NHL Draft

The 2018 IIHF World Junior Championship final report (Part II)

(Continuation of Part I)

  1. Russia

Medallists in each of the preceding seven tournaments and 14 of the previous 16 editions, the Russians always seem to find a way to crash the podium at the WJC. However, national coach Valeri Bragin started the 2018 event complaining about the lack of international experience on its roster, which, keep in mind, contained only three players yet to complete their 19th birthday, and then things went south for them in a hurry, with a defeat in the tournament opener against the Czech (4-5) leading to a curbed campaign.

Unable to beat the Swedes in the final group game, the Russians were left to slow down the Americans in the QF and succumbed to the task, flying home empty-handed after capturing their last gold medal in the same arena back in 2011.

Russia players and staff look on after a 4-2 quarterfinal round loss to the U.S. at the 2018 IIHF World Junior Championship. (Photo by Matt Zambonin/HHOF-IIHF Images)

Usually a critical part of their most successful teams, goaltending was not a force for the Red Army this time, with Vladislav Sukhachyov, who replaced Alexei Melnichuk in the first game, notching a 2.74 GAA and 0.904 Sv%. Additionally, neither was their defensive unit which, orphan of a stud rear-guard in the same level of Mikhail Sergachev (2017) or Ivan Provorov (2016), had to hack it by commitment. Captain Yegor Zaitsev (NJ) and undrafted Vladislav Syomin, the point man on the man-advantage, shouldered the biggest load, but the true standouts of Team Russia laboured further up the ice, particularly the mightily impressive Klim Kostin (STL).

After a 2016-17 season derailed by injury, the 31st pick of the 2017 draft took advantage of the big stage by posting a team-leading 5 goals and 3 assists in just 5 games, his hands and powerful stride highlights in a forgettable competition for his team. Kostin was one of two under aged forwards on the Russian roster, the other being 2018 top-prospect Andrei Svechnikov (5A), and the pair was followed, in terms of performance, by a duo of Chicago Blackhawks’ picks, Artur Kayumov ( 2nd round, 2016) and Andrei Altybarmakyan (3rd, 2017).

Russia’s Klim Kostin #24 plays the puck while Sweden’s Jacob Moverare #27 defends during preliminary round action at the 2018 IIHF World Junior Championship. (Photo by Matt Zambonin/HHOF-IIHF Images)

On the negative side, reference for top center German Rubtsov (PHI), whose 4 pts exceeded his overall contributions on both sides of the puck, and Vitali Abramov (CBJ), who couldn’t replicate his lofty QMJHL point totals (150 in 96 games over the last two seasons) also due to the team’s anemic powerplay, last in the tournament (1/20, 5%) and severely hampered by the lack of right-handed options (17 of 20 skaters shot left).

  1. Czech Republic

It had become routine to see the Czech Republic ranked fifth or sixth and sent packing in the quarter-finals, when their lack of depth gets exposed by one of the big-five of international hockey, but the band sang a different tune in 2018. For just the second time in the last 11 encounters, the Czechs overcame Russia to begin their campaign in style, and after they defeated Belarus and Switzerland, second place and a winnable quarter-final against Finland loomed.

Battling back twice before prevailing in the SO (4-3), the Czechs best classification since 2005 was secured, however they couldn’t repeat the bronze of Grand Forks, ND, because Canada (7-2) and the USA (9-3) obliterated them in the medal round. Nothing that would obscure a stepping-stone event for a country in the upswing, dreaming of even bigger things in 2019 with their 11 possible returnees – including Filip Zadina, Martin Nečas and Filip Chytil – and poised to host the event in 2020.

The Czech Republic’s Filip Zadina #18, Albert Michnac #29, Martin Necas #8, Martin Kaut #16 and Libor Hajek #3 celebrate at the bench after a second period goal against Sweden during preliminary round action at the 2018 IIHF World Junior Championship. (Photo by Matt Zambonin/HHOF-IIHF Images)

Until then, the goal has to be the return to the times when significantly more Czech teenagers were selected by NHL teams, since only six of the 23 men that competed in Buffalo have been drafted and two more signed NHL deals after being overlooked. One of latter cases, goaltender Josef Kořenář, is a San Jose Sharks prospect whose numbers (4.49 GAA, 0.879 Sv%) in Buffalo skewed significantly as a result of the two final poundings, which followed a stellar 51-save performance against the Finns.

With 34 goals allowed in seven games, defence was far from the Czechs strong suit outside of a few bright individual exceptions – beyond Hájek, we could name Vojtěch Budik (BUF) and Jakub Galvas (CHI) – but, fortunately, they could light some fireworks up front.

The Czech Republic’s Filip Chytil #21 looks for a scoring chance against Russia’s Alexei Melnichuk #1 while Nikita Makeyev #2 defends during preliminary round action at the 2018 IIHF World Junior Championship. (Photo by Matt Zambonin/HHOF-IIHF Images)

As referenced before, the duo Martin Nečas (CAR) and Filip Zadina led the way, but Filip Chytil (2+2), the Rangers first round pick, also had his moments, especially in the opener against Russia. Difficult to push off the puck, capable of executing in tight and with an edge to his game, Chytil vanished in the later rounds and took linemate Martin Kaut (2+5), a potential top-50 pick in 2018, with him, eventually leading to the rise of a few unsung heroes, including the undrafted Kristian Reichel (3+1), a heart-and-soul third line center that loves to do the grunt work, LW Daniel Kurovský (2+1), whose hard-nosed game was difficult to ignore, and right-winger Radovan Pavlík (3+3).

Bronze Medal Winners: United States of America

Afforded a golden opportunity to capture back-to-back titles for a first time, the 2018 tournament can’t be considered a success for the Americans because they failed to fulfil the objective on home ice, yet there are still a lot of positives to take from their performance. For instance, their response to the unexpected defeat against Slovakia, regrouping quickly to overcome a two-goal deficit in the outdoor game, or the dominant performance in the bronze medal game less than 24 hours after the disappointing SF loss to the Swedes.

USA players celebrating after a 4-3 shoot-out win over Canada during preliminary round action at the 2018 IIHF World Junior Championship. (Photo by Matt Zambonin/HHOF-IIHF Images)

There’s a case to be made that the Americans, who scored 20 goals in the group stage (the same number as Sweden) and 35 in total (one less than Canada), were in equal footing with the two finalists, and ended up in third-place victims of the circumstances and the below-average performance of Joseph Woll (TOR), who guarded the net in every indoor game and was severely outmatched by his counterparts. While Filip Gustavsson and Carter Hart soared, Woll’s ultimate body of work fails the sniff test (0.886, 2.71 GAA) and that proved decisive.

Moreover, on paper, the American defence palled in comparison with their rivals’, but this unheralded group held his ground, with Adam Fox and the steady Dylan Samberg (WIN, 1+3, +10) anchoring the first pair, and U. Minnesota’s mainstay Ryan Lindgren (BOS) doing the heavy lifting in the second unit as 18-year-old Quinn Hughes and his refined offensive skills were increasingly phased out of the rotation as the importance of the games increased.

USA’s Riley Tufte #27 attempts a shot against Denmark’s Kasper Krog #31 during the preliminary round of the 2018 IIHF World Junior Championship. (Photo by Andrea Cardin/HHOF-IIHF Images)

Still, where the Americans were truly likely to create separation, according to pre-tournament predictions, was on the quality of their offensive group and ability to rotate four lines sprinkled with first round picks. Despite the tall goal totals, that didn’t exactly turned out as expected, since at the same time Brady Tkachuk and Casey Mittelstadt (BUF) thrived on the top-line alongside captain Joey Anderson (NJ, 4+3), and Kieffer Bellows’ (NYI) erupted on Ryan Poehling’s (MTR) right flank, the likes of Riley Tufte (DAL), Max Jones (ANA), Joshua Norris (SJ) and even NHL-tested Kailer Yamamoto (EDM) struggled to put points on the board in critical situations. That would be the major difference for the Swedish and Canadian forward units.

Silver Medal Winners: Sweden

44. That’s the number of consecutive wins the Swedes have amassed in group play since 2007… or 43 more than the amount of World titles they’ve secured in the same period.

Cruising through the group stage as usual (20-7 in goal differential), the Tre Kronor’s pallid exhibition against Slovakia (3-2) in the QF awoke the alarm sirens and elicited thoughts of a fourth consecutive medal-less appearance, however Sweden managed to oust the USA (4-2) for the first time in ten Final Four battles, and then came pretty close to stamp a first gold medal since 2012. Despite being assessed six minor penalties to Canada’s one, the Swedes had the better of play in the Final, and even ringed one off the post minutes before Tyler Steenbergen potted the game-winning-goal with 100 seconds to go in regulation.

Truly a shame for a team brimming with talent way beyond the likes of Rasmus Dahlin or their trio of top-ten picks at the forward ranks: sniper Elias Pettersson (VAN, 5+2), charismatic captain Lias Andersson (NYR, 6+1), whose level of play dropped after dislocating his shoulder against Russia, and the cerebral (and inconsistent) Alexander Nylander (BUF, 1+6), competing at his third WJC.

High-choices at the 2017 draft, defensemen Erik Brännström (LV) and Timothy Liljegren (TOR) are two such cases of blue-chip prospects that enjoyed great tournaments, with the former spending most of the time besides Dahlin and regularly displaying exceptional quickness and agility to skate the puck up the ice, and the latter coupling the willingness to engage opponents physically with slick skating skills and the ability to fire long, on-the tape, stretch passes to feed Sweden’s speedy forward group.

