Five teams you could call winners at the NHL Draft


The NHL Draft is a great time for the kids who get selected to play for any of the 30 NHL teams and getting to live that dream where your name is called and you get to throw on the team sweater is a huge thrill. Of course, not every team makes the pick that turns out to be the big winner and sometimes kids (they are kids after all) don’t turn out the way a team hopes they will. When you’re right, you’re a genius but when you’re wrong you’re on the unemployment line as a scout or general manager.

With all that said, there are five teams who we looked at in the draft who came away looking like big winners for one reason or another. Making the right picks is a tough thing to do at the draft but these five teams stood out above all others for what they were able to pull off.

1. Detroit Red Wings

They traded out of the first round swapping their first round pick for a pair of second rounders from Ottawa and managed to land super skilled forward Thomas Jurco and defenseman Xavier Ouellet. Defense was a key point in this draft for the Wings as they also took defenseman Ryan Sproul with their own second round pick. Overall Detroit grabbed five defensemen with the nine selections they had in the draft. Perhaps Nicklas Lidstrom’s eventual retirement finally set in on their thinking.

In Jurco they land a puckhandling wizard the likes we haven’t seen since… Oh right, Detroit already has Pavel Datsyuk to do silly things with the puck. That said, if we see Datsyuk doing the kinds of things we’ve seen Jurco do in highlight reels on YouTube, the NHL world might implode.

They also landed forward Philippe Hudon in the fifth round. The NHL Central Scouting bureau had Hudon ranked 31st at their midseason rankings but when the final list came out, Hudon dropped to 74th. Could the Wings have tripped and fallen into another late-round success story? Time will tell, but Hudon is worth keeping an eye on at Cornell next season in the NCAA.

2. Florida Panthers

Aside from the Panthers swinging a draft day deal with Chicago that landed them Brian Campbell to play defense for them in exchange for Rostislav Olesz, GM Dale Tallon did pretty well at the top half of the draft as well. With the third overall selection they grabbed potential goal scoring machine Jonathan Huberdeau and in the second round they took diminutive spark plug forward Rocco Grimaldi.

Grimaldi’s skills at North Dakota and with the Team USA World Junior Championship teams has people thinking of Brian Gionta when they see him. Those kinds of comparisons are nice to have as Gionta made a killing in college hockey and carried it on to the pros in a big way. If Grimaldi can develop like that, the Panthers all of a sudden have some great skill on the wings.

A handful of other picks could turn out nicely as well for them including what they did in the third round grabbing center Vincent Trocheck, right wing Logan Shaw, defenseman Jonathan Racine, and center Kyle Rau. Four third round picks give Florida a nicer shot at landing someone else who could pan out in the NHL.

3. Minnesota Wild

What the Wild lacked in the number of picks they made up for it by having the prototypical great Round 1 for the hometown fans. While their first pick of Swedish defenseman Jonas Brodin may or may not have been a great pick for them as a reach at tenth overall, the Wild helped keep things exciting for the fans that didn’t go streaming for the exits immediately after that selection.

Minnesota swung the huge deal with San Jose that sent Brent Burns to the Sharks and Devin Setoguchi to Minnesota. That deal also gave the Wild a second first round pick which they used to take centerman Zack Phillips out of Saint John in the QMJHL. Phillips was Jonathan Huberdeau’s linemate on that Memorial Cup winning team and he’s got a ton of upside as a potential set up man in the NHL. Trading up to add Minnesota boy Mario Lucia late in the second round was another great thing to make the fans get excited as there’s nothing they love more than having guys from Minnesota play there.

4. New Jersey Devils

Full confession, the Devils making this list is based solely upon what happens when you hit the lottery both literally and figuratively. When the Devils won the NHL Draft Lottery that allowed them to move up to fourth overall, they had their fingers crossed that maybe Swedish stud defenseman Adam Larsson could fall their way. With how unpredictable things would be with the three teams ahead of them, it was a toss-up how things could go.

Lucky Lou Lamoriello proved to get things to go his way once again as the Oilers took Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Colorado grabbed Gabriel Landeskog, and Florida took Huberdeau. Hello future career stud defenseman. Larsson’s skills on the blue line have people making all kinds of lofty comparisons, but the one we’re thinking of here is Scott Niedermayer. Larsson is going to be very good and there’s a distinct chance he’ll be playing in New Jersey right away next season. It’s good to be Lou Lamoriello.

