The NHL draft was surrounded by plenty of fireworks, and multiple teams already appear to have reaped the benefits of a pair of successful days.
Hosting the draft for the first time since 2009 were the Montreal Canadiens, who also owned the first overall selection in the draft. There was a lot of drama surrounding their pick, including some of the other moves they made on the draft floor afterward.
Three teams stood out on this two-day extravaganza, and it will be interesting to look back in five years to discuss where teams went wrong and where they hit the jackpot.Montreal Canadiens
The Montreal Canadiens provided plenty of entertainment on Day 1 of the NHL Draft, and not just because they hosted it. In a year where no generational talent was present and multiple names could realistically go first overall, the team landed on the big Slovakian winger in Juraj Slafkovsky. There was a mixed reaction at the time, but later in the night, when he was interviewed, the crowd erupted and played into the hype around the Habs’ new top prospect. That wasn’t the only player from Slovakia that the Canadiens selected in the first round, with the team drafting Filip Mesar 26th overall.
Slafkovsky was excited about the Mesar pick, while the team continued with another high upside prospect pick, taking Lane Hutson in the second round. Hutson had the second-most points from a defenseman in USA Hockey National Team Development Program history. If Hutson had been slightly taller, there’s little chance he would have slid that far in the draft, especially boasting one of the top hockey IQs in this class.
Their big trade on the draft floor made the evening even more interesting for the Habs, which saw them acquire Kirby Dach from the Chicago Blackhawks. After passing on Shane Wright, the Habs’ trade allowed them to acquire another center with top-six potential.Buffalo Sabres
After dealing Jack Eichel to the Vegas Golden Knights, there were a lot of futures present for the Buffalo Sabres, and they took full advantage. NHL teams continue to let small, highly skilled players drop in the draft’s first round, and that continued with Matthew Savoie, who the Sabres selected ninth overall. Buffalo needed centers and Savoie projects to be a difference-maker up the middle. The Sabers added Savoie and made a sneaky selection of Noah Ostlund at 16th overall, one of the draft’s biggest risers. In addition to these two first-round picks, the Sabres also had some gambles later in the draft, which are solid targets with those selections.Columbus Blue Jackets
The Columbus Blue Jackets are already seeing results from their 2021 draft class at the NHL level, and it appears they’ll have more bodies on the way after another solid draft. Last year saw the club zero in on forwards, selecting Kent Johnson and Cole Sillinger. Both players project to be key parts of where the team is headed offensively in the future. Like last year, the team owned two top 12 selections in this draft, establishing a foundation of prospects in their system. Unlike last year, Columbus went after two of the top defenseman, drafting David Jiricek and Denton Mateychuk. Jiricek plays a mean, in-your-face brand of hockey and has a rocket of a shot, while Mateychuk can become a high-end puck-moving defenseman in the NHL. Adding these two young defensemen alongside Zach Werenski on the team’s blueline should give the Blue Jackets a bright future.