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Expert Analysis

NHL Draft Grades: East

by Corey Abbott
Updated On: June 24, 2019, 1:04 am ET

The 2019 NHL Entry Draft is in the books and the free agent frenzy is on the horizon. Before that happens we will examine how teams in the Eastern Conference did at the draft table in Vancouver.

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Boston Bruins

Grade: C

First Round Selection(s): John Beecher (30th)

The Bruins chose Beecher with the second-last pick in the first round of the 2019 NHL Draft.  The 18-year-old center can skate, shoot, pass and score.  The 6-foot-3, 212-pound forward likes to set up in front of the opposing team’s goal and he can win battles all over the ice.  Boston already likes what Beecher brings to the table and the organization believes that he has plenty of room to grow as a player.  

Boston didn’t have another pick until the third round when the club selected Quinn Olson at 92nd overall.  Most pundits believe the Bruin reached with this selection.  He projects to be an energy-line forward with some offensive tools.  Olson is committed to play for the University of Minnesota-Duluth next year.  

Buffalo Sabres

Grade: B

First Round Selection(s): Dylan Cozens (7th) and Ryan Johnson (31st)

Buffalo selected Cozens with the team’s first pick in the 2019 NHL Draft at the seventh overall spot and they snagged Johnson with the final choice of the opening round for a productive Friday night.  Cozens is very close to being NHL-ready, but Johnson may take some more time to develop.  Cozens has great speed and he makes plenty of plays because of it.  Johnson is also a very good skater and he moves the puck well, but his offensive game needs work.  Still, these are two prospects who can help Buffalo push the pace and attack offensively when they make the jump to the big league.  

The Sabres added another goalie for their pipeline in the third round of the draft with the selection of Erik Portillo.  The team has a great prospect in Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen, who will probably play for Rochester next season once he recovers from hip surgery.  Buffalo expects to see Portillo compete in the USHL next year before heading to the University of Michigan.

Buffalo also moved up in the draft to choose Aaron Huglen (102nd) and Filip Cederqvist (143rd).   Huglen, who plays with plenty of speed, will join first-round pick Johnson at the University Minnesota next season.

Carolina Hurricanes

Grade: A

First Round Selection(s): Ryan Suzuki (28th)

Carolina had a very good 2019 NHL Draft thanks in large part to an outstanding Day 2.  Suzuki was the first choice of the Hurricanes.  The brother of Montreal prospect Nick Suzuki has great offensive instincts and playmaking skills.  It probably won’t be long before he gets a shot with the Hurricanes, but he will likely get some additional time to develop.  

The Hurricanes added plenty of value in the second and third rounds of the draft with selections of goaltender Pyotr Kochetkov (36th), center Jamieson Rees (44th), winger Patrik Puistola (73rd) as well as defensemen Anttoni Honka (83rd) and Domenick Fensore (90th).  Kotchetkov was outstanding between the pipes for Russia at the 2019 World Junior Championship and will join SKA St. Petersburg next season.  Rees has a great motor and he has plenty of offensive upside, while Puistola is loaded with scoring ability.  Carolina added some skill on the back end in the third round with Honka, who is the younger brother of Dallas defender Julius, and Fensore.  Both of them are great skaters and they move the puck very well.  Honka is slated to play for JYP of Finland’s Liiga, while Fensore, who is listed at 5-foot-7 and 154 pounds, will play for Boston University.  

Carolina also acquired veteran forward Patrick Marleau from Toronto on Day 2 of the NHL Draft. The Hurricanes gave up a 2020 sixth-round pick for Marleau, a conditional 2020 first-round pick and a 2020 seventh-round selection.  The Hurricanes used their cap space to their advantage and Marleau’s $6.25 million cap hit can be bought out if he doesn’t want to play for the team.  

Columbus Blue Jackets

Grade: D+

First Round Selection(s): None (first pick was Eric Hjorth at 104th overall)

Columbus didn’t have many picks in the 2019 NHL Draft after going all-in for what the team hoped would be a long playoff run.  The plan didn’t work out and the club's draft pool was hurt because of it.

The Blue Jackets only made three selections and didn’t call a name until the fourth round when Hjorth was added to the organization.  He has been held back due to injuries, but there is some good upside there.  He projects to be a two-way defender and he has good mobility.  

