Winners and losers of the NHL draft: Slovakia, Kraken, Bruce Boudreau

Sports

MONTREAL — The 2022 NHL draft is in the books, as 225 players were selected over the course of seven rounds and two days.

Before getting to the annual list of draft winners and draft losers, let’s focus on the event’s biggest leader: Holding the draft in person again, and in Montreal.

This was the first time since 2019 in Vancouver that the NHL held a proper draft, with executives at tables in the middle of an arena, media working the interview scrums and fans filing in to celebrate their teams’ future. To have it in Montreal made the return to some semblance of normalcy even grander, and not just because NHL commissioner Gary Bettman delighted in egging on those fans that booed him every time he stepped to the podium.

The amped-up crowd during Thursday night’s first round roared for the Canadiens, mocked the Toronto Maple Leafs, and reacted to every unpredictable selection.

That included the home team’s own pick at No. 1 overall, as winger Juraj Slafkovsky was taken over center Shane Wright, who had been expected to go first overall for years.

The noise the Montreal crowd made was part cheer, part jeer, part gasp and part “what?!”

“I don’t think I even heard my name called. I just heard ‘Slovakian’ and then I was like shocked and then I didn’t even listen anymore,” Slafkovsky said of the moment. “I was like shaking and I had goosebumps. Yeah, unbelievable moment for me.”

There were other goosebump-worthy moments during the 2022 NHL draft — as well as decisions that were less awe-inspiring. Here are some winners and losers for this year’s draft:

(Potential) franchise centers are hard to find. Seattle got lucky when one landed in its lap.

When Montreal selected Juraj Slafkovsky at No. 1, it set off a chain reaction allowing Shane Wright — the previously presumptive top pick in this draft — to reach the Kraken at No. 4. It was an incredible outcome for Seattle to land another elite center after it drafted last year’s top-ranked pivot Matty Beniers at No. 2.

Kraken general manager Ron Francis said all along he was going to build the franchise up through the draft and not via splashy trades or elaborate free-agent signings. Now Francis has two backbones that can develop into anchors of Seattle’s top six for years to come.

Wright specifically will come to the Kraken with a chip on his shoulder, which was obvious even before he outright admitted it. When Wright took the stage on Thursday after the Kraken call, he shook commissioner Gary Bettman’s hand while scanning Bell Centre with a smile — until his gaze went over to the Montreal Canadiens draft table, and that smile turned into a stare down. No chill.

More importantly though, Wright bears greater NHL-readiness than the average No. 4 pick. He’s also a dynamic, exciting player who will invigorate a Kraken fan base that, while understanding the need for patience, could use a little something more to cheer about after Seattle was one of the league’s bottom-dwellers in 2021-22.

Francis continued to stock the cabinets with other prospects, making 11 picks total in the 2022 draft. But none will be more well-received or swiftly impactful as Wright. Perhaps we can’t give Francis all the credit for getting Wright, but his slide definitely bodes well for Seattle’s future. — Shilton


What’s going on in the Windy City? Because it’s not abundantly clear, after the last two days anyway, what general manager Kyle Davidson’s plan is.

First, there was the Alex DeBrincat trade on Thursday that sent Chicago’s dynamic scoring winger to Ottawa for … three draft picks? When DeBrincat is a 24-year-old with two 40-plus goal seasons already under his belt and a burgeoning two-way game? That was the return for a trade that didn’t even really have to happen?

Credit to the Senators for making a bold move to grab DeBrincat — who is an unrestricted free agent after this season — but what was the benefit for Chicago?

It remains a looming question mark. Unless the Blackhawks are aiming to be even worse than last season, it’s not making much sense.

Then, there was Chicago’s acquisition of Petr Mrazek. The Blackhawks had no goalies signed for next season and obviously that had to be addressed. But the deal for Mrazek was curious. Everyone knew Toronto had to shed the final two years of Mrazek’s contract for cap space reasons, and Mrazek is coming off his worst season in years. All Chicago asked for to alleviate the Leafs’ problem was taking Toronto’s No. 25 overall pick in 2022 and giving up the No. 38 pick.

That’s a 13-spot difference. Doesn’t seem like much. Granted, Mrazek could return to form and have a terrific season for Chicago. At the moment though, the Blackhawks might have been fleeced.

The Blackhawks’ only real win of the week? Duncan Keith possibly retiring. Chicago traded Keith to the Edmonton Oilers last July, thinking it was shedding the final two years of Keith’s contract worth $5.5 million per season. When Keith hangs up his skates, it will generate a cap recapture penalty, adding back $5,538,462 in 2022-23 and $1,938,456 in 2023-24. That helps Chicago get to the salary floor. Small victories. — Shilton


Winners: Prospects with personality

Isaac Howard made quite a first impression.

Oh, excuse me. It’s “Ice Man.”

When the Tampa Bay Lightning selected the U.S. National Team Development program product at No. 31 it was obvious from his outfit — crisp white suit, blue turtleneck, American flag belt buckle and gold chain — that Howard was no wallflower.

