We’re just a few hours away from the NHL Draft, so I thought I would put together a few quick hits to tide you over before Gary Bettman gets up to say “we have a trade to announce” for the first time and every NHL GM talks about how wonderful Dallas is as a city.
At the beginning of the junior hockey season, I highlighted four draft-eligible players from the WHL–Ty Smith, Jett Woo, Riley Sutter and Alexander Alexeyev. So, how did there season go and where might you see them go tonight? Smith, the left-handed defenseman from Spokane, finished the year with 73 points in 69 games and another 7 points in 7 playoff games. Central Scouting had him ranked 14th among North American Skaters and that is also where he finished the season. ISS had him ranked at 19th at the end of the season. Some rankings have him as high as #8 and others in the mid-late 20’s. That is the nature of this year’s draft though–there is some depth in the draft and a wide variance in rankings outside of the top 2-3 picks.
Jett Woo really fell off the radar as the year went on. Missing 28 games with an upper-body injury in your draft year will do that. Some early rankings had him as a mid-late first round pick, but Central Scouting had him as the 28th best North American skater and ISS didn’t have him ranked in the first round. His 25 points in 44 games wasn’t particularly remarkable and his playoff performance–3 points in 14 games–certainly didn’t help things. Based on how the season went, I’d say Woo projects more as a dependable, second pairing defenseman who is good all around, but not stellar in the offensive zone. There are enough positives that he will probably go in the first half of the second round.
Riley Sutter finished the season with a solid, but not spectacular, 53 points in 68 games. He had a very good stint in the playoffs with 19 points in 21 games. Sutter will probably still be on the board after the second round. A solid two-way player, who plays the center position, has size, pedigree and plays his best hockey in the playoffs…some GM could get bold and take him in the second round. In all likelihood, he projects as a very good third line center that can occasionally slot in on the second line.
Alexander Alexeyev put up 37 points in 45 games this season and followed it up with 5 points in 3 playoff games. Like Woo, he’s had injury issues, but, when healthy, he’s been looked to contribute more than Woo, routinely logging 20 plus minutes a night. Like Woo, he’s a solid, two-way defenseman, but, to this point, he’s had more offensive upside. So, it shouldn’t be too surprising that Alexeyev has been ranked higher than Woo, showing up at 24th on the final ISS rankings and 22nd on Central Scouting’s North American skater list. There is a lot of risk in picking Alexeyev in the first round, but given the importance of defense, it wouldn’t be shocking to see a team take him with one of the last ten picks in the first round.
If somehow Ty Smith was still on the board at 18, I’d be stoked to see the Jackets get him, though they are more likely to prioritize a forward and the odds of Smith slipping that far seem low given the number of teams in need of a defenseman picking ahead of Columbus.
- It wouldn’t be the offseason without some sort of contract drama for the Jackets. Last year we saw Josh Anderson‘s contract negotiations draft out until the fall. This year, drama regarding the extension of Artemi Panarin has come a year early after the 2019 UFA-to-be stated he was not yet ready to sign an extension come July 1. Jarmo Kekalainen was, predictably, calm about the situation, but he’s also going to spend the weekend seeing what the market is for the dynamic wing, which is the smart thing to do. Despite the gloom and doom from certain local beat writers, Panarin isn’t going anywhere unless someone wants to overpay the Jackets.
- Interestingly, Kekaleinen made a comment that what went for Panarin, also went for Sergei Bobrovsky, which was largely ignored as people focused on the Panarin rumors. The Jackets didn’t have an easy go the last time they had to negotiate an extension with Bobrovsky, but their internal options to replace Bobrovsky next year are uncertain at best given the season Joonas Korpisalo had and the fact that Elvis Merzlikins has yet to play in North America. The fact that Bobrovsky will likely be looking for a raise and a long-term deal when he is already making over $7 million/season is a concern for the Jackets going forward. Something to watch.
- As always, there are a lot of rumors out there about potential trade bait. Ryan O’Reilly is a player Buffalo would like to move before his bonus payment on July 1, but doing so may require them accepting a lesser haul than they would get after July 1. After the second pick in the draft, it wouldn’t be a shock to see any team move down. Carolina is looking to move Jeff Skinner and, potentially, Elias Lindholm. Craig Anderson and, perhaps, Erik Karlsson could be on the move for Ottawa, which begs the question whether Matt Duchene might also be on the move again with only 1 year left on his deal on yet another team that doesn’t seem to be a contender. The Habs are looking to move Max Pacioretty, and also to finally get a second line center. So, could be a lot of busy real estate agents this weekend.
- Get ready for the annual Ilya Kovalchuk tease. Los Angeles and Vegas seem to be the leaders, but you should probably expect him to sign with a Russian team when it is all said and done because that’s how he rolls.