By Kyle Shohara
BUFFALO – The first round of the 2016 NHL Draft is in the books here at First Niagara Center in Buffalo, New York, and the Ducks came away with two selections at No. 24 and 30 overall, respectively. The Ducks opted to hold onto their picks amidst trade rumors galore, most of which came about yesterday.
The atmosphere was electric inside the arena, with a heavy mix of Buffalo Sabres and Toronto Maple Leafs fans voicing their affiliations in a rather boisterous manner. Of course, it was the Arizona-native Auston Matthews who was selected first overall by the Leafs – a choice that seemed set in stone when Toronto won the draft lottery on April 30. Winnipeg followed by selecting Finnish-born winger Patrik Laine, and that’s when things got interesting.
Holding the third overall selection, many thought Columbus would go with Jesse Puljujarvi. But instead, the Blue Jackets went with Cape Breton center Pierre-Luc Dubois. Edmonton then chose Puljujarvi fourth, and Vancouver followed by taking the night’s first defenseman, Olli Juolevi of the London Knights.
The loudest cheer of the evening came at pick No. 8, when the hometown Sabres selected Alexander Nylander, brother of Toronto Maple Leafs prospect William Nylander and son of former NHL player Michael Nylander.
And with the first round winding down, it was time for the Ducks to make their first of two selections.
After making their way to the stage, the Ducks announced that the club had selected left wing Max Jones from the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League with the 24th overall selection. The 6-2, 203-pound power forward collected 52 points (28g/24a) in 63 regular season games and added two points (1g/1a) in six playoff contests to help the Knights capture the franchise’s fourth J. Ross Robertson Cup as OHL champions. In the Memorial Cup, Jones added four points (2g/2a) to help the Knights earn an undefeated 4-0 record and capture the franchise’s second Memorial Cup championship.
Jones was the 14th-ranked North American skater in the NHL Central Scouting’s final rankings.
“It’s been a speechless last couple of months, winning the Memorial Cup and now getting drafted by Anaheim,” Jones said. “It’s an unbelievable feeling to share with my family and friends. It’s awesome.”
Jones says he got to meet former Knights forward Corey Perry shortly after he and his teammates won the Memorial Cup. “I never thought I’d be wearing the same jersey as him someday. It’s pretty cool. That was my first time meeting him.”
In a phone interview shortly after the conclusion of the first round, Ducks Executive Vice President and General Manager Bob Murray said Jones is the type of player that fits the Ducks’ mold.
“He’s a big and strong player,” Murray said. “He skates really well. He turned into a very good penalty killer, too. He’s a power-type forward with decent hands. He has a passion to play the game. We’re quite happy to get him at that number.”
The Ducks closed out the night by choosing center Sam Steel from the Regina Pats of the Western Hockey League. The 5-11, 178-pound Edmonton native collected 70 points (23g/47a) in 72 regular season contests with the Pats last season and added 16 points (6g/10a) in 12 postseason games. Steel was the 30th-ranked North American skater in the NHL Central Scouting’s final rankings.
“It’s pretty special, for sure,” Steel said, shortly after making his way off the big stage. “It takes more than just myself to get to this moment. I was trying to stay even-keeled because at the end of the day, it’s just a number – first round or second round. It was a long time sitting there. I’m glad I ended the night this way.”
Murray lauded Steel’s on-ice intelligence and dependable play in the defensive zone. “He’s very smart. He sees the ice really well,” Murray said. “He makes plays and moves the puck. He’s excellent in his own zone. He’s in the right place without the puck, and that’s huge. He’s not huge yet, but he’s going to get better.”
Rounds 2-7 will take place tomorrow beginning at 7 a.m. PT.