In ‘terrible’ draft year, will more first-round picks be traded?

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The past couple of years, NHL teams were understandably loath to trade first-round draft picks for rentals at the deadline.

It happened a few times, twice involving the Chicago Blackhawks, who picked up Antoine Vermette in 2015 and Andrew Ladd in 2016. In an ill-fated move, the Los Angeles Kings gave up a first-rounder to get Andrej Sekera in 2015, then proceeded to miss the playoffs.

But with so much elite talent available — and we’re not just talking about Connor McDavid, Jack Eichel, and Auston Matthews — first-round picks were generally considered too valuable to throw away for a slightly better chance of winning the Stanley Cup.

That could all change in 2017, which is not considered a good draft year.

In fact, as we learn here, one NHL executive likes to text Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman with a message: “How many times do I have to tell you that teams are going to trade their firsts? This draft is terrible!”

Top prospects in 2017 include Nolan Patrick, Nico Hischier, and Gabriel Vilardi. Though all three have the potential to be very good NHLers, they’ve garnered nowhere near the buzz compared to last year’s trio of Matthews, Patrik Laine, and Jesse Puljujarvi.

Beyond the very top prospects, this year’s draft class is also said to lack depth — and that’s where things could get interesting leading up to March 1.

With good reason, sellers will no doubt be pushing contenders to surrender their first-round picks, arguing that a late first-round pick in 2017 is equal to, say, a mid-second-rounder in the last two years.

Top potential rentals include Kevin Shattenkirk, Martin Hanzal, Patrick Eaves, and Brian Boyle. There could also be players with term available, from Matt Duchene and Gabriel Landeskog in Colorado to Jannik Hansen in Vancouver.

We’ll have to see what the market decides. Weak draft class or not, young players are still the lifeblood of any organization. And you never know, the scouts may be wrong about this class. There are always gems to be found regardless.