NHL Draft: Saturday Surprises and Favorite Picks from Day 2

The second day of the NHL Draft was a busy one for the United States as 55 American players were selected. As has been the case in recent years, there was a high number of Americans selected in the second and third rounds of the draft and there was some real value to be had right on down to the seventh.

There was no shortage of surprises on Saturday in St. Paul. From where players fell, to how high other went, the Draft kept everyone on their toes throughout the day.

Coming up after the jump, complete analysis of the second round and picking out some highlights and lowlights from rounds three through seven.

Second Round Analysis

There were four Americans drafted in the second round I thought had a great chance to go in the first round, as you probably were able to tell from my American rankings last week.

Rocco Grimaldi was my No. 1-ranked American because I thought he had among the best skills in the draft. Teams were apparently concerned with the size, making Florida’s pick at No. 33 a no-brainer.

Dale Tallon had a pretty nice draft for himself, I thought. The Florida GM said the word “dynamic” about four or five times in his post-draft media scrum when speaking of Grimaldi and also praised the little fella’s character.

Grimaldi was definitely disappointed about not getting picked in the first round, but maintained good spirits later. I think Florida got a steal at 33 and can be really excited Grimaldi fell.

The very next pick was Scott Mayfield to the Islanders at 34. There’s an element of risk in selecting Mayfield as he has such a long way to go as a player, but there’s home-run potential in this pick. He could end up being one of the best defenders in this entire draft based on his physical tools. He’s got a ways to get there, but if he reaches his full potential, Garth Snow could come out smelling like roses.

One of the biggest surprises of the whole draft was John Gibson NOT being the first goaltender selected. Nashville grabbed Swede Magnus Hellburg at 38 before Gibson went to Anaheim at 39. That was the big shock. Anaheim went ahead and picked perhaps the safest goaltending prospect in the whole draft… if there is such a thing.

It was clear that this was a year teams weren’t overly excited about goaltenders, but I think there will be a few clubs regretful of passing Gibson. I just don’t think there’s that much separation between him and Jack Campbell who went 11th in the previous year, aside from the statistical gap.

The one player selected in the second round that I couldn’t believe fell as far as he did was Brandon Saad. He was Chicago’s SECOND pick of the second round, American and former Saad teammate at the NTDP, Adam Clendening was the first at No. 36.

Saad fell to 43, and I still believe, of the Americans in the draft, has the best pro potential. I spoke with Saad briefly before the first round and found him to be in excellent spirits. That’s kind of his personality, though, which I think is to his benefit. Chicago, who I felt had the best draft (and no it’s not because I’m a fan of the team), got perhaps the steal of the second round by getting Saad where they did.

I also loved the pick of Clendening. I thought it was a little early, but Clendening’s offensive tools are well above average. He could be a really solid pro down the line after a few more years of development at Boston University and Chicago’s in the market for a solid offensive-minded defenseman after trading Brian Campbell. Clendening could fill that role in the future for the Blackhawks, though his skating needs work.

San Jose also had a pretty nice pick at No. 47. Matt Nieto was at one point thought to be a first-round caliber prospect, but had fallen out of favor. The Sharks have a kid who can really motor and I love the athleticism of Nieto. He said he’s been figuring out how to use his speed in all areas of the ice and is trying to make himself harder to play against. He’ll have some time to marinate a bit at BU and should be a really nice pick down the line.

I really liked Minnesota’s pick of Mario Lucia at No. 60. The fact that they traded up really isn’t all that alarming. To be honest, Lucia at 60 is a tremendous value pick. Bryan Reynolds of Hockey Wilderness took on Tom Powers of the St. Paul Pioneer Press who chided the Wild for selecting Lucia when they did due to the Minnesota connection. Sure, that’s all part of it, but Lucia is a steal at 60. Whether its good for PR or not (it is), it’s a great hockey move.

Shane Prince was the last player selected and the Ottawa Senators have to love the fact he’ll be developed right under their noses with the 67s. Prince has a lot to prove next year, like that this season wasn’t a fluke and he can continue to produce. That said, I like the pick here because Prince has enough skill to make an impact at the next level. There were some mocks and rankings that had Prince as a first-round talent. That makes him a high-risk pick, he’s much safer at the end of the second round.

