it’s also safe to assume that both will be on the first-unit power play going forward. That first-unit power play should also include Taylor Hall and Kyle Palmieri, both of whom should be positively impacted by the elite-level speed and playmaking of Hughes. Of course, Hall has only a year left on his contract, so we still have to wait and see which direction the young Devils go.
Pavel Zacha was the sixth overall pick in 2015. Four years later, we’re still waiting for him to crack 30 points. Is it now fair to say that he’s running out of time? Well, he is about to reach that magical fourth season in which many players break out. As well, he is a big-bodied forward who has played only around 200 games, so there’s still some time left to be patient if you have a deep allowance for prospects. However, the younger Hischier is already ahead of him on the depth chart, and new franchise centerpiece Hughes will likely soon be as well. Zacha’s fantasy value sure isn’t on the upswing.
It seems as though Travis Zajac has been around forever. Actually, only a dozen years, but that’s still a long time. So it might seem surprising that Zajac actually increased his point total by 20 last season (although playing 17 more games helps). Zajac already had an OZ start % of 36.49, so he’s already being used in a defensive role anyway. Zajac won’t be on many fantasy radars anyway, and the addition of Hughes shouldn’t increase that number.
If Kakko is in fact NHL-ready, the Rangers could potentially throw him on the top line with Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider at some point during the season. However, Kreider’s name has been on the trading block recently. Kreider has just a year left on his contract, but the Jacob Trouba trade plus any potential free agent acquisitions (Artemi Panarin?) could fast-track that rebuild. Like there is on many non-playoff teams, there’s opportunity for blue-chip prospects right off the hop. If Vitali Kravtsov is also a top-6 center going forward, then he is also a potential linemate for Kakko.
Players such as Vladislav Namestnikov, Jimmy Vesey, and even Pavel Buchnevich could find their top-6 and power-play icetime eventually reduced with the Kakko acquisition. These are players that Rangers’ veteran beat writer Larry Brooks describes as endangered species. For now they are probably safe, but their days could be numbered when the youth movement of Kakko, Kravtsov, Filip Chytil, and Lias Andersson is finally ready to take over.
Although I didn’t get a chance to attend the draft in person, this has been a fun past couple of days for me. For starters, I’ve used the opportunity to connect in person with a few local-ish Dobber Hockey writers. As well, I was able to attend the Jason Botchford tribute in Vancouver on Thursday night. Entertainment included a couple of standup comedians, a live band, a Canucks panel that featured several local media personalities, and an NHL panel that included Bob McKenzie, Pierre LeBrun, James Duthie, James Mirtle, and Craig Custance. Even though this was a memorial for an outstanding writer who left us suddenly, a great time was had by all.
In case you’re not familiar with Botchford, he was the person that Elias Pettersson mentioned during his Calder Trophy acceptance speech.
Many fellow local hockey fans that I spoke to were in the same boat as I was as far as inability to obtain tickets at a reasonable price (or in my case, just missing the cut on obtaining a press pass). So it's worth mentioning how the industry of tracking prospects has grown exponentially over the last decade.
I was fortunate enough to attend the NHL draft the last time it was in Vancouver, which was 2006. A buddy and I were easily able to buy tickets, which were somewhere in the neighborhood of $10 each. We were able to watch now-established stars such as Jonathan Toews, Nicklas Backstrom, and Phil Kessel put on an NHL jersey for the first time. Fast forward to 2019, where secondary market tickets landed in the triple digits, as it was nearly impossible to buy tickets at face value when they first went on sale to the general public.
The top-notch coverage of scouting sites such as Dobber Prospects has helped drive the growth in interest toward the hockey prospects industry. And it's not just from a fantasy hockey perspective. I've learned that hockey fans are also interested because they like to know who the next big stars are and which young players could be a great fit for their favorite team.
If you're planning to go to next year's draft in Montreal, expect much of the same as what I've described as the Vancouver experience this year. Attending the draft might be impossible if not pricey, but there may also be other events that you can take in as the hockey world lands in your city. Draft parties at someone's home, the neighborhood pub, or your local team's arena are always great options, and you can do all of those from anywhere.
For more fantasy hockey information, or to reach out to me directly, you can follow me on Twitter @Ian_Gooding.
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