The NHL Draft was back to being in person for the first time since 2019 and boy, did this thing ever live up to the hype.
Before I get to the absolute madness that occurred during the first four picks, I want to talk a little about how fired up the city was for this.
When I was out in front of the Bell Centre shooting content the day before the draft there were constantly people roaming around the outside of the arena in Habs gear. A few came up and wanted to talk about the draft and what could happen. It was really cool to see how the draft took over the city.
I got out to the front of the arena around 5:30 eastern time as some of the prospects were arriving on busses and when Shane Wright got off, the crowd surrounding the red carpet area went absolutely bananas.
Inside the arena, the crowd was really good. They were chanting “GUY! GUY! GUY!” when guy Lafleur’s son came out to speak. They boo’d the ever-loving hell out of Gary Bettman, who threw a little chirp back at the crowd a few picks in by telling them that they were running out of energy. It was a really good environment and it certainly helped that the Canadiens were first on the clock.
About that first pick, if you would have told me a month ago that Shane Wright wouldn’t go first overall, I wouldn’t have believed you. But over the last couple of days there was a lot of chatter about Slafkovsky and it really did sound like it was 50-50. Here’s what I wrote earlier today in my blog:
There will be a lot of drama tonight and I do not think it’s manufactured. It is far from a lock that Shane Wright is the first name called tonight. It’s certainly possible, and he’s the betting odds favourite for a reason, but there’s a legit chance it’s Slafkovsky. There’s a chance the Devils take a defenseman too. It was discussed on The Daily Faceoff Show today and it’s wild to think that Wright could fall to fourth overall, but it could happen.
The reaction in the building was odd. It was a mix of gasps and cheers at first before it was just all cheers.
Then, the spotlight was on the Devils and it was clear they were going to take a defenseman and Simon Nemec is a damn good one. That meant that Shane Wright was still on the board and was available for the Arizona Coyotes to take.
They also passed on the Canadian centreman, opting to go with Logan Cooley of the USNDTP. Chris Peters actually told me earlier in the day that he thinks Cooley is the best player in the draft. It really wasn’t a shock that they didn’t move off their guy.
That left Shane Wright sitting in the stands as the Seattle Kraken went to the table to make the fourth overall pick and they snagged Wright, who could create quite the dynamic duo down the middle for Kraken along with 2022 first-round pick Matt Beniers.
Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Shane Wright, Trevor Zegras, and Jack Eichel are all in the same division now. Could be a lot of wildly entertaining hockey played between those clubs for the next few seasons.
The drama continued as Gary Bettman came to the podium and through a wave of boo’s said that there were two trades to announce… and they both involved the Montreal Canadiens.
First, he shared the news that Alexander Romanov was going to the New York Islanders. He got the bad news out of the way first and the crowd reacted exactly how you would if the Oilers dealt Evan Bouchard. They didn’t love it.
But then he let out that they were getting Kirby Dach from Chicago and the place went crazy again. I loved that the Canadiens were aggressive and made a big splash in front of their home crowds. That’s a great way for a front office to endear themselves to a fanbase. Also, Slafkovsky and Dach could be a very difficult tandem for opponents to handle. So much size and skill.
The first 45 minutes of this draft had everyone on edge and was one of the more exciting that I can remember. Being in the building for it all is something I’ll never forget.
THE KASSIAN DEAL
Mar 26, 2022; Calgary, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers right wing Zack Kassian (44) against the Calgary Flames during the second period at Scotiabank Saddledome. Mandatory Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
Things were quiet on the Oilers front for most of the night but then we got #HollandWatch22, which I tried to be all over on our Twitter and Instagram feeds. The Oilers GM was moving around the draft floor, fielding calls, putting on his glasses to look over lists and the result was a trade that sends Zack Kassian to the Arizona Coyotes. Edmonton moved down three spots in the first round and sent the Coyotes a 2025 second-round pick and a 2024 third-round pick.
Not a bad deal at all for Holland. The team really needed that $3.2 million in cap space for this summer and based on the quality of this year’s draft and the forwards that were available, moving down was no big deal at all. The picks being so long from now makes this deal even better. The team’s window is now and those picks being later means the Oilers don’t lose any ammo for the 2023 trade deadline. It’s maybe one more pick than I would have liked for them to give up, but I still give Holland a passing grade for this one.
The Winnipeg Jets took forward Brad Lambert two picks before the Oilers and he was a guy that I thought would be a good fit for the Oilers. I lined up Isaac Howard, Reid Schaefer, and Jagger Firkus as potential options. Howard ended up going the pick before them as well.
The Oilers wrapped up the first round of the 2022 NHL Draft by walking up to stage and selecting Reid Schaefer from the Seattle Thunderbirds of the WHL.
Here’s what Chris Peters said about Schaefer in his mock draft, where he also had Schaefer going 32nd overall:
Schaefer has been a late riser and I think could sneak into the first round. He has size and scoring ability with a little bit of grit added in.
He also said this in his year-end ranking:
A late-bloomer that broke out this season, Schaefer was a major part of Seattle’s run to the WHL finals. He’s big, skates well for his size and put up 32 goals in 66 games this season. He plays the game with strength but also has soft touch on the puck which has led him to rising up draft boards throughout the season.
Schaefer is a goal scorer and he has size. You have to love that combination for the Edmonton Oilers.
I had a chance to chat with Reid after the draft. He’s a Spruce Grove product and grew up an Oilers fan. His favourite Oilers were Shawn Horcoff and Connor McDavid and now, he might just get the chance to lineup next to #97 within the next few years.
DUNCAN KEITH UPDATE
I had a chance to ask Edmonton Oilers GM Ken Holland about Duncan Keith and here’s what he said:
Sounds like the Oilers will know by tomorrow and while Holland didn’t say it, that choice will clearly affect what they do with Tyson Barrie. If Keith returns, which in a weird way almost feels unlikely, then they might hold onto Barrie for another season. It also would make it much easier to sign pending UFA Brett Kulak.
Frank Seravalli recently said that he thinks there’s a 65% chance that Keith retires.
That would give the Oilers an extra $5.5 million in cap space and would bring the total amount available to just over $20 million when you consider Smith and Klefbom will likely be on LTIR. I’ll have more on that tomorrow along with a full blog from day two of the NHL Draft.
PS: I ate three press box hot dogs and I have no regrets.