A long, long ride is over.
The 2021 NHL draft had a bit everything. Consider the blockbuster trades, as stars like Seth Jones, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Jakub Voracek, Cam Atkinson and Sam Reinhart all changed teams. Consider the history, as one NCAA school had a record-breaking weekend. Consider the mystery, as the COVID pandemic made prospect evaluation more challenging than it’s ever been. And consider the controversy, as a divisive prospect who asked not to be drafted was instead taken in the first round, to considerable outrage.
Here are some of the winners and losers of what (hopefully) is the last virtual NHL draft we witness.
Winner: University of Michigan
The 2021 NHL draft will forever be known as “the Michigan draft.” The Wolverines set a draft record as the first NCAA school to ever have three current players and five total players selected in the first round.
Current Wolverines and committed recruits selected in the first round included first overall pick Owen Power (Buffalo) and No. 2 pick Matty Beniers (Seattle), marking the first time since 1969 that the same team produced the first two picks in the draft; as well as Luke Hughes (No. 4, New Jersey) and Kent Johnson (No. 5, Columbus), marking the first time one school had four picks in the top five. Mackie Samoskevich (No. 24, Florida) rounded out the first-rounders.
Dylan Duke, an incoming freshman forward, was selected 126th overall by the Tampa Bay Lightning. The six Michigan draftees were one away from tying a program record. — Wyshynski
Ask around the draft-heads, and the Senators had a considerable whiff in the 2021 draft. It started in the first round with taking Tyler Boucher at No. 10 overall. He’s a good prospect, but Ottawa threw out its shoulder with this reach — no popular mock drafts had him in the top 10.
Their next three picks were also players selected well ahead of their ranking: center Zack Ostapchuk (39th overall, 60th among North American skaters), Ben Roger (49th overall, 74th in NA), and Oliver Johansson (79th overall, and 285th by FC Hockey). None of these players necessarily have a breakout skills set. The kindest thing to say: They got their guys.
Said Ottawa scout Trent Mann on Saturday: “A public list doesn’t know what we know. That’s the reality and I know what the reality is. I live in the reality.” — Wyshynski
The newly formed Seattle Kraken select Matthew Beniers out of Michigan with the No. 2 overall pick in the NHL draft.
Winner: The trend of goalies going in the first round
Since Marc-Andre Fleury went No. 1 overall in 2003, a goalie had been drafted in the first round just eight times in 15 drafts. For a while, drafting a goalie in the first round was viewed as a cautionary tale. Then the tide shifted.
We entered 2021 coming off back-to-back years of exceptional first-round goalies — Spencer Knight, No. 13 to Florida in 2019 and Yaroslav Askarov, No. 11 to Nashville in 2020. In 2021, we got two more. Sebastian Cossa went to the Detroit Red Wings at No. 15 overall, while the MInnesota Wild traded up to select Jesper Wallstedt with the No. 19 pick.
“We had him identified much higher,” Wild GM Bill Guerin said. “We didn’t want to take the chance of [the Bruins] taking him [at No. 21]. We felt it was an easy price to pay to move up a couple spots and grab him there.”
From all accounts, Cossa and Wallstedt should be worth the investment. — Kaplan
Loser: The timeline of young goalies getting to the NHL
While both Cossa and Wallstedt are projected to be quality starting goaltenders at the NHL level, neither franchise should expect to see the goalies in net to begin next season. Or maybe anytime soon.
Knight was a golden child, jumping right from his season at Boston College into the NHL in the spring. Wallstedt and Cossa need to speak to their respective teams about their development path, but the truth is most goalies need more time to grow before they can be a regular NHL starter.
Wallstedt played in Sweden’s top pro league, so he may be more ready. There’s really no rush for Cossa, who played in the Western Hockey League last season, and is joining a Detroit organization that has taken the long view on a rebuild. — Kaplan
Winner: Buffalo escapees
The Buffalo Sabres shipped out two long-time players around the draft, and both ended up in better situations. Sam Reinhart, last season’s leading scorer for Buffalo, was traded to the Florida Panthers after it was clear to both parties that he wouldn’t be back with the Sabres next season.
“I feel like I had been committed and done everything that was asked and was unfortunate it didn’t work out the way anybody envisioned,” Reinhart said, hinting that a new contract in Florida was in the offering.
Rasmus Ristolainen, meanwhile, was traded to the Philadelphia Flyers, where he’ll be properly cast as a second-pairing defenseman and potentially play with Travis Sanheim.
Two players getting a fresh start with two teams that are a heck of a lot closer to playoff contention than Buffalo. — Wyshynski
The Blue Jackets turn it over to college football analyst Kirk Herbstreit to make the announcement for the No. 5 pick in the NHL draft.
