Edmonton Journal

Everyone’s a winner on NHL draft night

In June, teams can’t help but be optimistic about every move

- Michael Traikos mtraikos@postmedia.com twitter.com/Michael_ Traikos

SUNRISE, FLA. — Clearly, the Buffalo Sabres were the big winners of the NHL Entry Draft.

Or was it Edmonton? Or maybe Calgary? It is hard to say because Ottawa, Colorado and Los Angeles all seemed very happy with what they were able to accomplish on Friday.

Ditto Arizona, Toronto and Carolina.

It is always like this. Every first-round pick is described as a future franchise star. Every trade is deemed a success.

Everyone, whether they picked first, 30th or not at all is sort of happy with what they did or did not do.

That is the thing about the draft. Every team — even the cap-strapped Bruins, who were handcuffed into trading Milan Lucic and Dougie Hamilton for a pair of midfirst-round picks — believes they came out on top.

There were no real losers Friday night. Only varying degrees of winners. Well, at least that was the way general managers were spinning it.

“If you’d have told me we’d end up with (Jack) Eichel, (Evander) Kane and (Robin) Lehner for three firstround picks, I’d have said you were high on mushrooms,” Sabres GM Tim Murray, who also acquired centre Ryan O’Reilly from the Avalanche, said shortly after making a trade for a goaltender that some were calling horrible.

We’ll have to wait a year or so before we get the toxicology tests back on that one, but for now we’ll give the Sabres the benefit of the doubt. After all, they look a lot better today than two months ago, when they finished the season with a league-worst 23 wins.

And that is what makes the NHL Entry Draft so exciting. Right now, in the middle of summer, you cannot help but be optimistic. Trying to assign team grades on draft picks who are years away from playing is like trying to predict a winner in the first 10 seconds of a turtle race. It’s not only premature; it’s pointless.

Some, however, made a splash one way or another.

Edmonton, which surprised no one by selecting Erie Otters centre Connor McDavid with the No. 1 pick, seemed to take another step toward respectabi­lity by trading for defenceman Griffin Reinhart, a fourth-overall pick in 2012.

And Buffalo, as Murray exclaimed, received a pretty nice consolatio­n prize in the form of Boston University centre Jack Eichel.

From there, the draft order was up in the air.

Arizona, which had flirted with trading down, ended up taking Erie Otters centre Dylan Strome with the No. 3 pick.

Toronto then selected London Knights winger Mitch Marner fourth overall, followed by Carolina selecting Boston College defenceman Noah Hanifin to round out the Top Five.

“Coming on the way to the draft, there was trade talk,” said Strome, a Mississaug­a, Ont., native who led the Ontario Hockey League in scoring. “Boston got stacked with those three picks and people were saying they were going to trade it for Arizona’s pick. I didn’t know what to think. I was just hoping for the best.”

Indeed, it was the trades that caused the most chatter. In the last several years, the NHL Entry Draft has replaced the actual trade deadline as the time when teams significan­tly reshape their roster. And Friday night was no exception.

Calgary took advantage of a Boston team that had its feet to the fire and acquired the Hamilton in exchange for a first-round and a pair of second-round picks. The move gives a young Flames team, which already has 21-year-old Johnny Gaudreau, 20-year-old Sean Monahan and 19-year-old Sam Bennett, another player 23 or under.

And with McDavid and Reinhart in Edmonton, it should ensure the Battle of Alberta is going to be more than a pillow fight in the coming years.

Boston, meanwhi le, seemed to take itself out of the fight. Minutes after losing Hamilton in a deal that was universall­y panned, the Bruins sent Lucic to the Kings for goaltender Martin Jones, defenceman Colin Miller and the 13th overall pick.

Call it a rebuild or just plain confusing — Boston already has Tuukka Rask and highly touted goalie prospect Malcolm Subban — but GM Don Sweeney was spinning it as success.

“Our expectatio­n is to make the playoffs, yes,” Sweeney said.

The Sabres, who gave their rebuild a serious kick-start, also appeared to have the playoffs in mind. Although, in their case, it seems more legitimate.

They gave up a first-round pick to the Senators for goalie Robin Lehner and forward David Legwand and then paid an even steeper price — 20-year-old defenceman Nikita Zadorov, forward prospects Mikhail Grigorenko, J.T. Compher and the No. 31 pick — to the Avalanche for centre O’Reilly and winger Jamie McGinn.

“I know we’re going to hear that we paid too much,” said Murray.

“Every trade I’ve made we’ve paid too much. I get that. I don’t agree.”

Does that mean he won the trade? Well, of course. Everyone did.

 ?? Alan Diaz/The Associated Press ?? Jack Eichel, centre, poses with Buffalo Sabres executives after he was picked No. 2 in the NHL draft Friday in Sunrise, Fla.
Alan Diaz/The Associated Press Jack Eichel, centre, poses with Buffalo Sabres executives after he was picked No. 2 in the NHL draft Friday in Sunrise, Fla.
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