Detroit Red Wings

Grade: A-

First Round Selection(s): Moritz Seider (6th)

Detroit may have reached for Seider at sixth overall, but the Red Wings prioritized defense over adding a skilled forward.  New GM Steve Yzerman is a big supporter of Seider, who boosted his draft stock with an impressive showing at the 2019 IIHF World Championship with Germany.  He should end up logging big minutes for Detroit when he makes the jump to the NHL, but he may get more time to develop overseas first.

The Red Wings had three second-round picks to work with and they ended up with plenty value with Annti Tuomisto (35th), Robert Mastrosimone (54th) and Albert Johansson (60th).  Tuomisto and Johansson gave Detroit three blueliners with the team’s first four picks.  They both possess great shots from the back end and they handle the puck well.  Mastrosimone is a high-energy forward who can contribute offensively.  He is committed to Boston University for the 2019-20 campaign.  

Detroit kept the good picks rolling in the third round with the selection of Albin Grewe.  He can chip in offensively, but most of his appeal right now comes from his forechecking and his ability to play defensively.  Grewe has the makings of an agitator if he gets to the NHL level.    

Florida Panthers

Grade: B-

First Round Selection(s): Spencer Knight (13th)

You don’t see many teams draft for need in the NHL, but the selection of Knight makes a lot of sense for the Panthers.  Florida appears to be poised to move on from Roberto Luongo and James Reimer, but there isn’t much organizational depth in the crease.  Knight, who was the top goaltender in this draft, will provide some much-needed organizational depth and he could be the team’s future number one puck stopper.  Sam Montembeault and Ryan Bednard will probably be given more time to develop in the minors. Knight shouldn’t have a problem surpassing them once he turns pro.  He is slated to play for Boston College next season, though.  

The Panthers snatched up Vladislav Kolyachonok in the second round with the 52nd overall pick.  The Belarusian defenseman was one of the better players available going into Day 2 of the draft.  He skates very well, has good size and plays a solid two-way game.   

Montreal Canadiens

Grade: B

First Round Selection(s): Cole Caufield (15th)

Montreal scooped up a player who most pundits believed was the best pure goal scorer in the draft in Caufield.  He tallied 72 goals and added 28 assists in 64 games with the U.S. National U18 Team "A" in 2018-19. There was some talk going into the draft that the diminutive forward could be a top-10 pick, but he slipped beyond that until the Canadiens took him.  This has the potential to be a great pick for the organization.  Caufield has filled the net wherever he has played and he will look to continue that success in his first year with the University of Wisconsin next season.  Montreal doesn’t expect Caufield to play in the NCAA for four years.  

Second-round pick Jayden Struble (46th) kicked off a string of four straight defensemen taken by the Canadiens.  Struble, Mattias Norlinder (64th) and Gianni Fairbrother (77th) blend good skating and offensive ability together, but they don’t exactly jump off the page.  

Montreal added Rhett Pitlick in the fifth round with the 131st overall pick.  His father was former NHLer Lance Pitlick and his brother, Rem, is a prospect for the Nashville Predators.  Their cousin is Dallas Stars forward Tyler Pitlick.   

New Jersey Devils

Grade: A+

First Round Selection(s): Jack Hughes (1st)

Hughes was the crown jewel of this draft class and he is cornerstone player for the Devils to build around.  He has the skill set to become an elite NHL forward and should be a top-six forward for New Jersey in 2019-20.  Hughes has the ability to drive the team at even strength and be a force on the power play.  

New Jersey chose three defensemen with their next four picks, including Nikita Okhotyuk (61st), Daniil Misyul (70th) and Michael Vukojevic (82nd).  Okhotyuk and Vukojevic have shutdown qualities, while Misyul is more of a puck rusher.  It’s worth noting that Vukojevic is also a great skater.  

The selections of Graeme Clarke (80th) and Nikola Pasic (189th) bring plenty of value to the table.  Clarke has a great shot and offensive skills, while Pasic could be a potential steal.  He is a great passer, shooter and puck handler.  

