Trendy Sabres vs. defending champion Bruins: Who’s the favorite in the Northeast?

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When it comes to making playoff predictions or choosing players in fantasy hockey, it’s just so much more fun to side with a trendy pick. Sure, it was probably the right move to select Ray Rice in the first round in fantasy football, but it didn’t provide the visceral thrill of a riskier move.

Many hockey pundits are locked in debates regarding the Northeast Division favorite: is it wiser to side with the defending champion Boston Bruins or the Buffalo Sabres (the champions of splashy off-season moves)? From what I gathered, a startling amount are going chic with the Sabres. (A few might even lean toward the Montreal Canadiens, which is batty if you consider their defense but intriguing when you ponder their easier schedule.)

It’s tough to figure out why people are discounting the Bruins after they won the 2011 Stanley Cup. Maybe it’s because the focus of that championship round shifted toward Roberto Luongo’s meltdowns rather than Tim Thomas’ brilliance. Perhaps the problem is that the Bruins were good during the 2010-11 season, but they weren’t overwhelming favorites like the last three champions. The Bruins’ biggest stars are a huge defenseman and an unorthodox goalie, so maybe the hunger for marquee offensive talent has something to do with it.

Either way, it is a tough race to call.

The case for the champs

The Bruins feature the best defenseman in Zdeno Chara. You can generate hours of debate about which team has the better American star in net, but the Bruins’ combined duo gets the nod because Tuukka Rask is more proven than Jhonas Enroth. Boston’s group of centers is impressive even with Marc Savard hurtling toward retirement; one assumes that the hockey world will give Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci more respect sooner or later. Derek Roy should be outstanding if he is 100 percent, but the Sabres’ pivots don’t seem quite as sturdy – especially if Ville Leino ends up being their second line center, as many expect. (That’s not to say that Tyler Ennis and Nathan Gerbe lack talent if they’re in center spots this season – it’s just that they’re likely to get pushed around defensively.)

Depth is the key in Buffalo

That’s not to say that Buffalo goes into this battle without any weapons, though. Their advantage can be summarized with one word: depth. Their defense is much more versatile now that they added Christian Ehrhoff and Robyn Regehr. Leino complements an offense that has a plethora of dangerous wingers, from Thomas Vanek to Jason Pominville and Drew Stafford.

The depth argument does make some sense in the regular season, but it’s still surprising to see so many people brush off the Bruins’ hardware – mainly because people usually follow champions like lemmings.

In a way, this is battle between change and stability. The Sabres seem radically different while the Bruins only made minor alterations to a team that won three seven-game series and their first Cup since the days of Bobby Orr. Picking Boston isn’t as fun as siding with Buffalo, but if you ask me, it’s the best bet.

Sabres pick Dahlin first, Hurricanes get Svechnikov second in NHL Draft

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No one reasonably expected the Buffalo Sabres to pass on Rasmus Dahlin for the first pick of the 2018 NHL Draft. The Carolina Hurricanes selecting Andrei Svechnikov second overall was very predictable, too, although some wondered if new management might set the stage for a swerve.

Nope.

The top two teams went with slam-dunk choices, so now the best defenseman (Dahlin) and best forward (Svechnikov) are off the board.

A generational defenseman?

Dahlin stands as the first Swedish player to be selected first overall since Mats Sundin. He’s the most hyped defensive prospect since at least Victor Hedman, while some argue that we haven’t seen this level of excitement for a blueliner since Denis Potvin. Yes, he’s a big deal.

The Sabres might have more big moves coming soon. There are some rumbling about Ryan O'Reilly being traded, while they opted not to qualify RFA goalie Robin Lehner.

Adding Dahlin to the mix – he’s likely to make an immediate jump into the NHL, and instantly become one of the best Buffallo blueliners – makes everything run more smoothly.

What the Hurricanes needed

For all the justifiable worries about Carolina’s goaltending, the Hurricanes struggled to score goals in 2017-18.

It’s unclear where exactly Svechnikov will fit into the lineup next season, but he’ll probably provide an upgrade right away. Barring surprises, the Russian winger should slide in somewhere in the team’s top three forward lines.

