By: Constantine Maragos
The 2019 NHL Draft has come and gone, with teams looking to stock up their prospect pools for a brighter future or make immediate changes for next season (or sometimes both). In this article, I’m going to analyze the biggest winners, biggest losers, and give my take on the biggest moves & surprises made at this year’s NHL Draft.
New Jersey Devils
The outright biggest winners at this year’s draft are none other than the New Jersey Devils.
Along with selecting projected #1-pick Jack Hughes, the Devils selected an additional 10 players this year, giving them a plethora of depth in their prospect pool. The Devils opted to stock up on wingers and defensemen this year, selecting five wingers and four defensemen.
The Devils also made the biggest splash on Day Two, acquiring defenseman PK Subban from the Nashville Predators for defenseman Steven Santini, defenseman Jeremy Davies, the 34th selection in the NHL Draft (Bobby Brink, pick traded to Philadelphia), and another 2020 2nd round pick. The Devils were able to take advantage of Nashville’s cap crunch, who have big decisions coming this summer. With only three years left on his contract, the Devils are able to commit to the dollar-heavy amount on Subban’s contract. Despite an off year for his standards, Subban looks to become the defacto leader of the Devils blueline, and quarterback a powerplay with the likes of Taylor Hall, Nico Hischier, and of course Jack Hughes.
The biggest takeaway from the Devils’ draft weekend is that they are looking to be competitive next year. After taking a step back this year from their first playoff berth since 2012, the Devils want to prove to impending star-FA Taylor Hall that New Jersey is a place where he can win, something that the former Hart-winner has been starved of his entire career. Currently with just under $26-million in cap space, with only a select number of RFAs needing contracts, the Devils look ready to compete again in the ever-competitive Metropolitan Division next season.
The Carolina Hurricanes came out of the NHL Draft not only with a solid crop of young talent, but also took advantage of other teams’ cap situations. The Canes brought in 12 new players into their organization and have been praised by many analysts in their selection. Having been at the draft, even I was left with a great first impression with the selections the Hurricanes made. Of course, picking up Ryan Suzuki at 28th overall is a solid pickup. Suzuki looks to be an offensive threat in the coming years. The Hurricanes scouting department deserves all the praise they can get for their work in the later rounds. One pick that I personally like is Anttoni Honka, the 83rd selection this year. The Hurricanes have their fair share of defensemen in the pipeline, and the Finnish d-man adds a slick puck-moving presence to that group.
In the early hours of Day Two, the Hurricanes were a part of a double-headliner of blockbusters. The Hurricanes utilized their cap space and acquired Patrick Marleau, a 2020/2021 1st round pick (contingent on the Leafs picking in the top 10 next year), and a 7th round selection for a 2020 6th round pick. The Hurricanes are looking to convince Marleau to stay, however if they are unable to, will buy out the last year of his contract. Whichever avenue the Hurricanes choose to take, the move has brought the Hurricanes more assets for their scouting department to work with, or to utilize next year to build on their tremendous success this year.
Toronto Maple Leafs
The Maple Leafs were already without a first-round pick this year from the Jake Muzzin trade earlier this season, and also left Vancouver without their first round-pick for next year (or 2021). To clear out cap space, the Leafs shipped off their first-round pick with Patrick Marleau to the Hurricanes. The trade leaves the Leafs just over $13.5-million from the cap ceiling, with RFAs Andreas Johnsson, Kasperi Kapanen, and of course, Mitch Marner still to sign. The Leafs current cap situation is going to be tough, if not impossible to maneuver without more cap casualties. While the Leafs have the depth up front to help ease their losses, the lack of depth on defense may continue to plague them. With a dwindling asset base, the Leafs will have the rely heavily again on Morgan Rielly and Jake Muzzin to carry the brunt of the work on defense, especially with Travis Dermott not expected to recover from surgery until at least November. While the Leafs will still look to be competitive next year, the draft signifies a slight step back for the Leafs, who cannot afford to lose any ground on Atlantic teams in front of them, or those chasing them.
