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Savoring Storylines from NHL Draft to Free Agency

Strategic trades and 217 picks set the tone for the 2019 NHL Draft

by Bob Condor / @NHLSeattle_ /

VANCOUVER -The second day of the 2019 NHL Entry Draft started a promising new chapter of the league's future with 186 draft choices joining 31 teams during Rounds 2 to 7. But a more immediate rewrite occurred before the second round even started.

As fans entered Rogers Arena Saturday morning, the Nashville Predators traded Norris-trophy winning defenseman P.K. Subban to the New Jersey Devils, who were fresh from picking Jack Hughes first overall Friday night.

Then the Toronto Maple Leafs, who had no first-round selection, made news by trading beloved forward Patrick Marleau to the Carolina Hurricanes. Marleau played a key role for the Maple Leafs as a mentor to young stars such as Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner.

While NHL Free Agency officially begins on July 1 at 9:00 a.m. PT, these two trades set the framework for Nashville and Toronto, who both needed to clear cap space for free agency signings and contract negotiations that the teams are facing. The NHL works under a hard salary cap, which will be a total of $81.5 million for the coming season, that all teams are required to stay under.

By trading Subban and his full contract to New Jersey, Nashville regained $9 million of its salary cap amount for each year of next three years in Subban's contract. That frees up significant dollars that media reports say might help the Predators sign star center Matt Duchene, who was a key figure in Columbus sweeping NHL top seed Tampa out of the first round in the playoffs. Nashville received two players and two second-round draft choices (2019 and 2020) but there is no mistaking the move was related to potential free-agent signings.

In Toronto's case, sending Marleau to Carolina cleared up $6.5 million in salary cap space for this coming season. It is widely reported the Leafs will use the money to keep star forward Mitch Marner with a new, bigger contract. Marleau's contract has been bought out by Carolina, making Marleau an unrestricted free agent. Carolina also received a conditional first-round pick in the 2020 draft from Toronto for taking on Marleau's cap hit.

Let's not overlook the storylines from last weekend's NHL Entry Draft that will play out for seasons to come. Here are future players for fans to watch, along with insights on how general managers build out a team:

Sixth Sense of Steve Yzerman

Before Friday night's opening round, NHL Draft pundits debated whether Chicago choosing third overall should pick hometown forward Alex Turcotte, top defenseman Bowen Byram or Kirby Dach, a big center who plays like a fleet forward. All were rated top-five quality by the NHL's Central Scouting Service. Turns out the Blackhawks went big and fleet with Dach. Colorado next picked Byram and Los Angeles happily scooped Turcotte at No. 5.

That's five picks and five expected selections, even if 3-4-5 was juggled in different combinations by prognosticators.

Then Detroit's new general manager went rogue. Red Wing all-time great Steve Yzerman , now in charge of a rebuild, selected Moritz Seider, an 18-year-old German defenseman who went slack-jawed when NBC Sports Network cameras zoomed in on his face as his name was announced. Understandable, since the scouting consensus slotted Seider somewhere between 12th and 20th in the first round.

Yzerman told reporters his team's intelligence gathering projected the German teen would likely be picked soon after No. 6 if Detroit passed. Seider played in a pro league against men, some nearly two decades older, this past season and represented his country at the World Championships.

"He didn't look out of place at the Worlds," Yzerman told Helene St. James of the Detroit Free Press.

Dan Marr, director of NHL Central Scouting, said it is definitely a positive factor most Euro players are competing against veteran players who are not only bigger and stronger, but exemplify the habits of being a professional. You learn in the training rooms, team meetings and travel times as much as on the ice.

St. James reported Yzerman interviewed Seider for 40 minutes at the recent NHL Combine that gathers all top prospects in one place for performance testing and interviews. The typical interview is 20 minutes. Yzerman clearly liked what he heard.

"We just try to talk," said Yzerman. "I don't know how to conduct an interview. Honestly, I just talk to the kids, pick their brains, asked about their backgrounds. Get them talking, get a feel if they know hockey... Every team has a different style on how they conduct those interviews. We kind of played around with different things-lighthearted, serious, throw the unexpected at them a little bit."

Detroit scouts revealed Yzerman, who is responsible for building the successful team in Tampa Bay, insisted all 11 Red Wings draft choices needed to be "competitive."

Translation: No shifts off, no quitting on training or teammates, no complaining, no excuses.

Making Choices for the Draft Choices

Once players are drafted, the next step is attending their new NHL franchises' development camps. It is the first taste of professional hockey for most, save a few handfuls of European teens good enough to play for pro leagues in their home countries.

From there, team officials sit with their draft choices to review each player's destination for the upcoming season. Many players will return to junior teams in the Ontario Hockey League (OHL), Western Hockey League (WHL) and Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) among others. Some play for United States Hockey League (USHL) teams, such as the 2019 Clark Cup champion Sioux Falls Stampede, which beat the Chicago Steel in the USHL final.

Other draft choices are committed to NCAA college hockey programs in the U.S., including many U.S. National Development Team (UNDT) draftees and, growing in number, top Canadian junior players. Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews, a three-time Stanley Cup Champion and gold medalist for Canada, was an early NCAA adaptor.

Alexandra Mandrycky, NHL Seattle's newly appointed director of hockey administration and hockey analytics leader, said there are advantages for various destinations.