The Devils made a serious splash on Day 2 of the draft with the acquisition of P.K. Subban from the Nashville Predators.  New Jersey traded Steven Santini, Jeremy Davies, the 34th overall pick in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft and a 2020 second-round pick to the Predators for Subban.  The Predators will use the cap space they saved in the move for free agency, while the Devils gain some much-needed help on the back end.  The Devils also acquired John Hayden from Chicago in exchange for John Quenneville.

New York Islanders

Grade: C

First Round Selection(s): Simon Holmstrom (23rd)

The Islanders weren’t scared away by Holmstrom’s recent injury history in the opening round of the NHL Entry Draft.  He has dealt with concussions, hip surgery, and a broken thumb in the last couple of seasons.  The Islanders feel those issues are behind him now, which is why he was their pick at 23rd overall.  Holmstrom stood out for Sweden at the U18 World Championship tournament.  He handles the puck well and skates with determination when rushing up the ice.  Holmstrom still has a lot to prove, though.  He needs to stay healthy and prove that his flashes of talent can be maintained over a consistent basis.   

Samuel Bolduc can be viewed as a safer pick even if the Islanders reached for him a little.  The QMJHL blueliner is a superb skater and he handles his own end well.  He also had 37 points in 65 matches.  Reece Newkirk (147th) was the team’s next pick.  He posted 59 points in 68 matches for Portland of the WHL in 2018-19.  

New York Rangers

Grade: A

First Round Selection(s): Kaapo Kakko

The Rangers have done very well during the team’s rebuild and another important piece was added at the 2019 NHL Entry Draft with the selection of Kakko at second overall.  The 18-year-old forward was excellent in Finland last year, while earning the Liiga’s rookie of the year award.  Kakko has an unbelievably high offensive IQ and he makes plays when they don’t look possible.  He should step into New York’s lineup next season as a top-six forward.  

Matthew Robertson was a great value pick for the Rangers at 49th overall.  He was a potential first-round selection who slid further than some anticipated.  Robertson, who had 33 points in 52 WHL contests for Edmonton last year, moves and protects the puck very well from the back end.  He has great two-way upside.  

Center Karl Henriksson (58th) and defender Zachary Jones (68th) have great puck-possession skills.  They could help the team’s transition game once they are able to make the jump to the NHL.  

Ottawa Senators

Grade: B-

First Round Selection(s): Lassi Thomson (19th)

The Senators had to watch Colorado take Bowen Byram, who was rated as the best defenseman in the 2019 NHL Draft, with what would have been their selection.  Ottawa sent that pick to Colorado in the Matt Duchene trade.  The Senators managed to salvage that debacle somewhat by sending Duchene to Columbus for what turned out to be the 19th overall pick.  Ottawa took Thomson in that spot.  

He can play in all situations and has a booming shot from the point, which he used to record 17 goals and 41 points in 63 games for Kelowna of the WHL last year.  He is projected to play for Ilves of Finland’s Liiga next season, but could play in the WHL or AHL too.  Ottawa will give him more time to develop, but he should be a key blueliner in the future along with Thomas Chabot and Erik Brannstrom.  

Ottawa made the surprising decision to take Shane Pinto (32nd overall) to open the second round even though Arthur Kaliyev, Bobby Brink and some other highly-touted prospects were still available.  Pinto, who has potential as a middle-six forward at the NHL level, will play for the University of North Dakota next season.  

The Senators traded back into the second round to take talented Danish goalie Mads Sogaard at 37th overall.  He was ranked number two by NHL Central Scouting among North American goaltenders.  

Philadelphia Flyers

Grade: A

First Round Selection(s): Cam York (14th)

The Flyers had a chance to take Cole Caufield or Peyton Krebs with their first-round pick, but decided to choose York instead.  The team already has some good forward prospects in the system and their better defense prospects are transitioning to being full-time NHLers, so the move makes sense.  York was an offensive stud in the NTDP last campaign with 14 goals and 65 points in 63 matches.  He plays well defensively and possesses a great sense for the game.  York is going to play for the University of Michigan next season.

Philadelphia added another first-round talent in the second round when they moved up to take Bobby Brink at 34th overall.  Brink is a great playmaker and he has a high-compete level.  He could make plenty of teams regret passing him in the first round.  

The selections of Ronnie Attard (72nd) and Egor Serdyuk (165th) and Bryce Brodzinski (196th) have the potential of bringing some value to the organization in the long run as well.   

