First day of NHL Draft doesn’t match hype

By Jason Menard

For a draft that was supposed to be peppered with intrigue and riddled with trades, it ended up proving an old truism: that the thing about hype is that an event rarely lives up to it.

In fact, Day 1 of the 2009 NHL Entry Draft in Montreal ran pretty much by the script. London Knights forward John Tavares was taken first overall by the New York Islanders, hulking Swedish blueliner Victor Hedmen went to the Tampa Bay Lightning with the second pick, and Brampton center Matt Duchene — billed as potentially the most complete player in the draft — was selected third by the Colorado Avalanche.

Prior to the draft, there was plenty of talk about the Toronto Maple Leafs making a big splash. General Manager Brian Burke had spoken about his team’s willingness and desire to move into the top two. There were also a couple of rumored deals involving veteran blueliner Tomas Kaberle. And the fall-back option was to pair last year’s first-round selection Luke Schenn with his brother Braydon. In the end, the Leafs stayed put and made a slight ripple by picking Southwestern Ontario product Nazem Kadri with the seventh pick in the draft. Kadri joins OHL Western Conference championship opponent Ryan Ellis as surprisingly high picks — Ellis went 11th overall to the Predators — as both players had seen their stock drop over the year: the former for consistency issues (and struggles after a broken jaw); the latter with questions about size and defensive potential.

In a draft that was billed as the Year of the Swede, host country Canada held its own. Seven of the top 10 selections were Canadians, and 17 of the firstround picks came from Canada. The Swedes were well represented, however, with a total of seven being selected in the first round. No Americans were taken in the top 10. In fact, the Minnesota Wild selected the first U.S.-born product with the 16th overall selection in taking local product Nick Leddy.

The Montreal faithful were in full throat throughout the proceedings, commencing with a raucous ovation for the hometown club prior to the commencement of the draft when the roll call of those who would be announcing the draft were read. They continued throughout the event, lustily booing hated rivals like the Boston Bruins and, of course, the Toronto Maple Leafs. In fact, as Burke went up to make his selection, the crowd regaled him with a chorus of "67," in reference to the last time in 1967 that the Toronto franchise won the Stanley Cup.

Yet they saved their loudest ovation for when Director of Player Recruitment and Development Trevor Timmins stepped up to the podium and announced the selection of local favorite Louis Leblanc. Several attendees were chanting Leblanc’s name from the moment NHL commissioner Gary Bettman placed the Habs on the clock, and they were rewarded for their faith.

Only one Russian was taken — Dmitry Kulikov by the Florida Panthers — after he slipped to them in the 14th position. However, the Drummondville defenseman wasn’t the day’s biggest slider. Blueliner Simon Despres lasted until the final pick of the first round, when the Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins chose him with the night’s final pick. The jumbotron screen caught the Saint John Sea Dog breathe a sigh of relief as he climbed the steps to the podium, and the Quebecois-dominant crowd paused its exodus to share its appreciation for the local product.

If Despres represented the biggest fall, Oshawa Generals blueliner Calvin de Haan may have been the biggest surprise. A complex series of transactions, including the Islanders trading four selections (a first, second, third, and fourth-rounder in this year’s draft), resulted in the Long Island franchise picking 12th. de Haan, himself, expressed shock at the move and stated that he expected to be a very-late round pick at best. The move does reunite former teammates Tavares and de Haan, who were broken up after the former’s mid-season trade to the Knights.

There was some movement during the draft, with the biggest splash being made by Philadelphia prior to its start. The Flyers obtained Chris Pronger and Ryan Dingle in return for Joffrey Lupul, Luca Sbisa, and the Flyers’ first-round picks in both this year’s draft and next.

There were a few other minor deals, including Calgary flipping positions with New Jersey, who sacrificed a third-round selection for the opportunity to move up three spots to grab Jacob Josefson. And the Detroit Red Wings traded out of the first round entirely, allowing Tampa to select Carter Ashton in return for the Lightning’s second-round selection (32nd overall) and a third-rounder in this year’s draft.

Rumors of trades involving Kaberle, Daniel Briere, and Dany Heatley continue to percolate, so Day 2 could bring the moves that help this draft lead up to its hype.