2011 NHL Draft: First round dominated by big trades

By Andrew Knoll
Photo: The Philadelphia Flyers were more than happy to draft Sean Couturier when he surprisingly fell to the eighth spot in the draft. (Photo courtesy of Ken McKenna/HF)

Just one day after the Philadelphia Flyers traded Mike Richards and Jeff Carter, the first day of the draft offered plenty of shaking and moving by NHL teams.

The San Jose Sharks acquired the biggest ticket player, former Minnesota Wild rearguard Brent Burns. Meanwhile, the Chicago Blackhawks were the day’s heaviest sellers, jettisoning defenseman Brian Campbell to the Florida Panthers for Radislav Olesz and swapping forward Troy Brouwer for the Washington Capitals’ first-round pick.

The Western Conference has grown deeper with middling and struggling teams each adding significant pieces already.

“No one’s getting weaker, everybody’s getting better,” Sharks coach Todd McLellan said.

Out east, the Ottawa Senators selected three times in the first round, using their own two picks and also trading into the 24th overall position to select Matt Puempel from Peterborough.

Director of player personnel Pierre Dorion said the Sens were going for quality over quantity despite their surplus of picks, a major reason they dealt two second-rounders to nab Puempel and his goal-scoring potential.

The Toronto Maple Leafs acquired John-Michael Liles from the Colorado Avalanche for a 2012 second round choice. Toronto also used picks 30 and 39 to move up and snatch Tyler Biggs at 22nd overall with Anaheim’s selection. They were one of five teams with multiple first-round picks, including Ottawa, Edmonton, Chicago because of their Brouwer deal and Minnesota as a result of the Burns trade.

Burns, 26, had the second 40-plus-point season of his career in 2010-11 and emerged as a dynamic force on the Minnesota blue line. He has one year remaining on his deal, which meant Minnesota could either maximize their return for Burns now or face the prospect of losing him without compensation as happened with former Wild winger Marian Gaborik.

“We started receiving calls and a lot of them were dismissed easily. Obviously, San Jose put together a package we had to listen to,” Minnesota assistant general manager Brent Flahr said.

That package included Devin Setoguchi, Charlie Coyle, and a first-round draft selection that Minnesota used to grab center Zach Phillips of the Memorial Cup champion Saint John Sea Dogs.

McLellan described Setoguchi as a young forward with speed, a dangerous shot, a sound understanding of the power play and the potential to even improve his often inconsistent play as he reaches the prime of his career. Setoguchi had just signed a three-year extension with San Jose. The trade appeared to catch him by surprise after he scored timely playoff goals and signed a new contract.

Phillips was described by Flahr as a player with reliable offensive instincts and remarkable competitiveness. Flahr also called Coyle “a major piece.” The 2010 first-round selection saw his stock rise from last spring when his prep team won a championship in New Jersey and through an impressive freshman campaign at Boston University.

“He’s a big, strong kid,” Flahr said. “He’s already physically pretty mature. He’s strong, he plays in the hard areas, he goes to the net and he has good hands in traffic.”

McLellan said the Sharks were motivated to acquire a strong presence on the back end and someone who could contribute immediately. Burns will be expected to alleviate some pressure from the top pairing of Dan Boyle and Douglas Murray, who played brutal minutes at times during the playoffs.

“I think Burns has had some really good years and I think there’s even more there,” McLellan said.

Coach McLellan added that the move will return Joe Pavelski to his rightful place in the San Jose top six, which now, like the Flyers last season, will feature four natural centermen. He also said the improved balance of the roster will allow his club to keep pace with a Western Conference that is improving literally from top to bottom as teams like Los Angeles and Edmonton make major moves.

Chicago coach Joel Quinnville promised some changes and a return to the Blackhawks’ identity as a physical, challenging team. They dealt Campbell to Florida for Radislav Olesz. The move lightened the Blackhawks’ salary load and effectively erased the financially burdensome offseason in which they signed Campbell and departed goalie Cristobal Huet to bloated UFA contracts.

They also traded Brouwer to Washington for a pick that became Victoria winger Phillip Danault. Danault described what makes him an intriguing prospect.

“My character, my leadership and speed. I’ve got a lot of speed. I just play hard every game, my consistency, that’s why I’m here now,” Danault said.

The Flyers and Kings were each active in negotiations again today, though neither made another move that was finalized. The Kings appear close to a deal that would send Ryan Smyth back to the Edmonton Oilers to accommodate a request Smyth made earlier this month. The deal was not final as of Friday night.

Flyers GM Paul Holmgren tearfully bid goodbye to two career Flyers yesterday. Richards was dealt to Los Angeles in exchange for Hockey’s Future’s top-rated prospect Brayden Schenn and energetic winger Wayne Simmonds.

Kings GM Dean Lombardi said that the talks started nearly a month ago, much to the surprise of Richards. Lombardi said that while he would not have traded Schenn for any players that were available at last year’s trade deadline, he became willing to do so for a player of Richards’ caliber.

Carter was shipped to Columbus for Jakub Voracek and two draft picks, the highest of which was today’s eighth overall selection. The Flyers used the pick on one of the most dominant offensive players in all of the CHL, Sean Couturier. That move may have at least temporarily calmed the tremors they shot through the hockey world yesterday.

“It’s pretty special to be on such a great team and a great organization,” Couturier said.

With six rounds yet to be selected, a weak free-agent market, several contenders who will seek to fill needs and some clubs looking to reach the cap floor, day two of the draft may be filled with trades as well.