5. Philadelphia Flyers

The Flyers weren’t set to have much to do at the NHL Draft before they cleaned house sending Jeff Carter and Mike Richards out of town. The Carter deal, while it’s got him in hiding feeling upset about the whole thing, landed the Flyers the eighth pick overall in the draft. There they lucked out in a big way after Winnipeg went off the board somewhat and took center Mark Scheifele ahead of them. That left the Flyers to take big centerman Sean Couturier from Drummondville of the QMJHL.

At 6’3″ 197, Couturier is set to be a big, physical and well-rounded center with the skills to defend and dish it out on offense as well. He plays well physically and can score with the best of them (96 points in 58 games last season, including 36 goals). Sounds like the ideal kind of guy to play in Philadelphia, wouldn’t you say? Their third round pick, center Nick Cousins, could turn out to be a nice complimentary player in the future as a playmaker type but for the Flyers, their culture change moves helped them land one of the five guys that was slated to be one of the best talents in the draft. Not a bad deal at all.

The Buzzer: Hall leads Devils; Jets’ Connor plays OT hero again

AP Images

Players of the Night

John Gibson, Anaheim Ducks: Yeah, they lost, but it would have been a much worse outcome for the Anaheim Ducks if not for their goaltender. During a 3-2 overtime loss to the Winnipeg Jets, Gibson was outstanding in stopping 39 shots while his teammates threw only 18 Connor Hellebuyck‘s way.

Taylor Hall, New Jersey Devils: The Devils earned a very important two points during a wild 4-3 overtime win over the Pittsburgh Penguins. After blowing a 3-1 second period lead, it was Hall (three points) who helped New Jersey claim the extra point with the winning goal 27 seconds into the extra period. He now has a career high 81 points.

Antti Niemi, Montreal Canadiens: Niemi earned his first shutout of the season with 35-save effort as the Habs blanked the Buffalo Sabres 3-0. Artturi Lehkonen opened the scoring and Paul Byron and Brendan Gallagher added very late insurance markers as Montreal snapped a four-game losing streak.

Highlight of the Night

Devils forward Blake Coleman gave us this one-handed beauty against the Penguins:


Patrik Berglund scored twice as the St. Louis Blues stayed in the playoff hunt with a 4-1 win over the Vancouver Canucks. The Blues have won six of seven and four in a row to put themselves a point behind the Colorado Avalanche for the West’s second wild card. In his return to the lineup, Vladimir Tarasenko gave Anders Nilsson the old change-up for this goal:

• The Jets gave us a pair of pretty goals Friday night during their 3-2 win over the Ducks. First, check out Blake Wheeler’s hands as he set up Mark Scheifele’s 22nd of the season:

Wheeler was also part of this pretty passing play that ended with a Nikolaj Ehlers goal:

In the end, it was Kyle Connor notching the overtime winner for the second straight game:

David Pastrnak and the Boston Bruins dealt the Dallas Stars a big blow to their playoff hopes with a 3-2 win. “Pasta” scored the go-ahead goal with 11.1 seconds left in the third period, erasing a 2-0 lead the Stars had entering the final 20 minutes. The Stars are four points out of a wild card spot with seven games left in the regular season.

• No word if she was successful.

Factoid of the Night

Devils 4, Penguins 3 (OT)
Canadiens 3, Sabres 0
Blues 4, Canucks 1
Jets 3, Ducks 2 (OT)
Bruins 3, Stars 2


Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

‘Monster year’ could land John Carlson a monster contract

Getty Images

John Carlson can’t forget that he is fighting for the NHL lead for points among defensemen because his Washington Capitals teammates keep razzing him about it.

”The guys do a good job of pumping that up in the locker room,” Carlson said.

Carlson’s 61 points have him tied with the Dallas Stars’ John Klingberg, and he is a dark horse candidate for the Norris Trophy as the league’s top defenseman.

”John’s having just a whale of a year,” teammate Matt Niskanen said. ”Monster year – production, been carrying the load all year. He’s been a stalwart back there for us.”

This breakout season with a career-high 15 goals and 46 assists is coming at a perfect time for Carlson, who is set to be an unrestricted free agent this summer but has been flying under the radar compared to New York Islanders captain John Tavares. Carlson command upward of $7 million per season on a deal that’s almost certain to be eight years if Washington re-signs him or seven if he hits the market July 1.