While some players found a way out of situations they didn’t want to be in, others remained stuck — for now.
Tarasenko asked for a trade from the St. Louis Blues, due to dissatisfaction with the way his multiple shoulder surgeries were handled. But after the Seattle Kraken didn’t select him in the expansion draft, he remained on the Blues through the weekend, and GM Doug Armstrong said he could remain with them, period.
“There’s certainly an outlook where I envision him putting on the jersey again,” said Armstrong. “There’s many players in the NHL that have requested trades. You always try and keep it below the surface. But our responsibility is to do what’s best for the St. Louis Blues, and if it means that he comes back and plays for us, that’s the outlook that it has.”
Meanwhile, Sabres star Eichel watched two of his teammates shipped out to new teams while GM Kevyn Adams had yet to pull off a blockbuster for his disgruntled star center. Posturing or not, Adams said he’d have “no problem” if Eichel was still on his roster when training camp started. He said he’s still talking trade, looking for something that will help Buffalo in the long-term and short-term.
“If we didn’t have that on the table or don’t think that makes sense, then we won’t do something,” Adams said. — Wyshynski
Picking Shane Doan‘s son, Josh, early in the second round may have been a bit of a reach, but the Coyotes feel great about it and that’s what matters. The last two weeks for the Arizona front office will be remembered as a franchise-shaping one. It’s clear they’re trying to fully turn things over, as they traded their captain, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, and third-leading points producer, Conor Garland, to Vancouver for some shorter-term commitments and draft picks.
The Coyotes made two other big moves, taking on the unwanted contracts of Shayne Gostisbehere and Andrew Ladd, in order to amass future capital. Things might be ugly in the desert next season, but at least there’s a clear path forward.
“In my time in St. Louis, I don’t know if we acquired that many picks in 10 years,” GM Bill Armstrong said. “And we did it in two weeks. Pretty exciting.” — Kaplan
Loser: The sign-and-trade deal
Once again, we were teased with the possibility of a sign-and-trade — specifically, Zach Hyman to the Edmonton Oilers — and once again, it didn’t happen. The Toronto Maple Leafs gave Hyman and his agent permission to talk to other teams, for the possibility of trading his rights. The Oilers were interested, and were going to sign Hyman to an eight-year deal. However, the Maple Leafs drew a hard line when it came to compensation, and ultimately didn’t get a deal done.
Hyman is expected to sign a seven-year deal with Edmonton when free agency begins.
“I know that there’s a narrative that we should just get something, but you’re saving a team significant dollars on the salary cap [with giving the eight year],” Maple Leafs GM Kyle Dubas said. “That comes with a cost, and we’re not going to bend on that.” — Kaplan
Winner: Feel-good picks
WOOOOO HAWKS BABY
Big bro Kirby said it better than we ever could have as he crashed Colton Dach’s first #Blackhawks media sesh! pic.twitter.com/Sionlf3g5T
— Chicago Blackhawks (@NHLBlackhawks) July 24, 2021
The NHL draft is always great for some heartwarming moments. We had the Coyotes taking Josh Doan at No. 37 overall, as he joins the team where his father Shane played for two decades, has his number retired and still works in the front office. We had the Jones brothers — Caleb and Seth — being united on Chicago, where another pair of brothers — Colton and his video-crashing brother Kirby Dach — could be united.
Taylor Makar was drafted by the Colorado Avalanche, where brother Cale is a star with a spiffy new contract. And, of course, the selection of Luke Hughes by the New Jersey Devils at No. 4 that literally sent his brother Jack Hughes jumping for joy. — Wyshynski
The New Jersey Devils select Luke Hughes, brother of former top draft pick Jack, with the No. 3 overall pick in the NHL draft.
Loser: One huge downer
The Montreal Canadiens‘ selection of Logan Mailloux in the first round was the record-scratch moment of the weekend. The 18-year-old defenseman asked that no NHL teams select him this year, after he was fined for an offense of a sexual nature in Sweden last year. The Canadiens weren’t the only team seeking to defy that request — I heard that multiple NHL teams were ready to draft Mailloux in the second round, which is a problem in itself.
Mailloux was OK with Montreal taking him, saying they would assist him to become “a better person” while apologizing to his victim, who watched Mailloux get rewarded with a first-round selection. The rebuke of Montreal was sharp, as respected hockey voices wrote that “the Canadiens should be ashamed of themselves” and that “they don’t care about victims.” A regrettable moment that valued talent over humanity. — Wyshynski
Seth Jones didn’t want to sign an extension with the Blue Jackets with one year remaining on his contract, instead preferring to test free agency next offseason. The Blue Jackets tested the market for him, and sent him to Chicago — a city in which he clearly wanted to play, given that he agreed to sign an eight-year extension there worth $9.5 million annually. With the Blackhawks, Jones also gets to play with his brother, Caleb, whom Chicago traded for in the Duncan Keith deal.
