2011 NHL Draft: Who finished better, worse, or the same

By Ian Altenbaugh
Photo: Considered a first-round talent for much of the season, Brendon Saad dropped to the 43rd spot in the draft where the Chicago Blackhawks were all too happy to claim him. (Photo courtesy of Ken McKenna/HF)

All 30 NHL teams go into the draft to improve the outlook of their franchise. Whether that means a team is in full rebuild mode and looking to acquire as much top-end talent as possible, addressing their short-term needs by moving picks and prospects for roster players, or looking to change their locker room culture through a few trades, every team hopes to leave the draft in a better position than they arrived.  

Some teams did better at accomplishing their goals than others though. Here is a run down of the teams who most improved their prospect pool as well as those who are worse off or about the same.

Improved

Minnesota Wild

The Wild had the fifth worst offense in 2010-11 and particularly struggled to score goals in even strength situations. Worse yet, they were unable to come to terms on a contract extension for Wild defenseman Brent Burns. So the organization flipped the 26-year-old Burns to the San Jose Sharks for Devin Setoguchi, 2010 first-rounder Charlie Coyle, and the 28th overall pick in the 2011 Draft, which they used to select sniper Zack Phillips.

Setoguchi can immediately be penciled into a first-line spot alongside Mikko Koivu and Pierre-Marc Bouchard, and should improve their overall offense let alone their power play. Furthermore, the addition of Coyle and Phillips to a prospect pool already containing Finnish sensation Mikael Granlund gives the Wild three dynamic forwards who could contribute in a top-six role sometime over the next two years.

Ottawa Senators

A fire sale at the end of the 2010-11 season left the Senators with 12 picks in the 2011 NHL draft and a desperate need to address an aging, stagnating offense. After a flurry of trades, the organization came away from draft weekend with 10 selections, including four forwards taken in the first two rounds (eight in all) as well as enigmatic 21-year-old winger Nikita Filatov.

Their NHL roster may not be much better next year than it was in 2010-11, but the long-term outlook of the organization, particularly with an already burgeoning young defensive group, looks considerably brighter.

Philadelphia Flyers

Arguably no team came away from the draft with a more improved prospect pool. Leading up to the draft Flyers GM Paul Holmgren traded captain Mike Richards and Jeff Carter to the Los Angeles Kings and Columbus Blue Jackets respectively, fetching 22-year-old forward Jakub Voracek, the eighth and 68th pick in the draft, the top-rated prospect by Hockey’s Future in Brayden Schenn, and 23-year-old two-way forward Wayne Simmonds. What even the Flyers GM did not expect was for Sean Couturier, a longtime candidate to go first overall at the draft, to drop into the Flyers lap at eighth overall.

Considering the Flyers were looking change the culture of their locker room, the moves were a great success. The team got younger, bigger, and the trading of Carter and Richards gave the organization the cap space to sign goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov. Still, the Flyers gave up quite a bit in Carter and Richards, possibly taking one step back before they can go two steps forward.

Florida Panthers

The Panthers left the draft with 10 new prospects and for the second year in a row, seven in the first three rounds. Their first round pick, Jonathan Huberdeau is a potential star forward. They also managed to snag the diminutive but immensely talented Rocco Grimaldi and center Vincent Trocheck. Shipping out Rostislav Olesz, a perennially underachieving forward who was locked up to a bloated contract for several more years was a bonus. In return for Olesz, the organization will have to take on the even more bloated contract of defenseman Brian Campbell, but given the team’s necessity to get above the cap floor, as well as their youth on the blue line, the move is made easier to swallow.

Huberdeau could possibly be ready for the NHL next season but either way, along with their many high picks from 2010, the Florida Panthers now have an enviable amount of young talent.

Chicago Blackhawks

As they look right now, the Blackhawks now might not have a stronger team than they did entering the draft, but through several savvy trades and picks, they managed to vastly improve their prospect pool and long-term outlook. The Hawks picked up CHL point-per-gamers Mark McNeill and Philip Danault in the first round, but also managed to snag Brandon Saad in the second. Saad is a prospect who saw his stock fall in part to a groin injury sustained early in the season but was widely considered to be a first-round talent. Aside from that, the organization cleared about 4 million in cap space by trading Brian Campbell to the Florida Panthers for Rostislav Olesz, giving them room to re-sign young talent like Michael Frolik and Viktor Stalberg, not to mention fill out the rest of their roster.

Worse or Same

Washington Capitals

Between moves made around the deadline and the acquisition of Troy Brouwer from the Chicago Blackhawks, the Capitals were left with only four picks in the 2011 NHL draft, the first coming in the fourth round. With a prospect pool that already took a few hits with graduations and trades, the Caps came away having not done much to improve the long-term outlook of their franchise.

San Jose Sharks

The Sharks sacrificed the future for the present and with a window that is quickly closing on a veteran group of players, the organization made a radical move by acquiring puck-moving defenseman Brent Burns. They had to give up 24-year-old sniper Devin Setoguchi, highly regarded prospect Charlie Coyle, and their first pick in the draft to do so.

The Sharks also acquired the Wild’s second round pick in 2012, which somewhat offsets the loss of their first, but the long-term outlook of the franchise largely depends on whether or not Burns, who is an unrestricted free agent at the end of next season, signs a contract extension.

Los Angeles Kings

The Kings made probably the biggest trade leading up to the draft, moving prospect Brayden Schenn and winger Wayne Simmonds to the Flyers for Mike Richards and minor-leaguer Rob Bordson. While surprising, there was no question the move was made to sacrifice some of the future to improve the current squad. The moves made on draft day were a little more surprising though. Having traded their first-rounder at the deadline, they used their first pick, the 49th overall, to select a goaltender, an area already of great strength for the organization. The Kings will no doubt look better in the fall as a result of the moves they made. Their prospect pool however, particularly with the loss of Schenn, came away looking the same, if not weaker at the top.

Calgary Flames

After years of questionable asset management under former GM Daryl Sutter, the Flames organization was left with a prospect pool bereft of top-tier talent and an NHL roster full of aging, overpaid veterans. New GM Jay Feaster took a step in the right direction by clearing the salaries of perennial underachiever Ales Kotalik and defensive stalwart Robyn Regehr, but the return he got, 25-year-old defenseman Chris Butler and undersized 22-year-old forward Paul Byron, is paltry. Particularly since the Flames included a 2012 second-rounder.

Feaster justified the trade by pointing out how close the Flames were to the cap and their need to re-sign veteran Alex Tanguay. But for a team that is supposedly rebuilding, the moves made little sense.