Nikita Scherbak should be a dynamic force the Habs. (Avalanche.nhl.com)
We continue our 2014 NHL Entry Draft Grades series with Part II of the Atlantic Division. In Part I, we graded the Boston Bruins, the Buffalo Sabres, the Detroit Red Wings and the Florida Panthers. Today, this little parent-teacher conference will discuss the draft efforts of the Montreal Canadiens, Ottawa Senators, Tampa Bay Lightning and Toronto Maple Leafs.
The Habs didn’t make their first choice of the draft until the 26th overall selection, but there’s little doubt they hit a home run with the selection (see video below) of high impact forward Nikita Scherbak. As a Western Hockey League rookie, the dynamite Russian winger led all freshmen in goals, assists and points and was easily Saskatoon’s leading regular season point scorer with 28 goals, 50 assists and 78 points.
Without a second round pick, Montreal traded up in the third round to snag hulking 6′4″ 205-pound Swift Current Broncos defenseman Brett Lernout. A big right-handed blueliner, Lernout should address a lack of nastiness on the back end. Nastiness was again the name of the game when the Habs made their next selection, nabbing another big, tough defender in Nikolas Koberstein — an intriguing pick as the Alberta Junior Hockey League defenseman was only Central Scouting’s 205th-ranked skater. Still, physicality and upside made him too good of a player to pass up with the first of the club’s two fifth round picks.
With the 147th overall pick, the Canadiens picked up a familiar face in Daniel Audette, the son of former Habs player, and current club scout, Donald Audette. The youngster scored 76 points in 68 games with the QMJHL’s Sherbrooke Phoenix. In the sixth round, the best name of the draft went off the board as Montreal made Hayden Hawkey the team’s newest goaltending prospect. The Omaha Lancers goaltender doesn’t just have a great name — he has great ability, which the USHL recognized when it made the Providence College commit its 2013-14 Goaltender of the Year.
Finally, the club wrapped up its draft by taking St. Mike’s Buzzards forward Jake Evans, who put up 16 goals, 47 assists and 63 points in 49 OJHL games last season. Size, skill, goaltending and a potential franchise player in Scherbak makes it very easy for us to give the Canadiens a solid “A” on this one.
With just five picks in the 2014 draft — none in the first, fifth or sixth rounds — there really isn’t a whole lot to say about the Senators’ draft class. The club did address a general weakness on the prospect pool’s back end by taking three defensemen — Andreas Englund, Miles Gendron and Kelly Summers — but it’s highly unlikely any of them aside from Ottawa’s top selection (Englund, 40th overall) will make the team as a legitimate future top-four option. Already a sizable defender at 6′3″ and 190 pounds, talented young Swede Englund is quite mobile and uses his size well. However, he’s not too fancy with the puck and is most likely better suited as a physical, stay-at-home defender rather than an offensive catalyst.
In addition to the three defenders, the Sens also added USHL forward Shane Eiserman and QMJHL left wing Francis Perron, neither of which will see the lights of the NHL anytime soon. It certainly wasn’t a great draft, but it did add some defensive depth. We’ll give it a D+.
Tampa Bay Lightning
If five mediocre picks warrant a D+, Steve Yzerman and the Tampa Bay Lightning fared decidedly better.
With the first of its two first round picks, the Lightning made controversial Sarnia Sting defenseman Anthony DeAngelo its top pick with the 19th overall selection. He’s dynamic, smooth-skating and arguably the best offensive defenseman in the 2014 draft, but attitude concerns also played a heavy role in his draft stock. However, 15 goals and 71 points in 51 regular season games with the Ontario Hockey League’s Sting was just too much for Yzerman to pass up. Honestly, it’s hard to argue with results like that.
The Lightning then traded the 28th overall pick (Joshua Ho-Sang) to the New York Islanders in exchange for the 35th and 57th overall picks. Gaining two second round picks was certainly a plus after Yzerman traded his own to the Vancouver Canucks in exchange for defenseman Jason Garrison, the rights to unsigned prospect Jeff Costello and a seventh round pick in next year’s draft. With those two picks, Tampa added Czech defenseman Dominik Masin and U.S. National Development Team blue liner Johnathan MacLeod. While MacLeod is Boston University-bound, Masin will play next season in the OHL after having been selected 25th overall by the Peterborough Petes in the 2014 CHL Import Draft. The lack of experienced offensive-minded blueliners has been a weakness in the Lightning’s pool of prospects recently, but it appears those days are long gone after this year’s draft.