As for Atkinson? It’s never a great time when you get a trade call at your son’s third birthday party, as Atkinson did on Saturday. It was clearly a surprise for the winger, who was in attendance at Nationwide Arena on Friday night for the Blue Jackets’ draft party. GM Jarmo Kekalainen called the one-for-one swap with Philadelphia’s Jakub Voracek “a hockey trade.” Atkinson is a player who poured his heart into the Blue Jackets, and spoke highly of his time in Columbus. But, he handled the situation with grace, and put a positive spin on it for his career. He even wore a Gritty t-shirt in his media availability shortly after the trade was announced. — Kaplan
Loser: The perception of Columbus not being a place players want to stay
Jones is not the first Columbus player who didn’t want to stick around (Artemi Panarin and Pierre-Luc Dubois being two other recent examples). Though the reasons all differ, Columbus is unfortunately gaining a reputation around the league.
“Seth is a great guy. A great player. He had every right in the world to do what he did, and I don’t hold it against him one bit,” team president John Davidson told me in an interview on Friday night. “I know he loves this place, but he made a decision personally and professionally for himself.”
So what’s Davidson’s message to the fan base, who might be disappointed by popular players continually leaving town? “Hang with us. It’s a great city. There are great fans here,” Davidson said. “You’re seeing it a little more in all pro sports, baseball players, basketball players are doing it, football players do it, you’re seeing it in hockey some. You deal with what comes your way. At the same time, you try to do the best you can in the return aspect of things.”
The Blue Jackets felt they got a great return for Jones. They’re already enjoying the rewards, specifically by moving up for the No. 12 pick in the draft to select Cole Sillinger, a player they coveted. — Kaplan
The Detroit Red Wings had a tremendous draft, with eight selections. That started with 6-foot-4 Swedish defenseman Simon Edvinsson (No. 6 overall), who has the raw abilities to become a foundational player. They traded up to get 6-foot-6 goaltender Sebastian Cossa at No. 15, giving them the franchise goalie prospect they lacked, and giving some Andrei Vasilevskiy flashbacks, when GM Steve Yzerman took him in the first round in 2012.
With defenseman Shai Buium (36th), Carter Mazur (70th) and perfectly monikered Red Savage (114th) drafted next, the Red Wings were on point all weekend. That’s not even mentioning the trade they made with the Carolina Hurricanes, acquiring Calder Trophy finalist Alex Nedeljkovic and signing him to a two-year deal. — Wyshynski
Loser: Jim Benning
So let’s get this straight: Vancouver GM Jim Benning signed Loui Eriksson, Jay Beagle and Antoine Roussel to free-agent contracts that the Canucks would regret; and then he traded those cap albatrosses to the Coyotes along with a first-round pick for forward Conor Garland, who is great, and defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson, who has six seasons left on an disastrous contract from a salary cap perspective.
So salary cap mistakes are turned into … a salary cap mistake. This feels like the kind of trade that a general manager makes when he figures the bloated contract will be the next general manager’s problem. — Wyshynski
Winner: Getting deals done
Taylor Hall wanted to sign long-term deal with the Boston Bruins. He pretty much said that since the day he arrived in Boston, via trade from Buffalo, last season. Hall said he didn’t even know what his worth was after flaming out with the Sabres, but his 16-game regular season audition with the Bruins was enough to prove to management that the former No. 1 pick still has it — he just needed to find a place he was comfortable. Boston announced a four-year, $24 million deal with Hall with which both sides feel happy.
Meanwhile, Cale Makar inked a six-year deal worth $54 million to be the face of the Colorado Avalanche‘s blue line for the foreseeable future (and buy all of the slurpees he wants). Makar said he never thought about signing an offer sheet with another team. He’s happy with Colorado and the direction of the franchise. Regarding the negotiations, he called it a “seamless process.” Must be nice, eh? — Kaplan
Loser: Getting the draft done
The first round of the NHL draft wasn’t exactly speedy. The first pick came in at 8:25 p.m. ET, and the event stretched nearly until midnight. Social media wasn’t pleased, and even commissioner Gary Bettman looked like he wanted to get the show on the road by the final few picks.
Day 2 took approximately seven hours. Nothing in this virtual world is easy, but the NHL could consider shaving time between picks, or at least enforcing time limits if teams are dragging.
Jim Gregory is missed for many reasons, but particularly today when he was the master of moving the second day of the draft along by pushing teams to make their picks within the allotted time. https://t.co/BSnFUl6RKF
— Tom Gulitti (@TomGulittiNHL) July 24, 2021
At least next year everyone should be in the same room, in Montreal. Here’s to 2022! — Kaplan