Draft week is here. This is one of the best weeks on the NHL calendar. Watching young men see their dream of being drafted realized is awesome. These kids put in so much hard work to have their name called, and many who don’t have their name called will continue to work hard to one day play in the NHL.
Many big trades are made around Draft week now, whether it be the days leading up to the draft, on draft night or a few days after. It is an exciting time in the hockey world, so let’s look at some draft picks, player development and potential moves.
1. I’ve watched a lot of WHL hockey the past four seasons, and I’ve seen many mentioning Ty Smith as an option for the Oilers at #10. He is an option, but not one I’d use. Smith is the best draft eligible defender from the WHL. He is a very smart player and very good offensively, but like most young offensive defenders he needs to improve defensively. He will go in the first round, but I don’t see him as a top-ten pick. The Oilers need this pick to pan out. The player doesn’t have to become a superstar, in fact it is unlikely he will, but I’d take others players before Smith. If one of Oliver Wahlstrom or Vitali Kravstov are available, I’d take them. If Smith was a right-shot defender I might change my mind, but he shoots left, is undersized and not very aggressive as a defender. A WHL forward from the WHL US division texted me this when I asked him his thoughts on Smith: “Really Smart. Good with the puck, and solid passer,” were the pros on Smith. The cons: “When on the cycle it is easy to go against him.”
I think Smith could be a solid NHL player. Craig Button compared him to Ryan Murray, but I wouldn’t take him at #10.
2. Smith is a great story, and I hope his father Wayne gets a lot of appreciation. Wayne raised Ty and his siblings as a single father. Ty left home at 14 to play hockey at an academy, was the first pick in the WHL draft and then played in Spokane for the past three seasons. He has a very calm demeanour and a lot of praise for his father. “He is someone I strive to be. He does a lot in the community. He always has a smile on his face and he treats everyone with respect,” said Ty about his father Wayne. I interviewed Smith today and he discussed his style as a player, moving away from home early, his father and an NHL player who he watched a lot because his billet parents housed this defender a few years earlier. You can listen here.
3. Wahlstrom is a great shooter. Kravstov has rocketed up draft rankings in the past few months. Mark Edwards and his crew at Hockey Prospect have him ranked #6. He is really creative and is just starting to grow into his frame. He will likely need two more years of development in the KHL (which I’m fine with because he is playing against men), with fewer games and can spend more time in the gym filling out his 6’2″.
4. The key to the Oilers’ #10 pick is ensuring they develop him properly. If he has to spend two more years in junior, or Europe, no problem. They are past the point of needing a young player to come in and dominate offensively. They have Connor McDavid, Leon Draisailt and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins to be the offensive catalysts.
5. I don’t believe Claude Julien can win in today’s NHL. I really question if he can promote offence they way it needs to be played in 2018. In 2016/2017 the Bruins scored 2.56 goals/game in their first 55 games and Julien was fired on February 7th. Under new head coach Bruce Cassidy the Bruins scored 91 goals in the final 27 games, 3.31/goal/game. This season the Bruins were sixth in the NHL in goals scored with 268 at 3.26 goals/game.
Meanwhile, Julien was unemployed for a week in February of 2017. The Canadiens hired him on February 14th. At the time the Habs were fifth in the East with 70 points. They had scored the eighth most goals in the NHL, 164 in 58 games (2.82 goal/game), and the Habs allowed 2.55 G/GP. Julien replaced Michel Therrien and in their final 24 games the Habs offence dipped to 2.45 G/GP.
This past season the Habs were 29th in offence with 207 goals. You can argue they don’t have a lot of proven scorers, fair, but when Julien left Boston the Bruins offence exploded, and since coming to Montreal it has gone down.
6. On the weekend the Canadiens traded Alex Galchenyuk to Arizona for Max Domi. GM Marc Bergevin and Julien felt Galchenyuk wasn’t an NHL centre. Galchenyuk’s career path the past two seasons has been interesting to watch. In 2016 he scored 30 goals and 56 points, second on the Habs behind Max Pacioretty (30-34-64). Galchenyuk was 22 years old and many felt he was starting to come into his own.
