Sunday, June 29, 2014

NHL Draft Thoughts

This weekend was the NHL draft which is always one of my favorite events of the year. No matter how well or poor your team did this past season, you can get optimistic about the future as organizations choose players to stockpile and develop for the future.

Depending on where a team is, the excitement level is different. The Florida Panthers took Aaron Ekblad with the first overall pick. He projects to be a very solid, all-around defenseman in the NHL. The Panthers continue to acquire young talent in the draft and have a bright future ahead assuming things go as they hope...then again, that sometimes doesn't happen.

For the NY Rangers they come in after losing in the Stanley Cup Finals to the LA Kings. It was an incredible playoff run but LA was, like in 2012, an absolute runaway freight train this year. The Rangers did have chances to win games but the Kings found ways to win and and never gave up the entire post season.

The Rangers gave up their first round pick this year and next in the Martin St. Louis trade. I will not get into that discussion too much but I will say the trade was worth it. The Rangers have been stockpiling for a bit and have a solid core. But at some point, you have to make a move to try and get to the next level. Was it hard for some fans to take? Of course it was. Ryan Callahan has been a big part of the NY Rangers for awhile. But with the way negotiations were going with his contract and the abilities that St. Louis brings, you had to do it.

With no first round picks, that means a team has to get creative. It certainly isn't the kiss of death for a team to have no first round picks. Most NHL players come from later rounds and that is where teams need to find diamonds in the rough. Are most of those players going to play? No but the ability to find late round gems is important. An easy example is Henrik Lundqvist.

The Rangers made seven picks this season after coming to the draft with five. With the Rangers only having nine picks over the last two years, this was a good time to restock the cupboard a bit. Were they going to get a top flight pick? No unless they decided to trade up. But there was value in the draft this season and the Rangers have a very savvy scouting staff led by Gordie Clark. NY left the draft with three defensemen, two goalies, and two forwards. Spreading the picks around is a great way to draft as the Rangers have mentioned they will draft the best player that they think is available and don't usually go by organizational need.

One way it worked out in both directions is the drafting of goalies. I have read fans screaming about the Rangers drafting two goalies. It is time for a reality check, folks...Is Henrik Lundqvist at the top of his game? Yes. Is he unreal? Yes. Will he be around forever? Absolutely not. Lundqvist is 32 years old and certainly has plenty of good years left in him. But goalies take a very long time to develop. The only goalie developing in the system right now, with any sort of potential, is MacKenzie Skapski who is playing junior hockey. The Rangers needed more depth in the system. It makes sense. These guys are all young and at least five to six years from sniffing the NHL. In that time Lundqvist will be 38 or 39 years old. These picks are not about replacing Lundqvist because he will leave to go somewhere else...these picks are in mind for when Lundqvist retires and the Rangers have to fill that crease. Its called preparation and its the smart thing to do.

Will this draft be a success? We will not know the answer to that question for a long time. All of these players need time to develop and will not be in the NHL for awhile, barring any sort of absolute steal. The good news is that some of the players picked do have potential to be solid NHL players. Whether any turn into star NHL players remains to be seen.

For now it is on to Free Agent Frenzy and what should be an interesting July...


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