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NHL Draft grades: Sabres, Blue Jackets get top marks in Eastern Conference

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Rasmus Ristolainen was the first pick of the Buffalo Sabres in the 2013 NHL Draft.

Head of the class: Rasmus Ristolainen (Bill Wippert/Getty Images)

By Allan Muir

Let’s face it. Evaluating a draft class before the kids have even donned their new team sweaters for real is a fool’s errand. But it’s a game we all love to play … and we all want to know the winners.

Obviously, we won’t know the real answer for a few years, but we can make a fairly educated guess as to which teams did the most to better their fortunes with their choices at Sunday’s draft.

The grades below are based on two primary criteria. Did the team maximize the value of each pick? Did it address obvious organizational needs? Both are highly subjective assessments, but hey, this is a subjective piece. Feel free to present your counter-arguments below.

MUIR: First round breakdown | Western grades | HACKEL: Hidden heroes | Team by team picks

Boston Bruins

Sitting idly for more than four hours while every other team in the league dove into the deepest talent pool in a decade meant the Bruins would have to settle for long-term prospects with varying holes in their games. They may yet pull an impact player out of their six picks, but the more realistic scenario is that Linus Arnesson (60th) and Wiley Sherman (150) could mature into a third defensive pairing, while the rest are long shots at best. C

Buffalo Sabres

The Sabres had an obvious need for size and talent on the back end and GM Darcy Regier addressed it in a way that exceeded the highest hopes of the team’s fans. Rasmus Ristolainen (8) and Nikita Zadorov (16) are big, mean, impact players. The second round was just as fruitful, with hard-working forwards JT Compher (35) and Connor Hurley (38) and sniper Justin Bailey (52) giving the front lines an injection of second/third line potential. Add in the trade that netted defenseman Jamie McBain from Carolina and the day could not have gone better for this rebuilding franchise. A+

Carolina Hurricanes

The Canes had just four picks on Sunday, but if fifth-overall selection Elias Lindholm delivers on his potential to be a two-way, first-line center, then this was a good day. B

Columbus Blue Jackets

The Jackets would have preferred to flip one or more of their three first rounders for players who can contribute immediately, but settled for a trio of forwards who could upgrade their scoring punch. Alexander Wennberg (14), Kerby Rychel(19) and Marko Dano (27) all have touch, but each brings a different dimension that should elevate an offense that ranked 25th this past season. Oliver Bjorkstrand (89) is undersized, but may develop into an impact player up front. A+

Detroit Red Wings

They picked up the Q’s only 50-goal scorer in Anthony Mantha (20). He needs to work on his consistency and battle levels, but you can’t teach hands like his. Zach Nastasiuk (48) was a fast riser heading into the draft. He’s one of those kids who does all the little things right. His grit and work ethic will make him a reliable bottom-six guy. Tyler Bertuzzi (58) is meaner than his uncle Todd and as good an agitator as could be had in this draft. B

Florida Panthers

Only time will tell if Dale Tallon made the right decision to pass on Seth Jones in favor of Sasha Barkov with the second pick, but it addressed a clear need for a future No. 1 center. USNTDP defender Ian McCoshen (31) brings first-round value to a blueline that needed an injection of talent. Goaltender Evan Cowley (92) has the size and tools to be a starter. A

Montreal Canadiens

The Habs focused on their need for size and scoring touch with their first two picks. Neither Michael McCarron (25) or Jacob de la Rose (34) are locks to play in the NHL, but both have the sort of upside that suggests top-nine roles. Adding goaltender Zach Fucale (36) in the second round may turn out to be a franchise-changing call. Winger Artturi Lehkonen (55) proved Montreal’s interest in potential-packed Smurfs has not waned. A

New Jersey Devils

Dishing away a first rounder is unheard of for a team hosting the draft, but Lou Lamoriello made it work. Swapping the ninth overall pick for Cory Schneider gives the Devils the successor to Martin Brodeur that they’ve needed for years. Steve Santini (42) plays the sort of steady defensive game that can go unappreciated, but is key to building a winner. Converted forward Myles Bell (160) has a checkered past, but could prove to be a value pick. Goalie Anthony Brodeur (208), son of the legend, was a vanity selection. A

New York Islanders

After picking seven blueliners in 2012, they went back to the point with their first rounder in 2013. Ryan Pulock (15) has a heavy shot and could mature into a power play weapon, but was this the best value available in this slot? Eamon MacAdam (70) is a worthwhile long-term prospect in goal. Forward Tyler Cammarata (76) was the top junior player in the U.S. last season, but he’s just 5′-7″. Highly skilled, he needs to prove he can take a pounding. C+

New York Rangers

Another team without a pick in the opening round, the Rangers finally tabbed Adam Tambellini (65) with their first choice and Pavel Buchnevich 10 picks later. Both wingers are long-term projects with high upsides, but come with real risks of flaming out. LW Anthony Duclair (80) brings a lot of flash, but tries to do too much by himself. C

Ottawa Senators

Another team desperate for offense, the Sens tabbed forward Curtis Lazar (17) in the first round. Scouts raved about his character and wheels, but his scoring potential is up for debate. Marcus Hogberg (78) is a big, rangy goaltender who fills the organizational hole left by the trade of Ben Bishop. Center Quentin Shore (168) was picked up late after being passed over last year. He’s hardly a blue chipper, but he’s a kid whose heart and bloodlines make him worth watching. B-

Philadelphia Flyers

Samuel Morin (11) and Robert Hagg (41) fill an obvious need for size, skill and talent on the back end. Morin is a smooth skater and as tough as any player in the draft. Hagg slid into the second round based on consistency questions, but he has the puck-moving abilities that hint at him becoming a second-pairing defender with power play applications. A

Pittsburgh Penguins

Holding on to Kris Letang meant a splash-free draft for the Pens. Goaltender Tristan Jarry (44) was a backup this year in Edmonton (WHL), but brilliant nearly every time he got a start. He could well develop into the top goaltender from this year’s class. Center Jake Guentzel (77) is dynamite on wheels, but he’s just 5′-9″ and probably will top out in the AHL. C

Tampa Bay Lightning

The Bolts were the other team that gambled on a forward instead of Seth Jones, but you’ll never hear Jonathan Drouin (3) described as a risky choice. The most dynamic offensive player available in the draft, he should step directly into the lineup next season. Adam Erne (33) slipped down due to character concerns, but could prove to be a high-value pick. He projects as a top-six power forward who plays an aggressive game. A

Toronto Maple Leafs

Frederik Gauthier (21) projects as a Martin Hanzal/third-line forward type. He’s big, strong and great defensively, but there’s not much offensive upside to his game. Antoine Bibeau (172) fills a need for a young goaltender. He was pretty stout for a mediocre PEI club last season. Winger Andreas Johnson (202) scored 23 goals in 42 games in the Swedish junior league and has world-class speed. C

Washington Capitals

Andre Burkovsky is a high-skill forward who fills the organizational slot vacated by Filip Forsberg last spring. He needs to learn to play away from the puck before he’s given a serious chance, though. There are questions about Madison Bowey’s toolbox, but the skilled defender taken at 53 was a good risk at this point. The Caps traded up to grab winger Zach Sanford with the last pick of the second round. The high schooler is incredibly raw, but has size and some skill. B

  • Published On Jul 01, 2013
  • 2 comments
    ie2003
    ie2003

    Don't Like the Avalanche?

    doghockey
    doghockey

    @ie2003 Uh, the Avs got an A grade.  In the article on the Western Conference, where they have resided for the better part of twenty years.  But I'm sure that you have figured that out by now.