Conversely, despite being passed twice at the draft, rearguard Jesper Sellgreen stood out for combining puck-moving ability and feistiness in a modest frame, earning comparisons with Tobias Ernstrom, while the members of the lower attacking lines proved essential to, repeatedly, tip the balance in favour of Sweden with their mix of speed, forecheking expertise and grit. It was no coincidence that in Sweden’s difficult quarter-final match (3-2), the unit of Isac Lundeström (draft-eligible, 2 G), Oskar Steen (BOS, 2+2) and Tim Söderlund (CHI, 2+3) manufactured all three goals with their boundless energy, and neither was that, alongside fourth-liner Axel Jonsson Fjällby (WSH, 2+2), who dashed around the ice with long locks of air flowing out of his helmet, they proved extremely dangerous shorthanded, a situation that earned Sweden four goals during the tournament.

Sweden’s Axel Jonsson Fjallby #22 skates with the puck as Vladislav Yeryomenko #8 of Team Belarus gives chase during the preliminary round of the 2018 IIHF World Junior Championship. (Photo by Andrea Cardin/HHOF-IIHF Images)

World Junior Champions: Canada

Three years without conquering gold at the WJC is too much for an hockey-mad nation like Canada, and to erase the taste of last year’s heartbreaking loss to the USA in Montreal, they could have hardly asked for better than their close to perfect tournament south of the border: best attack (39 goals) and best defense (11), the top powerplay (13 of 29) and penalty kill (22 of 25) and a 6-0-1 record only spoiled by the two-goal lead relinquished against the USA (3-4, SO).

With a roster that contained a single top-ten pick (D Cale Makar) and many feared would struggle in the absence of high-end, game-breaking talents, Team Canada’s preference for a versatile, balanced attack was right on the money, as the team rolled four lines, every forward scored, and the rest went according to expectations, with their mobile, skilled backend pushing the pace to generate scoring chances, and goaltender Carter Hart playing up to his abilities throughout the tournament.

Canadian players and staff celebrate after a 3-1 gold medal game win over Sweden at the 2018 IIHF World Junior Championship. (Photo by Matt Zambonin/HHOF-IIHF Images)

With such an homogeneous roster, Canada didn’t even have to rely too much on their three returning blueliners, Dante Fabbro (NSH), Jake Bean (CAR) and Kale Clague (LA), all-around rearguards that move the puck, as the trio was eventually eclipsed by the sparkling offensive instincts of Cale Makar (COL) and the superb Victor Mete (MTR) / Conor Timmins (COL) pairing, whose combined +- rating was a whopping +26 in 7 games.

As a matter of fact, when Mete was on the ice, the opposition did not score at all, his stick work and ability to drive play suffocating rivals, while Timmins emerged as the revelation of the roster, an unassuming two-way defenseman that could play shutdown hockey, make a crisp first pass, and deliver a sweet feed like the pass-shot Tyler Steenbergen (ARI) tipped to sink Sweden’s hopes in the Final.

Canada’s Tyler Steenbergen #17 scores the championship winning goal against Sweden’s Filip Gustavsson #30 during the gold medal game of the 2018 IIHF World Junior Championship. (Photo by Andrea Cardin/HHOF-IIHF Images)

Moreover, in attack, the conversation was much of the same, with veterans Taylor Raddysh (TBL, 2+3), Dillon Dubé (CGY, 3+2) and top-center Sam Steel (ANA, 4+5) meshing with newcomers like Jordan Kyrou (STL) and Boris Katchouk (TBL, 3+3) to form two solid, if unspectacular, scoring units and the trios of low-pedigree, mid-round wildcards that followed them out overwhelming the opposition’s depth players with tons of speed and skill. Not incidentally, it was from this bottom-six that arose the inspirational tale of the tournament, 7-goal scorer Drake Batherson (OTT), a player passed once before the Sens snapped him up on the 2017 4th round and someone that would catch fire in the three consecutive blowout victories  (DEN, SWI, CZE) that preceded the final game.

The WJC implications on the 2018 NHL Draft

It’s usually said that a good showing at the WJC can significantly boost the draft value of a prospect and examples lie everywhere – Nico Hischier, just last year, is one – however, in recent seasons, it’s been quite rare to encounter these many U-18 players leaving their mark internationally against players with an extra 2 years of development time. As much as six potential top-10 selections – and, possibly, the entire top-five – competed at the tournament held in Buffalo, many acing the audition, and that has led to a lot of hand-wringing in the wake of the event, with pre-draft rankings revised to account for the latest developments.

Czech Republic’s Filip Zadina #18 lets a shot go while Finland’s Otto Koivula #12 looks on during quarterfinal round action at the 2018 IIHF World Junior Championship. (Photo by Matt Zambonin/HHOF-IIHF Images)

Below, I’ll expose how the race for the top-five positions is shaping up, ranking the players in contention based on their most recent accomplishments, but always keeping in mind that a guy like Swedish defenseman Adam Boqvist, who couldn’t infiltrate his country’s loaded roster, is still in the running for an early callup come late June in Dallas.

  1. Rasmus Dahlin (D)
  2. Andrei Svechnikov (RW)
  3. Brady Tkachuk (LW)
  4. Filip Zadina (LW)
  5. Quinn Hughes (D)

Since Sidney Crosby back in 2005, we haven’t seen a contest decided as early as this one. Rasmus Dahlin will be No.1 in 2018, having cemented his status as the unquestionable best player available with the performance in Buffalo, and he will also become the second ever Swede to go first overall, succeeding C Mats Sundin in 1989.

On the contrary, the guy that was touted as the main competition to Dahlin over the last while, Russian Andrei Svechnikov, is now worried about the rustle of the footsteps of two of the WJC’s brightest stars, wingers Brady Tkachuk and Filip Zadina.

Russian forward Andrei Svechnikov was among the top draft-eligible prospects at the 2018 IIHF World Junior Championship (Photo: Steve Kingsman / HHOF-IIHF Images)

Svechnikov, a burgeoning power forward, had already endured wrist injury this season, and then had to battle the Russian prejudice against younger players, resulting in limited action early in the tournament. With 5 assists in 5 games, he ended up doing just fine, flashing his rare combination of skill, size and puck protection, but his impact fell way short of Zadina’s, a tournament All-Star for his electrifying offensive skills, and Tkachuk’s, whose all-around influence – on top of the physical attributes – took many observers aback. The final hierarchy of these three will very much depend on the teams holding the picks, but, for now, Svechnikov’s pedigree is still prevailing.

To round out the top-five, Quinn Hughes, a fantastic skater that turns on a dime and flies up the ice in transition, is certainly a possibility, even if the young defenseman was benched for much of the medal round games, barely seeing the ice except for the moments when the USA trailed and needed to amp the offensive pressure. Still, for the record, let’s just add that Rasmus Dahlin filled much of the same role for the Swedes in 2017…

American defenseman Quinn Hughes carries the puck in the bronze medal game against the Czech Republic (Kevin Hoffman /Getty Images)

Ranked outside of the very top of the rankings, but still worthy of attention, we encounter three European prospects that played in Buffalo. Finland’s Rasmus Kupari, a skilled center that was unfortunately casted as the 13th forward on his team and thus failed to stick his claim for a top-ten selection, Sweden’s Isac Lundeström, a lanky, speedy forward that was an integral part of his nation’s most reliable line and may go a few spots above his expected late-first round rank, and Czech Republic’s Martin Kaut, whose point-per-game pace might convince someone to take a flier within the top-30 or right after it.

The NHL pipeline update

As a prime meeting of the brightest youth prospects from around the world, the World Junior Championships are a first peek into what the future might bring for the kids at the professional levels. Therefore, it stands to reason that the tournament is also viewed on a scale that extends beyond national-team concerns and tries to predict the potential ramifications for the teams that hold their NHL rights. Fans and management alike discuss in which line that prospect might be plugged, implications on the organizational depth chart of someone’s emergence, or the best way to maximize the value of an asset, hence it’s just natural that positive exploits on the international arena also serve as a sign of the draft acumen of one’s organization and barometer of the health of its prospect base.

Sweden’s Alexander Nylander #19 fires a shot at USA’s Joseph Woll #31 during the semi-final round of the 2018 IIHF World Junior Championship. (Photo by Andrea Cardin/HHOF-IIHF Images)

In this sense, the sheer amount of drafted players competing at the tournament is important, but far from the only indicator to take into account. From the entire batch of players that exhibited their qualities in Buffalo, the biggest share belonged to the New Jersey Devils, with 7 players, whereas Arizona, Pittsburgh, Florida and Minnesota loaned a single element, yet the NHL teams that left Buffalo feeling ecstatic about their assembly of talent lie in between the two poles. We’ve identified five NHL organizations that, based on qualitative and quantitative parameters, must be marveling at their craftiness in player evaluation and development.

Buffalo Sabres (5): Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen (FIN), Vojtěch Budik (CZE), Casey Mittelstadt (USA), Alexander Nylander and Marcus Davidsson (both SWE)

The Sabres are toiling in the bottom of the NHL standings, but there’s reason for hope in Buffalo based on the group that took part in this “home” tournament. Possessing the rights for Casey Mittelstadt, the tournament MVP, is the chief justification for their nomination in this space, yet the rest of the Sabres prospects also filled significant roles for their respective nations. Particularly Alex Nylander, another former 8th overall pick whose elite creativity and puck skills sooner or later will surface at the professional level, and Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen,  the uncontested starter for Finland.

Furthermore, despite being longer shots, Budik played some critical minutes for the Czech on their top defensive pair, while Marcus Davidsson thrived on a fourth-line that received limited minutes at five-on-five but contributed greatly for Sweden’s success on the PK.

Tampa Bay Lightning (5): Libor Hájek (CZE), Cal Foote, Brett Howden, Boris Katchouk and Taylor Raddysh (all CAN)

One of the savviest organizations breeding NHL-calibre players, the Tampa Bay Lightning are certainly pleased with the progress achieved by Libor Hájek over the last 18 months, the 2016 second rounder maturing into an all-situations blueliner that might slot on their lineup in a couple of seasons.