College programs have fewer games but they feature world-class weight rooms and training facilities, including nutrition and meal plans, that can help young players gain muscle and agility. The junior leagues have longer seasons, which provide more instances to develop situational play and stamina an 82-game NHL season.

Local Stops: All Aboard for Thunderbirds, Silvertips

Going into the weekend, two Seattle Thunderbirds players placed in the Central Scouting rankings this season, Henrik Rybinski at 123 in the final rankings and Jake Lee at 146.

Spokane had the highest ranked player among Washington state Western Hockey League teams, Adam Beckman at 34, while team Luke Toporowski checked in at an even 100.

Everett Silvertips defenseman Gianni Fairbrother was at 50, joined by teammate Bryce Kindopp at 170.

The Tri-City Americans placed four players in the NHL official rankings, led by Sasha Mutala at 79.

Keep in mind all of these rankings were for North American skaters as goalies have a separate ranking system.

NHL Central Scouting performs a similar ranking for European skaters.

When Silvertip defenseman Fairbrother was tabbed No. 77 overall in the third round by the Montreal Canadiens, it was expected since a number of European skaters would go before him. Same for Spokane's Beckman, who was the highest pick among in-state WHL players this past season; Minnesota made him the 75th pick. Dillon Hamaliuk, who played three seasons with the T-Birds but competed for Kelowna this season, was picked by San Jose at No. 55 in the second round.

Overall, 28 WHL players were selected, making it a good outlet for NHL Seattle fans to keep tabs on ahead of the 2021 NHL draft. Prospects who were born in 2003 will eligible for selection when Seattle makes its first picks.

Rybinski (136, 5th round Florida) and Mutala (140, 5th round, Colorado) heard their names Saturday, while Kindopp (undrafted in his final year of eligibility as a 20-year-old) waited until a post-Draft phone call from Colorado inviting him to the upcoming Avalanche development camp for a look.

Two local goalies were also drafted. The Thunderbirds' Roddy Ross was selected 169th overall by the Philadelphia Flyers in the 6th round. Dustin Wolf of the Silvertips was in the final five picks, announced as No. 214 going to the Calgary Flames in the seventh round.

20 Years Old and Counting

In a tale of two 20-year-olds who went undrafted in 2017 and 2018, Brett Leason and Luke Toporowski experienced way different Saturdays in Vancouver.

Leason, who played for the Prince Albert Raiders of the WHL, was picked No. 56 by the Washington Capitals, right after ex-Seattle Thunderbird Dillon Hamaliuk. Several scouts identified Leason as perhaps one of the most NHL-ready players in the Draft, mostly because he is a 20-year-old with three years of formidable seasons in the WHL.

What's more, Leason won the NHL Central Scouting E.J. McGuire Award for Excellence in memory of the late and beloved McGuire, who was director of NHL Central Scouting. The award is presented annually by the League to a candidate who best exemplifies commitment to excellence through strength of character, competitiveness and athleticism.

Toporowski was not selected despite his standing as a top 100 North American prospect according the NHL's official ranking, but he was later invited to Winnipeg's development camp.

Scott Peters, a must-read NHL Draft evaluator who writes for ESPN, identified the Spokane forward as his "deep sleeper" pick in a roundtable with fellow must-read ESPN hockey writers Emily Kaplan and Greg Wyshynski.

"I'm a big fan of the way Toporowski plays," said Peters. "He's a max-effort-at-all-times player. There's physicality, grit and work ethic all packed into an average-sized frame."

Leason, now a prized draft choice, wrote a development camp diary for the Caps' website discussing his draft-day experience. 

"After I was selected by Washington, my emotions were high," wrote Leason. "It's always been a lifelong dream to be drafted in the NHL, and I'm just really excited to be a Capital. Seeing my parents and my girlfriend after my name got called was an emotional embrace."

Hockey Parents (and Families) are the Best

Everett Silvertips goalie Dustin Wolf was one of the last five players drafted Saturday afternoon in Vancouver. The Calgary Flames selected him 214th overall out of 217 draftees.

Wolf's parents moved from California to Everett to provide the comforts of family and routine rather than their son billet with a host family. Like many draftees, Wolf acknowledged his parents' support, faith, sacrifices and uncounted rides to and from the rink after hearing name called. His WHL stats are impeccable but scouts and general managers may have been concerned about his size (6-foot, 164 pounds) in an NHL that seems to prefer taller goaltenders.

Scott Burnside of The Athletic stuck around to report on what has to be the feel-good story of the 2019 NHL Draft, especially for Silvertips fans and the Pacific Northwest.

Here is a sampling of Burnsides' opening paragraphs

"The cheer rose seemingly out of nowhere from somewhere between Section 105 and Section 104 of Rogers Arena, far from the Draft floor. 

In the moment that the Calgary Flames ended a long, torturous day for Dustin Wolf and his jubilant collection of family and friends, many of whom had made the drive from Everett for just this moment, it brought into sharp focus what it means to be among those who are called forward by an NHL team and the empty feeling that lingers when it doesn't happen.

'Awful,' said Wolf's mother, Michelle, when asked about how the day had unfolded. 'Awful until the end because it wasn't looking like it was happening. But somebody had to take a chance on a goalie that's not 6-foot-4. And he's going to beat everybody that's out there. I promise you.'"

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