Thursday, August 17, 2017

Taking That Final Step


2016-17 record: 46-23-13 (105 points)
Lost to Nashville in Conference Finals
Captain: Ryan Getzlaf

For the second time in three seasons, the Anaheim Ducks made the Conference Finals and for the second time in three seasons, that's where their season ended. The difference this time around is that there is no feeling of never getting over the hump, but rather what could have been had they stayed healthy. That is why the majority of the Ducks' roster remains intact.

The only changes to the roster are the losses of both Clayton Stoner and Shea Theodore to Vegas and swapping out Jonathan Bernier for Ryan Miller as the backup goaltender. They were able to re-sign Patrick Eaves to a new deal, which should help their power play, as his absence during the Nashville series was a big reason for the power play failure. Miller should provide a more established presence to push incumbent starter John Gibson, who also had an impact during the Nashville series thanks to injuries that knocked him out for the last two games of that series. Barring that, it's the same Ducks squad from last year, one that will need Corey Perry to rediscover his scoring touch and a defense that should be better for having fewer distractions (see: Hamphus Lindholm's contract dispute at the beginning of the season). As for who to look for to step in from within, Brandon Montour's emergence helped make parting with Theodore a little easier, as he appears to be ready for full-time NHL duty while they will need Nick Ritchie to step up and know when to show restraint during play, as he's cost the Ducks a game or two due to reckless play.

Prediction: 1st in the Pecific Division

Until the Edmonton Oilers show that their defense is at least average, it is the Ducks' division to lose. However, they will face stiff competition and will need to show that they can win no matter who's on the ice.

Monday, August 14, 2017

History of Hockey: Dixieland Edition

With NHL hockey coming soon to Las Vegas, this is a good opportunity to look at how hockey has flourished in a non-traditional market. Today, it is about what may very well become the future home of this writer, that being Nashville, TN.  Long before the Predators started play in 1998, they had a few iterations in lower level leagues, to greatly varying degrees of success.

Prior to both the Predators and the then-named Nashville Arena (now Bridgestone Arena), the hockey teams in Nashville played in the old Nashville Municipal Auditorium, which still stands today and hosts events. Hockey in Nashville dates back to 1962, when the Dixie Flyers hit the ice in the EHL. That franchise was the longest iteration of the pre-NHL days, as they lasted from 1962 until 1971. After that franchise folded, Nashville went without hockey for 10 years before the South Stars hit the ice with the CHL for the 1981-82 season. That franchise lasted just one season before going under. However, Nashville would resurrect the team name for the following season, this time, in the ACHL. They would last a season and a half before they picked up stakes to Salem, VA and became the Lancers, leaving Nashville without a team for five and a half years.

In 1989, the Knights entered the fray and played in the ECHL, back when it was the East Coast Hockey League. They had a seven year run and drew fairly well in their first four years. and notable players to have come through Nashville in that time included Harry York, Link Gaetz, and Glen Metropolit. After that franchise relocated to Pensacola after the 1995-96 season, Nashville had two different teams in the CHL in the Nighthawks for the 1996-97 season and the Ice Flyers in the 1997-98 season before the NHL came calling, and the Predators began play in 1998 in the newly built Nashville Arena (now known as Bridgestone Arena).

There you have it, the history of hockey in Nashville. While the early days have seen varying degrees of success on the ice, the roots of what would become the Predators and the city's hockey fascination were laid with those teams, and now coming off of a Stanley Cup Finals run, the future looks even brighter for hockey in Nashville.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Time to Eulogize the Capitals?

It's been a rather interesting time for the Washington Capitals, as they have not only failed to make the Conference Finals in any of Alex Ovechkin's time there, but now there are many questions of whether their window of winning a Stanley Cup is about to slam shut.

