2021 Draft and Trade Frenzy Recap: The Bad

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Over the next two days, I’m going to be discussing the NHL Entry Draft pluses/minuses, aka the teams that in my estimation have had a good or bad couple of days between the draft and the flurry of trades that surrounded it. However, before I can even dive into today’s column, the misses, I have to address the Logan Mailloux situation.

For those who are unaware, the Montreal Canadiens took Mailloux with the 31st pick overall after he showed a photo to a teammate via Snapchat of him and a woman engaged in a sexual act, which was taken and shared without her consent. He was charged and paid a fine in Sweden for his actions. To say that the Canadiens taking him in the first round anyway was controversial would be an understatement.

I thought about how I want to address that and what I want to say, and I’ve decided that I will not be including the Montreal Canadiens in these draft analysis columns outside of this statement at the beginning. This is a column about hockey and while it’s true that Mailloux plays hockey, that’s not the important part of his story to date. Perhaps he will grow as a person but given how little time has past between the incident and the Canadiens decision to draft him, it’s premature to move on and it’s telling that the Canadiens Twitter had a ready made PR statement upon drafting him where they referred to what he did as “poor behavior” and talked about the “repercussions” of actions on the same night that they gave him the honor of a first round selection.

None of that is hockey and I won’t treat it as such by evaluating the Canadiens’ decisions in the same way that I would for hockey moves. That’s not to say that I’m writing Mailloux off forever. People have the right to earn a second chance, but the Canadiens decided to draft him now rather than after he potentially earned that second chance through sustained good actions. So let’s move on and discuss the other 31 teams. Today we’ll be focused on the negatives, but tomorrow I’ll have a companion column out where we highlight teams who did well in my estimation. That said, keep in mind that even though I’ll be discussing franchises I think came up short, it’s worth emphasizing that drafts are about the long-term and for that matter, so are most trades. What seems like a miss today might prove to be anything but.

CAROLINA HURRICANES

Alex Nedeljkovic could have been the long-term solution in goal for the Hurricanes. At the age of 25 he posted a 15-5-3 record, 1.90 GAA, and .932 save percentage in 23 starts to earn himself the third spot in the Calder Trophy voting. He also was strong in the 2021 playoffs with a 2.17 GAA and .920 save percentage in nine starts.

The Hurricanes traded him to Detroit for pending UFA Jonathan Bernier and a 2021 third-round pick. I don’t know why. Granted, he was a restricted free agent, but he signed with Detroit to a reasonable two-year, $6 million contract so unless he for some reason wasn’t willing to sign that contract with Carolina, his RFA status wasn’t an issue. The Hurricanes currently have no NHL-caliber goaltenders signed for 2021-22 either, so it’s not a question of there being a logjam in net. Even assuming that the Hurricanes felt they needed a veteran goaltender, they could have had that and Nedeljkovic. To just throw him away and get so little in return is baffling.

On the plus side, Carolina did have three second-round pick and two third-round selections in the 2021 draft, so they were able to restock their prospect pool. Among those selected was defenseman Scott Morrow with the 40th overall pick and while he needs time to develop, he does have top-four potential.

EDMONTON OILERS

With all due respect to Mike Smith, who bounced back to have an amazing 2020-21 campaign, when an organization signs a 39-year-old goaltender to a two-ye ar contract, that’s usually a sign that the organization is going to need goaltending help in the not too distant future. Edmonton went into this draft without a clear goaltender of the future and once their pick, 20th overall, came around, goaltender Jesper Wallstedt was available. It looked like a great fit. However, in the latest head scratching move of the summer for Edmonton, they instead traded the 20th pick to Minnesota in exchange for the 22nd and 90th picks.

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Wallstedt was taken by Minnesota as a result and Edmonton selected Xavier Bourgault at 22nd, a center who to be fair has long-term top-six potential, but he certainly isn’t a potential solution to a projected problem the same way Wallstedt might have been. The Oilers didn’t pick again until 90th overall and ultimately never took a goaltender in the draft. None of their late picks really jumped out either, so this draft basically just boiled down to them taking Bourgault and not much else. Admittedly, late round draft picks can surprise us. It happens all the time and the Oilers might have nabbed some diamonds in the rough, but as things are right now, the Oilers look like a team that didn’t address its main organizational need nor stood out with their picks even ignoring the players’ positions.

OTTAWA SENATORS

The Senators had the 10th overall pick and they used it on Tyler Boucher, which was pretty surprising. Of the major pre-draft rankings, the highest he was placed with 25th among North American skaters by NHL Central Scouting and 29th by Bob McKenzie on TSN. So to see him squeak into the top-10 was…surprising. On the plus side, the Senators are getting a power forward in Boucher who is arguably the most physical player of the draft class. Opponents won’t like playing against him, which is a big plus for Ottawa. That said, he might not be quite up to the task of being a consistent top-six presence and perhaps is better to view as a future third-line option, which isn’t really the kind of upside you’re looking for in the top-10.