The 28-year-old has outperformed the six-year contract he signed in 2012 that pays him just under $4 million a year. He has shown the ability to be a dominant No. 1 defenseman by averaging 25 minutes a game, running the point on the top power-play unit, killing penalties and drawing the toughest matchups.

A 2008 first-round pick of the Capitals, Carlson likes Washington and would like to stay if the fit is there. General manager Brian MacLellan has said he believes each side wants to get a deal done but will wait until after the season to try to make it happen.

The big question is whether the Capitals can make it work under the salary cap, which might require trades even though the ceiling is expected to go up to between $78 million and $82 million from $75 million.

Carlson might not reach the $7.875 million annual salary of Tampa Bay defenseman Victor Hedman, who along with Drew Doughty of the Los Angeles Kings is a Norris front-runner, but he might not be far off. Carlson has more of an offensive punch than San Jose Sharks defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic, whose new deal pays him $7 million a year, and he has almost double the points of the next-highest potential free agent defenseman, former Capitals teammate Mike Green, who’s 32.

”He’s always been steady,” Washington goaltender Braden Holtby said of Carlson. ”His role’s expanded, obviously, which shows: time on ice and points and such. He’s got all the tools of a great defenseman. ”

Carlson isn’t the only player excelling in a contract year. Here are some others:

James van Riemsdyk

Thirty-goal scorers get paid handsomely in free agency because they are so rarely available. Van Riemsdyk’s 33 goals are 11th-most in the NHL, and the 6-foot-3, 217-pound left-winger has gotten better around the net. Van Riemsdyk, the second overall pick in 2007, has another one of the league’s best bargain contracts at $4.25 million a year, which Toronto inherited from Philadelphia. The Maple Leafs have expressed interest in keeping the 28-year-old.


Undoubtedly the best pending free agent, Tavares still not having a new contract with the New York Islanders is generating buzz and whispers like Steven Stamkos two years ago. Stamkos re-upped with Tampa Bay on the eve of free agency, which Tavares could do. The Islanders will miss the playoffs for the second consecutive season and sixth time in Tavares’ nine years in the league. The point-a-game player with 32 goals and 43 assists could fetch $10 million a year or more if he isn’t back with New York.

David Perron

The expansion Vegas Golden Knights struck gold with Perron, whose 66 points are a career high and a big reason they are leading the Pacific Division. The soon-to-be 30-year-old winger got his game back after bouncing around to four different teams the past five seasons and could easily re-sign with Vegas like teammate Jonathan Marchessault did.

Joe Thornton

Knee surgery knocked Thornton out of the San Jose Sharks’ lineup in January, cutting short a season in which he had 36 points in 43 games at age 38. If Thornton shows he can still play at the top of his game when he returns, he will be in demand for another one-year contract.

Rick Nash

Going from the New York Rangers to Boston appears to have reinvigorated Nash’s game after just 28 points in 60 games before the trade. The 33-year-old power winger’s contract year won’t truly be judged until the playoffs, where he gets another chance to exorcise some past demons.

Follow Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at

More AP hockey:

Starting goaltenders battling fatigue as playoffs loom

Getty Images

Behind the mask is a mind filled with a web of a thousand thoughts, worries and a singular focus of what it takes to win a game.

Then the next game, then the one after that.

”There is no shut-off for a goaltender,” retired goalie Brian Boucher said. ”The mind doesn’t shut off.”

A starting NHL goaltender bears a burden unlike any position in hockey and few others in sports, and the resulting pressure builds up over the course of a season. By this time of year, with the playoffs on the horizon, No. 1 goalies have grinded through almost six months of work and are battling fatigue that threatens to derail their team’s hopes.

Andrei Vasilevskiy of Tampa Bay is going through it for the first time while Braden Holtby of the Washington Capitals is used to it by now. Goalies of all ages have no choice but to manage the physical and mental hurdles.

”It’s one of those things that you’ve got find ways to make sure you’re prepared and ready to play every game,” Holtby said. ”As a goaltender, there’s not much room to take nights off.”

It’s worse for the goalies whose teams can’t afford to start a backup. Boucher started the final 13 games for Philadelphia in 2010 to help them make the playoffs, Jonathan Quick started 20 of the final 21 games for the Los Angeles Kings when they tried to make a furious push to make it in 2015 and Kari Lehtonen could be counted on to play the final nine games of the Dallas Stars’ season now as they claw for a spot.

