The third division with a representative bottom dweller stepping to the podium on draft day is the Metropolitan Division, whose Carolina Hurricanes own the fifth pick.
GM: Ron Francis
Director of Player Personnel: Mike Velluci
Director of Amateur Scouting: Tony MacDonald
While this is Ron Francis’ first season as GM of the Carolina Hurricanes, he was, in turns, their director of player development, director of player personnel and director of hockey operations over the previous eight seasons. New director of player personnel Mike Velluci is in his first year in the NHL, but has acted as GM and head coach of the OHL Plymouth Whalers since the 2001-02 season, a club which has served as a sort of feeder team to Carolina for a long time due to their shared owner in Pater Karmanos. It would be too easy to connect the Hurricanes to Whalers alumni again, but there don’t seem to be any of note for this year’s draft. Neither Hockey Prospectus nor CSS has a single Plymouth Whaler rated.
Any reasonable expectations as to the direction of the Hurricanes at the draft table have to come from director of amateur scouting Tony MacDonald, who has held that role in Raleigh since the 2007-08 season and has worked for the franchise as an amateur scout since 1994-95, back when they still called Hartford home. Of the 45 players drafted by MacDonald, 16 were selected out of the OHL. Only nine players from the other two leagues in the CHL combined were selected. That bias is not present at the top of the draft, however, as MacDonald’s Hurricanes have taken two first rounders from the OHL (both, incidentally from Kitchener), two from the WHL and one from the QMJHL.
MacDonald has yet to draft a Russian, with five of his eight European selections coming from Sweden, and one each from Switzerland, Denmark and Finland. Also notable is he has not drafted a European outside of Sweden since 2011. He has been more likely to draft a player from the USHL, NCAA, high schools, or a Tier A North American junior league (BCHL, EJHL).
What to expect: With the likelihood that Mitch Marner and Dylan Strome will be following Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel to the podium seeming to grow more secure, expect the Hurricanes to finger the fifth NCAA player of the Tony McDonald regime with their first pick, which would be the earliest they have gone the collegiate route. Perhaps Noah Hanifin’s experience with the USNTDP, much like current Canes’ star blueliner Justin Faulk, will appease those looking for patterns. For the later rounds, expect the Hurricanes to mine the CHL, with a lean to Ontario, the high school or Tier I ranks and perhaps a Swede for good measure. With their own picks in the second, third and fourth, plus another early fourth round selection, examples of players who could fall to Carolina would be Mitchell Vande Sompel, Jens Looke and Brendan Warren.
Columbus Blue Jackets
GM: Jarmo Kekalainen
Director of Amateur Scouting: Paul Castron
GM Jarmo Kekalainen, the first European general manager in NHL history, was largely expected to hew to his continental roots upon assuming the reins in Columbus. While he used two of his three first rounders in his rookie draft on Europeans, he took only four in total in his first two drafts. Remembering that he was the director of amateur scouting in St. Louis between 2002-05 fortifies that prejudice, especially the 2004 draft, when Kekalainen took Europeans with seven of his eight selections. While the first one (Marek Schwartz) bombed, Carl Soderberg, Nikita Nikitin and Roman Polak all turned out rather well. Interestingly, the other four hits in his two other drafts for the Blues all came out of the American development system, as Lee Stempniak was a collegian, Ben Bishop came out of the goalie league (NAHL), David Backes was drafted out of the USHL and T.J. Oshie was a high schooler in Minnesota. As mentioned though, since taking over the helm in mid-Ohio, his draft selections have been mixed in terms of origin.
Director of amateur scouting Paul Castron enters his 16th draft with the Jackets, 14th in either this position or as director of player personnel. Eight of his 14 first rounders were selected out of the CHL, although only one out of their last five. Four were Europeans, three of whom were drafted out of Russia. The remaining two were drafted out of the USHL.
A few interesting notes on trends in the Columbus draft room: Each of the last four goalies drafted by the organization were out of Europe. They have not drafted more than two blueliners in a given draft year since 2010. 2011 was the last time they drafted anyone listed solely as a C.
What to expect: With three picks in the first 38 and five of the first 69, the Blue Jackets can go in a few directions at once. Their picks tend to have high grit quotients, with players such as Kerby Rychel, Josh Anderson, Ryan Collins, and Boone Jenner all playing with a fair measure of sandpaper. On the other hand, they have used high picks on “softer” skill guys like Sonny Milano, Alexander Wennberg and Marko Dano. Depending on whether they hew towards forward or blueliner with the eighth overall pick, either of Ivan Provorov or Mikko Rantanen would combine all of their usual checkmarks. Potential second rounders could be Noah Juulsen, Thomas Novak or Nikita Korostelev.
New Jersey Devils
GM: Ray Shero
Director of Player Personnel/Director of Amateur Scouting: David Conte
Plus ça change plus c’est la même chose.