Drafted last June, Cal Foote played primarily on the third pairing for Canada and stayed out of trouble, while the three forwards proved important components of their well-oiled machine, with Brett Howden centering the productive checking line, and Katchouk and Raddysh flanking Robert Thomas on the team’s second unit.

Canada’s Callan Foote #6 get tangled up with an unknown Switzerland player during quarterfinal round action at the 2018 IIHF World Junior Championship. (Photo by Matt Zambonin/HHOF-IIHF Images)

Chicago Blackhawks (5): Henri Jokiharju (FIN), Jakub Galvas (CZE), Artur Kayumov and Andrei Altibarmakyan (both RUS), Tim Söderlund (SWE)

The only first rounder of the Hawks faction, defenseman Henri Jokiharju, didn’t perform badly but he takes a step back here since each of his lesser-known colleagues improved his inherent value for the organization. Galvas, a diminutive blueliner, battled hard in every shift and showed poise with the puck, Kayumov scored at a point-per-game clip and was always around the net, Altibarmakyan’s constant activity and skill created problems for the opposition, and Söderlund’s jet-like acceleration, high-energy level and PK prowess were second to none.

St. Louis Blues (4): Jordan Kyrou and Robert Thomas (both CAN), Klim Kostin (RUS), Nikolaj Kragh (DEN)

Portended as the No.1 Danish center, Krag’s tournament came to a premature end due to injury, but the other three Blues’ prospects proved extremely useful for their teams. Jordan Kyrou and Klim Kostin garnered accolades and were in the running for a place on the All-Star team as two of the most exciting wingers in the competition, while Thomas, an intelligent two-way pivot, kept the puck going in the right direction at all times.

Calgary Flames (6): Adam Fox (USA), Juuso Välimäki and Eeti Tuulola (FIN), Dillon Dubé (CAN), Adam Růžička (SVK), Linus Lindström (SWE)

Forwards Tuulola, Růžička and Lindström failed to hit the twine during the tournament however the other Calgary prospects make up for their futility. Adam Fox led the American blueline, Juuso Välimäki carried the “C” and emerged as a real force for the Finns from the backend, and Dillon Dubé, another player who captained his team, did the dirty work on Canada’s top-line and powerplay.

Canada’s captain Dillon Dube #9 waves the flag following his team’s victory against Sweden during the gold medal game of the 2018 IIHF World Junior Championship. (Photo by Andrea Cardin/HHOF-IIHF Images)

Honourable mention: Colorado Avalanche (2): Cale Makar and Conor Timmins (both CAN)

Although the Avs only sent two prospects to Buffalo, the duo reached high-levels of performance, with the roving Makar voted for the tournament’s All-Star team and Timmins’ smart, simple game shining on Canada’s shutdown pair.

The tournament’s Best Goals

A total of 216 goals were scored during the 30 games of the 2018 WJC and I’ll bring this report to its conclusion by presenting the top-three in chronological order.

First, American Casey Mittelstadt making Slovakia’s defence look silly with a neutral-zone takeaway and a finish that evokes memories of Bobby Orr’s airborne 1970 Stanley Cup clincher.

Then, just seconds later, Slovakia’s Samuel Buček returning the favour on the other end, staying with the puck after his audacious wrap-around attempt was denied to claim a famous victory for his country.

Finally, a great individual effort by Sweden’s Elias Pettersson, who deked a poor Swiss defenseman before finishing around the goaltender.

 

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Thirty (-one) takeaways from the NHL offseason

One month has passed since the Chicago Blackhawks lifted the Stanley Cup for the third time in six seasons and, during that time, the landscape of the league suffered important transformations, with two of the most talked-about prospects in a number of years finding their new homes, several unrestricted free agents changing addresses, and a few huge trades shipping elite players out of their misery.

This article started as a draft day impression’s notebook and grew up into a list of takeaways/thoughts/recollections about an NHL offseason that will now inevitably slow down into the dog days of summer. As such, pretty much every team in the league is cited, with a couple relegated to the end. As I projected to do this on a bullet-points structure, I ended up deciding to numerate them just so I could…well, find a title for the article.

To facilitate the search through all this, I highlighted the name of the team mainly featured in every part. Here we go:

1. The Buffalo Sabres and GM Tim Murray had an absolutely terrific draft weekend. They knew they were getting their hands on Jack Eichel, the best consolation prize since Evgeni Malkin and a sure-fire franchise center, but adding a player of Ryan O’Reilly’s calibre was a major coup. The 24-year-old has already six seasons of NHL experience and he’s just what they needed to insulate Eichel during his first season, slotting as a second line center in the future: a solid faceoff man (53.4% in 2014-15) used to be deployed in defensive situations, a top penalty killer, and a two-way force with some scoring touch (28 goals in 2013-14). About to become a UFA in 2016, O’Reilly inked a massive 7 years/52.5M deal a few days later with the Sabres, a cap hit that surprised most fans but which won’t look that high when names like Anze Kopitar and Steven Stamkos agree to new extensions. The 2009 2nd round pick has proven capable of handling first line assignments during his time with the Avs and that will be his job for now, even if in the future he may need to move to the wing. Also, with that value hanging over his head and an expanded leadership role, maybe he’ll get more respect from Selke voters that sometimes undervalued his importance.

Ryan O’Reilly is now a Buffalo Sabre

With Zemgus Girgensons and 2014 2nd overall pick Sam Reinhart primed to stick with the big club this time, the Sabres are set up the middle for a long time, and may even contemplate the idea of parting with Reinhart if they can acquire a stud young defenseman. Girgensons has the talent to be an answer on that third line slot and I’m not sold on Reinhart becoming a major scorer on the NHL with his lack of a distinctive skill. He’s a finesse, playmaking center with good vision, passing and poise but lacks dynamic skating skills and may struggle to adjust to the higher tempo of the NHL.

The price for O’Reilly was steep (31st overall pick, forwards Mikhail Grigorenko and JT Compher and D Nikita Zadorov) and the inclusion of the hulking Russian defenseman hurts, but the team has Rasmus Ristolainen to help cover the void and Jake McCabe, a 2nd round pick in 2012, ready to step on the line-up.

Earlier in draft day, Murray also got a new starting goalie, the talented 24-year-old Robin Lehner, who never took advantage of the chances to claim Ottawa’s net. The Swede, barring another acquisition for the net, will have ample opportunities on the Sabres and must pan out to merit the 21st pick sent back to the Sens for him and veteran David Legwand.

2. Joe Sakic and Patrick Roy finally ceded on keeping the clearly disgruntled O’Reilly and managed to secure an interesting haul. Getting a young top-four D in return was crucial and Zadorov has every tool to fill that need on the near future, possessing size, skating, a strong shot and some bite. Grigorenko had his development completely mismanaged by the Sabres, but the Avs are banking on nurturing a player that was considered a top 5 talent entering the 2012 draft, while Compher may someday amount to an energetic third liner that can add some scoring. Flipping the 31st pick to SJ for the 39th and getting back the 2nd rounder next season was also a smart move by the Colorado Avalanche, although signing Carl Soderberg to a 5 years/23.75M deal doesn’t seem like the best idea for a 29-year-old center with a defined offensive edge that is destined for nothing more than a third line role.

Winger Blake Comeau joined in at the start of free agency, agreeing to a 3-year-deal that improves the team depth on the offense, but the team’s other addiction was more controversial. Francois Beauchemin will help a sub-par backline but 3-years and 13.5M are way too rich for a declining 35-year-old defenseman, even more because they’ll need to extend Nathan MacKinnon, Tyson Barrie and Zadorov in the summer of 2016.

With the 10th overall pick the Avs selected Mikko Rantanen, a Finnish winger that shined at this year’s World Juniors and already has almost two complete seasons under his belt playing against professional players. As a big, supremely skilled right winger, Rantanen will provide balance to a talented and young forward group that will continue to lead the Avalanche going forward, joining, in short term, either Matt Duchene or Nathan MacKinnon on the team’s top two lines.

Finland’s Mikko Rantanen was selected by the Colorado Avalanche

3. With Brendan Shanahan at the top and Mike Babcock on the bench, a new era of accountability and intelligence choices seems to have arrived for the Toronto Maple Leafs, and the draft was a perfect example of that. Indeed, Kyle Dubas, the Leafs assistant GM in office, gave a lesson of asset management to the previous occupants of the GM position. After selecting the super-skilled but undersized Mitch Marner with the fourth pick, an hometown boy no less, Dubas traded down twice at the end of the first round to add more picks and prospects to the organization. First, the #24 was sent to Philadelphia for the #29 and a supplementary 2nd round pick (#61), and then he flipped #29 for the 34th and 68th picks. With these three assets, Dubas proceeded to stock his pipeline with skilled players, with D Travis Dermott and FW Jeremy Bracco, who beat Patrick Kane’s US NTDP assist record during the season, deserving approving reviews from draft experts.

With chief amateur scout Mark Hunter driving the bus, the Leafs kept picking up speed and skill through the latter rounds, a welcome difference from the years of searching and valuing “pugnacity, testosterone, truculence and belligerence” above all. To cap it, the Leafs also added 23-year-old defenseman Martin Marincin, a former 2nd round pick that lost space on the Edmonton Oilers system but has already played in 85 NHL games. Marincin is a lanky, mobile blueliner that can add more snarl to his game, but possesses some offensive skills that the Leafs can develop into a middle-pair performer. His promise is certainly worth of a fourth round pick plus a low-level prospect like Brad Ross, a relic of the past after being selected in the 2nd round in 2010 for his hard-nosed style and agitating qualities.