The floor is pretty high for Svechnikov. Ultimately, the biggest question is: “How high is his ceiling?”

More to come on both players …

2018 NHL Draft Tracker

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Friday features the first 31 selections of the 2018 NHL Draft, with the rest rolling out on Saturday. Take a look at each pick, along with some trades and other notes.

[Before the selections started rolling in, the Capitals sent Brooks Orpik and Philipp Grubauer to the Avalanche for the 47th pick.]

Round 1

1. Buffalo Sabres

Rasmus Dahlin, Defenseman, Frolunda (Sweden)

“He is a terrific skater and stick handler who can rush the puck, or join the attack in a hurry. Impressive agility makes him a good one-on-one defender. He has fine passing ability, and although not a big-time bomber, he has an accurate shot from the point.” – Elite Prospects.

Dahlin is the most hyped defensive prospect in years, if not decades. Some say we haven’t seen this kind of excitement for a defenseman since Denis Potvin. Yeah.

2. Carolina Hurricanes

Andrei Svechnikov, Winger, Barrie (OHL)

“Svechnikov has size, speed and skill. He can play a power game or a finesse game, make plays or score goals any way they can be scored – off the rush, one timers from far out, getting his nose dirty in front of the net or off the cycle.” – Bob McKenzie, TSN.

3. Montreal Canadiens

Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Center, Assat (Finland)

“A smart forward with a dangerous shot, Kotkaniemi possesses a high hockey IQ and determination with the skills to back it up. Positions himself well and often seems to be a step ahead of plays.” -Matias Strozyk, Elite Prospects.

4. Ottawa Senators

Brady TkachukW, Boston University (NCAA)

“Tkachuk is a lot less refined and less polished than the other elite picks but the big raw-boned winger plays a hard driving, aggravating power and agitation game.” McKenzie, TSN.

5. Arizona Coyotes

Barrett Hayton, C, S.S. Marie (OHL)

“Very smart two-way centre who contributes in all areas of the game and has potential to be a very key player.” TSN.

6. Detroit Red Wings

Filip ZadinaW, Halifax (QMJHL)

“Filip Zadina is a dynamic offensive forward that plays a complete game. A deft and agile skater, he exhibits explosive mobility both up and down the ice. In all three zones, he proactively looks to create problems for the opposition.” – Curtis Joe, Elite Prospects.

7. Vancouver Canucks

Quinn Hughes, D, Michigan (NCAA)

“He plays a go-go-go offensive game, at times more like a rover than a defenceman. He’s fearless, not afraid to make high risk, high reward but also high danger plays.” TSN.

8. Chicago Blackhawks
9. New York Rangers
10. Edmonton Oilers
11. New York Islanders
12. New York Islanders (from Flames)
13. Dallas Stars
14. Philadelphia Flyers (from Blues)
15. Florida Panthers
16. Colorado Avalanche
17. New Jersey Devils
18. Columbus Blue Jackets
19. Philadelphia Flyers
20. Los Angeles Kings
21. San Jose Sharks
22. Ottawa Senators (from Penguins)
23. Anaheim Ducks
24. Minnesota Wild
25. Toronto Maple Leafs
26. New York Rangers (from Bruins)
27. Chicago Blackhawks (from Predators)
28. New York Rangers (from Lightning)
29. St. Louis Blues (from Jets)
30. Detroit Red Wings (from Golden Knights)
31. Washington Capitals

 

MORE:
• Rasmus Dahlin addition can be a franchise changer for Sabres
• NHL draft action likely to begin with Montreal at No. 3
• Noah Dobson and his unique road to the 2018 NHL Draft

Avalanche acquire Grubauer, Orpik as Capitals open cap space for Carlson

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The Colorado Avalanche kicked the 2018 NHL Draft off by making the first move of the weekend in acquiring Brooks Orpik and Philipp Grubauer from the Washington Capitals. The Stanley Cup champions received the 47th overall pick  in exchange.

“We would like to thank Brooks and Philipp for all of their contributions to our organization,” said Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan. “Philipp has been a consummate professional and a great teammate and we wish him all the best. Brooks was a great leader and a tremendous role model for our young players in his four years with our organization. This was a difficult move, but the one we felt we needed to make in order to give some flexibility moving forward.”

