The 2020 NHL Entry Draft is behind us and in some ways Day 2 was more interesting than the first round Tuesday night. Of course, the headline prospects were taken in the first round, but there were a number of interesting trades and signings yesterday. When going over the winners and losers of the 2020 NHL Entry Draft, I’m going to be factoring in Tuesday and Wednesday’s trades and signings as well as the players taken.
With that in mind, let’s talk about the teams that stood out over the last two days, for better and worse.
LOSER: Arizona Coyotes – The Coyotes lost in the first round of the playoffs after missing the playoffs for each of the previous seven seasons, so they’re not exactly in “win now” mode. Despite that, they didn’t pick until the 111st selection overall. Why?
Their first round pick (18th overall), belonged to the New Jersey Devils as part of the Taylor Hall trade. The Coyotes decision to get Taylor Hall was questionable back in December when they pulled the trigger given that he was on the final year of his contract. The Coyotes weren’t expected to be a major contender even with Hall and indeed they weren’t, so getting Hall wasn’t worth it in terms of what he did for the Coyotes in 2019-20. The only way that trade would have made sense is if the Coyotes were able to re-sign him, but they weren’t. So basically in the Hall trade, the Coyotes gave up their first round pick and all that they got out of it was a quick exit in the playoffs.
To make matters worse, Arizona’s second-round pick was forfeited as a penalty for violations to the NHL Combine Testing Policy (they also lost their first round pick in 2021 over that). Meanwhile, the Coyotes third-round pick was given up as part of the Carl Soderberg trade – who by the way is also set to become an unrestricted free agent.
As if the Coyotes needed more salt poured in the wound, they’re in the middle of an awkward potential divorce with their top defenseman and captain Oliver Ekman-Larsson. The Coyotes are shopping him after he played just one season of his eight-year, $66 million contract. Only that deal includes a full no-movement clause, so he gets to dictate what the Coyotes options are. He’s reportedly limited his potential destinations to Vancouver and Boston and on top of that, his agent said on Tuesday that if Ekman-Larsson isn’t moved by Friday, then he’ll simply stay in Arizona whether the Coyotes want to trade him or not.
So to summarize, the Coyotes are going through an awkward period and the draft period highlighted it.
WINNER: Minnesota Wild – The Wild were fortunate that Marco Rossi was still available when they picked at ninth overall and they took advantage of the opportunity. He’s undersized, which is presumably why he wasn’t drafted higher, but his offensive potential is through the roof. On top of that, he plays center, which is a position Minnesota sorely needs help in, so the Wild were able to address a need while also grabbing the best player available. It’s just a very good pick and match.
The Wild further addressed their deficiency up the middle when they acquired Nick Bonino along with the 37th (Marat Khusnutdinov) and 69th (Eemil Viro) picks overall from Nashville in exchange for Luke Kunin and the 100th pick (Adam Wilsby). Giving up Kunin, who is still just 22-years-old, hurts, but Bonino is solid on the draw and great defensively. He’ll slide in nicely as the Wild’s second or third-line center. It’s worth noting that they added yet another center when they drafted Khusnutdinov, though unlike Rossi, who might be able to play in the NHL as early as next season, Khusnutdinov should be regarded as a project.
All-in-all, it was a solid showing for the Wild.
LOSERS: Columbus Blue Jackets – Sometimes being bold pays off. Sometimes it doesn’t. Only time will tell if the Blue Jackets made the right calls over the past couple days, but their draft decisions were certainly head scratchers.
They had the oddest pick of the first round, taking Yegor Chinakhov with the 21st overall pick when some lists didn’t even have him in their top-100. He’s off to a fine start in the KHL this season and Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen said his team’s scouting report had him as a top-10 prospect, but he’s certainly a big gamble.
Columbus continued that trend too. Their next pick was 78th overall and they took Samuel Knazko with that selection, who was again perhaps a stretch. Mikael Pyyhtia was then taken 114th overall by Columbus and wasn’t even on a lot of lists.
Maybe the Blue Jackets see something in these players that some others don’t and if they work out then Columbus’ scouts will look like geniuses. It’s also entirely possible though that the Blue Jackets don’t end up with any players of note out of this draft.