To understand where the Capitals are in terms of potential salary cap hell, a spot currently occupied by the Los Angeles Kings and however it shakes out in the future, the Montreal Canadiens, let's look at the Capitals since the off-season began. They signed TJ Oshie to an eight-year extension, which isn't bad until you realize that he's going to be 38 by the time his contract ends and that is far too much term and possibly money, as it's a $5.75 million hit per year according to CapFriendly, for a player that simply isn't a leading guy. Next, the failure to buy out Brooks Orpik's contract meant that the Capitals risked losing a defender in the expansion draft, which they did, when Nate Schmidt was taken by the Vegas Golden Knights. This year's draft can be considered a waste for the Capitals, as they didn't have a pick in the first three rounds, and the picks they did make may very well have little to no impact in the long run. With the start of free agency, they lost Kevin Shattenkirk, Justin Williams, and Karl Alzner on the first day. While losing Williams isn't a fatal blow in the long run, Shattenkirk will be the scar of another playoff failure, as a first round pick in this year's draft was the cost of a Shattenkirk rental while Alzner was a reliable player on the blue line. It should be noted that they also extended Dmirty Orlov for five years, which takes effect after next season. Meanwhile, Evgeny Kuznetsov was signed to an eight-year deal, which carries a near-$8 million hit annually. In case you're asking, they also signed Andre Burakovsky to a two-year, $3 million bridge deal and will have another year of Phillipp Grubauer, both of whom carry reasonable cap hits.

Where the Capitals stand, they need to find six other warm bodies and only have a shade over $4 million to play with. They have at least three years of Ovechkin, Niklas Backstrom, Kuznetsov, and Holtby left, so their window is really closing, and seemingly, they can ill-afford another Shattenkirk situation, as they will need to soon replenish their prospect pool in everywhere except in goal, as they appear pretty well-stocked there. The reality is that at some point, the Capitals will fall by the wayside in pretty much the same manner that Vancouver Canucks have from 2010 (their height) up until now.

Friday, June 30, 2017

NHL Draft Grades

The NHL Draft has come and gone, and I've had a little time to assess what every team has done. If you're keeping score on how many predictions I got right, I got Cale Makar, Cody Glass, and Owen Tippett with the correct teams and in the right slots, plus Klim Kostin going to the right team, but 11 slots lower than expected (he went 31st overall). Now, it's time to look at what each team did and hand out arbitrary grades.

Anaheim Ducks: The Ducks lost their first round pick in the Patrick Eaves deal, and given that they just resigned him to a new deal, it appears to be a first round pick well spent. They did incredibly well to pick up both Maxime Comtois and Antoine Morand in the second round while they addressed their potential black hole in the goalie pipeline with Olle Eriksson-Ek in the fifth round. Jack Badini and Kyle Olson were also picked, and clearly, the Ducks have confidence in their blue line, as none of the picks were defensemen. Grade: B+

Arizona Coyotes: Most of their picks were on the blue line, with Pierre-Olivier Joseph having the most potential of the bunch. He needs to add weight, but he has all of the makings of another Oliver Ekman-Larsson. I didn't like that they didn't take a goalie in the draft, as it's rather barren beyond Adin Hill, but I did like Tyler Steenbergen, as he could be a steal in the fifth round. Grade: B-

Boston Bruins: The Bruins went predominantly centers and defensemen, with no wingers taken. Urho Vaakanainen was a safe pick, and given Jakub Zboril's slight regression in his development, it's not a bad pick. Jack Studnicka was a pick I liked here, as he fits the Bruins mold for centers. Grade: B

Buffalo Sabres: The Sabres picked the best player available when it came time for their turn in the first round in Casey Mittelstadt. He will need a year, minimum, but he can eventually slot in behind Jack Eichel as a number two center. Other than Ukko-Pekka Lukkonen, however, the rest of the draft wasn't necessarily that great, as I thought they took a little long to address their blue line deficiencies. Grade: B-

Calgary Flames: For just having one pick in the first three rounds, the Flames made it count, as Juuso Valimaki will eventually slot in with TJ Brodie once he gets developed. The rest of their draft was throwing darts and hoping they hit the bullseye, but they did pick up Travis Hamonic in a trade, bolstering their blue line right away. Grade: C (not counting the Hamonic trade)

Carolina Hurricanes: The Hurricanes need a number one center, and while Martin Necas doesn't necessarily have that ceiling, he does provide speed, another aspect that the Hurricanes currently lack. Most of their picks have rather low ceilings, but are largely safe bets for lower end roles if they make the NHL, especially Stelio Mattheos. Grade: B

