Greetings from Dallas in the aftermath of what was the 2018 NHL entry draft. Two days, 2017 total picks and eight Avalanche selections later, it’s all over. That’s until the scouting season for the 2019 class begins in just a few short months. Now to unpack what did, and did not, happen in Dallas.
It was great to live the whole draft experience. The American Airlines Center was both beautiful and accommodating. Fans packed the upper bowl for night one and I was a bit surprised the draft eligibles and their entourages did not fill the lower bowl to capacity. It was neat just casually seeing so many names in hockey from players to coaches and executives, there was almost a slight feeling of intimacy.
Night one was all about Martin Kaut, or should have been. There was the matter of the Ottawa pick drama and a little trade that happened, which will get dissected for the foreseeable future. There never seemed to be a vibe that Ottawa was going to pull the surprise and send the fourth overall to Colorado. It would have been fantastic to land Filip Zadina but it’s understandable that a lot can change for Ottawa, or Colorado, in a year.
Kaut was a perfect fit for the Avalanche and great pick at 16. He fills a need for a right shot winger but has the smarts, compete, skating and playmaking ability to match what the Avalanche are trying to build. It was encouraging to hear Kaut directly reference transitioning to North America and possibly playing in the AHL several times unprompted. Kaut has a game that is mature and responsible, which for some reason seems to be labeled as mutually exclusive with skill and offensive upside but Kaut has both. This is a player who will be wearing burgundy sooner than later.
The first round saw a great diversity of picks from different leagues and hockey nations. Just seven top 20 picks were from the CHL and 13 from the first round overall. There’s always one inexplicable faller and this year Joe Veleno was the lucky one as he fell all the way to 30th. There’s some upside concerns with him but a drop that far wasn’t expected. Several OHL forwards were some of the biggest surprises of the night in Barrett Hayton going top five, Ty Dellandrea at 13 and Liam Foudy at 18. Jay O’Brien from Thayer Academy (MA HS) and Jacob Bernard-Docker from Okotoks (AJHL) were first round selections from outside major-junior.
The first night is the show with the lights and the flash but day two is where franchises are built. A never ending string of unfamiliar names who will never see the NHL is what the second day seems like on the surface but it’s where foundations and system depth are built with an unsuspecting gem to be unearthed. More nervous energy fills the arena on this day as the line between hockey people and spectator blur even further.
The television broadcasts always do a poor job conveying the atmosphere of day two but I wasn’t prepared for the slow methodical pace of the day. As the rounds got later the speed of the picks slowed to a crawl. Certainly not the lightning round as had been described. Watching those players remaining in the stands near the end get picked is a great joy as most picks are not present at the event by that point.
The Avalanche went with heavy European flavor in this draft and understandable given the absolute home run scouts hit with Mikko Rantanen and the success of signing Igor Shvryev to an Entry Level Contract less than a year after selecting him out of Russia. That branch of the scouting department has earned a bit more rope even if it’s disappointing seeing CHL favorites get passed over.
This class will also be defined by the two second round picks the Avalanche didn’t make. Trading down six spots is good asset management but essentially both high level second round picks were spent on a neglected position of need in goaltending. Time will tell, as with every decision made this weekend, if that was the right call.
The picks that were made will become more familiar after hopefully seeing them on the ice in development camp and digging into their background over the summer. On the surface my snap reactions are: Justus Annunen is a high level goalie prospect that folks have been clamoring for. Both Sampo Ranta and Tyler Weiss were good talent value for where they were drafted as they could have easily gone the round prior. Brandon Saigeon seems like the idea is for him to contribute at the AHL level next year. The trio of Russians, Danila Zhuravlyov, Nikolai Kovalenko and Shamil Shmakov, in the last three rounds are good fliers to take on each a defenseman, forward and goalie respectively.
A whirlwind trip was worth it to see the culmination of a year’s work of scouting and speculating and to witness how organizations build their franchises. This isn’t the end but yet the beginning on the story of the 2018 NHL entry draft class.