Let's not do a virtual draft ever again.
While it was an epic based on run time, the 2022 NHL Draft was a reminder of just how fun these nights can be. It also didn't hurt that the hometown team — Montreal — not only surprised with the first selection, but aggressively involved itself throughout.
Here are the winners and losers from the 2022 NHL Draft.
Listen, Montreal did an impeccable job to preserve the intrigue. It wasn't until just moments before revealing a SLAFKOVSKY sweater did we know who the Canadiens were taking with the No. 1 overall draft pick.
Holding the cards close to their vest did, however, cost the Canadiens one thing, which was unanimous approval among a fanbase expected to hear Shane Wright's name.
That said, it wasn't long before Slafkovsky was the toast of the town. He emerged from the interview process to thundering ovations, and took the time to slap hands with fans in the crowd while scaling the stairs to do a television hit.
It was a scene.
— John Lu (@JohnLuTSNMtl) July 8, 2022
Slafkovsky will have the support in Montreal, and it didn't require Wright to slide down to No. 4 in order for that to be true.
Though it probably helped.
Kent Hughes seems up to the task, doesn't he? There was the courage in his conviction to swerve from the consensus with the selection of Slafkovsky, and then there was both the flare for the dramatic and the creativity to pull off a stunning acquisition on the draft floor.
Beyond the Wright slide, Montreal's ability to parlay two draft picks and Alexander Romanov into former No. 3 overall selection and high-end centre prospect Kirby Dach in a trade with the Chicago Blackhawks was the story of the draft.
Hughes now has four forwards under the age of 22 — Slafkovsky, Dach, Nick Suzuki and Cole Caufield — as the foundation for the roster he's looking to build back into a contender. If Wright proves to be twice the player Slafkovsky is, we'll be looking back on things differently. But Hughes has chosen a firm direction and pursued it aggressively, and is therefore a winner on his own draft floor.
That direction clearly involves Slovaks, by the way, with Montreal spending its second first-round pick on forward Filip Mesar.
There's a pretty decent forward core assembling in Ottawa, too.
While Hughes' manoeuvring has stolen the headlines, the best trade execution likely belongs to Senators GM Pierre Dorion, who spent three draft picks to land Alex DeBrincat — one of the highest-volume goal scorers in the NHL since he broke into the league five years ago.
Though Patrick Kane has been a large part of his success, DeBrincat should find a profitable home with Brady Tkachuk, Tim Stutzle, Drake Batherson, and Josh Norris, forming the makings of a forward core that can finally hang in a tough division. The rebuild still may not be over, but it gets closer with the addition of a purer scorer than we have seen in Ottawa in some time.
It is worth noting, however, that the Senators nearly threw away this opportunity. According to reports, Ottawa almost packaged the No. 7 selection with beleaguered netminder Matt Murray in a trade with the Buffalo Sabres. What prevented the deal from happening, and thus preserving the selection, was Murray nixing the deal.
This feels like the bounce Ron Francis and the Kraken needed.
Wright's slide could prove to be a windfall for the NHL's 32nd franchise, which may still be licking its wounds after a difficult expansion season.
Because the New Jersey Devils and Arizona Coyotes let Wright fall after the Canadiens stated their preference with Slafkovsky, the Kraken have now secured the top-rated centres, at least by the consensus, in consecutive drafts, which could see the backbone form for a competitive roster in the seasons to come.
It is exceedingly difficult to land franchise centres, and with a little patience the Kraken may now have two in the system.
One of which will have a serious chip on his shoulder.
— Alison (@AlisonL) July 8, 2022
Hard to miss on three first-round picks — unless they are made in succession by the Boston Bruins.
Still, it's worth commending the Sabres after adding a trio of centres to the program with Matthew Savoie, Noah Ostlund, and Jiri Kulich. It's a group that could help form the meat of the roster for years to come.
This management team is figuring it out.
Columbus Blue Jackets
I'm breaking the rules a little bit here, but it's work that deserves highlighting. As the Blackhawks trade away large sections of their team to recoup value lost in the previous round, the Blue Jackets used the final asset acquired from Chicago in the Seth Jones trade with the sixth-overall selection. David Jiricek wound up being the final piece of the return, which also included Adam Boqvist and Cole Sillinger.
With the prospects looking bleak for Chicago, this could be one of the trades we circle back to time and time again — especially if Jiricek proves to be the best defenseman of the draft.
New York Islanders
It's the optics that kill them.
As the crucial middleman between the Canadiens and Blackhawks in the Dach deal, Lamoriello acquired Alexander Romanov for the No. 13 overall selection — or a considerably higher price than which Lamoriello set several seasons ago on Devon Toews.
Now that's admittedly a bit unfair to cherry-pick given the ever-changing nature of the NHL marketplace, but the acquisition of Romanov itself is worth nit-picking. This is a player that's seen his progress stall, and may not have the ceiling we once had originally earmarked. Most specifically, his offensive prowess shown at previous levels simply may not translate.
Also hurting the optics was the belief that the No. 13 overall selection used to acquire Romanov could have been manipulated instead to help land J.T. Miller from the Vancouver Canucks.
Toronto Maple Leafs
Speaking of troubling optics, the Maple Leafs have now traded out of the first round to erase a boat-anchor contract for the second time in three years. One move was to clean up someone else's mess, the latest was exclusively Kyle Dubas's.
Now, it really only cost the Leafs 13 draft slots in a selection process to shed Petr Mrazek and 100 percent of his salary (a necessary evil), as they received the No. 38 overall selection from the Blackhawks in return for their first-round pick at No. 25. But as confident as a franchise might be in its draft process — and perhaps even unconvinced by the talent available at the end of the first round — it's a move that carries a negative expected value, and was required due to an unforced error last summer.
It also leaves Toronto with one selection from the last four first rounds at the NHL Draft.
Toronto Maple Leafs have made one first-round pick (Rodion Amirov, 2020) in the past four drafts.
— luke fox (@lukefoxjukebox) July 8, 2022
It should be pointed out that the Oilers stomached a similar cost-cutting measure, and may have, by some measures, coughed up more to stash Zack Kassian with the Arizona Coyotes. I don't feel particularly compelled to defend the (loser-ish) move, because it was, too, an unforced error that needed to be rectified via squandered assets, but the Oilers did secure a prospect in Reid Schaefer while also giving up value in future drafts to help fit the timeline.
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