4. The chaotic situation at the draft floor wasn’t ideal to offload the top-earning players on the Leafs roster but, a few days later, the Leafs brass pulled the gun on the biggest blockbuster of the summer, flipping Phil Kessel for more assets. Thus, the mercurial goal scorer was sent to the Pittsburgh Penguins for the talented 19-year-old Kasperi Kapanen, a character, stay-at-home promising defenseman in Scott Harrington, a first and third round picks plus some throw-ins from both sides, comprising a return that failed to impress Toronto’s avid press. However, with the Leafs clearly in rebuild and intent on clearing money from the books, Kessel’s steep cap hit, and lack of other interested suitors, Dubas and Shanahan had to settle for a deal with a Penguins team desperate to add a star player. Retaining 15% of his salary might be a better option than absorbing Rob Scuderi’s contract until 2017, and giving back a 2nd round pick was not in the plans, but the most important thing was achieved: shaking the losing core that sunk the ship throughout the second half of last season.

Daniel Winnik decided to return to Toronto

After solving this situation, Toronto was back to promoting indisputably smart decisions, filling out his roster with several cheap, undervalued, short-term contracts that can be used to acquire more assets down the line, including PA Parenteau for 1.5M, Mark Arcobello for 1.1M and Daniel Winnik for 5.5M over two years. Shawn Matthias at 2.3M, though, was the best of the lot, with the 27-year-old versatile forward primed to build on a great second half of 2014-15 by playing top-six minutes. RFA Nazem Kadri signed a one-year, “show-me” deal and will have ample opportunities to prove himself now that Tyler Bozak’s buddy is not around anymore, while starting goalie Jonathan Bernier has yet to agree to terms with the team.

5. With the addition of a stud blueliner like Noah Hanifin with the fifth pick, the Carolina Hurricanes now have three former top 12 picks in the draft on their defensive cupboard, joining offensive-minded Ryan Murphy and Hayden Fleury, last year’s seventh pick. Ron Francis seems to be building the foundation of his team from the backend, slotting pieces around 23-year-old Justin Faulk, an established all-star calibre rearguard.

However, to buy time for their jewel’s development, Francis managed to improve his defence for now by trading for James Wisniewski, the Ducks’ pricy trade deadline acquisition that saw the entire playoffs from the press box but will have ample opportunities to regain his mojo in Carolina, probably running the first powerplay unit. Moving Anton Khudobin for Wisniewski to make space for Eddie Lack is a lateral move on the net in terms of quality, although the Swede makes less than half in relation to the Russian netminder, always an important factor on a budget team. The former Canucks’ goaltender has one more year before becoming a UFA, mirroring the situation of veteran Cam Ward, and the Canes will closely follow his performance to determine if he can be an important part of their team going forward.

6. Going into July 1, the Canes announced the buyout of the mercurial Alex Semin, which never justified the 35 M/5-year deal signed before the 2013-14 season. The operation will cut 2.3M from their cap space for the next six years but the move was justified by the Russian’s inability to feed on a productive first season with the team (44 pts in 44 games in 2012-13, 61 pts in 122 games since then). The talented Semin has undoubtedly one of the most lethal releases in the league but with his profile on the downswing again, he’ll have to settle for one year, mid-level (probably on the 3-4M range, maybe even less) offers to continue his career in the NHL. A gamble some NHL teams looking for a top-six winger will make and one that could pay off on the right situation.

Alex Semin’s time with the Carolina Hurricanes has ended

7. Another GM that left Florida with a building block for his defensive core was Philadelphia’s Ron Hextall, who saw Ivan Provorov, for a lot of observers the most complete defenseman on the draft, fall to their lap. An all-around, mobile, physical defenseman, the Russian may well become the decade-long franchise blueliner the team has coveted and it’s not out of reach that he sticks with the Flyers in 2014-15. Hextall moved quicky to sign Provorov to an entry-level deal, and he could bring size, agility and some offensive flair to a defence that lacks those qualities.

After Provorov, the Flyers collected a few more pieces for their future, starting by trading up on the latter part of the first round to select Travis Konecny, a skilled, energetic, yet undersized winger, and picking up a pair of athletic, promising goaltending prospects in Sweden’s Felix Sandstrom and Slovakia’s Felix Tomek. In the latter rounds, they kept getting away from the usual Flyers mentality, going with speed and skill instead of grit and physicality, showing that most NHL organizations are learning from mistakes and understanding the evolution of the game.

8. Hextall and the Flyers brass had a good couple of days at the draft but the GM had more up his sleeve when he finalized a trade to get rid of the slow, expensive Nicklas Grossmann, sent to the Coyotes in return for center Sam Gagner, who, in spite of never fully blossoming on the league, can certainly help an offense that relied too heavily on their top guns. Along with Grossmann, Hextall dumped Chris Pronger’s contract to Arizona, opening some wiggle room to orchestrate more moves. The Flyers’ legend will continue to make everything in his power to offload the contracts of Vinny Lecavalier and R.J Umberger, but can take solace on the way he completely pickpocketed Boston’s Don Sweeney, prying a 3rd round pick for agitator Zac Rinaldo. And with Michael Neuvirth as the new backup to Steve Mason, the Flyers put on one of the team’s best goaltending tandems in quite some time.

Dougie Hamilton was traded to the Calgary Flames

9. The rookie Boston Bruins’ GM was the talk of draft day and his summer just keeps delivering. Pressed against the salary cap, Sweeney traded two core members of his roster and the returns were less than stellar. First was Dougie Hamilton, the burgeoning 22-year-old defenseman that accrued 42 pts in 2014-15, traded to Calgary for picks 15th, 45th and 52nd in the draft, slightly more than the team would receive for an offer sheet in the range of Hamilton’s salary demands, but nothing close to fair value for one of the best young defenseman in the league.

Meanwhile, Milan Lucic, the emblematic 27-year old left winger, was sent to the LA Kings for the 13th pick, goaltender Martin Jones, and mid-level defensive prospect Collin Miller, on a move intended to clear his 6M cap hit. However, the Bruins had to retain almost half of it (2.7M) and lost a top-six physical forward that, for years, had served as the model of their “Big, Bad Bruins” mantra.

Despite the divisive moves, Sweeney was now armed with the 13th, 14th and 15th pick and everyone thought he would move up to select a blue chip prospect. Wrong! The Bruins made the three consecutive selections and went off-the-board in all three, taking D Jakub Zboril and LW Jake Debrusk, both projected to go in the 20-30 range, plus winger Zachary Senychyn, a late 2nd/early 3rd round talent heading into the draft. The decisions earned scorn from multiple sectors and, even if we’ll have to wait years to realize whether they were the right ones, Sweeney should have definitely managed better his resources if he intended to come away with this trio.

10. A few days later, after taking notice of Jones’ financial demands, Sweeney tossed the goalie he had acquired to the San Jose Sharks, collecting a 2016 1st round pick, and ended his roster retool by signing Matt Beleskey to a surprisingly reasonable 5-years/19M deal, covering Lucic’s loss with a player that cashed out on a career-high 22 goals’ season. He also exchanged forward Reilly Smith for a cheaper secondary scoring threat on Florida’s Jimmy Hayes (a Boston-native…).

In the end, the Bruins downgraded twice on the attack and lost a stud, massively talented young defenseman for picks and some prospects, assets several years away from making an impact at the NHL level. Nonetheless, at least Sweeney followed Hextall’s lead and finally got rid of Marc Savard’s contract in the deal with the Panthers.

Oh, almost forgot, he also blew everyone away by valuing Zac Rinaldo as mid-round-pick-worthy…

11. Milan Lucic will fit right in with LA’s heavy style of hockey, and having him at a 3.3M cap hit until he reaches UFA status next summer is a solid deal for Dean Lombardi and the Kings, but the team won’t be happy with how the rest of the offseason is going on. Losing Justin Williams because they couldn’t match a perfectly reasonable 2-year-offer for the veteran winger stinks, and Andrej Sekera long-term contract with the Oilers was way too rich for another team way up against the cap. The Jarret Stoll drug situation sealed his exit as a pending UFA but Lombardi won’t have the same freedom to get rid of Slava Voynov and Mike Richards, no matter the subterfuges he tries to use.

Milan Lucic’s style will fit perfectly in LA

Jhonas Enroth’s signing to backup Jonathan Quick was wise, replacing Martin Jones, who, like Jonathan Bernier before, outperformed his role and effectively forced the GM’s hand to cash in on an asset. Tyler Toffoli’s 2-year bridge deal, worth a total of 6.5M, represents a compromise that seems to work for both the team and a player on the verge of a scoring outburst.

12. When he traded Jones to Boston, Lombardi didn’t envision the goaltender facing off his former teammates multiples times over the next few years, but Doug Wilson was aggressive moving in for the promising goalie and he got a new starter shortly after sending the UFA rights of incumbent Antti Niemi to the Dallas Stars. Jones inked a 3-year/9M deal with the Sharks and will have every opportunity to carve his spot, with 27-year-old Alex Stalock pushing him like he did with Niemi.

Then, the San Jose Sharks GM pounced twice on the free agency pool to add Paul Martin in order to complement his defensive core, envisioning the steady veteran alongside Brent Burns on the top pair, and improving his scoring depth with former Capital Joel Ward. Both players are 34-years-old and Wilson wasn’t shy about offering multi-year deals (4 to Martin, 3 to Ward) to the pair but, in the short term, his team is definitely improved, an inversion of last summer’s behaviour, where they did absolutely nothing to climb the ladder on the West and were left behind, missing the playoffs.

Former Penguins’ defenseman Paul Martin signed with the San Jose Sharks

13. Before settling for Jones, Doug Wilson went hard after NY Rangers’ Cam Talbot but Henrik Lundqvist’s understudy was ultimately sent to Edmonton, with a 59-game NHL career seemingly impressive enough to merit a place on the Oilers’ quest to find the right starting goalie for the future. Although Peter Chiarelli was able to resist the urge to send a 1st round pick for the 28-year-old unproven netminder, packaging a 2nd, 3rd and 7th round selections is nothing to sneeze at even for a team full of draft assets. Two more picks, the 16th and 33rd, were used to land former 4th overall selection (2010) Griffin Reinhart, a solid all-around defender that has taken more time than expected to break into regular NHL duties and had fallen out of favour inside a stacked NY Islanders’ cupboard.

