2021 NHL Draft and Trade Fenzy Recap: The Good

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Yesterday we talked about teams who I felt came up short during the NHL Entry Draft as well as the trades that were made in the days leading up to the event. If you want to read that, you can do so here, but today we’re going to be focused on the positives.

Here’s five teams I think had a great few days and why I like what they did.

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ARIZONA COYOTES

The Arizona Coyotes had to forfeit their first-round pick because of their violations of the NHL Combine Testing Policy back in 2019-20. That was obviously a big blow, especially given that their forfeited pick was 11th overall, but the trades they made around the draft were pretty good.

The Coyotes acquired Shayne Gostisbehere from the Philadelphia Flyers, who also threw in a 2022 second-round pick and seventh-round selection to entice Arizona to accept his $4.5 million cap hit for each of the next two seasons. While it’s true that’s a significant cap hit given his recent play, the Coyotes have the space for it, and this isn’t necessarily just Arizona taking on a bad contract. At one time Gostisbehere was a great offensive defenseman and perhaps with the change of scenery, he can play a valuable role with the Coyotes. It certainly seems worth the gamble for Arizona, especially given the second rounder they got along with him.

The Coyotes also traded Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Conor Garland to the Vancouver Canucks in exchange for Loui Eriksson, Jay Beagle, Antoine Roussel, and the ninth overall pick in the 2021 draft, a second-round pick in 2022, and a seventh-round pick in 2013. Losing Ekman-Larsson hurts, but it is a pretty good haul for him, especially given that Ekman-Larsson was coming off a down season. For a team looking to retool as Arizona is, this trade makes sense.

They used the ninth overall pick to take Dylan Guenther, who needs some seasoning, but has the potential to eventually become a high-end goal scorer in the NHL, which is exactly what the Coyotes need. On top of that, with the Canucks’ second rounder, they’re up to a staggering five second-round picks in a 2022 draft that’s projected to be pretty deep.

Finally the Coyotes took the son of Coyotes legend Shane Doan, Josh Doan, with the 37th overall pick. He’s not a steal or anything, but we’re sure there’s plenty of Coyotes fans happy to hear about another Doan in the organization. All-in-all, it’s been a strong couple days for them.

BUFFALO SABRES

Even if this isn’t a highly regarded draft, it’s always a luxury to have the first overall pick and the Sabres went with the consensus choice of Owen Power with that selection. Unlike other first overall picks, Power might not be NHL-ready yet, but in a few years having both him and Rasmus Dahlin on their blueline could make the Sabres the envy of many teams.

Had the Sabres simply drafted Power, it would have been a pretty good couple days, but that’s far from the only thing they did. Buffalo also traded Rasmus Ristolainen and Sam Reinhart. While the fact that they were trading them does highlight the fact that the team seems to be stuck in a perpetual rebuild that’s kept the team out of the playoffs since 2011, you can at least say that they made the best of their bad situation with those trades.

The Reinhart return was on the datable side. A 2022 first-round pick and goaltending prospect Devon Levi from the Florida Panthers in exchange for Reinhart isn’t great, but it’s not terrible either. Levi certainly turned heads in the 2021 World Juniors with his stellar play and while he wasn’t a highly regarded prospect before then, perhaps it’s a sign that he has a bright career ahead of him. That pick, which will likely be towards the middle to end of the first round should translate into a pretty good prospect. So it’s an okay return. The better trade from Buffalo’s perspective has to be the Ristolainen one though.

The Flyers gave Buffalo Robert Hagg, the 14th overall pick, and a 2023 second-round selection for him. Ristolainen has served as a top pairing defenseman in Buffalo and he’s a physical presence, but he’s been horrible analytically, which is part of why some are arguing that the Flyers grossly overpaid for his services. Even if you think Ristolainen is better than that, there’s no question Buffalo got a good haul for a defenseman who was entering the final season of his contract and could have just walked away as a UFA in the summer of 2022.

Now we just have to wait and see what the Sabres do with Jack Eichel.

DETROIT RED WINGS

Let me pose this question: As good as Steve Yzerman was as a player, is he better as a general manager? That would be high praise given the playing career he had, but look at what he did for the Tampa Bay Lightning and is now doing for the Detroit Red Wings. Detroit had an extra first round pick – the 23rd overall – because of the Anthony Mantha, which is a trade that I think made a lot of sense for the Red Wings and on top of that Detroit has had a very good few days.

