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MONTREAL — The first round of the 2022 NHL Entry Draft was a wild night from start to finish.
The Montreal Canadiens defied expectations by taking Juraj Slafkovsky with the top pick on Thursday night at Bell Centre. A hometown crowd eager for a new hero had mixed reactions at best. Canadian center Shane Wright, who was expected to go No. 1, fell to No. 4. The New Jersey Devils opted to keep the second overall pick and take another Slovakian, defenseman Simon Nemec.
The Devils didn’t need another center given that they are building around Nico Hischier and Jack Hughes, and they have another emerging young center in Dawson Mercer. But many expected the Devils to deal that pick, and they were rumored to be in the mix for Chicago Blackhawks winger Alex DeBrincat, who was dealt to the Ottawa Senators shortly before the first round began.
Two trades were made between pick Nos. 3 and 4 being made. Those definitely weren’t in the mock drafts.
About the only thing that went according to plan was the explosion of trades. This was expected with a condensed offseason. Free agency opens up on July 13, leaving teams with less than a week to get underneath the salary cap.
Here’s a look at the major trades made Thursday night and how we graded each team’s return.
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Alex DeBrincat to the Senators for the Nos. 7 and 39 overall picks in 2022 and a 2024 third-round pick
Blackhawks Trade Grade: D
This doesn’t seem like a rebuild anymore—it feels more like a tank.
New general manager Kyle Davidson dealt a 24-year-old, point-per-game player who plays in all situations and has scored 160 career goals in 368 games for three draft picks, and then traded a 21-year-old who was drafted third overall in 2019 in Kirby Dach later in the day.
“Today was a day that I don’t think many people saw coming, necessarily,” Davidson said. “Maybe they did, but it’s hard to accept, nonetheless, which I get. But it’s a necessary step that we had to take to get this on track to where we want to be and not try and just make small tweaks along the way. We had to make a big shift. We had to change things. So that’s what we did.”
Teams do not typically trade players in their 20s on cheap contracts. They build around them. DeBrincat has one year left on his bridge deal at $6.4 million and will be a restricted free agent next summer. Davidson said that he felt that DeBrincat’s value was as high as it would be on his current contract and that he was insistent on picks high in the first round.
It’s clear that Davidson is taking his time with the process and believes he can benefit from the 2022 and 2023 drafts. That doesn’t mean they had to deal DeBrincat, a player who was committed to the Blackhawks and was largely looked at as the team’s next captain.
The return was…fine, but it was low. Chicago took defenseman Kevin Korchinski at No. 7, which might have been a reach given where he ranked on most draft boards.
Give credit where it’s due: At least Davidson is committing to a much-needed rebuild.
“Going through a rebuild, it’s not fun,” Davidson said. “Doing the things you have to do to get to where you want to go is not fun. There’s going to be tough days like this where you see familiar faces and faces that we in management and the fans know and love, but it’s necessary and it’s necessary to get to where we want to be.”
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Senators Trade Grade: B
A lot of teams were probably thinking when they watched the Stanley Cup Final, “We are definitely not one or two players away from contending.” Hopefully, the Ottawa Senators were one of them.
General manager Pierre Dorion seemed to think the Sens were closer to contending than they actually were last season. A lot closer. DeBrincat might not make them a contender, but he does add a dynamic scoring element to a roster that needs one. Ottawa had two 30-goal scorers and an emerging one in Tim Stutzle, but the drop-off in production after that was steep.
At the least, DeBrincat gets the Sens closer to getting out of the basement. He has one more year remaining on his contract and will be a restricted free agent next summer.
“It’s way more fun adding than deleting,” Dorion said. “We’re transitioning. I said that the end of the season that we want to play meaningful games until the end of the year. I think that’s one step closer to doing that. Obviously, the rebuild has been has been going on. We feel we’re in the next phase now.”