The move is an eye to the future for the Avalanche. Starting goalie Semyon Varlamov only has one year remaining on his contract and Grubauer, who is set to become a restricted free agent on July 1, has been tabbed a future No. 1 in the NHL. He certainly had interest around the league with teams like the New York Islanders, Ottawa Senators and Buffalo Sabres in the market for a goalie.

As for the Capitals, including Orpik and his $5.5 million cap hit in the trade is a huge move toward attempting to re-sign defenseman John Carlson, who will earn a long-term, very rich contract from someone this summer. According to Cap Friendly, Washington now has a little over $21 million in cap space heading into July 1. Plenty of space to bring back Carlson and maybe even Michal Kempny.

The 37-year-old Orpik only has one year left on his deal and becomes one of two Avalanche defenseman over the age of 30. That is, if he remains in Colorado. According to Pierre LeBrun, GM Joe Sakic is looking to flip Orpik and if he can’t do that, a buyout will likely happen.

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

WATCH LIVE: 2018 NHL Draft

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NBCSN will televise the 2018 NHL Draft on Friday night at 7:30 p.m. ET from American Airlines Arena in Dallas.

The 2018 NHL Draft is headlined by Sweden’s Rasmus Dahlin, a 6-foot-3 defenseman who tallied seven goals and 13 assists with Frölunda HC of the Swedish Hockey League in 2017-18. Dahlin, who is widely considered as the top prospect in the draft, can become just the sixth defenseman taken first overall since 1994.

[CLICK HERE TO WATCH THE LIVE STREAM — 7:30 P.M. ET]

A trio of forwards – Andrei Svechnikov (Russia) of the Barrie Colts (Ontario Hockey League), Brady Tkachuk (United States) of Boston University (Hockey East), and Filip Zadina (Czech Republic) of the Halifax Mooseheads (Quebec Major Junior Hockey League) – are also expected to be early first-round selections. Svechnikov scored 40 goals in 44 games for the Colts in 2017-18, Tkachuk led Boston University with 23 assists and finished fourth on the team in scoring, and Zadina totaled 44 goals and 38 assists for the Mooseheads. Three Americans, including Tkachuk, Quinn Hughes (University of Michigan) and Oliver Wahlstrom(U.S. National Under-18 Team), are projected to be picked early in the first round.

The New York Rangers lead all teams with three selections in the first round (9th, 26th, and 28th), and Original Six teams have a combined nine first-round picks this year.

Liam McHugh and Kathryn Tappen will host coverage alongside Emmy Award-winning analyst Pierre McGuire and NHL Insiders Bob McKenzie, Craig Button and Darren Dreger. Coverage will include a pre-game feature on the friendship formed between Tkachuk and Hughes, and a segment on Wahlstrom, who became famous at the age of nine for a trick shot he performed before a Bruins game at TD Garden.

Round 1 order of selections
1. Buffalo Sabres
2. Carolina Hurricanes
3. Montreal Canadiens
4. Ottawa Senators
5. Arizona Coyotes
6. Detroit Red Wings
7. Vancouver Canucks
8. Chicago Blackhawks
9. New York Rangers
10. Edmonton Oilers
11. New York Islanders
12. New York Islanders (from Flames)
13. Dallas Stars
14. Philadelphia Flyers (from Blues)
15. Florida Panthers
16. Colorado Avalanche
17. New Jersey Devils
18. Columbus Blue Jackets
19. Philadelphia Flyers
20. Los Angeles Kings
21. San Jose Sharks
22. Ottawa Senators (from Penguins)
23. Anaheim Ducks
24. Minnesota Wild
25. Toronto Maple Leafs
26. New York Rangers (from Bruins)
27. Chicago Blackhawks (from Predators)
28. New York Rangers (from Lightning)
29. St. Louis Blues (from Jets)
30. Detroit Red Wings (from Golden Knights)
31. Washington Capitals

MORE:
Rasmus Dahlin addition can be a franchise changer for Sabres
NHL draft action likely to begin with Montreal at No. 3
Noah Dobson and his unique road to the 2018 NHL Draft