Chicago Blackhawks: With losing Trevor van Riemsdyk and Niklas Hjalmarsson in the days leading up to the draft, it was no surprise that the majority of their picks were defensemen. Henri Jokiharju was a reach, but he fits what the Blackhawks want out of their defensemen. With nine picks, the Blackhawks filled every position except in goal, where they could have used someone for much later. Grade: B

Colorado Avalanche: The Avs needed to hit a homerun on their first pick, and with Cale Makar, that's exactly what they did. While he is a year away, minimum, he has all of the makings of a franchise defender. They also did well in drafting Connor Timmins in the second round, further fortifying their shaky blue line. The rest of the draft wasn't as inspiring. Grade: B+

Columbus Blue Jackets: With no first round pick this year, the Blue Jackets could afford to just simply add warm bodies into the prospect pool. Picking Alexandre Texier was a surprise choice, but he fits exactly what the Blue Jackets want in a player, as he provides grit. Grade: C+

Dallas Stars: The Stars addressed their biggest problems in the first round, as Miro Heiskanen will add stability to a blue line that sorely lacked a steady presence while Jake Oettinger adds a top end goalie that should be ready by the time Ben Bishop's contract ends. They also drafted Dylan Ferguson, who got flipped for Marc Methot, further helping their blue line. Grade: B+ (moved up to A- after the trade for Methot)

Detroit Red Wings: For the most part, it was about getting as many players as they could for the Red Wings. They did fill a need for offense in Michael Rasmussen, who also happens to fill a size need as well. It helps that he can skate well. I liked the pick of Keith Petruzzelli, who could figure into the golatending future if he picks up a few extra pounds and develops as expected in college. Grade: C

Edmonton Oilers: They took a major chance on Kailer Yamamoto, but not based on skill. He's got a fair amount of filling out to do, but only a 5'9" frame to work with. However, his skill set should work with either Connor McDavid or Leon Draisaitl. Getting Stuart Skinner in the third round was also a smart move. Grade: B

Florida Panthers: The Panthers only had five picks, but they already have a considerably deep prospect pool. Getting the best scorer available in Owen Tippett was great, though reaching for Aleksi Heponiemi could be the bigger payoff if he gains weight, as he's just a buck-forty. Grade: B-

Los Angeles Kings: The Kings are still in salary cap hell, given they're still on the books for both Dustin Brown and Marian Gaborik. However, they did incredibly well in the draft, going down the middle with all their picks, as only wingers were not picked. Getting Gabe Vilardi at 11 was smart, as was picking up a rising Jaret Anderson-Dolan. Matt Villalta is another option in the eventuality that Jonathan Quick will retire, but the Kings hope that won't happen for a few years. Grade: B+

Minnesota Wild: Without a first or second round pick, the Wild had to make the most out of what they did have, and it seems like only Ivan Lodnia could be a potential NHLer. Size was largely ignored, as four out of the six picks are under 6' and only one breaks the 200 pound mark. Grade: D+

Montreal Canadiens: The Canadiens need scorers, and none of the picks look like a gamebreaking scorer. As a matter of fact, none of the picks were wingers. Ryan Poehling's potential ceiling is 60 points while they appeared to overcompensate for losing Mikhail Sergachev by adding four defenders. Grade: C-

Nashville Predators: The Predators paid lip service to each of the positions, with every spot getting one player richer after the draft. The best picks were Eeli Tolvanen, a pure goal scorer who fell to them at 30 and may very well begin his pro career sooner rather than later, and Jacob Paquette, the second to last pick in the draft who could see his numbers go up with a bigger role in Kingston. Grade: A

New Jersey Devils: They get a passing grade just for picking Nico Hischier, a player that may need another year in major junior, as he needs to pack on a few pounds, but he provides a dynamic presence down the middle. While they didn't fill their blue line needs until late, they did pick up a potential steal in the fourth round in Nikita Popugaev, who fell due to a drop in production late in the draft year. Grade: A-

New York Islanders: The Islanders went defensemen with their first three picks and left wingers with their last two picks. It is debatable whether any of them will have an impact, but the trade of Travis Hamonic for a 2018 first round pick indicates they may be hedging their bets in the case that this year doesn't pan out for them. Grade: C

