One of the old-timey stories I never tire of hearing is how guys like Toronto Maple Leafs legend Darryl Sittler would get drafted eighth overall in the 1970s and not even know about it for hours or days because they were too busy shovelling something at their summer job.
Today, we can see into the living room of prospects on different continents in real time as they test the stitching of their best big-boy suits by jumping up and down and hugging people who are — hopefully — firmly within the family bubble.
It’s fair to say the first virtual NHL draft was a success. Day 1 saw some risers and fallers churn the mix a little bit, while the trade market was slightly more active on Day 2. So, with “love this pick!” having been declared for the final time in 2020, let’s examine the fallout from one of the league’s signature events.
New York Rangers: If you combine the past two regular seasons, seven teams had a worse points percentage than the Rangers. But, thanks to some serious lottery luck, the Blueshirts added Kaapo Kakko second overall in 2019 and, of course, Alexis Lafreniere to kick off the 2020 draft. Start spreading the news…
Ottawa Senators: Ottawa picked three times in Tuesday’s first round. Overall, the Sens added a player they believe can be a top centre (Tim Stuetzle, third overall), a six-foot-two defenceman (Jake Sanderson, fifth overall) and a 26-year-old goalie with two Stanley Cups on his resume in Matt Murray thanks to a low-risk deal with Pittsburgh. Add that to the mountain of quality young players and prospects that have already landed in Ottawa and you can begin dreaming big.
Teams that start with ‘W’: Cole Perfetti was routinely placed inside the top 5 picks in the mock drafts circulating before the real thing, yet there was the smart, creative centre just waiting to be nabbed by the giddy Winnipeg Jets at No. 10. Hendrix Lapierre — with a questionable injury history he believes is now sorted — was identified as the wild card of Round 1 and the Washington Capitals played a strong hand, moving up two spots to snag him. There must have been a lot of mask-covered smiles in both of those camps.
Quinton Byfield: Most significantly, Byfield became the highest-selected black player in NHL draft history when he went No. 2 overall to the Los Angeles Kings. He also crushed it on the fashion side of things with a white jacket and bowtie. Also, it looks like he’ll be starting his professional career in California. Not a bad night for the guy who — as we learned on the broadcast — sent a hand-written thank you card to the Sudbury Wolves when they drafted him into the OHL.
The Germans For the first time ever, two Germans (Stuetzle and Chicago’s Lukas Reichel) were taken in the first round. A third, John-Jason Peterka, was taken early in the second round by Buffalo. Leon Draisaitl’s options for off-season pick-up games are getting really good.
Everyone watching Round 1: Alex Trebek making a guest appearance to announce Ottawa’s first selection was amazing. Crystal Hawerchuk — wife of the recently deceased Dale Hawerchuk — calling Perfetti’s name for the Jets was downright touching, as was seeing ecstatic kids celebrate their dreams come true. Usually you get a few stiff family celebrations when people are maintaining some kind of proper public decorum. Put those same people on their own couch and suddenly they shriek and jump like the Stanley Cup-winning goal they’ve long fantasized about actually just happened. Watching Ozzy Wiesblatt and his crew go crazy after he closed out the night as the 31st pick was something else.
And just to do a little back-patting, the Sportsnet crew was on fire. The best moment had to be when everyone — from prospect guru Sam Cosentino, to Brian Burke to newcomer Mike Futa — all collectively shrugged and said “I got nothing” when Columbus went way off the board with Yegor Chinakhov at No. 21. That or ‘Sammy Coz’ saying on Day 2 that new Carolina Hurricane Vasily Ponomaryov was, “built like a small beer fridge.” Apparently that’s a good thing, by the way.
The concept of brevity: If you think baseball has a pace problem, you haven’t met Rounds 2-7 of the 2020 draft. Wow, was that a grind. I have attended one draft in my career and the speed with which things happened on Day 2 left my keyboard smoking. You could have run the Daytona 500 in the time it took to complete Rounds 2 and 3 alone. Talk about footspeed questions.
Arizona Coyotes: Punished for their bad behaviour under former GM John Chayka, the Yotes were dinged their 2020 second-rounder and 2021 first for violating combine testing regulations. Arizona, which had moved its 2020 first-rounder in the Taylor Hall deal, didn’t make a selection until taking Mitchell Miller No. 111. (No pressure, Mitch!) Surely new GM Bill Armstrong was hoping to complete a deal or two that would have allowed him to move into the derby earlier and start putting his stamp on the organization.
Monster Trade Lovers: Speaking of the Coyotes, Oliver Ekman-Larsson isn’t a Boston Bruin or Vancouver Canuck yet and Patrik Laine — the other star player said to be on the move — continues to be a Winnipeg Jet. That could all change very quickly, but usually we get a couple spicy swaps while we watch the next generation of NHLers get selected. Though we got some second-tier trades, there was nothing truly jaw-dropping to freak out about.
Detroit Red Wings: This is no reflection of the Red Wings’ decisions. Count me as one of the people who believe we have to find a way to get teams that find themselves in awful situations a path to the top of the draft board. Conspicuous tanking — the kind that makes leagues worry about optics and the integrity of games — is never going to be a thing like it was when the New Jersey Devils and Pittsburgh Penguins were being as putrid as possible in pursuit of Mario Lemieux. And even if it was, I agree with the adage you’re either selling wins or hope. Detroit had the worst points percentage if you combine the past two regular seasons, yet, between 2019 and 2020, there were eight players they never had a chance to draft. Let’s at least amend this thing to prevent teams — like the Rangers — from making big jumps into the top three in consecutive years.
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