If there was any doubt on that front, Howard squashed it in a hurry.

“I’m the best-looking guy here,” he told Sportsnet in a post-draft interview. “So I figured I’d be the best-dressed one, too.”

Hockey players lacking for personality? The next generation ain’t here for it.

Howard got the “Ice Man” moniker from his dad, since he wouldn’t ever get off the ice as a kid. That paid obvious dividends — and planted seeds of confidence — given where Howard’s ended up.

It’s a refreshing shift to have incoming prospects embracing their individuality. Ty Nelson — a Seattle Kraken selection — donned a smart blue fedora (with feather!) on Friday. Anaheim Ducks pick Nathan Gaucher had a suit jacket stitched inside with scenes of Montreal and the draft.

There’s always a time and place for the classics. But on the biggest night of these prospects’ young careers, it was good to see them having fun. — Shilton


Loser: 31 NHL teams’ fashion sense

The Arizona Coyotes showed up to Montreal on a mission. They wanted to use their many, many draft picks to build up their prospect pool, which they did with a robust class that included No. 3 overall pick Logan Cooley. They also wanted to be the best-dressed front office in the NHL. Again, mission accomplished.

The Coyotes might have been the first NHL team to synchronize their fashion for the draft. When GM Bill Armstrong, team president Xavier Gutierrez and Arizona’s front office took the stage to announce first-round picks, they were all wearing matching bright blue suits with red ties.

“I don’t like when everybody wears different colors. So if anyone has complaints it’s [on] me,” Armstrong said. “We’re a team. We should look like one.”

Inside the lining of those jackets? Arizona Coyotes logos, of course.

As is tradition, fans on social media mocked the Coyotes. (We especially liked those that wondered if the front office would all attend a screening of “Minions 2” after the draft.) But Armstrong believes that the Coyotes are going to be trendsetters.

“Remember in Carolina when they did the post-game celebrations?” Armstrong said, referencing the Storm Surge. “Everybody made fun of them. Now it’s culture. It’s fun. The NHL’s going to buy into it. Even the lining.” — Wyshynski


Winner: Slovakia

Slovakian hockey is having a moment. It started at the 2022 Beijing Games, when the men’s national team captured bronze for the nation’s first Olympic medal ever. It continued at the draft when two players from that team were taken first and second overall: Winger Juraj Slafkovsky at No. 1 to the Montreal Canadiens and defenseman Simon Nemec to the New Jersey Devils at No. 2.

It was just second time in NHL history that a country outside of Canada or the United States produced the first two picks in the draft — the only other time was Russia in 2004, with Alex Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin.

“Yeah, I think out of five million people, at least like four are up and they are cheering for us,” Slafkovsky said when asked about what the moment meant back home in Slovakia. “At the end of the day that’s important. We are from Slovakia, and we represent the country, and I’m just happy that this happened to us.”

Like Slafkovsky said, it’s a small country but one that has made its mark in the NHL over the years and in this draft: Four Slovakian players went in the first 63 picks, including winger Filip Mesar at No. 26 to the Canadiens. Overall, there were six Slovaks selected.

“Yeah, small [country], but we have really good players, and now more and more players will be better like we are,” Nemec said. “Everybody is proud, and we’re proud, too.” — Wyshynski


Marc-Andre Fleury might be the most universally beloved player in hockey. But his new contract with the Minnesota Wild is causing some drama around Cam Talbot.

Minnesota announced Thursday that Fleury, 37, had agreed on a two-year extension to stick with the team. GM Bill Guerin previously lured his old friend away from Chicago prior to March’s trade deadline, and Fleury shared the crease equally with Talbot to end the regular season as they made 11 starts each.

Before that, Talbot was having a good season in his own right as Minnesota’s No. 1 (25-12-1, .910 save percentage). That didn’t seem to matter much.

Fleury was tapped over Talbot as Minnesota’s starter for the postseason, but couldn’t backstop them out of the first round against St. Louis.

Now Fleury is back, and Talbot is a season away from unrestricted free agency. Clearly, the veteran had some concerns about his standing with the club. Talbot’s agent George Bazos told TSN’s Pierre LeBrun that he met with Guerin at the draft on Friday and relayed, “We both stated our positions. Billy has a lot to think about.”

Guerin, apparently, disagrees.

“I don’t have s— to do. Cam Talbot’s under contract,” Guerin told reporters. “George can say whatever the hell he wants. My team’s set right now, and that’s the way it goes. We can have all the discussions we want. Cam’s a member of our team. We really like Cam. All we’re trying to do is win.”

Not exactly a feel-good message to deliver — or hear, if you’re Talbot. Will Guerin decide to capitalize now on an increasingly hot goalie market and trade Talbot? Can the Wild risk an unhappy netminder in their midst? Regardless, hardly a great 48-hour stretch if you’re Cam Talbot. — Shilton


Winners: Late-round picks in the house

It’s always a gamble for projected later-round picks to attend the draft in person. What if their name never gets called? That had to be on Domenic DiVincentiis’ mind as the seventh round began Friday and he still sat waiting to be claimed inside Bell Centre.

