The draft order is basically set for 2019, with only Boston and St. Louis’ first rounders to be determined by the Stanley Cup final (and Anaheim actually owns that Blues pick). We also know where certain conditional picks fall – the New York Rangers, for example, won’t get first-rounders from Tampa or Dallas, as those teams didn’t do enough in the playoffs. So with things a little more clear, which scouting departments need to be especially on point when the festivities hit Vancouver in a month?
The draft is obviously important for every franchise, but thanks to trades, lottery results and current rebuild status, the selections made can have more weight for some teams. Let’s take a look at five interesting cases.
We all know that Jack Hughes and Kaapo Kakko will be the first two players off the board, but who is No. 3? There is a variety of opinions on this and Chicago is the team making that third pick. Do the Hawks go with a potential No. 1 center in Dylan Cozens, Kirby Dach or Alex Turcotte, or do they grab the top-rated defenseman on the board, Bowen Byram? The Hawks are pretty deep in defense prospects right now (Henri Jokiharju, Adam Boqvist, Nicolas Beaudin, Ian Mitchell, Chad Krys), but can you ever really have enough? On the other hand, finding a top future pivot who will eventually have to take on Jonathan Toews’ minutes is pretty important: the only center in Chicago’s Future Watch top 10 is Penn State’s Evan Barratt. Or maybe the Hawks like powerful Russian winger Vasili Podkolzin. Even if they have to wait a couple years for him to come over, he’s worth the price.
New York Rangers
The Rangers will take Kakko with the second overall pick, that much is obvious (unless the Devils shock the world and bequeath them Hughes), but New York also has Winnipeg’s first round selection. Thanks to the Jets’ clunker of a post-season, that pick is 20th overall – a pretty nice slot. But wait! There’s more. The Rangers also have two second-rounders thanks to trades with Tampa and Dallas. This gives GM Jeff Gorton and his staff an incredible amount of flexibility to move up or down, based on how they see the draft board. Could the Rangers package that second first-rounder or one of the second-rounders to get something they really want? Certainly. But it also allows a scouting department that has drafted very well in the past two years to overstuff the cupboards. The rebuild is already looking very nice in New York and this draft class could put it over the top.
Detroit Red Wings
This is an absolutely crucial draft for Detroit, which has a high first-rounder (sixth overall) and three second-rounders to play with. With Steven Yzerman taking over as GM, it could also be a chaotic one. How much will his fingerprints be on this draft, or will he cede all trust in current director of amateur scouting Tyler Wright and his staff? The Red Wings need to continue accruing assets in their rebuild and while the results have been pretty good so far (Joe Veleno is already looking like a steal at 30th overall last year), Detroit needs to keep pushing. The Red Wings will be one of the teams affected by Chicago’s decision at No. 3, as the tier after Hughes and Kakko stretches at least into pick No. 8. Is Byram there for them? What about Trevor Zegras? A lot can happen here.
Columbus Blue Jackets
Columbus scouts have the most impossible job of any crew this summer: find value with just two bullets in the chamber. Thanks to a series of go-for-it trades (and hey, you gotta go for it some time), the Jackets currently have a third-rounder and a seventh-rounder. That’s it. Now, there is a sense that GM Jarmo Kekalainen will try to grab a pick or two back through trade, but how much of a dent can he make? As it is, the Blue Jackets must be laser-focused on their two slots, though neither will be high. Also of note: If Columbus re-signs Matt Duchene, Ottawa gets their first-rounder in 2020 – meaning the Jackets wouldn’t have a pick until Round 4 next year either.
Like Columbus, Winnipeg’s scouts will have to earn their dough in Vancouver. Thanks to trades made by the contender, the Jets have just three selections right now: a second-rounder, a fourth and a fifth. Now, Winnipeg does have a good crew of talent evaluators and they’ve hit paydirt before: Sami Niku was a seventh-rounder and Mason Appleton a sixth-rounder, for example. Those two ranked third and fourth respectively amongst Jets prospects in Future Watch. Clearly Winnipeg is in win-now mode, but continually stocking the cupboard will help next year’s run at the Stanley Cup.