This draft class did not have had the same kind of hype around it as the previous two drafts, which were headlined by players like Connor McDavid, Jack Eichel, Auston Matthews, and Patrik Laine. Despite this, there are still some teams that are coming out of this draft much stronger, while others did not do as well. It is impossible to tell how these young draft picks will turn out before they have even played a game, but based on what is known, here are the winners and losers of the 2017 NHL draft.
Los Angeles Kings
The LA Kings had the 11th selection in the first round and were looking at drafting a player like Owen Tippet or Nick Suzuki, depending on who was available. There was one player in particular who changed their entire draft plans. Gabe Vilardi, who played for the Windsor Spitfires of the OHL last season, scored 61 points in 49 games and was a key contributor in their Memorial Cup victory. Many scouts and members of the media had him ranked as high as third overall and that is where many expected him to go. As the picks started to come in, Gabe Vilardi’s name was not being named. Then at the 11th pick the Kings finally ended his waiting by selecting him. This may be the steal of the draft as he has some of the largest upside of any player in this year’s draft. He is someone who could get a chance to play his way onto the team next year and may become their best forward with some work on his skating ability.
Vegas Golden Knights
Being the new team in the league, the Vegas Golden Knights had no real NHL prospects in their system. Acquiring some through this draft was general manager, George McPhee’s, main priority. After some smart trades during the expansion draft, the Golden Knights came into the weekend with three first round picks, all of which came in the first half of the round. With those picks they selected Cody Glass, Nick Suzuki, and Erik Brannstrom. These three picks all have terrific upside and really give Vegas a great start in acquiring young talent. Cody Glass is good enough to be competing for a roster spot next year, while the other two will most likely continue to develop for a year or two before making the jump to the NHL. They also took Nick Hague early on in the second round, he has the ability to become a shutdown defender in the NHL. After this draft it has become obvious that they will not be lagging behind their opponents for very long.
Even though they were the first team to pass up on Gabe Vilardi, they still did a great job of filling the needs that they have. After lucking out and winning the third overall selection in this draft, they addressed the need for a defenceman by selecting Miro Heiskanen. He is a fantastic puck-moving blueliner and he will fit right in with the core that they already have back there. That right there could have been enough for their draft to be considered successful, but they were not done just yet. The Stars traded with the Chicago Blackhawks to get the 26th pick in the draft in order to get ahead of the St. Louis Blues, who were interested in the same player. With their new pick, the Stars used it to select Jake Oettinger, the goalie from Boston University. Taking a goalie in the first round can be risky, but many scouts believe that Oettinger is worth the risk. The Stars recently acquired Ben Bishop to be their starting goalie and they hope that Oettinger will be ready to step in when Bishop is no longer starting goalie caliber. These two selections really solidified the idea that they want to be contenders for many years to come.
Edmonton Oilers – Their first round selection was Kailer Yamamoto and many believe that he can be a Johnny Gaudreau type player. The skill that he possesses is world class, but he may be held back by his size.
Toronto Maple Leafs – Their first round selection was Timothy Liljegren. At the beginning of the year, he was the top ranked defenceman in the draft, but suffered from mononucleosis in November and struggled the rest of the year. He still has tremendous upside with Erik Karlsson being his comparable.
It seems strange to say that the back-to-back Stanley Cup champions are losers coming out of this weekend, but this draft was not good for them. They had the 31st pick in the first round, but they elected to trade it to the St. Louis Blues in exchange for Ryan Reeves. Their pick would have been a second round pick in any draft before this one, but Reeves is still not worth that much. He is an overvalued enforcer in a league that does not need them anymore. What is even more confusing is the fact that the player who was taken by St. Louis with the Penguins pick is exactly the type of player that they have built cup-winning teams with. Klim Kostin was the player taken and many have compared him to Bryan Rust and Conor Sheary. It just does not make sense why they would change their philosophy when they have just won two consecutive Stanley Cups with it.
The Washington Capitals went all in on winning a Stanley Cup this year, but came up short in the second round once again. They need to go through a process of cycling out some of their older talent and bringing in some new talent through the draft. Bringing in new talent through the draft is very hard when your highest pick is in the fourth round. They had a total of four draft picks this year, three of which were defencemen. Their top pick, Tobias Geisser, had a disappointing season and he really does not have a very good chance of ever making it onto an NHL team. To make things even worse, they signed TJ Oshie to an eight year contract before the beginning of the first round for a total value of $46 million. He will be 38 years old by the end of this contract and the Capitals will be feeling the negative effect of this contract very soon. Their window is nearly shut and it is time for them to just accept their fate and actually make some draft picks.
I will give the Blackhawks credit where credit is due; having Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews makes the first selection was really cool to see. Their draft pick was not bad either. I can see Henri Jokiharju turning into a useful enough player for the Blackhawks, especially if they continue to move players at their current pace. That was why they were big losers on this draft weekend. Their first trade of the day saw them sending Nick Hjalmarsson to Arizona for Connor Murphy and Laurent Dauphin. With what the price for good defencemen has been recently, it seems strange that this is all that they are getting back in return. It is an extremely underwhelming return on a player who meant so much to the team. And that was not the only questionable trade for Stan Bowman. Later that day he sent Artemi Panarin, who scored 77 and 74 points in his first two NHL seasons, for Brandon Saad, who Bowman traded away just two seasons ago. I understand that there were salary cap reasons for this trade, but it is still a terrible trade for them. Even now they are still over the salary cap so more trades are sure to come. This is the first time in many years that there is reason to be skeptical with Blackhawks management.
Montreal Canadiens: Their first round selection was Ryan Poehling. I do not see him ever materializing into a roster player for the Canadiens, and he also made the mistake of saying what an honour it was to be drafted by Toronto then quickly correcting himself. That mistake will not be forgotten quickly.
Detroit Red Wings: Their first round selection was Michael Rasmussen. He may or may not turn into an NHL player, but the real reasons that they are losers is that this is the first time since 1991 that they picked within the top ten, and it looks like they could be having a few more in the upcoming years.