Lou Lamoriello has finally stepped down from his long standing role as the titular New Jersey Devil, with former Penguins GM Ray Shero stepping into his shoes. On the other hand, David Conte is wrapping up preparations for his 30th(!!!) draft as director of player personnel with the Devils. Shero has had his struggles with the draft, although many of his more highly touted selections are still early in the development stages. The most successful player drafted by Shero’s Penguins, Jake Muzzin, was not even signed by Pittsburgh, but had to wait until after he was freed from their clutches so that he could sign with Los Angeles and blossom. Of those developed in house, the richest resume belongs to Simon Despres, and even he was given away to Anaheim last year for veteran Ben Lovejoy. In fairness, Olli Maatta may be more talented than both of those defenders, lacking only in the skill of health. Derrick Pouliot and Kasperi Kapanen are also emerging talents. Where Shero has struggled most has been in the drafting and development of wingers to play with his two All World centers in Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Prior to Kapanen, the only winger with upside he drafted was Beau Bennett, who while still young, has been rather disappointing thus far in his career.
In 30 drafts, David Conte has selected 287 players. 129 have played in the NHL. Considering that none of his picks in the past two seasons have yet to debut, that gives him a remarkable average of 4.77 players per draft making it. 82, or just over three per year, have played at least one full season in the league. A full 30 have played at least 500 games. While I often list all players to have reached that threshold, in the interest of you actually reading this, I will limit the names to those with at least 1000 games played. They are Jason Smith, Steve Sullivan, Petr Sykora, Scott Gomez, Eric Weinrich, Patrik Elias, Brian Rolston, Scott Niedermayer, Bill Guerin, Martin Brodeur and Brendan Shanahan. The record is truly commendable. And yet only two players drafted by the Devils (Travis Zajac and Zach Parise) since 2000 have more than 500 games to their credit.
Sure, a few of the more recent picks may eventually get there, with Adam Henrique three healthy seasons away, but it seems as if Conte has lost his touch. Henrique is a nice player, but when he and Mark Fayne are the jewels of Conte’s last ten drafts, something isn’t right.
Unless we count offensive defensemen, Conte’s forwards have all been two-way threats since Scott Gomez in 1998. Also of note is that Conte has not drafted a player out of the QMJHL since 2010, nor has he drafted a European player since 2011. His biggest scouting playground has been the WHL, and he has been almost as likely to draft an American high schooler as a player from the USHL. He has also not drafted a player from the OHL in the first two rounds since Matthew Corrente in 2006.
What to expect: The defensive pattern in both Shero and Conte has been so pervasive that it simply has to be broken. Mathew Barzal has a good chance to be available for New Jersey with their first pick, and he at least fits Conte’s preference for WHL players. With two second rounders, the Devils will have plenty of opportunities to focus on the blue line. John Roslovic and Brandon Carlo seem likely targets for the second round. The Devils are also due to draft a goalie, with only one selected in the past four drafts.
New York Islanders
GM: Garth Snow
Director of Amateur Scouting: Trent Klatt
As neither Garth Snow nor Trent Klatt have held management positions with any other club, we can focus our look at Islanders’ draft habits on their own drafts since Snow took over the GM role in 2006. This will be the first draft since Snow’s first draft that he has not had a first round pick. Like that original draft the Islanders also lack a second rounder. They traded away their fifth rounder, too, but at least they have two picks in the third.
Snow has had a good eye for goalies, with several intriguing puck blockers in the pipeline, but with four taken in the past two drafts, it seems likely that the Islanders focus on skaters with their five picks this year.
Despite some high profile screw-ups (see Niederreiter, Nino), Garth Snow has actually done quite well at the draft table both with Klatt by his side and without him. John Tavares may have been a no-brainer as the first overall pick in 2009, but Snow also did well with Josh Bailey, Ryan Strome and Brock Nelson as first rounders and later round contributors like Casey Cizikas and Matt Martin. On top of current blueliners Travis Hamonic and Calvin De Haan, Snow used each one of his seven 2012 picks on defenders, with first rounder Griffin Reinhart looking ready to contribute as well as 2013 first rounder Adam Pulock.
Of note, Nelson was the only Garth Snow first rounder not taken from the OHL or WHL. He has drafted only five players total out of the QMJHL over the years. He is slightly more comfortable drafting out of Europe with nine selections all told, including four from Sweden, three from Russian and two from Finland. Also of note are seven players drafted out of the high school ranks, six of whom were taken from Minnesota.
What to expect: It is difficult to make a prediction for a team whose first selection is at pick 72. Maybe they are the landing spot for the top ranked Minnesota high schooler, Jack Sadek. In truth, though, anything is possible. Nothing, outside of them drafting another goalie or two, would surprise me.
New York Rangers
GM: Glen Sather
Director of Player Personnel: Gordie Clark
The pair of Glen Sather and Gordie Clark have worked the draft together since 2002. While both executives have rich draft histories in prior positions, with 13 years together in one team, it is safe to focus on their current roles to glean preferences.