Highlights/Lowlights of Rounds 3-7

I had heard the grumblings that T.J. Tynan was going to probably earn a higher-than-expected pick in the draft late last week and Columbus made it official by using the 66th overall selection on the Notre Dame standout. The way Tynan has progressed makes me really comfortable with him earning a spot in the third round. Though this pick amounts to Nikita Filatov for Tynan after the trade Columbus made with Ottawa, it’s still a solid choice in that particular position this year.

Michael Paliotta was another solid pick for Chicago at No. 70. He’s a high-ceiling guy. The improvement from his first year at the NTDP to the second was immense. He told me he focused on adding some more grit to his game, and he certainly did that in 2010-11. He’s a really solid defensive defenseman with great size. Chicago has a nice pick for the semi-distant future here.

I also liked Keegan Lowe at 73 for the Carolina Hurricanes. I just keep hearing about how he just gets better and better. Obviously, he’s got the bloodlines, but he’s making his own name these days.

Blake Coleman was a last-year eligible player who did nothing but produce in his final USHL season with Indiana, earning league MVP honors and USA Hockey’s Dave Tyler Junior Player of the Year Award. Leading the league in scoring is great, but he was one of the older, more experienced guys in the league. Still 92 points in the USHL is kind of nuts. That’s a tough league to score in. If he keeps up that kind of production at Miami University next year, doubts will be quelled.

Nick Shore fell a bit farther than I thought he would, but remained a top-three-round pick at No. 82. I like the value here for the LA Kings as I think a healthy season for Shore at Denver next year might allow him to get some consistency into his game and show some of his offensive potential.

Minnesota’s Mr. Hockey Kyle Rau went higher than I had anticipated, but the Florida Panthers were not afraid to go small this year, as they also drafted Grimaldi. Rau made it into the third round at No. 91. There was some debate as to whether or not he was worth the high round pick. It seems high to me, but it’s not necessarily a bad pick.

In my opinion, there were two huge steals in the fourth round. Robbie Russo is a guy who’s not as far away, talent-wise as second-rounder Clendening. The Islanders got him at No. 95. This could have been one of the greatest value picks of the draft right here. I was stunned to see him drop out of the third round, particularly with Andy Welinski going 12 picks earlier to Anaheim. I like Welinski quite a bit, too, but Russo was in my American Top 15 for a reason.

Another steal was Reid Boucher going to the New Jersey Devils at No. 99. He is easily one of the most natural goal scorers in the entire draft and him lasting this long wasn’t necessarily a surprise. There are concerns about his size, but the release on this kid is just filthy. His shot is NHL-ready. If the rest of his game comes along, he could score a lot of goals one day.

Perhaps one of the giant reaches of the draft was the Calgary Flames selecting John Gaudreau in the fourth round at No. 104. Small, but shifty, Gaudreau has a long way to go. Now, as Ryan S. Clark reported, Gaudreau is decommitting from Northeastern University, where he was scheduled to attend next year. After dominating the Junior ranks last year, I don’t know how this is a good step for his development. Either way, I thought this kid deserved to be drafted, despite the fact many thought he shouldn’t.

Here was the big surprise: Seth Ambroz, who was so highly regarded that he was one of six players featured on the permanent header for the NHL Draft microsite on NHL.com, fell to the 5th round, 128th overall. I talked to more than a few people who cited character concerns as the most likely reason for the drop. Apparently Ambroz had poor interviews with several NHL teams at the Combine.

The visibly upset Ambroz said he wanted to prove all of the teams wrong that passed on him, while proving Columbus right. For the record, Columbus passed on Ambroz three times before grabbing him in the fifth… so there’s that.

Blake Pietila was a quiet selection by New Jersey at No. 129, and that could end up being a really solid pick. I thought Pietila’s work ethic and dedication on both ends of the ice were outstanding in my viewings of him this season. He has great strength and gets involved in every game physically. I’m sure the Devils were happy to land him in this later, low-risk position.

Nick Seeler was a bit of a surprise in the fifth round. He kind of came out of nowhere when the Wild picked him up at 131, one pick after Mr. Hockey finalist Tony Cameranesi. There was next to no draft buzz for Seeler. He played for state champion Eden Prairie, but most people I talked to didn’t really remember much about him.