They surprised again with the 39th pick by taking Zack Ostapchuk, which is way higher than any ranking had him. Bob McKenzie ranked him 95th overall and McKeen’s Hockey ranked him 128th. He was seen as more of a nice late round gamble who might be able to develop into an NHLer if he works on his positioning and defensive game, among other things, but it was a big stretch to see the Senators take him in the early second round. Then they took Benjamin Roger with the 49th overall pick, who is a big defenseman, but he still has plenty to prove at the junior level and is another big gamble who was arguably taken too early.

Who knows, some of these rolls of the dice might pay off for the Senators, but it wouldn’t be shocking if four or five years from now, this draft was regarded as a swing and a miss for Ottawa.

PHILADELPHIA FLYERS

Whether you agree with listing the Flyers among the minus class or not largely depends on your view of Rasmus Ristolainen. He’s a really bad defenseman from an analytical perspective, but he’s also a towering presence who dishes out a lot of hits and can contribute offensively. It’s on the defensive side of things where things really seem to fall apart for him, but maybe with the right defensive partner he can be okay. Plus beyond that, the change of scenery can do him some good. Keep in mind, he’s played in Buffalo for eight years now and throughout that entire time, the Sabres were a miserable team. Just being in a place where there’s a real sense that the playoffs are within their grasp has to be a good morale boost for him.

So if you feel that people have been too hard on Ristolainen, maybe you’re right. Even still though, you have to question if the Flyers overpaid here. They traded away the 13th overall pick (Isak Rosen), a 2023 second rounder, and defenseman Robert Hagg for a blueliner with a questionable track record. Even if the Flyers believe Ristolainen is a better fit for their team than he was for the Sabres, that’s a lot of assets to give up for him.

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Plus you can look at the Shayne Gostisbehere trade as a corresponding move, which makes this worse. In order to dump Gostisbehere the Flyers had to give the Coyotes a 2022 second-round pick and a 2022 seventh-round selection. So that’s a first rounder, two second rounders, a seventh rounder, and Robert Hagg given up in exchange for Ristolainen. They also got cap space by trading Gostisbehere, but Ristolainen’s cap hit is higher, so that makes it moot.

The Flyers other trade over the last couple days was Cam Atkinson-for-Jakub Voracek, which honestly, I like more for Columbus because I think fairly highly of Voracek, but I’m willing to call this one a wash. The Flyers wanted to move on from Voracek and Atkinson certainly has the potential to fit in nicely on their top line so I’m not going to say that the trade was bad for Philadelphia, it just doesn’t really tip the scales either way as far as this overall evaluation goes.

When it comes to the draft itself, after trading away their first rounder, their first pick was Samu Tuomaala at 46th overall. He’s a pretty interesting goal scorer who might end up developing into a good player for the Flyers, so they got decent value with that selection, though as you would expect from a second rounder, he’s very much a project.

TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS

The Toronto Maple Leafs only had three picks in the draft: A second rounder, fifth rounder, and sixth rounder. Obliviously, teams trading away picks at the trade deadline for immediate help is a common tactic, but you have to ask: Did it pay off? In the case of the Leafs in recent years, the rentals they’ve gotten haven’t moved the needle and that was certainly the case again in 2021.

Toronto mortgaged their future for the sake of yet another first round defeat. They traded away their 2021 first-round pick (24th overall, Corson Ceulemans), fourth rounder (120th overall, Ethan Cardwell), and a 2022 fourth-round selection in exchange for Stefan Noesen and Nick Foligno. Noesen played in just one game for the Maple Leafs, none in the playoffs, and is now an unrestricted free agent. Foligno had four assists in seven regular season games and an assist in four playoff contests and is also a UFA. What a waste.

Toronto does have their first and second round picks still in 2022, but they’re missing their third, fourth, fifth, and sixth round selections, so as things stand right now, they just have three picks lined up for 2023 too.

All this for a team that’s arguably not built to win a Cup on a fundamental level. Putting half your cap in your top four forwards makes it very difficult to the type of depth that squads typically need in deep playoff runs. That said, Leafs GM Kyle Dubas has made it clear time-and-time again after each year of playoff disappointment that he believes that this core with their cap hits can guide this team to the Cup. So they’ll try again in 2021-22 and we’ll see if they get different results. Either way, they couldn’t draft much in 2021 in part because of a trade that didn’t end up helping.

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