New York Rangers: They reached on their two first round picks, but Lias Andersson was a solid pick while Filip Chytil could surprise if he pans out. The Rangers are still in win-now mode, as none of this year's picks are expected to contribute in two years. Grade: C+

Ottawa Senators: For just having four picks, the Senators did pretty well in shoring up their depth. Shane Bowers isn't a top center, though the draft was pretty thin on top centers after Hischier and Nolan Patrick, but he should be no worse than a quality third line center. Alex Formenton could be another London Knight that breaks out post-draft year while Jordan Hollett was a value pick late in the draft and could be a factor in net. Grade: B-

Philadelphia Flyers: Nolan Patrick was obviously a great pick, as he now figures to make the opening night roster thanks to a trade that sees the Flyers saying good-bye to Brayden Schenn. Morgan Frost was a reach, but they made up for it in value by taking Isaac Ratcliffe in the second round and Matthew Strome in the fourth round. The Flyers continue to replenish their pipeline, and now, all facets appear to be plentiful. Grade: A

Pittsburgh Penguins: The Penguins traded out of the first round to take Ryan Reaves, who figures to be the cop on a team that can use one. As for the actual draft, the Penguins drafted four defenders, with the best potential going to Zach Lauzon. As is the case with recent drafts, the Penguins are in no hurry to rush any of their prospects. Grade: B+

San Jose Sharks: They reached for Josh Norris, but the potential as a Logan Couture clone was great, and the Sharks would gladly take it if that is the case. The Sharks stocked themselves down the middle with two other centers, a need that may be coming if Joe Thornton bolts in free agency. Grade: B-

St. Louis Blues: The Blues added Brayden Schenn and lost Ryan Reaves in draft day trades, and they added a solid two way player in Robert Thomas, as well as power forward Klim Kostin in the draft. They addressed their blue line late in the draft. Grade: B

Tampa Bay Lightning: Going with mostly centers in the draft, their best pick was defenseman Callan Foote, who suddenly gives the Lightning a strong prospect pool of defenders, which includes recently acquired Mikhail Sergachev. If Alexander Volkov and Alexei Lipanov come over to North America within a few years, they stand a decent chance of making an impact on the Lightning. Grade: B+

Toronto Maple Leafs: Timothy Liljegren headlines a pretty good draft pool for the Maple Leafs, and while he had a poor season, his potential is such that he could be the offensive starter from the blue line that the Leaf have lacked since Tomas Kaberle. Eemeli Rasanen is an intriguing defender who is a project, but has the size to be a difference maker while Ian Scott is a good option in goal. Grade: A-

Vancouver Canucks: Elias Pettersson was a slight reach in the first round, but his potential marks out to be a number two center, at worst, once the Sedins move on. Their next three picks were great, as Kole Lind and Jonah Gadjovich were solid picks, as was goalie Michael DiPietro. Grade: B+

Vegas Golden Knights: The Golden Knights' plan was go down the middle, and they did incredibly well with most of those picks. Cody Glass was a great pick at six while Nick Suzuki figures to slot behind him within a couple of years. Erik Brannstrom was a bit of a reach, but Nic Hague was a solid value pick in the second round. One sleeper to watch is Jake Leschyshyn, who figures to get a bigger role with Regina next season. Grade: A

Washington Capitals: Bereft of a draft pick for the first three rounds, this looks like a throwaway draft for the Capitals. None look like a contributor down the line, but the Caps have proven people wrong before. It's just harder to say so for this year. Grade: F

Winnipeg Jets: Though well stocked on prospects, the Jets did alright this year, with Kristian Vesalainen providing a possible big body that can score up front, thus cutting down on the possibility of moving Dustin Byfuglien to forward. Dylan Samberg is a few years away, but he has potential on the blue line. Grade: B-

Friday, June 23, 2017

Fielding a Team

The Expansion Draft has come and gone, and now, each of the 31 teams will be ready to go on the ice. The Vegas Golden Knights spent close to the cap, with just $0.9 million left over after the draft and various trades. With that, let's look at each of the players taken from the existing 30 teams plus trades.

Clayton Stoner-Taken from Anaheim, the Golden Knights were enticed to take him when the Ducks agreed to also trade Shea Theodore to them. Theodore is more likely to make an impact than Stoner, whose contract comes off the books after next season.

Teemu Pulkkinen-AHL goal scorer who is on the clock to find his game in the NHL or be doomed to career AHL'er. The Golden Knights will be his fourth NHL team, after Detroit, Minnesota, and Arizona couldn't get much out of him.

Colin Miller-The Bruins needed to make room for Charlie McAvoy, and Miller's departure will do just that. As for the Golden Knights, a third line role appears likely, though if he can get his PPG closer to his rookie year, a second pairing role could be in his future.

William Carrier-Buffalo traded a draft pick to the Golden Knights as a likely guard against them taking Linus Ullmark. Carrier will be on his third NHL team, but will likely be given a bigger role.

Deryk Engelland-He was entering free agency, but the Golden Knights convinced him to sign a new deal, enabling them to bring him home. Adds grit and not much else.

Connor Brickley-The Hurricanes traded a fifth-round pick to entice the Golden Knights into picking Brickley, and they may not be done dealing.

Trevor Van Riemsdyk- Solid defensive option taken from Chicago, he too, could be on the move if the Golden Knights decide he isn't an answer on the blue line. He's on the move, as Carolina traded to get him.

Calvin Pickard-Every team needs a backup goalie, and Pickard will fit that description (more on who he's backing up). He wasn't ready for a full-time starting gig, but the Golden Knights will be a better team up front than his former home in Colorado.

William Karlsson-The Blue Jackets threw in their first round pick to ensure that the Golden Knights would take him. Karlsson figures to challenge for a spot on the second line, as...

Cody Eakin-Barring anything out of the blue, Eakin enters the season as the Golden Knights' first line center. A very good second liner, this is his chance to shine with a bigger role now that he isn't behind Tyler Seguin and Jason Spezza.

Tomas Nosek-Likely headed for the AHL, Nosek couldn't crack a rather thin Detroit lineup.

Griffin Reinhart-Reinhart has yet to fulfill his potential, and now that the Golden Knights are his third team since being drafted in 2012, he is on the clock to prove that he is not a bust.

Jon Marchessault-A 30-goal scorer, the Panthers threw in Reilly Smith to ensure that the Panthers would not lose either Roberto Luongo or Jason Demers.

Brayden McNabb-The Kings didn't lose when McNabb was taken, but given that they're still saddled with the contracts of Dustin Brown and Marian Gaborik, they were hoping for a lot more, especially since they're officially in salary cap hell.

Erik Haula-The Wild threw in Alex Tuch and an assurance from the Golden Knights that Haula would be signed to a new deal if they took him. At worst, he's a solid fourth line player.

Alexei Emelin-Physical presence, was likely picked as part of a later trade, which will be discussed then.

James Neal-Nashville didn't want to lose him, but given their lack of center depth plus Neal agreeing to waive his NMC, it had to happen. Vegas gets a player good for 30 goals, but also with just one year left on his contract.

Jon Merrill-Second pairing defender duty is likely awaiting Merrill, who may very well be paired with a defensively responsible player that the Golden Knights picked up, which will be mentioned later.

JF Berube-Most likely headed to the AHL, he was picked because the Islanders threw in Mikhail Grabovski and a first round pick this year.

Oscar Lindberg-Solid center who will likely see third-line duty and possibly more if he outplays William Karlsson.

Marc Methot-Defensively responsible, his likely defense partner could be Jon Merrill.

Pierre-Edouard Bellemare-Likely AHL bound, he can fill in on an NHL roster if injuries impact the team, and he provides grit and leadership in the locker room.

Marc-Andre Fleury-The face of the franchise, he needed a fresh start now that Matt Murray is firmly entrenched as the Penguins' starter. Still, Fleury has a few good years left and can be a sure thing on what is most likely few sure things on the Golden Knights.

David Schlemko-The likely condition of the Golden Knights taking Emelin, Schlemko is headed to Montreal.

David Perron-Offensively gifted, but consistency forever remained an issue in his NHL career thus far.

Jason Garrison-Considerable money freed up for the Lightning, they also threw in negotiating rights to Nikita Gusev, and given that the Golden Knights not only have a solid top pairing guy, but also a lure for Gusev in his former SKA teammate Vadim Shipachyov, they made out pretty well here.

Brendan Leipsic-The forgotten man in the Maple Leafs' youth movement, he gets a fresh start, but is now on his third team. Expect him to challenge for a spot on the NHL roster.

Luca Sbisa-Possible that he could be paired with Jason Garrison, but also possible he plays third pairing minutes, too. Much maligned in Vancouver, he's far better in his own end.

Nate Schmidt-Defender with promise, he will see more time in the NHL, as he isn't behind the likes of John Carlson and Karl Alzner.

Chris Thorburn-Fourth line duty awaits this physical presence. The Golden Knights also acquired the Jets' first round pick this year and gave up the first round pick originally owned by Columbus in return.

The Golden Knights now own the 6th, 13th, and 15th overall picks in this year's draft. The question is whether they decide to move two of the three or all three in an effort to get either the first or second overall pick.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Rebranding Madness

Last night, the NHL and Adidas made their pact official, as the rebranded uniforms for each team were unveiled, and to say most were rather disappointing would be an understatement. Since every team unveiled their new home looks, rather than go through each team, I'll go through the highlights and lowlights.

Before getting into that, it should be noted that most of the teams will carry over their looks from last year, with the collar being the lone exception, as it will look decidedly different.

The highlights: There were really only four teams who benefited the most from the Adidas rebrand.

The Colorado Avalanche were the worst affected by the Reebok branding of 2007, but now that the jagged striping that adorned their first looks has returned, it automatically puts the Avs in the highlight category. Granted, I would have loved for more than gray separating the maroon and the blue, but given how badly their Reebok jerseys looked, you'll take what you can get.

I can technically put the Carolina Hurricanes in the highlights category, since they returned the storm warning flags onto the waist stripes, albeit in a more subtle manner. Adding more black to the waist and arm stripes actually adds a little more to what was a rather ordinary look.

The Minnesota Wild almost always put out winners when it comes to sweaters, and this look is no exception. The fact that they're going with forest green as their regular home colors only cements the look as one of the best of the rebranding.

I'm going to level with you: I had extremely low expectations for what the Vegas Golden Knights were going to trot out. To say that they exceeded expectations would be an understatement, as it looks passable, though the red does look out of place.

As for lowlights, let's just say that Calgary, Ottawa, Columbus, Vancouver, and Washington all had their chances to make a fresh start, and none of them took that chance, instead opting for familiar looks. Also, Buffalo only took half a chance, getting rid of the piping, but for some reason, keeping the numbers on the front of the jersey.

Edmonton going with orange as a full-time home jersey may be a nod to their early days in the WHA, but that doesn't mean it should have remained as such today. Going with a darker shade of blue doesn't help.

Nashville got rid of the piping, opting for a cleaner look. Too clean, if you ask me, as there's not nearly enough navy on the jersey. Even a smaller striping of navy on the waist and arm stripes would have brought it out of the lowlights category.

This was the rebranding that the New Jersey Devils went with? I was hoping for a lot more than just broadening the arm stripes and getting rid of the waist stripes, which is the biggest no-no that they could have done.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

NHL Mock Draft: Picks 16-31

With Adidas revealing all 31 teams' new (sort of, for some teams) uniforms, I'm expediting the mock draft.

16-Calgary Flames: Kailer Yamamoto, RW, Spokane (WHL)

The Flames have had success with players like Yamamoto, as they have his contemporary height-wise in Johnny Gaudreau. Super skilled offensively, and Sam Bennett still needs wingers that can score.

17-Toronto Maple Leafs: Cal Foote, D, Kelowna (WHL)

Toronto could always use another defensive prospect, as they remain thin at that unit, a fact exposed by their third pairing of Matt Hunwick and Roman Polak getting repeatedly torched. Foote isn't a game-breaker, but he is reliable in his own end and has a little more offensive than his dad Adam, a former Colorado defender.

18-Boston Bruins: Nic Hague, D, Mississauga (OHL)

The Bruins have tried preparing for the eventuality of Zdeno Chara finally hanging it up, and though Charlie McAvoy, last year's first round pick, looks like a sure thing, the first round pick from 2015 Jakub Zboril is not as certain to be great. Hague has the size and may provide solid two-way play to go along with McAvoy's offensive prowess and Brandon Carlo's stay-at-home abilities.

19-San Jose Sharks: Pierre-Olivier Joseph, D, Charlottetown (QMJHL)

The Sharks need young defenders in the pipeline, especially since they just gave up on Mirco Mueller living up to his potential. Joseph is a puck mover that needs to gain weight, but is checking off the boxes in most other areas.

20-St. Louis Blues: Klim Kostin, RW, Dynamo Moscow (KHL)

St, Louis got pushed around a lot last year, and despite an off-year thanks to injuries and a lack of playing time in the KHL, Kostin showed what he could do when given the time to show. Provides a physical element that was missing last year.

21-New York Rangers: Erik Brannstrom, D, HV71 (Sweden)

The Rangers are getting old on the blue line, and though they just parted ways with Dan Girardi, they still have decent ability there. The future doesn't look too bright beyond that, and Brannstrom would not only be a body on the blue line, but also a puck mover that they haven't had in a while.

22-Edmonton Oilers: Robert Thomas, C, London (OHL)

Though listed as a center Thomas can play anywhere up front, and he's likely the safest pick in the first round. The Oilers would like to have better depth up front, especially when it comes to the third and fourth lines, and Thomas can bring a two-way game to those areas right away if needed.

23-Arizona Coyotes (from Minnesota): Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen, G, HPK Jr. (Finland)

I fully expect the Coyotes to take a goaltender either here or with their second round pick. Presuming they do like what they see in that category, it's down to Luukkonen or Jake Oettinger. Luukkonen has the higher upside, and I think he's a little closer to NHL ready.

24-Columbus Blue Jackets: Kole Lind, RW, Kelowna (WHL)

The Blue Jackets are sound defensively, but they didn't have nearly enough firepower to go toe-to-toe with Pittsburgh in the first round. Sadly, this year's draft doesn't have much in the way of offensive talent, but Lind is one of the better options available. Plus, going down the wing, the Blue Jackets could use another guy there.

25-Montreal Canadiens: Urho Vaakanainen, D, JYP (Finland)

The Canadiens just traded away Mikhail Sergachev, leaving their defensive pipeline a little less stocked. Reliability is what he will provide, but he may require a few years to develop his hockey sense a little more.

26-Chicago Blackhawks: Isaac Ratcliffe, LW, Guelph (OHL)

A project, Ratcliffe has the size that Chicago desperately needs, as they've been lacking in that lately and were pushed around by St. Louis and Nashville in recent playoff tilts, teams with at least one physical presence. He can provide a little offense, but once he gets a little more weight, his size will be his greatest asset.

27-St. Louis Blues (from Washington): Jaret Anderson-Dolan, C, Spokane (WHL)

Anderson-Dolan rose up the draft board thanks to his tournament play in the World Under-18s, and he is just now scratching the surface of his potential. With Dan Lambert now coaching Spokane, it will be interesting to see how much offense he can really provide.

28-Ottawa Senators: Jason Robertson, RW, Kingston (OHL)

Robertson could afford to improve his skating, which seems to be a theme with most draft picks this year, but if any team knows about offensive talent that needs improved skating, it's Ottawa, as Robertson draws comparisons to Mark Stone, who's done pretty well in Ottawa. Work ethic is something to watch, but the offensive skill is there.

29-Dallas Stars (from Anaheim): Kristian Vesalainen, LW, Frolunda (Sweden)

The offensive upside is there with Vesalainen, but he also had an up and down season, as he moved quite a bit. Size suggests power forward, but he may be a few years away.

30-Nashville Predators: Ryan Poehling, C, St. Cloud State (NCHC)

Assuming the Predators don't trade this pick in pursuit of a center like Matt Duchene or Tyler Johnson, the Predators go with the draft route, taking Poehling, who could end up a Mike Fisher clone, as in not great offensively, but very good in many areas, and can play a shutdown role if needed.

31-Pittsburgh Penguins: Timothy Liljegren, D, Rogle (Sweden)

Liljegren's stock took a tumble, and with Pittsburgh needing to figure out a plan in case they don't keep Justin Schultz and/or Derrick Pouliot doesn't pan out, Liljegren would fit the Penguins system perfectly, as his offense is way ahead of his defensive game.