Reinhart’s addition led to the trade of Martin Marincin, because, obviously, you can’t have too many young defensemen fighting for spots, but the true reinforcement at the position is Andrej Sekera, who, at age 29 and holding a new, shiny 33M deal, will carry the expectations directed at a No. 2D.

14. However, for all the Oilers did, the offseason will always be remembered for Connor McDavid’s arrival. Nothing is left to say about the new Canadian sensation, but look out for the implications on fellow young Center Leon Draisatl, the 3rd overall pick in 2014, who slides on the depth chart, stuck behind McDavid and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. The German has already expressed his willingness to adapt to the wing, at least for now, and he may need to stick there for some time until another solution emerges, since neither he or Nugent-Hopkins seem suited for a third line role.

15. The beginning of the McDavid era in Edmonton will also mark the full reboot of one the best rivalries in the league, with the Calgary Flames already stocking up to counter the offensive fireworks coming out of Oil Land. In this sense, the acquisition of Dougie Hamilton gives the Flames one of the deepest bluelines in the NHL, with a formidable top-three in Mark Giordano, TJ Brodie and Hamilton allowing Dennis Wideman and Kris Russell to slide further down the line-up card. Furthermore, Deryk Engelland will spend most of his time on the press box, which makes his compensation seem even more ridiculous (2.7M.PER.YEAR!!!).

Michael Frolik chosed the Calgary Flames over the Winnipeg Jets

The GM Brad Treliving decided to keep the 1A/1B model at the net, re-signing Karri Ramo to rekindle the pair with Jonas Hiller, and he managed to snatch one of the most sought-after forwards on the market, Czech Republic’s right winger Michael Frolik, who will receive 21.5M for 5 years of contract, adding versatility, speed and an impressive two-way game to a team on the upswing. With Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau a year away from the end of their entry-level deals, and Jiri Hudler also set to close his contract in 2016, Treliving did a good job locking up another core player in Swedish center Mikael Backlund, at worst a really capable, possession-driving, third line center with skill.

16. Most of the Pacific Division emblems got better and the current Champions, the Anaheim Ducks, followed their challengers’ lead, enhancing the speed of their attack with the arrival of Carl Hagelin, whose RFA status made him expendable on a cap-strapped NY Rangers team. The 26-year-old winger has a chance to join Perry and Getzlaf on the top line, shatter his career-highs set last year (17G, 35 pts), and bank on it next summer. Obviously, for this to happen, he’ll have to sacrifice money and term now, something GM Bob Murray will have to mull on because his team is miles away (18M) from the cap, making the Ducks a prime example of a clear title contender with roster flexibility due to several low-cost deals assigned to key contributors like Sami Vatanen, Hamphus Lindholm or Rickard Rackell. The gamble on Chris Stewart, re-signing Jacob Silfverberg, and the new figure to Hagelin’s deal will cut into that number, but the team will have a major opportunity, once again, to load up come the trade deadline.

Murray exchanged Francois Beauchemin, who bolted to Denver, for the acquired Kevin Bieksa, saving one year both in contract duration and age, and brought in depth at the goal with Anton Khudobin, allowing some more development time for John Gibson, who figures to be less than thrilled if forced to start the season in the AHL.

17. In Arizona, the disappointment of missing out on McDavid and Jack Eichel will take some more time to go away but GM Dave Maloney made the right decision in holding on to the 3rd overall pick, logically selecting a prototypical No. 1C in Dylan Strome, a highly-competitive kid with size (6-3), skill and speed. He’s definitely not a Messiah but a franchise cornerstone forward to build around, something the Coyotes have lacked for years. Strome may not stick on the NHL in 2015-16, but a youthful injection is coming to Arizona, with top prospects like Max Domi, Anthony Duclair and Brendan Perlini knocking on the door and several spots on the attack to fill.

Don Maloney (L) selected Dylan Strome (C) with the 3rd pick in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft

To surround the rookies (and reach the salary floor), several veterans were brought back into the fold, with defensive specialist Boyd Gordon rescued from the Oilers, and the pair Antoine Vermette / Zbynek Michalek choosing to return after being flipped for futures at the trade deadline. Brad Richardson is another solid depth addiction to stabilize the lower offensive lines, while the arrival of Chris Pronger’s contract will certainly inspire Klas Dahlbeck and Brandon Gormley to prove their value to Arizona’s future plans. In the middle of this rebuild, a poor, sad, young man in stalwart defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson is already getting ready for another year drowning in the desert.

18. If the Pacific Division has seen some major changes, the Central is surprisingly quiet, with the Blackhawks’ rivals perhaps waiting to see the complete outcome of the 2015 Great Chicago Stampede. Experiencing difficulties to unload the 5.9M due to Patrick Sharp and the 4M Bryan Bickell is scheduled to earn next season, the Stanley Cup Champions shipped out the up-and-coming Brandon Saad, a 22-year-old winger that EVERYONE thought would share the locker room with Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane for years to come. Stan Bowman wouldn’t go above the 5M threshold on a long-term offer for the sought-after RFA, and decided to trade him to the Columbus Blue Jackets instead of risk being backed into the wall by an offer sheet.

The return, as always happens when you are forced to give up on a talent of Saad’s calibre, isn’t stellar but Bowman looked happy for finally solving the 2nd line central conundrum with Artem Anisimov, a big, two-way player the team had coveted for some time. Getting the 20-year-old Marko Dano, an NHL-ready winger with two years of his entry-level deal yet to burn, was also significant for a team in need of cheap talent to fill attacking roles, and Jeremy Morin should get a chance to crack the lineup. As much as trading Saad hurts, these are the kind of returns that keep good teams always refreshed and ready to contend year after year, and Bowman delivered put on a difficult situation once again.

Brandon Saad will sport a new jersey over the next few years

Also, surrounded by little fanfare but potentially off no lesser importance, the Hawks guaranteed the services of Viktor Tikhonov, who joins his compatriot Artemi Panarin for a combined total of less than 2M, a true bargain for a pair of skilled forwards with potential to fill scoring line roles.

19. However, a difficult summer for the Hawks is just starting and Bowman still has to work the miracle of dumping Bickell somewhere, carving cap space to bring back Marcus Kruger, a player who has shown the willingness to wait due to his burning desire to stay in Chicago. Patrick Sharp, despite his clear decline, still holds some value and the Dallas Stars recently took him off Bowman’s hands, tossing back defenseman Trevor Daley, overmatched last year on Dallas’ first pair, and agitator Ryan Garbutt, on a move that, money-wise, didn’t really made a significant difference.

20. Eliminated by the Hawks in the first round, the Nashville Predators settled for the usual low-profile moves, taking a chance on the puzzling Cody Hodgson, who completely flamed out in Buffalo last season, and signing Barret Jackman to fill the veteran, mentoring role on their defence, probably by the side of Seth Jones on the second pair. The two-year extension for Mike Ribeiro is debatable, in light of the criminal accusations hanging over his head and his age (35), but the Preds didn’t have a lot of options to substitute a player who was effective as their No 1C. Mike Fischer will also be in Nashville for another couple of years after he proved last season that he’s still an effective shutdown guy.

Two other middleman, Craig Smith and Colin Wilson, both 25-years-old, are RFAs coming off deals with a 2M cap hit, and it’s not out of question that they double that after their arbitration hearings.

21. The Dallas Stars need reinforcements on defence, yet GM Jim Nill decided to spend money on a second starting goalie, trading for the rights to Antti Niemi and locking him up quickly to a three-year extension. The move left the Stars with 10.3M stuck on Niemi and compatriot Kari Lehtonen until 2018, but still 8M to use this season and Nill showed no hesitation making a trade for a significant offensive addiction for the third consecutive summer.

Patrick Sharp, a three-time Stanley Cup Champion on the move to Dallas

Patrick Sharp increases the firepower of the NHL’s second-best attack in 2014-15 and also becomes the second player in the team with the biggest cap hit, in front of Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn, who make a total of 11M for the next two seasons.

With the out-of-nowhere emergence of John Klingberg, the skating acumen of Trevor Daley was expendable, but to come back into the playoffs the Stars still need to add a sure-fire top-four blueliner, even if Stephen Johns, also acquired in the Sharp deal, was already on the verge of Chicago’s roster. With 6M to use, a full complement of players and names like Johnny Oduya, Cody Franson and Christian Ehrhoff still on the market, Jim Nill could take action or wait for what the future holds.

22. The Minnesota Wild offseason is marked by the success in the Mike Reilly sweepstakes, plucking the 21-year-old dynamic offensive defenseman that declined to ink an entry-level deal with the Columbus Blue Jackets. The American spurned several other suitors, notably the Hawks, Rangers and Pens, for a chance to star for his home state team, and they can certainly use a cost-controlled, mobile puck moving defenseman with Jared Spurgeon entering the last year of his deal and Matt Dumba finishing his rookie agreement.

The Wild are also in a bit of a cap crunch, with Erik Haula yet to sign and goalie Niklas Backstrom injured – and, as so, unable to be bought out – but Chuck Fletcher opened space by dumping Matt Cooke. Then, he managed to keep Mikael Granlund on a bridge two-year deal and season saviour Devan Dubnyk with a six-year offer worth 4.3M per year, a solid compromise with a goalie that just 12 months ago was out of the league. Trade deadline acquisitions’ Chris Stewart and Sean Bergenheim didn’t work as expected and were let go.