WINNERS: Carolina Hurricanes – In the summer of 2019, the Toronto Maple Leafs were desperate to clear cap space and the Carolina Hurricanes took advantage. They agreed to take the final season of Patrick Marleau’s contract and in exchange, Toronto surrendered their first round pick. The Maple Leafs lost in the qualifying round, so that ended up being the 13th pick overall. That’s an amazing addition for Carolina given that all it really cost them was money. With that draft pick, Carolina took Seth Jarvis, who is an all-around great forward. He is undersized, but Jarvis is capable of both contributing offensively and helping out the Hurricanes defensively.
On top of that, Noel Gunler, who they took with the 41st overall pick, is a potential steal. He’s a bit of a gamble, but he wouldn’t have looked out of place as a late first-rounder. He’s got a lot of upside and an amazing shot.
LOSERS: San Jose Sharks – When the Sharks acquired Ottawa from the Senators and later inked him to a massive eight-year, $92 million contract, they never dreamed that the first-round pick they owed Ottawa would end up being the third overall, but here we are. At least the Sharks weren’t completely kept out of the first round. They ended up with the 31st overall selection thanks to the Barclay Goodrow trade.
The Sharks used that final first round pick on Ozzy Wiesblatt, who is fine for that point in the draft. He’s got speed and some skill, but he’s not a physical player or a big player. If he makes it to the NHL, it will probably be as a middle-six forward.
The Sharks also had two picks in the second round and took Thomas Bordeleau and Tristen Robins. Bordeleau needs to work on his defensive game, but he might be good enough offensively to eventually become a top-six forward, so there’s some potential for that to be a good pick. Meanwhile, Robins’ stock has raised a lot since the start of the 2019-20 campaign thanks to his high hockey IQ and speed, though it’s still a little surprising he ended up going in the second round. It will be interesting to see if he continues to grow at the same pace he did in 2019-20 compared to 2018-19. If he does, then the Sharks will be very happy with this selection.
So when you look at the Sharks picks themselves, there’s nothing glaringly wrong here, but it’s still hard to get over them missing out on a third overall pick.
WINNERS: Ottawa Senators – The natural pairing to the Sharks, this was a huge draft for Ottawa. The Senators had the third, fifth, and 28th overall picks and they used them on Tim Stutzle, Jake Sanderson, and Ridly Greig respectively. There’s some debate as to whether Ottawa should have taken Sanderson over fellow defenseman Jamie Drysdale, who instead went sixth overall to Anaheim, but either way the Senators have a potential star blueliner on their hands. That trio combined could go on to play a pivotal role in the Senators’ rebuild.
Meanwhile, Ottawa addressed a major need when they acquired Matt Murray from Pittsburgh. Murray is coming off a rough season, so he’s certainly a risk, but the change of scenery might do him well and at the age of 25, there’s the potential here for him to grow with the rest of the Senators’ youth movement. He might even be able to serve as a bit of a mentor too, given that he has two Stanley Cup championships under his belt despite his age.
LOSERS: Detroit Red Wings – This isn’t so much about what they did and more about what kind of luck they’ve had. The Red Wings are going through a brutal rebuild and in 2019-20 they had a historically bad campaign with a 17-49-5 record. However, the draft lottery went terribly against them and they ended up picking fourth overall. Lucas Raymond was a fine choice with the fourth overall pick, but losing that lottery so badly will have a significant negative impact on Detroit’s rebuilding efforts.
Detroit did have three second-round picks though and took William Wallinder, Theodor Niederbach, and Cross Hanas. Hanas was a reach, but Wallinder is a defenseman with both size at 6-foot-4 and superb skating, which is an enviable combination. He’s not NHL-ready yet, but when he is, he could have a major presence on the Red Wings’ blueline.
So Detroit did what they could, but it’s hard not to think of what might have been.
WINNERS: New Jersey Devils – Like Ottawa, the Devils had three picks in the first round and used them on Alexander Holtz (7th), Dawson Mercer (18th), and Shakir Mukhamadullin (20th). None of them are likely to play in the NHL next season, though Mukhamadullin could be a top-two defenseman someday and Holtz has top line potential. In the third round, the Devils rolled the dice on goaltender Nico Daws. Netminders tend to be more of a project, but Daws potential is very high. For where he went in the draft, he was well worth the risk.
At the same time, the Devils also got a reminder that things don’t always work out the way you might hope. Mirco Mueller, who was taken with the 18th overall pick in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft, wasn’t qualified by the Devils on Wednesday and will consequently become an unrestricted free agent.
He hasn’t lived up to his potential and the unfortunate truth is that will end up being the case for some of the prospects taken over the past couple days. Regardless of what the verdict on these teams is today, only time will tell who truly won and lost the 2020 draft.