The NHL draw kicks off Thursday night in Montreal and that’s usually when the league’s offseason really kicks off.
All 32 CEOs and front offices are in the same place, as well as the nature of the design itself means at least some moves have to be made. The meaning of those movements can vary.
Here’s a quick rundown on what to look out for over the next two days.
Who will take Montreal? And how will the dominoes fall after that?
This is the rare year of design where there isn’t a must-see, consensus top pick, meaning there’s real intrigue at the top of design, starting with the Montreal Canadiens and the No. 1 overall pick.
The contender for favorite appears to be Shane Wright, but Juraj Slafkovský and Logan Cooley could also be options.
Wright has been considered the best prospect in this draft class for a few years now, but Slafkovský’s stock has surged in recent weeks. He is probably considered the most NHL-ready prospect in this draft, given his size, speed and international play. But what is his ceiling?
If Montreal goes first with Wright, Slafkovský seems to be a safe bet in second place where the New Jersey Devils have to pick. It will be the third time in the last five years that they have been chosen in the top two of the design after having previously selected Nico Hischier (2017) and Jack Hughes (2019) first overall.
The Alex DeBrincat watch
The big name to keep an eye on in the trading market is Chicago Blackhawks winger Alex DeBrincat, who is coming off a new 40-goal season and only a year away from unlimited free agency. With the Blackhawks deep in a rebuild, DeBrincat has been mentioned in trade speculation for the past year, and there seems to be a lot of smoke that a deal could be imminent.
Will it happen on Thursday somewhere?
The Blackhawks would almost certainly want a top pick in the draft, and there’s been speculation that the New Jersey Devils (No. 2 overall pick) could be an option. The Flyers were briefly mentioned this week, but they don’t seem willing to part with the number 5 overall pick.
It’s very – VERY – rare for teams to trade picks in the top five of the draft, especially for players. You have to go all the way back to the Alexei Yashin trade when the New York Islanders traded the No. 2 overall pick to the Ottawa Senators for the star forward. The senators used that choice to select Jason Spezza.
However, The Devils and DeBrincat would be an intriguing possibility. New Jersey needs to take a major step forward with Hughes and Hischier, they have plenty of room for a salary cap to extend it, and with the apex of the design without slam dunk superstars, this could be an opportunity to become an established star and one of the league’s top scorers still in the prime of his career. You don’t get those opportunities very often.
Will Vancouver move? JT Miller†
The other big forward who could be on the move is Vancouver Canucks forward JT Miller. Entering the final year of his contract, coming off a monstrous 99-point season, after being heavily mentioned in trade talks ahead of the deadline, he could finally be moving this off-season.
The Canucks have future salary cap issues and have missed the playoffs in six of the past seven seasons. If they can’t sign Miller to an extension, a trade is probably the best bet.
Columbus with a big chance
Thanks last year Seth Jones trade, the Columbus Blue Jackets have an additional first-round draft pick (No. 6 overall) this year, giving them two top-12 picks (their pick is the 12th overall pick).
Rumor has it that they are in the market for the Arizona Coyotes defender Jakob Chychrun and could use one of those picks to get him in a trade.
If not, they should have an excellent chance of landing one of the best defenders, either David Jiříček or Šimon Nemec.
The Jones trade is still bearing fruit for Columbus and could be a turning point in the rebuilding of the organization. The blue jackets already have Cole Sillinger and Adam Boqvist thanks to the deal, as well Jake Bean which they bought for the second round which they acquired from Chicago as part of that trade.
Imagine if it also helps them get another top defense prospect, or maybe even someone like Chychrun (who still has a long-term contract with a very team-friendly contract) in a trade.
Will Buffalo make all his choices on Thursday?
Thanks to Sam Reinhart and Jack Eichel trades, the Buffalo Sabers have three first-round picks on Thursday night (No. 9, No. 16 and No. 28). Will they use them all? Or could they try wrapping one up in a trade for more immediate help? The Sabers showed a lot of improvement in the second half last season, but they still have a lot of gaps to fill in their roster, especially in goal.
Those later two picks, especially the number 28 pick, are total wildcards in terms of finding a long-term player. Seeing what it can get in a trade would probably be the smart game. Especially if it can fulfill a need in goal or in defense.
Will Edmonton make a mistake with? Jesse Puljujarvic†
The mistake, of course, is to trade it for a minimal return.
Puljujarvi may not be the best player available in a trade this off-season (Debrincat, Miller and Chychrun would take that claim) but it may be the best value a team can get given its low cost in terms of assetsas well as the fact that his contract in RFA should not be a cap-breaker.
Instead of signing Valeri Nichushkin to a massive deal in free agency teams would have to look for the next Nichushkin: a talented top pick who took some time to develop and who was undervalued by their original team. Puljuarvi could be that player.
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Transactions, mystery at the top: what to look for in 2022 NHL Draft originally appeared on NBCSports.com