TJ Oshie is leaving the St. Louis Blues to play in Washington, D.C.

23. After another frustrating end of the season for the St. Louis Blues, changes were undoubtedly on the way and when Ken Hitchcock was brought back, the spotlight switched to some of the most important forwards in the team. Between David Backes, an UFA in 2016, Alex Steen and TJ Oshie, one had to go and the hammer dropped on the American right winger, sent to the Washington Capitals. Although getting Troy Brouwer and a 3rd round pick for Oshie is kind of underwhelming, especially because the physical winger represents a clear downgrade on a team that already lacked game-breaking skill, the message to the core group was delivered loud and clear.

Also decisive and definitive was the commitment, in the form of 8 seasons and 60M, to Vladimir Tarasenko as the team’s cornerstone forward through his prime years, with the Blues hoping the 23-year-old sniper will take on more responsibilities in the fall. The St. Louis outfit appears to have already set its roster after giving Jake Allen two more years to usurp Brian Elliot and prove that he can be a starter on a Cup contender.

24. Oshie left one of the better well-rounded squads in the NHL but he won’t be unhappy to get a chance to nail the spot on the Washington Capitals’ top line, certainly welcoming the opportunity to be the sidekick Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom have desired for years. However, Barry Trotz will have another recent arrival vying for the same after the Caps convinced advanced-stats darling Justin Williams to pen a two-year deal with the team. The term and money were an absolute win for GM Brian MacLellan, and surely left some Kings fans exasperated but, more importantly, the Caps upgraded significantly on the right wing position.

Third line center Eric Fehr is still unsigned but it’s not impossible he comes back as soon as they reach an agreement with Braden Holtby, looking for a deal in the 6M range, and forward Marcus Johansson. Evgeni Kuznetsov accepted a two-year bridge deal for 3M per season and it wouldn’t be a surprise if he explodes in a way that resembles his compatriot Tarasenko. The arrivals of Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik forced Mike Green into a secondary role at even strength during the season and the parts naturally agreed to move on, with the former 30-goal scorer landing in Detroit.

25. The Red Wings had been looking for a left handed, offensive minded blue-liner for some time and Ken Holland, after being spurned several times over the last summers, finally filled the void, handing a 3-year contract to Mike Green, who was able to keep his 6M cap hit. The reeling Brad Richards also landed in Detroit, for 3M on a one-year-deal, and that wouldn’t have been possible without the buyout of Stephen Weiss, a complete failure during his term with the team, even if some of the funds were also reallocated to a deserved and fair 4-year extension for Gustav Nyquist.

Gustav Nyquist will continue to score goals for the Detroit Red Wings for four more seasons

26. Ray Shero inherited from Lou Lamoriello a roster bare of young talent, especially on the attack, and his first move was to select a big, skilled center with the sixth overall pick in the draft, turning Pavel Zacha into the best and most important prospect the New Jersey Devils have had in years. However, Zacha may still be a couple of seasons away from contributing on the NHL and Shero will have to add some goal scoring until then. The market isn’t stuffed with that but, at least, he has already started to decrease the average age of his roster by adding 24-year-old, New Jersey-born forward Kyle Palmieri for a second round pick to the Ducks.

Several veterans won’t don the Devils’ jersey again, including Scott Gomez and Martin Havlat, but to expedite the renovation maybe Shero can aggressively revive one of his favourite moves as a Pittsburgh Penguins GM, dangling one of his young defenseman (Adam Larsson, Eric Gelinas, Damon Severson or Jon Merrill) for a similarly-aged prospect up front.

27. The Columbus Blue Jackets have no such problems, with the Saad coup arranged by GM Jarmo Kekalainen netting what could be a perennial running-mate for Ryan Johansen, provided the 22-year-old center forgets about the quarrels of his renovation by the time they sit down to talk again in 2017. Saad’s speed and strength will fit in nicely on a team built on those qualities, and the Jackets top-six now features Johansen, Saad, Brandon Dubinsky, Nick Foligno, Scott Hartnell and Boone Jenner, with Cam Atkinson and 20-year-old sophomore Alexander Wennberg bumped to the third line. This is a forward group that should scare their Metropolitan Division opponents’, and if the team builds on last season’s superb finish, watch out.

Ryan Murray’s health will be of paramount importance for the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2015-16

The backend will need an impressive and injury-free season from the battered Ryan Murray, the 2nd overall pick in 2012, or else the lack of depth could be exposed (being spurned by Mike Reilly really hurts here), but remember they have Sergei Bobrovsky covering the mistakes. This squad is well positioned to battle for way more than a single playoff position and I won’t be surprised to see them squaring for supremacy in the East come the spring of 2016.

28. Severely threatened by Columbus improvements’ are the two teams that have dominated the Division over the last few seasons. The New York Rangers, now under the direction of rookie GM Jeff Gorton, smartly auctioned an overvalued asset like Cam Talbot and replaced him with Antti Raanta, a backup capable enough to fill in for Lundqvist in the 15-20 games he should take to rest. However, they have 10M of cap space to use and some valuable RFA forwards to sign, with the most important, Derek Stepan, poised to hoard a major chunk of the pie. The Ryan O’Reilly extension in Buffalo will certainly be the comparison to use and those aren’t great news for the team, which hoped to agree to a deal starting with a “6”, while now the award may well move above the 7M per year. JT Miller, Jesper Fast and new recruit Emerson Etem, who welcomes the fresh start after never breaking through for the Ducks, are in line for much smaller payments and short-term deals, but the trio should reserve the entire space, with another forward left to close the roster after the cheap signing of Viktor Stalberg.

With little wiggle room, Gorton may be forced to part with one of his defenders, also anticipating the raises that Chris Kreider and Kevin Hayes will deserve next year, with Kevin Klein (2.9M) and Keith Yandle, despite being a bargain at 2.65 M (Arizona is picking up half of his check until 2016), on the forefront.

29. Meanwhile, the Pittsburgh Penguins, already sensing the prime years of the Crosby/Malkin era running out without sniffing another Cup, had to beef up yet again and shipped out more young assets on the Phil Kessel deal, a bet that Jim Rutherford and the organization were once again forced to do. Ponying up their only top-end forward prospect, a former 2nd round pick and the 2016 first round pick almost empties their cupboard, but at least they succeeded in keeping prized young defenders Derrick Pouliot and Olli Maatta.

Although Kessel is, arguably, the third most lethal sniper in the NHL today, after Ovechkin and Stamkos, and a tremendous weapon to join Crosby or Malkin at even strength, his presence on the powerplay can be even more crucial. His left shot stationed on the right side could open up precious space so that the two-headed monster could work on the left, maybe turning a scary but unbalanced unit into a mass destruction device. With Kessel, the whole Penguins offensive lineup also stretches out better, with the team now holding, when everyone is healthy, as many as ten legit top-nine forwards.

Will the trade to the Pittsburgh Penguins reenergize Phil Kessel?

Rutherford has yet to assemble his entire 4th line, weighing if the time is right to take a chance on untested youngsters like Oskar Sundqvist and Scott Wilson, and he would certainly love to find a taker for Rob Scuderi’s contract, but, for now, the team figures to enter the season with a really young blueline after losing veterans Paul Martin and Christian Ehrhoff due to cap constraints.

30. Since we got all the way till here, a few quick ideas on the teams missing :

Florida Panthers: parted ways with several veteran forwards (Scottie Upshall, Tomas Kopecky, Brad Boyes) to open space for home-grown talents like Vincent Trocheck and Quinton Howden;

Montreal Canadiens: re-signed sound top-four defenseman Jeff Petry to a rich six-years/33M deal and swapped Brandon Prust for Zack Kassian, who’s already 24-years-old and missing the boat towards becoming more than a physical, pesky, low-end forward;

New York Islanders: extended forward Anders Lee and defenseman Thomas Hickey on deserved multi-year deals;

Ottawa Senators: smartly locked out last year’s rookie of the year candidate Mark Stone to a reasonable 3 year/10.5M deal, and resisted the pressure to give up on lanky defenseman Jared Cowen, going through a bout of low-confidence;
Tampa Bay Lightning: rounded out the bottom-six with the smart signing of possession-driver, ex-Ottawa Senator, Erik Condra;

Vancouver Canucks: for some reason decided that paying 2.5M to Brandon Prust was what they needed and even threw-in a 5th round pick to make it happen. Cashed in on Eddie Lack after deciding he wasn’t a long-term solution on goal, opening a slot for Jacob Markstrom to prove that he belongs in the NHL. However, Jim Benning was unable to keep the other piece of the Luongo deal, losing Shawn Matthias, an affordable, productive third line option.

Winnipeg Jets: Kevin Cheveldayoff managed to snare Alexander Burmistrov back from the KHL, adding a talented and versatile forward that can play anywhere on the top-nine, and retained, on a two-year deal, Drew Stafford, a key element over the stretch run last season. Michael Frolik, an influential defensive-ace, moved to the Calgary Flames even if the Jets made offers in the neighbourhood of what he got. Really important point to keep in mind: the Jets system is brimming with talent at every position and stellar prospects like Nikolaj Ehlers, Josh Morrisey and Nic Petan can force their way in as early as opening night;

31. Top five Unrestricted Free Agents left in the market and my bet on where they’ll land:

RW Alex Semin (Montreal Canadiens)
D Christian Ehrhoff (Philadelphia Flyers)
D Cody Franson (Columbus Blue Jackets)
D Johnny Oduya (Dallas Stars)
C Eric Fehr (New Jersey Devils)

The main NHL draft gems since 2005

The NHL draft is one of the season’s most exciting events for a lot of NHL fans: two days of high expectations, an irrational belief in a better future for their beloved team and a rousing welcome of a franchise-saving bunch of teenage boys. It’s a chance to change the fortunes and history of entire organizations and that can happen not only on the first round but also during the frenzy of action of the crucial second day.

