Lots of Day 2 action

NHL Draft concludes, Kovalchuk a King

24.06.2018
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English Coyote: Liam Kirk writes history as first English-born and trained player drafted by an NHL team when Arizona picked him 189th overall. The 18-year-old was part of the GB team that historically earned promotion to the top-level IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship two months ago. Photo: Laszlo Mudra

The second day of the 2018 NHL Entry Draft kicked off with Buffalo selecting U.S. National Team Development Program defenceman Mattias Samuelsson with the first pick of the second round (32nd overall) Saturday morning, and ended about four hours later when Washington chose centre Eric Florchuk of the WHL’s Saskatoon Blades.

Overall, 217 players were selected, including 31 in the first round on Friday night, and the future trajectories of many teams and players have been forever altered.

Additionally, there was a big trade announced and news broke that Russian superstar Ilya Kovalchuk had agreed to a three-year free agent contract with the Los Angeles Kings. Kovalchuk, 35, who “retired” from the NHL in 2013 and spent the past five seasons in the KHL with SKA St. Petersburg, will reportedly sign for three years at $6.25 million per season.

“We are excited to add Ilya to the L.A. Kings organization,” vice president and general manager Rob Blake said in a statement. “He gives us an added element of skill and scoring, along with a desire to win. We will withhold further comment until July 1.”

Several countries who did not have any players picked Friday night in the first round were represented on Day 2, with players from Slovakia, Switzerland, Belarus, Norway, and, even Great Britain, getting selected. In total players trained in 12 different countries were selected this year.

There also hadn’t been any goaltenders picked on Friday. The first one taken was Swedish netminder Olof Lindbom of Djurgarden’s junior squad at No. 39 overall by the New York Rangers. The next goalie didn’t go off the board for another 23 picks when QMJHL Drummondville’s Olivier Rodrigue (Canada) went to Edmonton with the final selection of the second round.

Overall, 29 goaltenders were chosen.

The second round also saw the first Slovak selected, as defenceman Martin Fehervary, who spent most of the season with Oskarhamn in Sweden’s second senior league Allsvenskan, went 46th overall to Washington.

The first player from Switzerland to go off the board was defenceman Nico Gross, who played several years in EV Zug’s system before coming over to North America to suit up for the OHL’s Oshawa Generals this past season. He went to the New York Rangers in the fourth round (101st overall), and was followed shortly by Swiss centre Philipp Kurashev of the QMJHL’s Quebec Remparts, who was chosen 19 picks later by Chicago.

Centre Yegor Sharangovich, who played the entire season in the KHL with Dynamo Minsk, was the first player from Belarus chosen, going in the fifth round (141 overall) to New Jersey. Sharangovich, who had been eligible but wasn’t selected in the past two drafts, also skated with Belarus at both the 2018 IIHF World Junior Championship, where he scored three goals and five points, and with the men’s team at the 2018 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship.

“He’s a kid that played in the World Juniors in Buffalo and played really well,” said Devils director of amateur scouting Paul Castron. “Those teams usually get beat up pretty bad and they’ve got one game in the tournament where they’re trying to stay up and not get relegated, and he showed some high-end skill against some quality players. We just felt comfortable at that point in the draft to take a chance on him.”

Midway through the fifth round, a blockbuster trade was announced between Calgary and Carolina. The Hurricanes sent defenceman Noah Hanifin and forward Elias Lindholm to the Flames for defender Dougie Hamilton, forward Michael Ferland and prospect defenseman Adam Fox of Harvard University.

“You’re talking about Dougie Hamilton, one of the premier offensive players among defencemen in the league and we all know goal scoring is at a premium in the league, so we felt like that was a huge addition for us on our blueline,” said Carolina GM Don Waddell of the deal. “We talked all along that we felt like we had a lot of skill pieces up front, and that we needed a little size and a little muscle up front, and obviously Ferland, who scored 21 goals last year, fit that bill pretty well for us, so that was a pretty big piece. And we’re really high on Adam Fox, he’s an offensive defenseman at Harvard and we think his upside is tremendous and a key piece also as we move forward.”

Apparently, the deal had been in the works for a while before coming together on Saturday.

“Today at the draft, we started talking some more and really started focusing on and narrowing down the pieces that were in place,” Waddell said. “We had to do some due diligence from our end to check out a few things, and both sides eventually got comfortable enough to make the deal.”

Soon afterwards, Calgary then selected the first (and only) player from Norway, taking centre Mathias Emilio Pettersen in the sixth round (167 overall). Pettersen, who came up through the Lorenskog U16 program in Norway, has played the past two seasons in the USHL, last year with the Muskegon Lumberjacks, and plans to attend the University of Denver in the fall.

The moment an entire country was waiting for occurred when the Arizona Coyotes selected Sheffield Steelers left winger Liam Kirk with the third pick of the seventh round (189 overall). He is the first born-and-trained player from England to be chosen in the NHL Draft, and the secon from Great Britain after Scotsman Tony Hand in 1986.

“He’s a player that Central Scouting identified and when I saw that, I sent our European scouts to go see him, and our Finnish scout went and saw him and he came away saying, ‘Yeah, this guy’s a pretty good player,’” said Coyotes director of amateur scouting Tim Bernhardt of Kirk, who represented Great Britain at the U18 and U20 level and was part of the men’s national team that won historic promotion to the top division for the 2019 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship in Slovakia.

“So we had other people from Europe go see him, and they all came away saying the same thing. He’s a thin kid (161 pounds or 73 kg), he needs a lot of physical development, but they said he’s got a good idea of the game, and his natural skills were very good. They thought that at that point in the draft, he’d be a real good value. So that’s what we decided to do.”

Kirk didn’t attend the draft but told NHL.com over the phone from England: “I don’t have any words for it. I’m just very excited and really emotional. It’s been a long day, but I’ve been waiting for it. We’ve been watching on a livestream as every pick is made, and I was getting a little more nervous every time. Then finally, I got the message saying it’s happened, and my phone has been blowing up nonstop. It’s amazing.

“It sounds like camp will start next week so I’ll be getting there as soon as possible. It’ll be my first time on the ice in a while when I get there. I hope this does open up a lot of eyes so young kids can believe that their dreams can come true in everything, and not just ice hockey.”

Overall, Canada led the draft with 73 players selected, followed by the United States with 52, Sweden with a record number of 30 while Russia had 20, Finland 16, the Czech Republic 11, Slovakia five, Switzerland four, Germany two, Belarus two and Norway and Great Britain one each.

Two Canadians drafted in the last two rounds were born in rather exotic countries as Jermaine Loewen became the first Jamaican-born player but grew up in Manitoba while Alex Kannok-Leipert was born in Nakhon Ratchasima, Thailand, but grew up in Saskatchewan.

There were a total of 70 defencemen picked, with 63 centres, 30 right wingers, 25 left wingers and 29 goaltenders also selected, which means the first-day trend with a special focus on centres continued during the remaining rounds while goalies and wingers were underrepresented.

JOHN TRANCHINA

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