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TRAIKOS: Scout says Habs, Jets, Leafs were big Canadian team winners at NHL draft

TRAIKOS: Scout says Habs, Jets, Leafs were big Canadian team winners at NHL draft

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The Habs took the best player. The Jets took the biggest chances. And based on what little the Flames ended up with, it seems as though they had taken the week off to focus their energy on re-signing Johnny Gaudreau.

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With the NHL entry draft behind us, we caught up with North American Central Scouting’s Mark Seidel on how the Canadian teams fared.

Montreal Canadiens Grade: A-plus

Rookie GM Kent Hughes showed he wasn’t willing to play it safe by passing on projected top pick Shane Wright (who dropped to No. 4, where Seidel had him ranked) and swinging for the fences on Slovakian winger Juraj Slafkovsky. We won’t know for another year or two if it was the right decision. But Seidel believed the Canadiens, who had 11 picks, “hit it out of the park” with their choices. The best of those included grabbing the small, but skilled Filip Mesar at No. 26, “future No. 3 centre” Owen Beck at No. 33, and defenceman Lane Hutson at No. 62, who “could be quarterbacking the power play” in a few years. “Those picks, and adding second-line centreman Kirby Dach, make the Canadians the big winners of the weekend,” said Seidel.

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Winnipeg Jets Grade: A

With five picks in the top 100 — including two in the first round — the Jets were able to add more than just warm bodies to their growing pipeline. Rutger McGroarty (No. 14) is a power forward who Seidel compares to Tyler Toffoli, while the speedy Brad Lambert (No. 30) was someone who at one time was considered a top-5 prospect before struggling against men in the Finnish league. The big wild card, however, could be Russian centre Danil Zhilkin (No. 77), whose passport may have been the only thing preventing him from being selected higher. “The Jets are counting on both Zhilkin and Lambert to bounce back as we go forward,” said Seidel, “and if they do they may have three or four potential NHL players out of this weekend.”

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Toronto Maple Leafs Grade: A-minus

For the third time in four years, the Leafs did not have a first-round pick. And yet, despite having to package their 25th overall selection to Chicago in exchange for taking on Petr Mrazek’s contract, Seidel believed the GM Kyle Dubas managed to add to the team’s depleted cupboard. “Fraser Minten (No. 38) was not the sexiest name on the board, but he looks like a solid bet to be their third-line centre in a few years,” said Seidel, adding that Nicholas Moldenhauer, who Toronto got at No. 95 but who was ranked 48th on his list, “is a skilled winger” who had 43 points in 41 games in the USHL. “However, the home run pick that nobody foresaw was the selection of the massive 20-year-old goaltender Dennis Hildeby,” said Seidel. “He has the tools to become a solution in net in the not-too-distant future.”

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Ottawa Senators Grade: B

After picking in the top-10 in three of the past four drafts, the Senators traded their first-round selection to Chicago for Alex Debrincat, a 2016 second-round pick who has scored the third-most goals in his draft class. In a draft that was lacking in top-end depth, chances are whoever Ottawa had been looking at with the No. 7 pick won’t be as nearly as impactful. Despite the trade, the Senators still had nine picks. And according to Seidel, they made the most of them. “They got guys like big winger Oskar Pettersson (No. 72), slick defender Tomas Hamara (No. 87), high scoring re-entry from the USHL Stephen Halliday (No. 104) and Jorion Donovan (No. 136), a high-end defenceman from the OHL champion Hamilton Bulldogs, who is also the son of player development coach, Shean Donovan.”

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Vancouver Canucks Grade: B-minus

After missing out on a first-round pick for the past two years, the Canucks went back to a familiar well for their No. 15 selection. Jonathan Lekkerimaki is small and skilled and creative with the puck. He also happens to be Swedish, where Vancouver has had a lot of success in the past. “The Canucks were extremely fortunate to have the highly skilled offensive machine fall to them,” said Seidel, who had the 5-foot-11 and 165-pound winger ranked 11th. “Lekkerimaki is not the biggest or the quickest guy on the ice, but he generates offence and produces points at a tremendous rate.” The Canucks, who hope Lekkerimaki turns out to be the next Brock Boeser, used their next pick on Elias Pettersson, who shares the name — and not necessarily the playing style — of the Canucks superstar centre. As for the rest of their picks, Seidel said to watch out for goalie Ty Young (No. 144), who was one of the youngest players in the draft.

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Edmonton Oilers Grade: C-plus

In order to shed Zack Kassian’s $3.2-million cap hit off the books, the Oilers had to move down from 29th to 32nd in the draft. Still, they managed to get 6-foot-3 winger Reid Schaefer, whom Seidel had ranked at 27th. “The big power forward was a key to the great season that the Seattle Thunderbirds had,” Seidel said of a player whom he compares to Mark Stone. “He was an absolute force throughout the playoffs. There were players available with more notoriety, but I think it will prove to be a good pick that is a solid NHL producer.” From there, it was slim pickings for the Oilers, who didn’t have any picks in the second, third or fourth rounds. But one player to keep an eye on is 20-year-old Joel Maatta (No. 222), an “effective two-way centre” who because of his age could get to the NHL sooner rather than later.

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Calgary Flames Grade: C-minus

With only three picks — the highest being 59th overall — it was always going to be difficult for Calgary to come out of the draft with a ton of future NHL talent. The player with the most potential is Topi Ronni, a 6-foot-2 centre out of Finland who the Flames grabbed in the second round. “He has a chance to be a good two-way centre, but we felt there were many better candidates at that spot.” Perhaps GM Brad Treliving was preoccupied with trying to re-sign Johnny Gaudreau. He better get it done. According to Seidel, “there was not anything here that will make them forget Johnny Hockey if he leaves.”

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