ST. PAUL, Minn. – Any speculation that the Edmonton Oilers would cause a stir at the NHL draft ended quickly Friday.
The team called out the name of playmaking centre Ryan Nugent-Hopkins on a night when the Winnipeg Jets were reborn.
It was an evening of tributes and trades that also saw the Jets touch on a piece of their history by using the seventh pick to select forward Mark Scheifele, who is coached by former Winnipeg star Dale Hawerchuk with the Barrie Colts.
And Swedish players remained in vogue, as three of the top six, and six in total, were taken in the 30 first selections.
The Oilers, as they did a year ago when they made Taylor Hall the first overall pick, opted not to trade the pick—or take a defenceman as some suggested—and went with the gifted Nugent-Hopkins, who was the consensus choice among scouts as the best player available.
The Red Deer Rebels centre who had 106 points in 69 Western Hockey League games this season joins a rising Edmonton squad stacked with talented young forwards.
“Definitely it’s going to be great,” said the six-foot Nugent-Hopkins, who has his thin frame up to 174 pounds and hopes to put on more weight before making the jump to the NHL. “I’m going to be able to relate to all the young guys in the system already.
“So just joining a group like that is very exciting for me. I just can’t wait to get started.”
The Burnsby, B.C., native, who led the WHL with 75 assists last season, added he was proud to be the first British Columbian ever taken first overall in the draft. He wasn’t surprised to go to the five-time Stanley Cup champion Oilers.
“I had a rough idea but I really didn’t know what was going to happen,” Nugent-Hopkins said. “I’m just relieved.”
The Oilers got a defenceman when they used their second first rounder, 19th overall, to chose Sweden’s Oscar Klefbom, a six-foot-two, 204-pounder who is said to be strong at both ends of the ice.
“We’ve been following (Nugent-Hopkins) pretty hard,” said general manager Steve Tambellini. “He’s a great player, great intelligence, and I always felt that if we didn’t take him, we’d leave something on the table.”
After Nugent Hopkins, there were no surprises among the next three—big and gifted Swedish left-winger Gabriel Landeskog of the Kitchener Rangers went second to the Colorado Avalanche; slick centre Jonathan Huberdeau of the Saint John Sea Dogs went third to the Florida Panthers; and defenceman Adam Larsson of Skelleftea of the Swedish league went fourth to the New Jersey Devils.
Huberdeau finished third in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League with 105 points and was named MVP after leading the Sea Dogs to the Memorial Cup.
“I couldn’t ask for anything more this season,” Huberdeau said. “I did everything on the ice I had to do and we won everything, so it was great.
“Now it was up to a team to decide and I’m glad Florida took me.”
Things went a little off script as the New York Islanders took centre Ryan Strome of the Niagara IceDogs fifth, the Ottawa Senators went for centre Mika Zibanejad of Sweden’s Djurgarden club sixth and the Jets went for a long shot in six-foot-three centre Scheifele, who was projected to go later in the first round.
When the time came for Winnipeg’s selection, True North chairman Mark Chipman formally announced that the team would be named the Jets. General manager Kevin Cheveldayoff then selected Scheifele to cheers from the large contingent of Jets fans who had made the eight-hour drive to St.Paul.
The centre who had 22 goals and 75 points in 66 Ontario Hockey League games this season wore a wide grin as he spoke to the media in a generic black and white jersey that will soon be replaced by new colours.
True North bought the Atlanta Thrashers franchise with the intention of moving them to Winnipeg May 31. The NHL board of governors approved the deal this week.
Centre Sean Couturier of the Drummondville Voltigeurs went eighth to the Philadelphia Flyers and six-foot-four defenceman Doug Hamilton of the Niagara IceDogs when ninth to the Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins.
A year ago, Couturier was dubbed as the likely No. 1 overall pick in the 2011 draft, but his stock fell after a so-soperformance as Canada’s only “underage” player at the world junior championship.
When asked if he was disappointed, the six-foot-three Couturier said: “Not really. Anything can happen in a draft. Once you get to camp it’s a whole new story. I’m looking forward to it. I think it’s going to be up to me to work hard this summer and show what I’ve got.”
Before the draft began, commissioner Gary Bettman was joined on stage by the widow and two daughters of former Central Scouting boss E.J. McGuire, who died of cancer during the season. In a touching moment, the McGuire family gathered at the microphone and in unison gave Edmonton the traditional invitation to the stage for the first pick.
There was also a tribute to long-time Calgary Flames governor Harley Hotchkiss, who died last week.
And the New York Rangers also took time before they chose American forward J.T. Miller 15th overall to pay tribute to enforcer Derek Boogaard, who was found dead in his apartment a month ago in what was listed as an accidental death.
Eleven of the top 30 first rounders went to Canadian teams.
Ottawa ended up with three first-rounders. They used Nashville’s 21st pick, obtained in the Mike Fisher trade, to select right-winger Stefan Noesen of the Plymouth Whalers. Then they made a deal with Detroit to get the 24th pick and took scoring forward Matt Puempel of the Peterborough Petes.
Zibanejad, who had five goals playing in as a 17-year-old in the Swedish senior league, was pleased to be a Senator.
“I had a feeling, but there were some good players battling for that spot and to go that early is an amazing feeling,” he said. “I’ll do everything I can to work hard and make the team.”
The Calgary Flames got Swiss forward Sven Bartschi of the Portland Winter Hawks 13th overall, the Montreal Canadiens got defenceman Nathan Beaulieu of Saint John 17th and the Vancouver Canucks took Danish forward Nicklas Jensen of the Oshawa Generals 29th.
The Toronto Maple Leafs had two late first rounders, but traded up to 22nd to take big right winger Tyler Biggs from the US under-18 team and got Mississauga defenceman Stuart Percy 25th overall.
The last pick of the round was Sweden’s Rickard Rakell to Anaheim.
Rounds two through seven of the draft go Saturday.