The value of late round picks has always been controversial and most fans usually disregard them when their GM’s throw it around like hot bread on trades that actually don’t do a lot for the rosters mid-season. In fact, it’s difficult to get all riled up for a player that won’t suit up for three, four, five years, but the history of the league has a basket full of superstars absolutely mined out of nowhere. The journeys of guys like Pavel Datsyuk (1998, 171th overall), Henrik Zetterberg (1999, 210th) or Henrik Lundqvist (2000, 205th) towards Hall-of-Fame-worthy careers are well documented even if the magic of the mysterious scout that uncovers gold on an eerie venue at the end of the (hockey) world is getting increasingly difficult on an era where information flows freely and instantly.

Until 2004, the NHL draft consisted of nine rounds that allowed for a plethora of home runs but the post-lockout landscape brought alterations that affected also the process of selecting young prospects, with the event now limited to seven rounds and (usually) 210 picks. Away from the first and second round choices, which a significant portion of everyday NHL fans have heard or read about on the weeks leading up to the event, dozens of players have their rights assigned to different teams although only a few pair of eyes have had the opportunity to witness their capacities on the ice. Obviously, most of them never reach the highest level but a selected few go on to make a real impact on the world’s best hockey league.

This article tackles the individuals that managed to fight those odds, highlighting the top players selected by NHL organizations on rounds 4 to 7 since 2005. After scouring the draft lists of each year, I ordered the top 10 players on that range based on the general impact they’ve already been able to produce, the individual and team success they’ve been a part off and, especially for the younger guys, the feats they may amount to.

The ranking is obviously biased by my own preferences but an overall overview shows that a single organization contributed with more than one name (no, not the Detroit Red Wings…) and there’s a balanced mix of positions and ages. However, unsurprisingly, the oldest events add more chips to the mix, with the latest choices hailing from 2011 – as expected, players picked since 2012 have yet to assemble a body of work worthy of consideration.

I assembled a small text for every player featured, including a resume of his earliest seasons, before and after getting drafted, their accomplishments and how they managed to develop in order to break into the NHL.

10. Niklas Hjalmarsson (CHI, 2005, 4th round, 108th pick)

Niklas Hjalmarsson, defenseman of the Stanley Cup Champions Chicago Blackhawks

Every time you can steal a core member of a roster that wins three Stanley Cups on the fourth round, you’re definitely doing something right.

The native of Eksjo was the fourth Swedish selected on the 2005 draft and the first defenceman at a time where the country was on the downside in terms of talent production, with only 12 players picked up on that weekend at Ottawa (at least 20 Swedes have been selected every year since 2009).

Hjalmarsson’s professional career started at HV71 but it was only in 2006-2007 that he asserted himself has a regular of the Jonkoping outfit, moving across the pond on the next summer to represent the Hawks affiliate on the AHL. He played 13 games for the NHL team during that season but his place was only secured towards the end of the following season, with the defenseman gaining valuable experience as a member of the emerging Chicago team on the playoffs. One year later, already established as a bonafide top 4 defenseman, Hjalmarsson was a key part on the team that brought the Stanley Cup to Chicago for the first time in 49 years, and his play was so impressive that the San Jose Sharks extended an (always rare) offer sheet to the defender, which was quickly matched by Chicago. Over the last few seasons he has collected two more titles and thousands of miles manning the Hawks’ blue-line and was also a member of the Swedish team that left the 2012 Sochi Olympics with a silver medal.

As a young prospect, Hjalmarsson was considered an unassuming, promising two-way defenseman with a good shot and capable of jumping on the play, but he ended specializing as a shutdown force for the Blackhawks, logging major minutes on the PK and punishing opponents with a physical brand of hockey.

9. Brendan Gallagher (MON, 2010, 5th round, 147th pick)

The undersized Edmonton native was always an undervalued asset during his formative years and that didn’t change in time for his NHL draft day. A ninth round pick on the 2007 WHL draft by the Vancouver Giants, the (now) 5-9 right-wing took a season to join his junior squad but made a real impact in short order, scoring 41 goals and 81 points on his draft year (2009-10), the second season for the Giants. However, his strong numbers weren’t enough to convince the scouts that the feisty winger could succeed on the NHL and he was an unheralded player on the selection held in LA.

Gallagher spent two more years in Vancouver, amassing 40 goals twice more, becoming a League All-Star and the team’s all-time scoring leader, but his major eye-opening appearance came after he snatched a spot on the always competitive Canadian U-20 roster, that disputed the 2012 World Junior Championships. He went pro a few months later and, twelve months after being one of the last cuts for the Canadiens opening day roster, the NHL lockout provided some time to gain invaluable experience at the AHL level. On January, at age 20, came his long-awaited NHL debut and Gallagher ended the season with 28 points and a nomination for best rookie of the regular season.

Over 207 NHL games, the Canadiens spark plug has already added 116 points and 58 goals and his fast, gritty approach have made him a fan-favourite of the exigent Montreal crowd, putting him among the leading candidates to don a letter for the proud franchise on the future. With a nice and quick release, the 23-year crashes the net with abandon, battles hard in the corners and plays bigger than his size, having become a role model for small players looking to build a successful career on the NHL.

8. Patric Hornqvist (NAS, 2005, 7th round, 230th pick)

From last player selected on the 2005 NHL draft to the main winger on a team blessed with the two most gifted centres in the NHL. Drafted out of Vasby IK, a small club from the Stockholm region, the Swedish winger is another player who has succeeded in the NHL on the basis of an exceptional work rate and the maximization of his strengths.

Hornqvist debuted on the principal Swedish league only in 2005 and played for Djurgarden over three seasons, including a 23-goal performance in 2006-07 that earned him a rookie of the year nomination. He decided to join the Predators organization in 2008, splitting the season between Milwaukee (17 goals in 49 games) and Nashville (28 games), but his breakout came in 2009-10, when he collected 30 goals and 51 points to lead the team and was also called to represent his country on the Vancouver Olympics. In 2014, Hornqvist was traded for the Pittsburgh Penguins, equalling his biggest career point total despite missing 18 games due to injury.

Pittsburgh Penguins’ winger Patric Hornqvist

The Sollentuna native scored, at least, 21 goals on every (non-lockout) NHL season since 2010 and has turned into a dependable top 6 scoring forward that can hang with creative players, retrieve pucks efficiently and excel around the net. Usually placed among the players with the most shots on goal on the NHL, the Swede is considered a high volume shooter that lacks some foot speed and skating skills but certainly knows where to go on the ice.
After picking up more than 130 goals in 427 games, there’s no doubt that Hornqvist has severely outperformed the draft day expectations.

7. TJ Brodie (CGY, 2008, 4th round, 114th pick)

Born in Chatham, Ontario, the Calgary Flames’ defenseman played four seasons on the OHL for the Saginaw Spirit, developing his craft against the most talented Canadian major junior players. Brodie’s first full-time season for the Spirit came in 2007-08, his draft year, and the 30 points certainly didn’t jump of the page but it was enough to convince the Flames to take a chance on the smooth-skating defenseman.

The following year he amassed 50 points and on his last junior season the defenseman was traded for a contending Barrie Colts team, losing the OHL title but gaining valuable experience on high-stakes matches. Brodie turned professional in 2010 and made the Calgary roster out of camp but the season was spent mostly in Abbotsford, where he emerged as one of the Flames blue-chip prospects and represented the AHL team on the league’s All-Star Game.

Since 2011, the 25-year-old has been part of the Flames roster, slowly climbing the depth chart until the definitive explosion in 2013-2014, when the pair formed with captain Mark Giordano was unanimously recognized as one of the finest in the NHL. In 2014-15, Brodie set career-highs in goals (11) and points (41) and anchored the team’s defence after Giordano went down late in the season, impressing everyone with his all-around prowess, capacity to log major minutes (over 25 per game) and poise. The Flames two-way blueliner even received some Norris trophy buzz, capping an under-the-radar progression that took most NHL fans by surprise.

6. Mark Stone (OTT, 2010, 6th round, 178th pick)

The finalist for the 2015 Calder Trophy still has a lot to prove at the NHL level, but the second part of his rookie season was thoroughly impressive and merited a place on this list.

The Winnipeg-native played his junior hockey for the Brandon Wheat Kings of the WHL and was another player that spent all four years on the CHL before turning pro. His first two seasons were unspectacular, including a 28-point performance on a draft year that was marred by a concussion and a thumb injury, sending Stone’s name down the draft ranks. However, the Sens took a chance on a talented power forward with a suspect skating stride and are just starting to reap the benefits. Stone had 106 points in 71 games in 2010-2011, added 123 more the following year, and this success, coupled with a strong presence at the World Juniors, provided enough confidence to leave Brandon and join the Senators organization.

The right winger spent the next two seasons playing for the AHL’s Binghampton Senators and was capable of producing offense at decent levels (two 15-goal seasons) but nothing predicted the breakthrough he enjoyed in 2014-15. Stone led all NHL players in points after the All-Star break, diabolizing opponents alongside top center Kyle Turris, and was an essential piece on a Sens team that put on a magical run to secure a playoff spot on the last game of the regular season. He ended with 26 goals and 64 points to tie for the rookie lead and showcased his hockey smarts, impressive pair of hands and underrated release while using his imposing 6-3 frame to appear on the scoring areas.

Mark Stone, the Ottawa Senators star rookie winger in 2014-15

Some will argue that the Senators’ winger is poised for a sophomore slump next season and NHL history is full of guys that never delivered on triumphal entrances, but everyone who saw him dominate for stretches in March and April knows how talented he is. Further improving his skating will help him contribute when the pucks suddenly stop hitting the back of the net and build a successful NHL career.