In 13 years, they have selected 38 NHLers, 21 who have played a full season of games. Only three have broached the 500 games mark in Ryan Callahan, Marc Staal and Brandon Dubinsky with Lauri Korpikoski set to join them next year. They have been notoriously stingy about netminders, drafting only seven in total. A guy named Lundqvist may have something to do about that, but only one of those goalies (Al Montoya, 6th overall, 2004) has played in more than 2 NHL games. The have drafted at least one European in each draft since 2005, although not in the top two rounds since selecting the late Alexei Cherepanov in 2007. In general, they seem willing to draft from anywhere, with the one predominant factor being the player needs to have wheels. A secondary consideration is height.
What to expect: 58 players will have already been selected before the Rangers get their turn, so it is hard to say who will be available, but I feel comfortable envisioning a pick who has both height and speed. Zachary Senyshyn may still be on the board. Filip Ahl could also fit the Rangers as resembling a Chris Krieder starter kit.
GM: Ron Hextall
Director of Amateur Scouting: Chris Pryor
GM Ron Hextall has only one year in charge under his belt, although his past work in Los Angeles hints that he could have picked up a few things from their draft success in eight years, even though his role was not directly accountable for the draft. Then again, while the Kings were known for drafting sizable skill, Hextall’s first Philly draft saw him draft only two players over 6’0” tall. It may be that director of amateur scouting Chris Pryor was still calling the shots on draft day, continuing in a role he has held since 2006.
While Pryor has yet to draft a player for the Flyers who has played 500 games – the current leader is James van Riemsdyk with 406 – he has also yet to blow a first rounder. Samuel Morin and Travis Sanheim have yet to emerge from the junior ranks, although their development has been pleasant, while the worst of his first rounders has likely been Luca Sbisa, and even he has played in 342 NHL games and is still only 25 years old.
Pryor has scouted the QMJHL heavily, with six players drafted in the top three rounds from that league, a figure matched only by WHL. Other early round picks come from the gamut of North American amateur leagues, with Swedes Simon Bertilsson and Robert Hagg are the only two Europeans of the bunch. That latter point is critical with the Flyers, as Pryor has only ever drafted one European from outside Sweden, in Valeri Vasiliev, a seventh rounder from the Russian junior ranks in 2012. Interestingly, that trend also (sort of) dates back to Pryor’s days as director of player personnel with the Islanders from 94-98. His team drafted liberally from the Czech Republic, but did not draft a single player from a different European nation.
What to expect: Eastern Canadians, Western Canadians and Swedes. That said, the Flyers have not been shy about drafting talent from the USHL and Kyle Connor could be their man in the first round after taking four defensemen in the top three rounds of the last two drafts. I expect their second first rounder to be another forward with one of the talented front men from the USNTDP in Colin White, Jeremy Bracco or John Roslovic receiving heavy consideration.
GM: Jim Rutherford
Director of Player Personnel: Dan MacKinnon
Co-Directors of Amateur Scouting: Jay Heinbuck/Randy Sexton
The Pittsburgh Penguins go into the 2015 draft with four very experienced hockey men at the helm. Rutherford was GM of the Hurricanes for 17 years. Randy Sexton was GM in Ottawa for three seasons in the 90s, Dan MacKinnon is in his sixth year in the role of director of player personnel with Pittsburgh and co-director of amateur scouting Jay Heinbuck is in his eighth year.
As discussed in the New Jersey section, Pittsburgh’s recent draft record has been below average, although there are enough young, talented blueliners still developing to have some confidence in that realm. Rutherford’s track record was also discussed in this chapter, back in the Carolina section. Between the records of both clubs, no one at the table has drafted a player from Russia since 2008. There is only so much that can be gleaned from Randy Sexton’s role at the draft table with Senators nearly 20 years ago.
What to expect: Lacking selections in the first, third or fourth rounds, the second round pick has to count. Some names who might fit in that regard are high scoring QMJHL winger Anthony Beauvilier, Dennis Yan or Vince Dunn.
GM: Brian MacLellan
Director of Amateur Scouting: Ross Mahoney
Although Brian MacLellan is relatively new to the GM chair, he has had a role of influence in the American capital since 2004 while director of scouting Ross Mahoney has held that title since 2000. In the ten years that MacLellan and Mahoney have worked together, the Capitals have drafted 13 players in the first round, looking heavily to Europe for the fruit of the draft. Eight of those 13 have come from the other side of the Ocean, including each of the last three and six of the past seven.
With the curious exception of Tom Wilson with the second of two first round pics in 2012 and, to a lesser extent, Karl Alzner in 2007, the Capitals have tried to draft pure puck skill in the first. That they have also generally been large young men is almost a secondary consideration. More than most, the Capitals do not scour the CHL much, not selecting anyone from north of the border in 2014, and only two, both from the WHL, in 2013. They have taken only two OHL players in the past five years, which is less often than they have drafted American high schoolers and just as often as they have drafted from USHL squads that are not the USNTDP. As for the National program, they have fished in those waters five times in the past five drafts. In general, the Capitals are happy to draft players for whom they have more than two years to make a contract decision upon.
What to expect: Europeans and players bound for the NCAA. If there is a team in the first round who would draft Russian playmaker Denis Gurianov, it might be the Capitals. High scoring Brock Boeser is also a reasonable option. As the system is goaltender rich, it seems likely that all players selected are position players.