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Canadiens trade Alexander Romanov and the No. 98 pick to the New York Islanders for the No. 13 pick
Blackhawks trade Kirby Dach to the Canadiens for the Nos. 13 and 66 picks
Canadiens Trade Grade: B
The Canadiens packaged the pick they received from the Islanders to land Dach as they continued their roster makeover. Dach, the No. 3 overall pick in 2019, was supposed to be the center the Hawks were going to build around. But he didn’t develop at the same rate as some of his peers from that same draft class. Part of this can be attributed to injuries, as his last two seasons ended early with wrist and shoulder ailments.
However, the potential is still there. The Habs will have a young group up the middle with Nick Suzuki (22), Christian Dvorak (26), Jake Evans (26) and Dach (21) all in their 20s.
Dach’s entry-level contract expired and he’s set to be a restricted free agent. A bridge deal makes a lot of sense for a player like Dach who has yet to prove himself and for a team like Montreal that is retooling its roster.
Blackhawks Trade Grade: D
It’s rare for teams to give up on first-round picks this soon, especially ones drafted as high as Dach. But we already know what the Hawks are doing, and if you’re going to rebuild, then you do it through the draft.
A trade later in the night with the Toronto Maple Leafs netted them a third first-round draft pick and goalie Petr Mrazek, who had an .888 save percentage last year, so three first-round picks is a good haul, but it came at a high cost.
The next step is probably to get rid of captain Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, the last two remaining members of the Stanley Cup teams. Kane’s agent Pat Brisson told The Athletic’s Pierre LeBrun that they would not be making a decision immediately, but Davidson said he will have conversations with both in the coming days.
“We were honest and told them what could happen and we’re going to potentially have to make some changes,” Davidson said. “There wasn’t any deception, but it’s real now.”
Islanders Trade Grade: D
Isles general manager Lou Lamoriello typically doesn’t explain his rationale for the moves he makes. He believes that he only has to explain them to the team’s owners and as long as they sign off, that’s all that matters to him.
The Islanders desperately need to get younger and faster. They lost a chance to get a player that could have helped with that when they traded away their first-round pick. Romanov is only 22, so he does bring some youth to the blue line, and he’s a great skater, but he has struggled to adapt his game to the NHL ice in his two seasons in North America. He was a healthy scratch for the Habs through much of the postseason in 2021 but did show two-way potential and could benefit from being out of the harsh Montreal spotlight.
There were rumors that Lamoriello was engaged in discussions with the Vancouver Canucks about forward J.T. Miller, but he would not confirm them and general manager Patrik Allvin disputed them.
“There was definitely nothing going on,” Allvin said.
Alexandar Georgiev to the Colorado Avalanche for third- and fifth-round picks and a 2023 third-round pick
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Rangers Trade Grade: B
Georgiev was a great story for the New York Rangers. The Bulgarian goalie went from going undrafted to backing up Henrik Lundqvist. He performed admirably in that role for a few seasons, but his numbers have consistently dipped, and the Blueshirts were forced to rely too heavily on Vezina-winning goalie Igor Shesterkin down the stretch.
It was time to move on from Georgiev, and GM Chris Drury can address the backup goaltender position through the trade market or in free agency. The club is about to feel the salary-cap squeeze soon and needs to continually develop prospects to be able to stay under the cap. Plus, the club lost draft picks at the trade deadline and now has a few more to work with this weekend.
“It was nice to get some picks back, for sure,” Drury said. “He’s a fierce competitor and a real good goalie, and I think he’s going to do real good things with Colorado.”
Avalanche Trade Grade: B
This all but assures that the Stanley Cup winners will move on from the goalie that was on the ice when they defeated the Tampa Bay Lightning less than two weeks ago. Darcy Kuemper was at the end of his contract, and his value plummeted during the Final, despite Colorado’s win. Pavel Francouz got serious consideration to start Game 1 after playing in the Western Conference Final. Francouz has been primarily a backup but could see a bigger role now.
Georgiev is an RFA, but GM Joe Sakic—who was announced as the Jim Gregory GM of the Year Award winner during the first round—anticipates getting a deal done this week. Georgiev will be affordable and easy to move on from if he has a bad season.