In the third round, Tampa Bay traded the 80th overall pick and a 2015 seventh round selection to the Minnesota Wild in order to move up one spot to nab centre Brayden Point at 79th overall. At 5′10″ and 161 pounds, Point isn’t big by any means, but he certainly put up large numbers last season with the WHL’s Moose Jaw Warriors, scoring 36 goals and 55 assists for 91 points in 72 regular season games. As you can probably imagine, it’s easy to see why the talented young pivot was so desirable.
Minus a fourth round pick, Yzerman once again worked the phones, trading the 140th and 142nd overall picks to the New York Rangers in exchange for 119th overall. With that pick, the Lightning snatched up another defenseman in Calgary Hitmen’s Ben Thomas. As a WHL rookie, Thomas had a solid season, scoring seven goals and 24 assists for 31 points and a plus-11 rating in 72 regular season games. He was even better in the club’s short-lived playoff run, scoring at a point-per-game pace with a goal and five assists for six points and a plus-5 rating in six games. Thomas will be one to watch closely in his sophomore campaign later this fall.
With its final two picks of the draft, the Lightning selected Windsor Spitfires right winger Cristiano DiGiacinto and Cape Breton Screaming Eagles stud right winger Cam Darcy with the 170th and 185th overall picks. DiGiacinto had an average to slightly under average rookie season, but Darcy proved himself to be quite capable in the offensive-minded QMJHL, scoring 35 goals and 82 total points in 65 regular season games, albeit as a 20-year-old rookie. Tampa Bay’s final pick in the 2014 draft may be the first to play pro puck within the organization.
Tampa Bay loaded up on intriguing defensemen and low risk, high reward forwards while also using picks to bring other important assets into the fold. You can’t ask for much better than that. That said, the Bolts get a solid A if not an A+.
Toronto Maple Leafs
For a team that consistently struggles to make the playoffs, yet fails to draft very high at the same time, you can’t get a much better No. 1 selection than Swede-Canadian William Nylander at eighth overall.
A slick, speedy offensive talent with silky smooth hands, Nylander scored a goal and seven points in 22 regular season games playing against grown men with Modo of the Swedish Elite League. He was a point-per-game player in three games with Modo’s J-20 affiliate, adding three goals, eight total points and a plus-7 rating in five postseason games. The son of former longtime NHLer Michael Nylander, the Canadian-born Swede also played 35 games last season between the Allsvenskan’s Rogle and Sodertalje clubs, scoring a combined 15 goals and 12 assists for 27 points and a plus-2 rating. However, his real coming out party was on the international stage, where he scored 12 goals and 13 assists for 25 points and a plus-11 in 14 games while playing for Sweden. This kid isn’t far away from making his NHL debut.
Without a second round pick, the Leafs chose to select Kootenay Ice defenseman Rinat Valiev with the 68th overall pick. As a WHL rookie, the sizable Russian defender had a very solid season with five goals, 28 points and an impressive plus-27 rating in 55 games. He was even better in the postseason, scoring a goal and eight assists for nine points in 13 playoff games. Give him another season or two, and he could be an intriguing one to watch.
In the fourth round, Toronto took Youngstown Phantoms right winger J.J. Piccinich with the 103rd overall pick. Nearly a point-per-game player this past season with 27 goals and 58 points in 60 regular season games, he is a talented young playmaker set to further his development with Boston University starting this fall. The Leafs took another USHL forward the very next round in Sioux Falls Stampede centre Dakota Joshua. In 55 games with the Herd, Joshua collected 17 goals and 38 points. He’s not a superbly talented offensive talent, but he uses his 6′2″ 182-pound frame well in a physical, grinding role. We’ve seen him play quite regularly, so can attest to the fact that Joshua is a fun player to watch, but taking costly penalties is a weakness of his. He’s got a pretty cool first name, though.
With their sixth round pick, the Leafs nabbed young South Shore High School forward Nolan Vesey. In 48 games, the Maine commit scored an impressive 26 goals and 66 points, but it’s important to keep things in perspective — it’s only high school. Finally, Toronto wrapped things up with the selection of big (6′4″ 191 pounds) Swedish left wing Pierre Engvall. As his size would indicate, he’s not far from the NHL, and was impressive in 55 games between Frolunda’s U-20 and U-18 junior clubs, scoring a combined 28 goals and 43 assists for 71 points and a plus-41 rating. However, he could use some seasoning while playing against grown men.
In all, Toronto put together a solid draft class, none better than Nylander, but a solid group nonetheless. It’s worthy of a B+ at the very least.
And that wraps up the Atlantic Division draft grades! Stay tuned — the Central Division is next.
Now it’s your turn. Let us know in the comments below how you think your favourite Atlantic Division squad’s draft class went.