The NHL draft begins on Thursday night in Montreal and that is typically when the league’s offseason really kicks off.
All 32 general managers and front offices being in the same spot, as well as the very nature of the draft itself, means there will be at least some moves to be made. The significance of those moves may vary.
Here is a quick primer on what to watch for over the next two days.
Who will Montreal take? And how will the dominoes fall after that?
This is the rare draft year where there is no can’t miss, consensus top pick which means there is some actual intrigue at the top of the draft starting with the Montreal Canadiens and the No. 1 overall pick.
The odds on favorite seems to be Shane Wright, but Juraj Slafkovský and Logan Cooley could also be options.
Wright has been considered the top prospect in this draft class for a couple of years now, but Slafkovský’s stock has risen considerably in recent weeks. He is probably considered the most NHL ready prospect in this draft given his size, speed, and international play. But what is his ceiling?
If Montreal does go with Wright in the top spot, Slafkovský seems to be a safe bet in the second spot where the New Jersey Devils are slated to pick. It will be the third time in the past five years they have picked in the top-two of the draft after previously selecting Nico Hischier (2017) and Jack Hughes (2019) first overall.
The Alex DeBrincat watch
The big name to watch on the trade market is Chicago Blackhawks winger Alex DeBrincat, coming off of another 40-goal season and just two years away from unrestricted free agency. With the Blackhawks deep into a rebuild DeBrincat has been mentioned in trade speculation for the past year, and there seems to be plenty of smoke that a deal could be imminent.
Will it happen at some point on Thursday?
The Blackhawks would almost certainly want a top pick in the draft, and there has been speculation that the New Jersey Devils (No. 2 overall pick) could be an option. The Flyers were briefly mentioned this week, but they do not seem willing to part with the No. 5 overall pick.
It is very — VERY — rare for teams to trade picks in the top-five of the draft, especially for players. You have to go all the way back to the Alexei Yashin trade when the New York Islanders traded the No. 2 overall pick to the Ottawa Senators for the star forward. The Senators used that pick to select Jason Spezza.
The Devils and DeBrincat would be an intriguing possibility, though. New Jersey needs to take a significant step forward with Hughes and Hischier, they have plenty of salary cap space to extend him, and with the top of the draft lacking in slam dunk superstars, this would be an opportunity to land an established star and one of the league’s top goal scorers still in the prime of his career. You do not get those opportunities very often.
Will Vancouver move J.T. Miller?
The other big forward that could be on the move is Vancouver Canucks forward J.T. Miller. He is entering the final year of his contract, is coming off of a monster 99-point season, and after being mentioned heavily in trade talks leading up to the deadline he could finally be on the move this offseason.
The Canucks have some salary cap issues in the future, have missed the playoffs in six of the past seven seasons. If they can not get Miller signed to an extension, a trade is probably the best bet.
Columbus with a big opportunity
Thanks to last year’s Seth Jones trade the Columbus Blue Jackets have an additional first-round draft pick this year (No. 6 overall) giving them two picks in the top-12 (their own pick is the 12th overall selection).
They have rumored to be in the market for Arizona Coyotes defenseman Jakob Chychrun and could use one of those picks to land him in a trade.
If not, they should be in a prime opportunity to land one of the top-defenders, either David Jiříček or Šimon Nemec.
The Jones trade is still paying off for Columbus and could be a turning point in the organization’s rebuild. The Blue Jackets already have Cole Sillinger and Adam Boqvist thanks to the deal, as well as Jake Bean who they acquired for the second-round pick they acquired from Chicago as part of that trade.
Imagine if it also helps them land another top defense prospect, or perhaps even somebody like Chychrun (who is still signed long-term on a very team-friendly contract) in a trade.
Will Buffalo make all of its picks on Thursday?
Thanks to the Sam Reinhart and Jack Eichel trades, the Buffalo Sabres have three first-round picks on Thursday night (No. 9, No. 16, and No. 28). Will they use all of them? Or could they try to package one in a trade for more immediate help? The Sabres showed a lot of improvement in the second half last season but they still have a lot of holes to fill on their roster, especially in goal.
Those later two picks, especially the No. 28 pick, are total wild cards in terms of finding a long-term player. Seeing what it can get in a trade would probably be the smart play. Especially if it can fill a need in goal or on defense.
Will Edmonton make a mistake with Jesse Puljujarvi?
The mistake being, of course, trading him for minimal return.
Puljujarvi might not be the best player available in a trade this offseason (Debrincat, Miller, and Chychrun would take that claim) but he might be the best value a team can get given the low cost in terms of assets, as well as the fact his contract in RFA should not be a cap-breaker.
Instead of signing Valeri Nichushkin to a massive deal in free agency teams should be looking to find the next Nichushkin: a talented top pick that took some time to develop and was undervalued by their original team. Puljuarvi could be that player.