LOS ANGELES, Calif. – The NHL draft made its debut in North America’s movie-making capital, but it didn’t exactly go to script.
A couple highly ranked prospects waited longer than expected to hear their name called and a few others made a surprising trip to the stage during the first round on Friday night in Los Angeles. On top of that, the heavy volume of trade chatter didn’t turn in to as much action as has been seen in years past.
About the only predictable part of the evening was seeing Edmonton take Taylor Hall with the No. 1 pick before Boston selected Tyler Seguin at No. 2. Soon after, teams started deviating from the rankings published by the NHL’s Central Scouting Bureau—Columbus used the fourth pick on centre Ryan Johansen (ranked 10th in North America); Carolina took centre Jeff Skinner at No. 7 (he was ranked 34th); and the New York Rangers made defenceman Dylan McIlrath the 10th selection (he was ranked 17th).
One of the main beneficiaries could end up being the Anaheim Ducks, who were surprisingly able to land Cam Fowler at No. 12. The Windsor Spitfires defenceman had been pegged to be go much sooner.
“We got lucky that a bunch of teams were looking for forwards,” said Ducks GM Bob Murray. “I think it started with Columbus when they took Johansen and it kind of just snowballed from there. We got very lucky today. …
“It was something we never thought was possible.”
He left the Staples Center feeling like a gambler who had gone on a hot run.
During his second trip to the podium, Murray turned the boos of Kings fans into cheers when he drafted California native Emerson Etem with the 29th pick. Some thought the winger from Long Beach might go in the top 10.
“We were looking over at him and his head just kept getting lower and lower,” said Murray. “He was a great interview, our guys loved him in the interviews. I think he’s a nice young man. All day long we kept thinking about moving up (to pick him) and finally we just said, ‘Nope, things are falling our way, let’s just leave it alone.’
“It turned out to be a real good day.”
That’s exactly how Oilers GM Steve Tambellini felt after adding Hall to his organization. He aggressively tried to pry the No. 2 pick from the Bruins, but couldn’t put together a package that satisfied Peter Chiarelli.
“It was worth a try,” said Tambellini. “I would have loved to have them both.”
The biggest deal of the night belonged to Canucks GM Mike Gillis, who addressed some of his needs on the blue-line by acquiring Keith Ballard from Florida for a package that included Steve Bernier, Michael Grabner and the 25th overall pick.
Ottawa Senators GM Bryan Murray also decided to trade his selection to land prospect David Rundblad from the St. Louis Blues. The Swedish defenceman was taken in the first round a year ago and the Senators believe he’ll be ready to play in the NHL sooner than anyone they could have drafted at No. 16.
“David’s going to play one more year in Sweden and we think he can step in and play in the NHL the next year,” said Murray.
The other Canadian teams were pretty quiet. The Montreal Canadiens were happy to get defenceman Jarred Tinordi in the No. 22 spot while Calgary Flames GM Darryl Sutter and Toronto Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke were both quiet—neither made a pick or a trade.
Like many of his counterparts, Burke had a number of discussions but couldn’t make anything work. He thinks the trade action might pick up on Saturday.
“I think there’s definitely some pressure on the floor there as far as teams that are trying to move (players with big contracts),” he said. “And I think that will manifest itself tomorrow more, where teams with cap space and budget might be able to do a few more things. But I think it’s hard to get someone to bite on throwing a first-round pick in in an effort to move money.
“So a second-rounder might be simpler to do.”
One of the more intriguing moves wasn’t announced in the arena because it came just after the first round came to an end. The Pittsburgh Penguins acquired the rights to defenceman Dan Hamhuis from Philadelphia for a third-round pick in 2011.
That will give Ray Shero a few extra days to speak with Hamhuis before he becomes an unrestricted free agent.
“I’ll have a conversation with Dan,” said Shero. “I’ve not talked to him yet. We just did the deal at the end of the first round. I’ll give him a call tonight, see if I can reach him, and try to sell him on the merits of playing in Pittsburgh.”
Even though the night lacked some of the sizzle that comes with major deals, one executive said it didn’t take anything away from the draft’s first-ever foray into California.
“It’s been exciting,” said St. Louis Blues president John Davidson. “I don’t think the draft is about trades so much. There’s some jostling going on for moving up or moving back depending on what your draft list looks like and what your depth chart looks like.
“It’s more about the kids.”