5. Ondrej Palat (TBL, 2011, 7th round, 208th pick)

A product of his hometown club, HC Frydek-Mistek, and HC Viktovice’s youth teams, Palat was not selected on the 2009 draft and decided to move to North America, joining the QMJHL’s Drummondville Voltigeurs. However, 40 points in 59 games weren’t enough to convince an organization to give him a chance yet again and the forward had to go back to junior. 39 goals and 96 points later, someone had finally bought in on his style of play and the then 20-year-old had the chance to claim an NHL jersey.

The Tampa Bay Lightning signed Palat to an entry-level deal shortly after the 2011 selection and he immediately reported to the AHL’s Norfolk Admirals, taking part on a team that would win a record 28 consecutive games and capture the Calder Cup. From the 30 points of his debut season, Palat jumped to 52 in 56 games during 2012-2013 and the reward was a 14-game stint for the Bolts after the NHL lockout ended.

Czech Republic’s Ondrej Palat, Tampa Bay Lightning’s two-way force

The Czech made the Lightning roster out of training camp the following season, joining his AHL linemates Tyler Johnson and Richard Panik, and he was so impressive that his 23-goals and 59-points warranted a nomination for rookie of the year, alongside Johnson, and a place on his country Olympic Games’ roster.

His creativity, playmaking ability and quickness produced abundantly at the NHL level in 2014-15, amassing 16 goals and 63 points in 75 games, and Palat has also evolved into a top-notch two-way winger, extremely responsible on every zone, which resulted in a stunning +31 differential. The lack of size and strength that kept him down early on his professional career has been minimized and the Czech has every tool to have a long and fruitful NHL career.

4. Keith Yandle (ARI, 2005, 4th round, 105th pick)

The Boston-native was drafted out of high school, specifically the Cushing Academy, in 2005 and decided to forgo a commitment to the University of New Hampshire in order to join the Moncton Wildcats of the QMJHL. Yandle would only play one season of major junior since his 25 goals and 84 points led the Wildcats to the league’s Championship and were worthy of Defenseman of the Year honours, which persuaded the Coyotes to quickly pry away the offensive dynamo.

Former Arizona Coyotes’ defenseman Keith Yandle

In 2006-07, Yandle developed the defensive aspects of his game against more experienced players at the AHL level, adding 33 points for the San Antonio Rampage, and the decisive jump for the NHL would arrive on the second half of the following season, playing 43 games for the Phoenix side. Since 2008-09, the skilled blue liner has established himself as one of the best powerplay quarterbacks in the league, using a lethal one-timer, excellent offensive instincts and superior skating ability to help his teammates create scoring chances. Naturally, Yandle has picked up interesting point totals over the years, scoring over 10 goals from 2009 to 2012, and collecting a career-high 59 points during the 2011-2012 campaign.

His mobility helps him get away from the fearless forecheckers in the NHL but he suffers with the bulkiest forwards on physical confrontations, something that, along with his positional lapses, has limited his usage on defensive situations. Yandle was traded to the New York Rangers before the 2014-15 trade deadline and the move will significantly increase his profile and the pressure to perform on a major market, far away from the obscurity of Phoenix. The way he deals with that will define how the 28-year-old career will be remembered.

3. Braden Holtby (WAS, 2008, 4th round, 93rd pick)

Drafting goalies is always a challenge and, consequently, the current group of elite goaltenders in the NHL was selected all over the place, from Carey Price, Roberto Luongo and Marc-Andre Fleury, all top 5 picks, to Henrik Lundqvist and Pekka Rinne, 7th and 8th round picks, respectively. In this sense, Braden Holtby is like Jonathan Quick, a third round pick in 2005, since one understands that they could just as easily had flamed out.

Holtby had a 0.895 SV% in 2006-07 for the Saskatoon Blades and on his draft season the numbers were slightly better but not eye-popping (2.84 GAA, 0.908 SV%). He left the WHL a year later to join the Hershey Bears (with some ECHL starts here and there) and won the AHL Championship during his first season, posting interesting numbers (37 W, 2.32 GAA, 0.917 SV%) and solidifying his status as one to watch on a pipeline brimming with talent on the position.

November of 2010 marked his NHL debut and he collected 10 W and 2 SO from 14 stellar games before being sent down. He played just seven games for Washington the following regular season, amassing 40 wins for the Bears, but was named the Caps starting goalie in the playoffs as the team fell in the second round to the Rangers. In 2012-13, he finally took regular duties in Washington after the end of the lockout and enjoyed a nice season (2.13 GAA, 0.920 SV%) but his numbers suffered a bit in 2013-14, as he split time with Michal Neuvirth.

Washington Capitals’ goalie Braden Holbty showing off his athleticism

And then, last season arrived, with Holtby capitalizing on the trust of new coach Barry Trotz to play an incredible 72 times in the regular season plus 13 playoff games. The Saskatchewanian was one of the top goalies in the NHL, breaking the 40-win mark, and posting a 2.22 GAA and 0.923 SV% due to his above-average mix of athleticism, size and agility, coupled with an unwavering self-confidence. Just 25-years-old, the workhorse goalie has claimed the net after some years of instability at the position for the franchise, and the Caps are certainly happy they choose to bet on him after letting go other high-prized goalie prospects like Semyon Varlamov and Neuvirth, both picked on the top 34 of the 2006 draft.

2. Johnny Gaudreau (CGY, 2011, 4th round, 104th pick)

Johnny Gaudreau, the Calgary Flames’ offensive wizard

A natural of New Jersey, the diminutive left winger played on the Philadelphia region growing up and moved to the USHL’s Dubuque Fighting Saints in 2010, collecting 72 points in 60 games during his draft year to be named the league’s best rookie. His small frame (5-6), though, scared a lot of NHL teams and despite outstanding offensive instincts, more than 100 names were called before Gaudreau’s at Minnesota on draft weekend.

However, “Johnny Hockey” would not be discouraged and joined the Boston College in the fall to start a prized NCAA career. On his freshman year, the winger had 44 points in 44 games and was named the MVP of the traditional Beanpot tournament, before improving to 51 points in 36 games as a sophomore, the NCAA’s best point per game average, thus effectively becoming the team’s go-to guy. A finalist for the Hobey Baker award during a season where he also represented the USA on the World U-20 Championships – shining with a tournament-leading 7 goals and a place on the All-Star team – Gaudreau decided to return to Boston for a third college season.

The choice proved right as he set the NCAA on fire by establishing historical offensive figures, namely a 2 points-per-game pace (80 in 40 games), the highest of any player in more than a decade. Despite losing the title on the final against Union, he was obviously nominated as NCAA’s top player of the season and joined the Calgary Flames’ organization at the end of the regular season, taking advantage of the opportunity to open his professional scoring tally on the first shot of his only game. Before going on vacations, he still had to leave his mark on the World Championships, tallying 10 points on his first senior international competition.

Heading into 2014-15, the tantalizing Gaudreau had to carry the weight of expectations in Calgary and, after a slow start, he definitely did not disappoint. The 21-year-old delighted the fans with his elusiveness, creativity, superb puck control and stickhandling on the road to a 64-point rookie season, tying for the lead among his equals, taking part on the All-Star Game, and willing the Flames to a surprising playoff appearance. Now 5-9, the baby-faced star promises to be a dazzling NHL player for years to come and is yet another proof that the biggest talents always find a way to stand out at every level.

1. Jamie Benn (DAL, 2007, 5th round, 129th pick)

At the age of 25, the Victoria, BC native is already an Olympic Champion, an Art Ross Trophy winner and an NHL captain. Yet, most NHL teams had, at least, five chances to take him and none jumped at the opportunity.

Maybe the reasons can be rooted to a draft season played on the secondary BCHL, for the Victoria Grizzlies, instead of the major junior Canadian leagues, which he joined only on the 2007-2008 season, suiting up for the Kelowna Rockets. The left winger posted 65 points during his rookie season on the WHL, far from impressive totals at that level, and improved to 82 in just 56 games the following year to secure an All-Star team nomination. In the post-season, he performed even better, pacing the Rockets to the WHL title and a place on the Memorial Cup final, lost to Taylor Hall’s Windsor Spitfires even though Benn cracked the tournament’s All-Star team.

By this time, Jamie Benn was already a coveted prospect, having also taken part of Canada´s World Junior title in 2009, and it was only a mild surprise that he cracked the Dallas Stars’ line-up on his first professional season. He scrapped the usual AHL seasoning until the Calder Cup playoffs, when Benn led the Texas Stars to the final, amassing 26 points during the campaign.

Dallas Stars’ captain Jamie Benn, the best late draft gem of the NHL since 2005

Displaying raw power forward qualities, the young winger scored 22 times during his rookie season and hasn’t stopped getting better since then, polishing his game and cracking 63 points in 2011-2012, before emerging as one of the best and most complete players in the world in 2013-2014, barely missing the elusive point per game mark with 79 in 81 appearances. He was also a key member of the Canadian team that triumphed at the Sochi Olympics.

In 2014-15, the Stars captain took his final step to stardom by tallying 87 points during the regular season, tops in the NHL, while his versatility and large frame, along with excellent sniping abilities and deft hands, create an invaluable specimen for the Dallas Stars and the envy of many other NHL organizations.

To end, a list of honourable mentions, players I also considered when comprising this list.

2005: Anton Stralman (TOR, 7th, 216th)
2007: Alec Martinez (LA, 4th, 95th); Jake Muzzin (PIT, 5th, 141th); Carl Hagelin (NYR, 6th, 168th)
2008: Gustav Nyquist (DET, 4th, 121th)
2009: Sami Vatanen (ANA, 4th, 106th), Marcus Kruger (CHI, 5th, 149th)
2010: John Klingberg (DAL, 5th, 131st); Frederik Andersen (ANA, 7th, 187th)
2011: Andrew Shaw (CHI, 5th, 139th)