Pittsburgh Penguins

Grade: C+

First Round Selection(s): Samuel Poulin (21st)

The Penguins chose Poulin, who admitted that he is probably two-to-three years away from playing in the NHL, in the first round of the 2019 NHL Entry Draft.  Still, the 18-year-old is a well-rounded prospect with plenty of offensive upside.  He put up 29 goals and 76 points in 67 games with Sherbrooke of the QMJHL last season.  

Pittsburgh also got a good value pick in the third round when they took Nathan Legare at 74th overall.  The team moved up to make the selection.  The 18-year-old forward netted 45 goals and added 42 assists in 68 games for Baie-Comeau of the QMJHL last campaign.  

Tampa Bay Lightning

Grade: B-

First Round Selection(s): Nolan Foote (27th)

The Lightning selected Foote late in the first round after taking his older brother, Cal, with the 14th overall pick in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft.  The 18-year-old forward had 36 goals and 63 points in 66 contests last campaign for Kelowna of the WHL.  Foote played through a broken wrist for the vast majority of the year.  His bloodlines and hockey IQ could serve him well on his path to the NHL level. 

Tampa Bay grabbed netminder Hugo Alnefelt with the 71st overall pick.  He was rated second by NHL Central Scouting among European goaltenders.  Alnefelt was very good for Sweden at the U18 World Championship.  

Tampa Bay deserves recognition for the selection of Maxim Cajkovic at No. 89.  He could be a sleeper hit after he impressed during his rookie season in the QMJHL last year.  The 18-year-old winger posted 22 goals and 46 points in 60 games for Saint John, while showcasing a deadly shot.  

The Lightning also dealt J.T. Miller to Vancouver for a conditional first-round pick in 2020, a third-round selection in 2019 and goaltender Marek Mazanec. If the Canucks don’t make the playoffs in 2019-20 then the first-round selection will move to 2021.  With Miller gone it clears $5.25 million off the Lightning cap, which will likely go towards to signing pending RFA Brayden Point.  

Toronto Maple Leafs

Grade: B

First Round Selection(s): None (first pick was Nick Robertson at 53rd overall)

Robertson was a great way for the Leafs to enter the fray on the second day of the 2019 NHL Entry Draft.  Toronto gave up their first-round pick to Los Angeles in the Jake Muzzin trade, but Robertson was surprisingly available at No. 53.  The 17-year-old forward had 27 goals and 55 points in 54 games for Peterborough of the OHL last campaign.  He is a gifted offensive player who plays with plenty of relentlessness despite his small build.  

The Leafs got more value with the selections of rearguard Mikko Kokkonen (84th) and forward Mikhail Abramov (115th).  Kokkonen is responsible in his own end and makes smart plays with the puck.  He also has a quick release on his shot from the point.  Abramov has some intriguing potential too as a two-way center.  He produced 54 points in 62 games in his first season with Victoriaville of the QMJHL in 2018-19.     

As previously mentioned, Toronto also shipped Marleau to Carolina for some much-needed cap relief.  The price tag of a first-round pick was heavy, but it was necessary.  It was also reported the team is close to finalizing contracts for restricted free agents Kasperi Kapanen and Andreas Johnsson for very reasonable prices.  It could also help with the re-signing of Mitch Marner, but there is still more work to be done on that front.    

Washington Capitals

Grade: B-

First Round Selection(s): Connor McMichael (25th)

The Capitals selected a speedster in McMichael in the first round of the 2019 NHL Draft.  He plays a solid two-way game and he has plenty of hockey sense.  McMichael will likely spend more time honing his skills with London of the OHL.  He displayed his offensive upside last season when he generated 36 goals and 72 points in 67 games with the Knights.  

Brett Leason was a good pick at No. 56 of the second round.  He shined in 2018-19 with 36 goals and 89 points in 55 games with Prince Albert of the WHL.  He also added 25 points in 22 playoff contests.  Leason has an NHL-ready shot and could have been a late first-round pick or early second-round selection.  

 

 

Corey Abbott

Corey Abbott is an Editor for Hockey on Rotoworld. Feel free to follow him on Twitter @CoreAbbott.