NHL Power Rankings: Ways to spice up early, virtual draft

The debate about whether holding the 2020 Draft in early June is a good idea continues. Even as some general managers, like Steve Yzerman and Brian MacLellan, publicly express their objection, the possibility is not going away.

From all indications, it appears as if the league is really pushing the idea to put the draft on before the resumption of the 2019-20 season. That would certainly be weird and, as we’ve gone over, there would be plenty to figure out. But if the NHL does indeed get its way, it’s a good opportunity to go all out in making it as entertaining as possible.

In this week’s Power Rankings, we offer five ways the NHL could make an early, virtual draft a successful endeavor.

1. Make it a second trade deadline

My pals at the Puck Soup podcast discussed this last week and it is a wild and fun idea. Trades are one of the biggest reasons to tune into draft weekend. You have 31 GMs all in one place walking around and drumming up proposals. Right now, if the draft takes place before the season is completed, it sounds like only deals involving picks will happen. That’s boring. Here’s a second chance for a team to add Taylor Hall or Joe Thornton for a playoff push or Cup run.

A highlight of the weekend is Commissioner Gary Bettman stepping to the podium and uttering, “We have a trade to announce!” That statement, followed only by a shift in draft positions, would not have the same impact.

2. Let the top 10 picks announce their own selections

Usually, the league commissioner, GM, current or former player, or even a scouting head announces a team’s first round pick. This draft needs to be more entertaining than previous years, so the top 10 picks will make their own announcements. Here’s how we do it: As the NFL did, each of the top 31 prospects will receive a numbered hat and jersey package from every NHL team. Once a team confirms its selection, the player or their agent will be told what package to open up.

In order to not ruin the surprise, the selections and reactions of the top 10 picks will be pre-recorded. Imagine Alexis Lafreniere ripping open the package to reveal he’s going to be a Red Wing or Senator or Shark or King. We might even get a “McDavid learns he’s going to Oilers” moment.

3. Have NHL Seattle finally reveal its nickname, color scheme and logo

If the coronavirus pandemic hadn’t put the entire world on hold we may have already learned the name of the newest expansion team. NHL Seattle, which will begin play with the 2021-22 season, was expected to announce the nickname in the first quarter of 2020. Well, we’re into May and still waiting.

But if the NHL is looking to grab headlines, why not use the draft to introduce its newest team? The league might as well capitalize while the attention is there. Let’s pause midway through Round 1 and have the Zoomed faces of Jerry Bruckheimer and Tod Leiweke pop up on our televisions to reveal the name, colors and logo. (Go Kraken!)

4. Just let the Red Wings have the No. 1 pick

Detroit was historically bad this season. They were so bad that even with 11 games to go they clinched dead last. Let them have Alexi Lafreniere. They certainly earned it and Steve Yzerman could use a centerpiece for his rebuild. 

As for the rest of the draft order? Use the lottery to decide picks Nos. 2-31 and make the odds for each team equal. (If you really want to get wild, hold the lottery the night before Round 1.) There’s no fair way to determine everything, especially if we’re not going to get a full 82 games from each team. A unique time calls for a unique solution. Yeah, you might have a team end up with the second pick and later win the Stanley Cup, but why do we reward ineptitude to begin with? 

5. Mic up everything

Some teams record behind-the-scenes draft footage every year featuring their staff discussing potential picks, trades and other business. Let’s make that an across-the-board order. Give the broadcasters access to the conversations of every GM. We want to hear what they’re discussing with their staffs and other teams if they’re talking trade. Give us some insight into their pre-draft chats with prospects. Bring the fans inside the process and it could help them understand a little more why certain decisions were made.

MORE POWER RANKINGS:
Teams with the best long-term outlook
Looking at the top 2020 free agents
Best 2019-20 free agent signings
The most underrated players
Our favorite classic Costacos Brothers hockey posters

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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.

Islanders sign goalie Sorokin to $2M deal for next season

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The New York Islanders on Tuesday signed goaltender of the future Ilya Sorokin to a $2 million contract for next season.

The deal includes $1 million in salary and a $1 million bonus. A day earlier, the Islanders signed Sorokin to an entry-level deal for the remainder of this season even though he’s not eligible to play.

Sorokin, 24, is considered one of the top prospects at any position not currently in the NHL. A third-round pick of the Islanders in 2014, he was among the Kontinental Hockey League’s best goalies this past season with a 1.50 goals-against average and .935 save percentage.

Two other teams signed Russian prospects Monday who can’t compete in the resumption of this season. The Montreal Canadiens signed defenseman Alexander Romanov for three years, and the Minnesota Wild signed forward Kirill Kaprizov for two years.

All three players are burning a year by signing for this season, a way of getting to more lucrative contracts sooner in the future.

The Islanders are one of several teams going into the NHL’s expanded 24-team playoffs with a goaltending competition. Coach Barry Trotz said he’ll let it play out between Russian Semyon Varlamov and German Thomas Greiss to determine who might start Game 1 of the qualifying round against the Florida Panthers on Aug. 1.

While Varlamov is under contract for three more seasons — perhaps in later years to mentor Sorokin — Greiss is a pending free agent. Sorkin backed up for the gold medal-winning Olympic Athletes from Russia at the 2018 Pyeongchang Games and showed his NHL potential over several KHL seasons and world championships.