They signed Michael Rasmussen to a three-year, $4.38 million contract. Rasmussen was taken with the ninth overall pick in 2017 and while he hasn’t really worked out yet, he is still just 22-years-old and took a step forward last season. At worst he should be an okay bottom-six forward who is fair at that price, but this contract has the potential to be very favorable one for Detroit if he develops further. The Red Wings also helped address their long-term goaltending situation by acquiring Calder Trophy finalist Alex Nedeljkovic from the Carolina Hurricanes for the low price of pending UFA Jonathan Bernier and a third-round pick.

As far as the draft themselves, Detroit selected defenseman Simon Edvinsson with the sixth overall pick, who isn’t expected to play in the NHL next season but has top-pairing upside. They further added to their organizational blueline depth with the 36th overall pick, which they used on Shai Buium. He’s a big defenseman who is gifted offensively, but his skating among other things still needs work, so he’s definitely a project.

The one questionable choice that Yzerman made in this draft, at least from my perspective, was his decision to trade up to the 15th overall pick to get goaltender Sebastian Cossa. Yzerman dealt that 23rd overall pick he got from Washington along with the 48th and 138th to Dallas so that they could draft earlier. Cossa along with Jesper Wallstedt was seen one of the two best goaltending prospects in this year’s draft, but it was a bit of a reach to take him at 15, especially when Wallstedt hadn’t been taken either. That said, I’m willing to give Yzerman the benefit of the doubt and assume he had sufficient reason to believe that if he sat on his hands that he likely wouldn’t get his guy and regardless of that, even if Cossa is arguably a stretch at 15, it’s not like Yzerman went completely off the board.

NEW JERSEY DEVILS

The best moment of the whole draft was seeing how happy Jack Hughes was when his brother Luke Hughes got taken by the New Jersey Devils. It’s clear that the two are going to enjoy playing for the same team. That won’t happen right away though because Luke Hughes is expected to play for the University of Michigan next season so that he can further hone his game. He’s a blueline who needs to work on his defensive game a bit, but he’s a great skater and a big offensive presence. It wouldn’t be at all surprising to see him serve as a first pairing defenseman for the Devils in a couple years.

It was a great pick, but the Devils other first rounder, Chase Stillman is more of a question mark. He was taken with the 29th overall pick and most rankings had him from anywhere from 41st all the way down to the 90s so to see him go in the first round was a stretch. That said, Stillman is a Zach Hyman-type forward and that kind of gritty, hard-working player that can compliment your stars on the first or second line help their team a lot, so it’s not hard to understand why the Devils like him even if you could argue that it was a stretch to take him as soon as they did.

They also had a pretty strong pick in the third round (68th overall) in Samu Salminen. He’s a big center who could develop into a great goal scorer, though his skating needs work. He’s a gamble, but at that stage of the draft, he’s a nice prospect to roll the dice on.

All-in-all, it wasn’t an amazing draft, but the Devils added some prospects they can be happy with and the uniting of two of the Hughes brothers was the most pleasant story of the last few days.

WINNIPEG JETS

The Jets were arguably lucky to have Chaz Lucius fall into their laps with the 18th overall pick. Most rankings had him higher with McKeen’s Hockey ranking him ninth, Bob McKenzie ranking him 10th, and Sportsnet placing him 12th. Part of that is probably because he missed time in 2020-21 due to a knee injury, but he’s since recovered from it. He has a high hockey IQ and is great offensively with a particular knack for scoring. His skating can use some work and that’s one of the things he’ll hopefully work on this season with the University of Minnesota-Duluth, but in the long run the Jets might be getting one of the best players of the draft.

The Jets also managed to get Nikita Chibrikov with the 50th overall pick despite him being ranked 21st by Sportsnet, 24th by Bob McKenzie, 26th by McKeen’s Hockey, and 26th by Craig Button. In other words, it wouldn’t have shocked people if Chibrikov was taken in the first round instead of the middle of the second. Part of the reason why he slipped might be because he’s a Russian player who spent 2020-21 in the Russian system, so some teams might be worried it’ll be difficult to lure him to North America and then, even if they do succeed, he can always use the threat of returning to the KHL as a potential bargaining chip in RFA negotiations. That said, he absolutely has the potential to become a top-six forward. The Jets other picks weren’t bad either, but those two choices in particular stood out as two of the better ones of the 2021 draft.