DiVincentiis wouldn’t have been the first — or last — prospect not to reach the draft floor. But his story had a happier ending.

It would take all the way until Winnipeg’s pick at No. 207 in the seventh round, but DiVincentiis finally got his moment as Winnipeg Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff made his selection official. The eruption of joy that followed from DiVincentiis, his friends and family was such pure celebration of a long-awaited achievement.

The draft quickly rolled on without a pause, but those little moments stick in your mind as reminder of what the two-day event is all about: young people realizing their dreams with the supporters who helped make them come true.

Whether DiVincentiis has a successful NHL career or not, there’s a memory in Montreal he will hold forever. And that was worth the wait. — Shilton


Loser: Having to justify your trade

The Philadelphia Flyers acquired a right-handed defenseman who can quarterback a power play and had 51 points in 64 games last season. They’re expected to sign him to a two-year contract extension. Exciting times! Except when that defenseman is Tony DeAngelo, and Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher has to spend the majority of his time explaining to the media and fans that this isn’t going to bring a toxic cloud over Philadelphia.

“We actually did a lot of due diligence last summer as well,” Fletcher said. “He’s a young man. He’s played on a lot of teams now. He’s somebody that certainly has had some incidents in his past that have probably gotten him into some trouble. He’s paid the consequences for those actions. We believe he’s learned from them.”

“From everything we can gather and speaking with [Hurricanes GM] Donny Waddell, speaking with some of the Carolina players, speaking with other people around the league, it seems like he’s really worked hard the last year and a half to change his ways,” the GM continued. “He’s older, he’s maturing and from all accounts he did a good job both on and off the ice last season.”

What would Fletcher say to fans who are uncomfortable with a player that was accused of using a racial slur in the past, and had a fight with a teammate?

“You have to certainly appreciate their opinion,” Fletcher said. “He’s made some mistakes. Apologized for them. Some of the mistakes early in his career, he hasn’t had any repeat offenses so to speak. He’s matured and he’s working hard to be a better person both on and off the ice.”

What about putting Tony DeAngelo on a team coached by John Tortorella?

“I know Torts is excited to work with him. He loves the passion,” Fletcher replied. “He loves the fire. He loves his skill set. As long as you work hard for Torts and be a good teammate on and off the ice, you won’t have any issues.”

Just a totally normal trade. — Wyshynski


Winner: Bruce Boudreau

Vancouver Canucks head coach Bruce Boudreau is renowned for his love of professional wrestling, and particularly the old-school grapplers who can talk as well as they can work. His favorite current wrestler fits that template: WWE superstar Kevin Owens, who can take a bump as well as he can dish an insult.

The NHL draft is, if nothing else, a place where dreams come true. So as Boudreau was doing a hit on the NHL Network, host Jackie Redmond — who also does work for WWE — surprised the coach with a special guest: K.O. himself, a Montreal native.

“I was sitting in a box up there and I figured I’m come down and say hi,” Owens said.

“I’m all red,” Boudreau said, slowly morphing into a 12-year-old fan.

Boudreau immediately started asking Owens about his injury status, whether WWE wrestlers know beforehand to which “brand” they’re being drafted, and generally fan-boy’d out.

“I’m telling you, I’m going to phone Vince [McMahon] if you don’t get the title shot you deserve. I’m right there for you!” Boudreau said.

If you’ve ever seen a child meet Mickey Mouse for the first time at Disney World, it was very much like that on the wholesomeness scale. — Wyshynski


Loser: Teams that didn’t get on the goalie carousel

Last summer, the goaltending market was robust. This summer, there’s just as much demand but less supply, especially on the free-agent market. Hence, some teams got aggressive in addressing their goaltending issues at the draft.

The Stanley Cup-winning Colorado Avalanche traded for Alexandar Georgiev from the New York Rangers on the afternoon of the first round. The Minnesota Wild re-signed goalie Marc-Andre Fleury for two years, ending speculation he could be headed to Toronto. The Detroit Red Wings acquired St. Louis Blues pending free agent Ville Husso, and then signed him to a three-year deal. The New Jersey Devils acquired Washington Capitals restricted free agent Vitek Vanecek to pair with incumbent Mackenzie Blackwood.

Some teams tried to get aggressive but were rebuffed. The Buffalo Sabres attempted to trade for Ottawa Senators goalie Matt Murray, but he used his trade protection to block the deal.

“The reality is we worked hard on a deal, but players have the ability when it’s in their contract to make those decisions,” Sabres GM Kevyn Adams said. “And we want players who want to be here. That’s the way we believe, so we move on.”

The Sabres need a goalie. So do the Edmonton Oilers. The Toronto Maple Leafs, who traded Petr Mrazek to the Chicago Blackhawks, need two. Several other teams will seek to bolster their crease.

There are some free-agent options hitting the market next week, including Darcy Kuemper and Jack Campbell. There may be others available via trade. But those who shopped early might end up getting the better deals, and in some cases better goalies, than those who waited.

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