Draisaitl, MacKinnon, Panarin are 2019-20 Ted Lindsay Award finalists

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Leon Draisaitl of the Oilers, Nathan MacKinnon of the Avalanche, and Artemi Panarin of the Rangers have been announced as the finalists for the 2019-20 Ted Lindsay Award, which is given “to the most outstanding player in the NHL.”

The is voted on by fellow members of the NHL Players’ Association. Lightning forward Nikita Kucherov won the award last season.

Draisaitl and Panarin are first-time finalists, while this is the second time that MacKinnon is up for the award. The winner will be announced at some point during the conference finals.

[2020 NHL Stanley Cup Qualifiers schedule]

The case for Leon Draisaitl: The 2019-20 Art Ross Trophy winner, Draisaitl led the NHL with 110 points and finished third in the league with 43 goals. He played every game for the Oilers this season and was first in points per game (1.55), assists (67), and power play points (44). He was second in power play goals (16) behind David Pastrnak and second in even strength points (66) behind Panarin. A win would mark the third time the Oilers have taken home the award in the last four seasons. Connor McDavid was voted the TLA winner in 2016-17 and 2017-18.

The case for Nathan MacKinnon: After missing only one game for the Avalanche this season, MacKinnon finished fourth with 93 points and led his team in scoring by 43 points. He was also seventh in goals (35), third overall in even strength points 962), fourth in power play points (31), and fifth in points per game (1.35). The 2019-20 season was the third straight year he finished with at least 35 goals and 90 points. It was also the third consecutive season he finished with exactly 58 assists. He would become only the second player in franchise history to win the award following Joe Sakic in 2000-01.

The case for Artemi Panarin: The Bread Man’s first year on Broadway was nothing short of spectacular. He set career highs in goals (32), assists (63), and points (95), led the NHL in even strength points (71), and was third in points per game (1.38). Prolific in production, he recorded points streaks of 12 and 13 games this season. He would become the second Ranger to win the award joining Jaromir Jagr (2005-06).

NHL AWARD FINALISTS ANNOUNCEMENT DATES
• Wednesday, July 15: Jack Adams Award, Calder Trophy
• Thursday, July 16: Lady Byng Trophy, Masterton Trophy
• Friday, July 17: Willie O’Ree Award, Vezina Trophy
• Monday, July 20: Norris Trophy, Selke Trophy
• Tuesday, July 21: Hart Trophy

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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.

Oilers remember Colby Cave as training camp opens

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As the Oilers skated for the first time together since the March 12 NHL pause, Colby Cave looked on from above.

With Rogers Place sporting some fresh ice, the image of the late Cave was on the scoreboard as the Oilers practiced Monday as training camps opened for the 24-team Return to Play.

Cave, 25, died April 11 after suffering a brain bleed. He was set to be one of the team’s Black Aces when play resumed.

“Colby was an unbelievable young man, great teammate. Obviously a friend to everybody in our locker room,” said Tippett. “He would be with us today if he hadn’t passed. He planned to be with our group. He’s with us in spirit.”

[Related: Cooper Marody honors late Colby Cave with tribute song]

The Oilers are preparing for their best-of-five Stanley Cup Qualifier series against the Oilers, which begins Aug. 1. Cave played 44 games with the Oilers in the last two seasons and spent most of 2019-20 with AHL Bakersfield. He had many friends on the roster, and his teammates will use his memory as inspiration going forward.

“This is first time we’ve all been together in a big group since Colby passed,” said Oilers captain Connor McDavid. “Those emotions are still fresh, and it makes it even more real now that we’re all together and he’s not able to join us. He’s going to be in our thoughts and in our hearts as we go forward and move through training camp and into the [playoffs], and hopefully, go on a deep run here.

“We’re going to play for Colby, and he’ll be with us throughout.”

MORE: Day 1 of NHL training camps: Uncertainty about Crawford, and more

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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.

PHT Morning Skate: Toews on COVID-19; Olympic roster projections

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from the NHL and around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit for the PHT Morning Skate? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

Jonathan Toews on COVID-19: “Does anybody really know how and when people catch this thing? The best you can do is get good rest, eat healthy, take care of your body, do the little things that lower your chances. What else can you do? Sitting around and worrying about it is just going to drive you crazy. The NHL’s gone to great lengths to create a safe environment. It’s far from perfect, but everyone has their own beliefs in seeing where they stand with all this.” [Sun-Times]

• Blackhawks forward Andrew Shaw, who last played Nov. 30 and has been out with concussion issues, said he will not return this season but plans to come back in 2020-21. [NBC Sports Chicago]

• Panthers assistant coach Mike Kitchen, 64, has opted out of the rest of this season. [TSN]

Alex Ovechkin‘s contract expires next summer. Is he thinking about an extension? “Not even talking, not even thinking about it because right now we have lots of stuff to do.” [NBC Sports Washington]

• Olympic Talk projects the 2022 Olympics rosters for Canada and the U.S.

• Can Oshie, other established Olympic hockey stars hold on for 2022? [Olympic Talk]

• How Edmonton won the bid to be one of the NHL’s two hub cities. [Edmonton Journal]

• Mikhail Grigoreko’s one-year, $1.2 million deal that was voided back in April was approved Monday. [Sportsnet]

• A flat cap will cause plenty of headache for Jim Benning and the Canucks. [Sportsnet]

• If Brock Boeser is indeed on the trading block, how aggressively should the Wild pursue the Canucks forward? [Hockey Wilderness]

• A pair of UMass Boston hockey players are going to inline skate from Boston to Michigan to raise money for the American Cancer Society. [WCVB]

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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.