Draft 2016: Night One Thoughts

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Night one of the NHL draft is in the books, and after a sensible start, Kevin Cheveldayoff took a gamble with the team’s second selection in round one in order to shore up a perceived weakness in the organization. That move is one that will almost certainly lead to more questions about the team’s mindset, even if its effect is a ways off from truly being felt.

Fan Fest

Before I beat that to death, though, a few words about the scene at and in the vicinity of First Niagara Centre. The park across from the arena has been organized as the location for this year’s Fan Fest, and by late afternoon it began to fill with fans from all over the league, albeit mostly ones wearing blue and white. There were beer tents, a cornhole game on the go, and other activities, as well as a stage for bands. Sabretooth the mascot roamed the grounds for pictures with kids, and I even caught sight of one of America’s most unusual vehicles lurking:

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There are about a dozen of these beauties cruising around the US. I once passed one of them on the road between L.A. and Phoenix, and it was mildly disconcerting to be rolling alongside a wheeled wiener doing 70 MPH. At any rate, after a brief tour of the park, it was time to head inside.

The Heart of the Action

First Niagara’s a modern arena with club and suite sections at the top of the lower bowl, which means us peons in the 300’s were a long way above the floor where all the action was taking place. I did have the chance to get downstairs before the festivities got under way, which how I got the pic at the top of the article. The floor itself is mass of 30 tables with hairs for a dozen or more people. Most teams have their full scouting staffs along with a few other stragglers in place, as well as the odd owner like Mark Chipman.

At the back of the room is the assembled press, seated on a series of risers that lead up to the rear seating area. In front of that area is a fence line to keep them off the draft floor, which leads to the slightly amusing scene of GMs strolling up to that fence in order to subject themselves to media scrums, Above the press area are the TV companies’ sets that you see when watching at home. They are a hive of activity as well, and I even witnessed a makeup person trying to take the shine off the head of Damien Cox in preparation for the start of Sportsnet’s coverage. Herculean task, that 🙂

The building began to fill by about 6:30, and at 6:55, Jim Gregory, as per custom, came out to call proceedings to order. The league still has a roll call to begin, which is pretty much an anachronism these days, and particularly so when the fans boo certain teams as if they’d just lost a playoff game to them in a dubious fashion. With the mix of Leaf and Sabre fans in the seats, that dynamic was certainly in play as we reached 7 PM and the official start of the show.

After some housekeeeping items (Pegula’s speech, the usual Bettman vs fans Kabuki booing), we were underway, and the atmosphere was cracking as Matthews’ name was announced. I was actually seated near two young Leaf fans that paid the pricely sum of $214 US via StubHub to witness that moment, and as much as it’s easy to crack on Leaf fans, I did admire their enthusiasm. 

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Next was Laine’s moment, and for all the angst of the last week, it always was going to be this way. He’s just too good to pass on, and the Jets weren’t going to mess about. He’ll be a fun player to watch right from day one.

The first “ohhhh” moment was the PLD selection by Columbus. No one other than maybe Sam Cosentino was on that case, and not only did it shock everyone, but the resulting slide of Jesse Puljujarvi lead to this bon mot from Rob Tychkowski:

True dat. From there, things mostly settled down, the Sabres got a nice player for the home fans to cheer at 8, and we headed into the snoozy middle of the draft with the fans thinning and the atmosphere quieting noticeably. Two hours in, half done, and things seemed calm. Or so we thought.

Curveball

The next swerve came with the Detroit-Phoenix swap. Pavel Datsyuk’s rights were always going to be moved, and the exchange of picks wasn’t too harmful to either party in the end. The Coyotes’ GM might not look like he needs to shave every day, but he had a solid night, as Keller and Chychrun were nice value at those spots. Ken Holland, in the mean time, gets to go Stamkos chasing with a reduced payroll restricting him, so good-good, I think.

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The main matter of interest remaining for Jets’ fans was the extra pick they acquire in the Ladd deal, and at this juncture, Cheveldayoff’s approach caught a few people on the hop. Logan Stanley, as Garret chronicled earlier in the week, is a bit of a hot button player. His range of selection this week might have been as great as anyone, with scouts slotting him anywhere from the top 15 to the 3rd round and beyond, which makes trading up for him a potentially dubious choice.

It’s a measure of how much the game has changed that his being drafted this high is even controversial. As recently as 10 years ago, a behemoth like him would have held much higher value to every team than in the current go-go era. Now, with the emphasis on movement of both pucks and players, a shutdown defender that can’t score and isn’t a fluid skater is looked at askance. 

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That doesn’t mean he has no chance to succeed, but I do think that there’s no way to regard his selection as anything but a project move to fill a position of weakness in the organization. Stanley is not an NHL skater right now, so improving that, especially in terms of initial burst and lateral movement, has to be job one. If he can make up ground, he’ll have a chance. If not, it will be a bad bust after sacrificing a high second rounder. I’d expect Stanley to need 3-4 years to get anywhere close to the NHL, so that will be the point where a proper judgment can be made. 

That move was the last real shocker of the night, and by 11 things were wrapped up. The first round really does last too long due to TV needs, since the 4 hours it took could have been halved with no effect on the product, but Rogers and NBC pay for the show, so it doesn’t appear it will change. As it is, the night is a long one for fans, and half the crowd was gone by 9:30. To be frank, unless you’re a hardcore nutter like me, watching at home is the way to go.

Tomorrow, of course, is another day, with 6 rounds likely taking almost exactly as long as the single one last night. We’ll see if Chevy has any other moves left, like maybe moving a vet or two for a late pick, but I doubt there will be anything that will match the effect this first round is going to have on the future of the team. The Jets have their difference maker. Let’s see what they make of it.