The Nashville Predators are another team who fell victim to the salary cap. With Roman Josi set to double his $4-million contract this summer, and the pursuit of Matt Duchene (to ironically replace Kyle Turris) in free agency, the Predators were going to need cap relief. Rather than giving away assets for Kyle Turris’ $6-million contract, the Predators opted to sell below market on the enigmatic defenseman. The Preds shipped off Subban to the Devils for a package of two second round picks, Steve Santini, and defense prospect Jeremy Davies.
With a below average market for FA defensemen this year I believe that the Predators could have received a better package for Subban, had they waited. With reports of Tyler Myers looking to receive a long term deal at $6-million, you would have to think teams would rather use that kind of cap space on shorter term to acquire Subban. The Predators also have no key UFAs in need of a deal that they could not sign, as Wayne Simmonds is slated to leave this summer and there was still room to ink Brian Boyle to a deal. Despite this, David Poile is never one to make moves without reason, and is evidently never afraid to make a big move. Despite getting worse at the draft, they could be a team to watch this summer.
The Vancouver Canucks acquire JT Miller from the Tampa Bay Lightning for a conditional first round pick, a 2019 third round pick, and Marek Mazanec
Coming off a monumentally disappointing playoff run, the Tampa Bay Lightning’s cap situation looked to be another losing battle. However, the Lightning were given a helping hand from the Canucks, who sent them a 2020/2021 first round pick (contingent on making the playoffs or not), the 71st pick (Hugo Alnefelt), and Marek Mazanec for forward JT Miller. The Lightning may have just become benefactors of a nervous Canucks regime looking to make a big move for a franchise sulking into its 50th anniversary. While there is no guarantee, there is the opportunity for this pick to fall into the lottery. The Canucks have not shown they have the defense, or depth required to make a playoff push, at least not yet.
However, it should not be underestimated the effect that JT Miller will have on the Canucks top six. The Canucks have not had a versatile forward quite like Miller in quite some time, and it could pay dividends in the upcoming season. Whether on Pettersson or Horvat’s wing, JT Miller provides a serious scoring threat, despite missing the 20-goal mark for the first time in three years. Miller should provide solid help on the power-play as well, chipping in 4 goals and 20 points on the man advantage this season. With a Canucks powerplay which will add Quinn Hughes full time, and build upon Boeser and Pettersson’s chemistry, JT Miller’s big body presence and experience looks to be a solid addition.
The main critique of this deal is not the acquisition of Miller, it is the apparent misuse of leverage that the Canucks could have used in a situation such as this. The Lightning were near to the cap ceiling, with a big raise in store for centre Brayden Point. The New Jersey Devils were able to acquire PK Subban for a relatively cheap price for the player they got, with less leverage than the Canucks had. But I digress, JT Miller will be a good player for the Canucks, but it remains to be seen whether or not Canucks fans will accept him for the price they paid.
The Detroit Red Wings select Moritz Seider with the 6th Overall Selection
Steve Yzerman certainly made his mark on draft weekend, shocking fans and analysts alike picking up German defenseman Moritz Seider with the 6th overall selection. I have always been particularly interested in Seider, seeing as he has been playing in the German Men’s League (DEL) this season, and has shown tremendous skill. Additionally, he has performed well on the international stage, scoring two goals at the World Championships, and not looking out of place doing so. As a young defenseman, the poise he has showed in all situations, be it as an 18-year old with Adler Manheim, or as captain with Germany’s U-20 team, is something teams have taken note of.
However, with this in mind, Seider was never ranked as nearly as high as he was taken. Central Scouting placed Seider 6th in European skaters, and 5th of all defensemen. I had expected Seider to be taken in the late lottery to late teens. The quality of defensemen at the top of draft were sparse, and I feel that the Red Wings could have taken their guy lower in the draft by trading down. However, if the value for such a trade was not there, without the guarantee of selecting Seider, then I see the reasoning for staying put. I am excited to see where Seider’s career goes from here, however he has to live up to the large expectations placed on him to succeed going forward.