Shane McColgan in the fifth round could turn out to be another one of those high value picks. Though it is hard to believe he was once considered the cream of the American 1993 crop. Size concerns clearly had to be the overriding factor, as he’s proven he can produce. Many thought his WHL playoff was going to put him in a higher position. Guess not. Still, you have to like the Rangers getting him at 134 for a decent value.

Goaltenders Stephen Michalek and Matt Mahalak went within two picks of each other in the sixth round, and Garret Sparks went in the seventh round. The only reason I am surprised about these three goaltenders getting picked is because Matt McNeely was not selected. Despite being a backup to John Gibson, McNeely looked like he had the tools necessary to earn a selection and of the four goaltenders, McNeely struck me as the best. Apparently not for the NHL.

If you’ve read this blog for a while, you’ll know I’ve been on the Chase Balisy bandwagon all season. He doesn’t have the physical look of a potential NHL player, but he’s got the brain and some underrated pucks skills. His tremendous freshman season was rewarded when Nashville grabbed him at No. 170. It’s a low-risk, high-reward pick for Nashville. If Balisy can pick up some foot speed and bulk up a bit, his other tools are pretty darn good.

The seventh round had several picks that I just loved from a value perspective. There were some really smart picks that could end up having major payoffs down the road.

I thought Aaron Harstad at No. 187 was a solid grab by Winnipeg. Harstad has been a stalwart for the Green Bay Gamblers over the last few years. As part of a winning organization, he’s had some great opportunities for development. He always stood out to me when watching Green Bay play.

This may have been one of my favorite picks of the whole draft. Every aspect of it is likable. From a story lines perspective and from a value perspective, it doesn’t get much better than Phoenix drafting Scottsdale, Ariz., native Zac Larraza 106th overall. First off, I can’t believe he fell this far to begin with, as he really improved over the last season. Larraza’s impressive showing at the World Under-18 Championship generated quite a bit of buzz, so I was surprised to see him fall this far, but when I spoke with him, he couldn’t have been more excited to go up to the team he grew up rooting for.

I also liked the potential low-risk, high-reward pick of Wisconsin high schooler, Brad Navin. He’s a bit of an unknown at this point, but I did watch him once over an internet video and saw some projectable tools. The only issue is what can he do against stronger competition? We’ll find out soon, as he’s headed to the University of Wisconsin next year. It’s a big jump in competition, so it will be interesting to see how he handles it.

The last pick that I thought was a real solid flyer was Toronto grabbing Max Everson with the 203rd overall pick. He’s a pretty solid hockey player with a lot of good skills. In the games I was able to watch him, he stood out to me when I did see him. He also got a few games in with the NTDP over the course of the season and I’m told he did not look out of place in those games. Can’t get much lower-risk when you’re in the 200s. Everson could make the Leafs happy down the road.

We’ll have one more NHL Draft post, taking a peak at some of the interesting American story lines that came out of the weekend in St. Paul. Check back for that on Tuesday.

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About Chris Peters

Editor of The United States of Hockey. Contributor to CBSSports.com, USA Hockey Magazine and more. Former USA Hockey PR guy. Current Iowan.
This entry was posted in American Prospects, Junior Hockey, NCAA, NHL, NHL Draft, NTDP, USA Hockey. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to NHL Draft: Saturday Surprises and Favorite Picks from Day 2

  1. Anonymous says:

    No thoughts on Travis Boyd?

    • Chris Peters says:

      If I could have talked about every player, I would have. Just had to cut some out due to space, but since you asked…

      Boyd essentially got drafted where I thought he probably would. I didn’t buy it when he wasn’t ranked by CSS initially, because he clearly had the talent worthy of being drafted. The big thing about Boyd is that he’s a long-term guy. When a player is drafted in the 6th round, the expectations are naturally lower, which is a good thing for Boyd. He can go to the University of Minnesota and continue to develop his skating and skills. He’ll do well on the big ice at Mariucci, but most importantly can continue to improve his foot speed. He had a tremendous Under-18 World Championship and I think that tourney was a sign of things to come. The Caps can be happy to have picked up a player with his talent when they did and can allow him to develop at his own pace.

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