7. The next season he exploded out of the gate. He had 23 points in his first 24 games, and on December 2nd he was tied for 10th in NHL scoring. Two nights later he injured his knee colliding with Anze Kopitar in Los Angeles. He missed six weeks and when he returned he struggled, like most players coming off an injury, but Therrien moved him to the wing. When Julien came, he did play Galchenyuk at centre for a few games, but he also grew impatient and moved him back to the wing.
8. How does a player go from scoring 30 goals, then being tied for 10th in league scoring for two months, suddenly not become a centre? Galchenyuk has some defensive deficiencies, yes, but he showed he could produce and good coaches work with a player. Maybe Galchenyuk was too stubborn, but part of me believes in this case the coach, and GM, were too stubborn.
9. Before this season Bergevin said this about Galchenyuk: “I’ve been here for six years, I’ve seen Alex every day. Centreman’s a tough position, demanding. I’m sure as we speak today Alex is not able to play that position every day. I don’t need ten more tries. I know he’s not,” said the Canadiens GM.
If he watched him every day for six years, did he not see him in 2015/2016 and then again at the start of the 2016/2017? He was producing very well, but it seems the Canadiens organization was focused more on what he couldn’t do, rather than what he could. He returned from a knee injury, which means he wasn’t in game shape or up to speed, and then struggled upon his return, so the Habs felt it best to erode his confidence even more and play him on the wing. Sixteen months later they traded him for Domi.
10. Domi and Galchenyuk have averaged .60 and .61 points-per-game in thus far in their careers. Galchenyuk has been in the NHL for six seasons, while Domi has only played three. Domi is only one year younger though, and the Habs just signed him to a two-year deal worth $3.15 million while Galchenyuk will make $4.75m. They save some money, and I think Domi’s personality will allow him to enjoy playing in a hockey-mad market. His biggest challenge might come from people comparing him to Galchenyuk.
11. Galchenyuk will get a chance to play C in Arizona. His challenge will be facing centres in the Pacific division like McDavid, Draisaitl, Kopitar, Jeff Carter, Ryan Getzlaf, Joe Pavelski, Logan Couture, William Karlsson and Sean Monahan. I’m amazed Montreal gave up on Galchenyuk as a centre as quickly as they did, especially mid-season after coming off an injury. I don’t believe Bergevin and Julien will succeed in today’s NHL
12. John Tavares is a really good player, but I’m a bit surprised the Maple Leafs plan on making a strong push to land him in free agency. I understand he is an Ontario boy, but the Leafs don’t need help selling tickets. They have to re-sign Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and William Nylander in the next 15 months. Tavares will be looking for $10 million a year for seven years from age 28-34. Matthews, Marner and Nylander will likely six-eight year deals and while Matthews will be looking for $10 million, I don’t see the other two being close. Does it make sense to sign Tavares for seven years when he might only have two or three years of peak production remaining? I could see LA, San Jose and others making a strong pitch for him, but I’d be surprised if he lives up to a $10 million contract. I’m sure the Leafs are thinking they could sign Tavares and then deal one of Marner or Nylander for a defender, and that is probably true, but I’d be leery that Tavares will still be dominant at 31 to 33 years of age.
13. I understand teams will worry about the latter few years of his contract when they arise, rather than worrying about it now, but I do wonder when the NHL will realize there is a very small amount of players who will continue to perform at a high level after 30 years of age. If you pay Tavares $10 million you are expecting him to score more than 70 points, I’d think. The problem is he has only topped 70 points three times — last year with 84, 86 in 2015 and 81 in 2012.
14. I read many comments regarding Drake Caggiula suggesting he should never skate with Connor McDavid because he isn’t a top-six forward. I think those commenters fail to recognize very few teams have six legit top-six players. Many have three or four and the other spots are filled temporarily. Over two seasons Caggiula has played 213 EV minutes with McDavid. In that time McDavid has played 2658 EV minutes, so he has played an 8% of his time with Caggiula. Those freaking out over Caggiula’s playing time with McDavid are getting upset over an extremely small amount of ice time.
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