[The 2018 NHL Stanley Cup playoffs begin April 11 on the networks of NBC]

”You’ll go through the whole night thinking about tomorrow, show up to the rink in the morning thinking about tonight and then you show up to the game thinking about the game,” said Boucher, now an analyst for NBC Sports. ”Not until that horn goes off at the very end can you finally go, ‘Whew,’ and take a deep breath and hopefully it’s in a celebration with your teammates. …. You have a shower, you feel good about things, you go home, you kind of decompress and then the next day it starts again: the butterflies, the nerves, the thinking about your opponent. And that’s the mental fatigue that comes into it.”

That’s what Vasilevskiy is dealing with at age 23, 58 starts into his first season as the full-time starter and the league leader in victories.

”Tiredness is something that I probably never faced before,” he told The Tampa Bay Times.

The same goes for Winnipeg goalie Connor Hellebuyck, who is between the pipes for meaningful games and on the cusp of his first playoff appearance. Jets goaltending coach Wade Flaherty talks to Hellebuyck almost daily about what he needs to be successful, and the staff pays careful attention to making sure the 24-year-old is good to go.

Coach Paul Maurice said the Jets are aware of the balance between rhythm and rest but aren’t holding Hellebuyck back.

”There’s a fatigue component that a No. 1 goaltender also has to embrace,” Maurice said. ”He has to learn how to play when he doesn’t feel 100 percent right because that’s basically going to be his life.”

Winnipeg has been able to give Hellebuyck blocks of two or three days completely off, a rarity for top goalies this time of year. The Nashville Predators have a big enough lead atop the Central Division that they can afford to lighten Pekka Rinne‘s workload down the stretch, which could be a huge benefit.

”I like thinking outside the box,” former goalie Martin Biron said. ”You may have a Friday-Saturday game, have a Tuesday game, have a Thursday game. You can play your starter on Friday-Saturday and not play him on Tuesday so he gets Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday (off) and then he gets ready for the weekend again for the Thursday. There’s a lot more days to be able to decompress and really think about how to reset and re-prepare.”

Holtby got a 10-day reset from a month-plus of struggles as Philipp Grubauer started four games in a row. Having a reliable backup is a luxury Washington has – and Holtby doesn’t like taking days off, either. Toronto starter Frederik Andersen recently joked that he’s more tired of being asked if he’s tired than he is from facing the most shots in the league.

Practice shots, warmups, travel and mental and physical preparation are also part of the wear and tear. Analyst Justin Goldman of The Goalie Guild said those can be spaced out over weeks and months.

”Anything you can do to get a little bit of extra sleep over the course of the season is absolutely monumental when it comes time for the playoff push,” Goldman said.

Biron, who started 59 games for Philadelphia in 2007-08 and backed up Henrik Lundqvist when the New York Rangers realized the ”King” needed more time off, figures 60 is the perfect number for a starter. For someone like Vasilevskiy who can’t afford to learn and wait for next year, Boucher said he hopes a more relaxed market like Tampa Bay helps now and the rush of the playoffs gets him through the grind in a few weeks.

”I think Vasilevskiy’s going to be fine just because you watch his physical attributes, they’re through the roof,” Boucher said. ”So the physical side doesn’t look like it’s an issue. Now it’s his time to shine.”

Follow Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at

More AP hockey:

Vladimir Tarasenko returns to Blues at pivotal time

Getty Images
Leave a comment

The St. Louis Blues are getting Vladimir Tarasenko back at a crucial time.

Tarasenko missed the past two games with an upper-body injury — a suspected but never confirmed concussion — and returns with the Blues sitting three points back of the second wildcard spot in the Western Conference.

The Blues host the Vancouver Canucks on Friday and hold a game in hand over the Anaheim Ducks

Tarasenko sits second on the team in scoring with 27 goals and 58 points in 71 games.

The Blues don’t have much wiggle room in terms of losses in their last nine games. Anaheim is going for their fifth straight win and the Colorado Avalanche have been on fire ever since the return of Nathan MacKinnon.

But the Blues have won three in a row themselves to put themselves back in contention.

The return of a talent as good as Tarasenko can only help their efforts.

Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck