OK, so that was boring. The first round of the 2018 NHL Draft fell well short in terms of entertainment value, with the only trade of consequence coming a full half-hour before Rasmus Dahlin took the stage to try on his new Sabres gear — something that was never in doubt.
In a draft rife with rumors about NHL stars changing teams, the Capitals’ salary cap-saving trade that sent Phillip Grubauer and Brooks Orpik to the Avalanche was one of three deals total Friday — much quieter than 2017, when big trades were aplenty. The other two were of the pick-reshuffling variety.
NHL DRAFT 2018: First-round results | Pick-by-pick grades | Top 100 big board
Erik Karlsson will have to wait to find out if he’s going to be stuck in Ottawa. The Canadiens and Senators, whose uncertain intentions about the Nos. 3 and 4 overall picks marked the real beginning of the draft, made their selections (questionable ones at that) instead of moving them. A cadre of other stars in limbo — the Sabres’ Ryan O’Reilly, the Canadiens’ Max Pacioretty, the Hurricanes’ Jeff Skinner, the Flyers’ Wayne Simmonds, et. al — also stayed put, reportedly in a holding pattern as the hockey world awaits free-agent decision from John Tavares and Ilya Kovalchuk. Lame.
That left observers to focus on the actual draft, which, save for a few off-the-board selections, pretty much stuck to the script. Here, then, are the winners and losers from Day 1 of the draft, with Rounds 2-7 set to begin at 11 a.m. ET Saturday.
Winner: City of Buffalo
First things first: Hats off to ardent Sabres fans who finally got a moment to enjoy. Yes, the Dahlin pick was a slam dunk ever since the downtrodden franchise won the draft lottery two months ago, but there was a sense of joyous finality to the pick. Combined with Bills quarterback of the future Josh Allen — who gave Dahlin a warm Buffalo wing welcome on social media and perhaps coined a new hashtag — there’s an unbridled optimism that both will help turn around Western New York’s professional teams. It has been a long time coming. Before the real work begins, it’s nice to appreciate the feel-good moment while it lasts.
Welcome to Buffalo @rasmusdahlin00! Can’t wait to watch you play, wings on me later this summer. #LetsGoBuffalo
Is #SabresMafia a thing? It is now.
— Josh Allen (@JoshAllenQB) June 22, 2018
MORE: Buffalo-bound Rasmus Dahlin, family find familiar comforts amid hype
Loser: Erik Karlsson
With Mike Hoffman out of the equation, it sounds as though the (delusional) Senators are holding out hope that they may still be able to salvage their relationship with their captain and sign him long term. The earliest Ottawa can make Karlsson a contract offer is July 1, and absent a draft-weekend deal, all indications are that GM Pierre Dorion intends to hold onto him at least until the formal offer is rejected. Karlsson would have netted the Sens an additional first-rounder this year, at least, but they also elected to forfeit their 2019 first-rounder to complete the Matt Duchene trade with the Avalanche, so Dorion will be inclined to recoup that asset in due time.
The Golden Knights, Avalanche and Lightning are the teams most often rumored to be sniffing around. A Karlsson trade will remain the hottest rumor around, except now it’s anyone’s best guess as to when it might happen — and Karlsson will be a hostage of the dysfunction until then. It could be as late as the 2019 deadline.
MORE: What can the Senators expect to get in an Erik Karlsson deal?
Winner: Brian MacLellan
Fresh off his Stanley Cup, the Capitals’ general manager took another victory lap in Dallas. While his counterparts sat on their hands, the swashbuckling MacLellan — ever eager to swing a trade on draft night — found a way out of salary cap purgatory by convincing the Avalanche to take on Brooks Orpik’s $5.5 million hit. The trade cost the Caps an extra draft pick or two (Grubauer’s value, as the best goalie on the market, was much higher than the 47th overall selection, which the Caps received from the Avs), but it’ll pay off in spades in MacLellan is able to keep UFA-to-be John Carlson without overpaying too much. He may now have enough room to re-sign all the Caps’ free agents, something that seemed impossible a week ago.
MORE: How Capitals can make a John Carlson contract fit in tight cap
Loser: Jeff Gorton
The Rangers’ general manager entered Friday with three first-round picks — three more than five other teams — and the way he used them was a bit puzzling. Such ample ammunition could have helped the Blueshirts move up from No. 9 in pursuit of a blue-chip player the organization lacks. Instead, they stood pat and selected Russian forward Vitali Kravtsov, whom most draftniks had rated farther down the draft board. They passed on more well-rounded prospects such as Oliver Wahlstrom and Noah Dobson (who both went to the rival Islanders a few picks later). Gorton then parted with the No. 48 pick to move up four spots in Round 1 and draft K’Andre Miller. The pick was fine, but then Rangers fans watched as the Blues spent only a third-rounder to trade up four spots with the Leafs a few picks later. In general, Gorton did a poor job managing his assets.
Winner: Red Wings
In some respects, Red Wings general manager Ken Holland is managing for his job this summer. This is a critical offseason for a team whose few promising pieces are bogged down by aging, cap-strangling players. Holland’s Day 1 haul makes him perhaps the biggest winner in the first round. Filip Zadina, the Czech winger regarded by many as the best pure scorer in the 2018 class, slipped past the Canadiens, Senators and Coyotes and into Detroit’s lap at No. 6.
Passing on Michigan product Quinn Hughes must have been a difficult decision for the defense-starved Wings, but Zadina may have been the one player worth doing so. As icing on the cake, center Joe Veleno, the sixth-ranked prospect on Sporting News’ big board, was available at No. 30 after a first-round free fall. That’s value.
It’s amazing how quickly Lou Lamoriello has managed to right a ship that had drifted so far off course under Garth Snow, but the hiring of the former Devils and Maple Leafs executive is looking like a major coup for a franchise that suddenly can do no wrong. A day after hiring Barry Trotz, the Islanders were gifted Wahlstrom and Dobson, two prospects pushed out of their projected top-10 slots, back to back (picks Nos. 11 and 12). Wahlstrom, a winger with a wicked shot, and Dobson, a defenseman with top-five upside, fill needs within an organization replete with young talent. If the Isles lose out on Tavares, it won’t be for lack of trying.
Winners: Swedes (especially ones named Rasmus)
Dahlin has been the talk of the 2018 class for a year, and he became the first Swedish prospect drafted No. 1 overall since Mats Sundin in 1989, but there was a lot more to like from the nation’s historic draft class, which saw a record-tying six players go in the first round. The future of Sweden’s national program is bright.
Six Swedish-born players were selected in Round 1, matching an #NHLDraft record achieved in 1993, 2009 & 2011. #NHLStats
1st – Rasmus Dahlin, BUF
8th – Adam Boqvist, CHI
23rd – Isac Lundestrom, ANA
24th – Filip Johansson, MIN
28th – Nils Lundkvist, NYR
29th – Rasmus Sandin, TOR pic.twitter.com/FH8rFbWF2j
— NHL Public Relations (@PR_NHL) June 23, 2018
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