ST. PAUL, Minn. – The rebuilding is on for the Ottawa Senators and Edmonton Oilers and it showed over the two days of the NHL draft.
The Senators tore down their team late in the regular season and ended up with three first-round picks, then followed that up Saturday by acquiring talented but underperforming winger Nikita Filatov from the Columbus Blue Jackets.
The Oilers had two first-round picks and used the first overall selection to take the player almost unanimously considered the best in the draft—playmaking centre Ryan Nugent-Hopkins of the Red Deer Rebels.
A draft considered light at the top and average overall by most scouts wound up with 210 players selected, including 79 Canadians, 64 Americans and 28 Swedes, including three of the top six picks and four of the top 10.
As usual, it was of particular importance to weaker teams like Edmonton and Ottawa who are trying to use the draft to become contenders.
With a night to sleep after a frantic first round on Friday, Oilers general manager Steve Tambellini was still beaming as the teams plowed through rounds two to seven a day later.
”To look at the list and see, first of all, the skill level and vision of Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and to really start thinking about it, what’s it going to look like in the next few years when he plays with Taylor (Hall) or Jordan (Eberle) or Magnus (Paajarvi) _ that’s pretty exciting,” Tambellini said.
The Oilers, who took Hall first overall last year and now look to have found the ideal centre to get him the puck, have been in a rebuilding mode for a few years. Edmonton has missed the playoffs every year since reaching the Stanley Cup final in 2006.
Tambellini said the real focus was on strengthening his club’s defence prospects, although he opted for Nugent-Hopkins over the top rearguards in the draft like Adam Larsson, who went fourth overall to New Jersey.
He got Swedish blue-liner Oscar Klefbom with his second first-round pick and grabbed six-foot-three David Musil, son of Oilers scout and former player Frantisek Musil, with the top pick of the second round. Tambellini also selected Dillon Simpson, son of ex-Oiler star Craig Simpson, to lead off the fourth round.
”I’m excited about the fact that we really built the depth of our defencemen,” said Tambellini. ”Size for sure, and people that can play against speed, who can play against heavy players.
”We’ve got depth on the power-play position, like Dillon Simpson, who eventually will develop into a guy who can play that position.”
He said goalie coach Fred Chabot was also thrilled with third-round pick Samu Perhonen, a six-foot-five goaltender from Finland.
What could have been the coup de grace for the weekend—a deal to repatriate former captain Ryan Smyth from the Los Angeles Kings—hit a snag and left the veteran in limbo.
Finding themselves out of the post-season was more of a shock to the Senators, who have been in decline since their trip to the final in 2007. They only started the rebuilding process late in the regular season when they shipped out veterans Mike Fisher, Chris Kelly, Jarkko Ruutu, Chris Campoli and Alex Kovalev for picks and a prospect (Ryan Potulny).
The Senators got a complete forward line in the first round—Swedish centre Mika Zibanejad, right-winger Stefan Noesen from the Plymouth Whalers and left-winger Matt Puempel from the Peterborough Peters.
Then they added American centre Shane Prince of the Ottawa 67’s with the final pick of the second round.
”I’m really happy,” said general manager Bryan Murray. ”I always feel that in the years we have good drafts, when we walk away from the table the scouts are happy and they’re shaking hands because they think they got good players. I trust these guys.”
The key move for next season was Filatov, who was drafted sixth overall in 2008 but has played only 44 NHL games, collecting 13 points. He has spurned offers from the KHL so that he can continue his NHL career.
Murray said new coach Paul McLean saw the Russian frequently when he was an assistant coach in Detroit.
”We felt it was worth a chance _ that this young man could come into a team that’s hurting for offence and he provides some of that,” said Murray. ”Actually (McLean) was excited about getting a chance to coach him and see if he is going to be the calibre of player we thought he was going to be when he was a draftable person.
”There’s no risk in this. It’s a third-round pick (traded in return), which a guy who would play maybe four years from now, for a chance to get a guy who was No. 6 overall. It’s an absolute steal if he plays in the top six. And if he can’t, someone else will fill that role.”
It was the first draft for the team that confirmed its name will be the Winnipeg Jets, formerly the struggling Atlanta Thrashers. They were pleased with their draft, including the selection of big forward Mark Scheifele seventh overall.
The Toronto Maple Leafs also continued their rebuilding plans, making a deal for defenceman John-Michael Liles, adding the experienced Rick Dudley to their management team, and taking two picks late in the first round.
The Calgary Flames also sent longtime defence stalwart Robyn Regehr to Buffalo for defenceman Chris Butler and centre Paul Byron. They also signed Alex Tanguay, who has had good chemistry with captain and sniper Jarome Iginla, to a five-year extension worth US$3.5 million annually.
The Montreal Canadiens grabbed rushing defenceman Nathan Beaulieu from the Memorial Cup champion Saint John Sea Dogs with the 17th overall pick and used the 113th pick on 21-year-old Swede Magnus Nygren. GM Pierre Gauthier has a history of looking to Europeans overlooked in previous drafts.
The Vancouver Canucks were booed each time their name was called to make a pick by fans of their division rival Minnesota.
There were four top prospects up for grabs and they were the first picks as Edmonton got Nugent-Hopkins, Colorado picked forward Gabriel Landeskog, Florida took Saint John centre Jonathan Huberdeau and New Jersey got Larsson.
After that, opinion was widely split.
”Maybe at the top there’s not the high-end skill maybe you see in other drafts, but I think it was a deep draft to the point where if you picked from 20th to 50th, you were still getting players you really like, who are going to be solid contributors in the NHL some day,” said Bruins assistant GM Jim Benning.