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2013 NHL Entry Draft: Three Biggest First Round Steals

Graham Jenkins |
July 1, 2013 | 12:32 p.m. PDT

Staff Writer

As expected at this year's NHL Entry Draft, the Colorado Avalanche stayed true to their word and took Nathan MacKinnon first overall to bolster their offense. Every year, however, there are some surprises in the first round of the draft. Some teams reach for prospects that likely would have been available in a later round, while more fortunate teams strike gold with prospects who fell to them.

Here are the three biggest steals from the first round of the 2013 NHL Entry Draft:

Valeri Nichushkin aims to win the Calder Trophy next season. (Ice_Hali24/Creative Commons)
Valeri Nichushkin aims to win the Calder Trophy next season. (Ice_Hali24/Creative Commons)
#3: Dallas Drafts Valeri Nichushkin at 10th Overall

Valeri Nichushkin is arguably one of the most talented prospects in this year's draft. At 6'4", 205 pounds, his size is menacing. He is also one of the fastest skaters in the draft, and will quickly blow past a defender caught out of position. That was Nichushkin's only goal in the 2013 World Junior Championships, but his tools, especially his speed, were on full display. Anybody of that size with his speed should be near the top of the draft board, and Nichushkin is one of those prospects considered to be developed enough to contribute to an NHL team this upcoming season.

Hockey Prospectus's Corey Pronman, HockeyProspect.com and International Scouting Services ranked Nichushkin the fourth best prospect in this year's draft. Pronman noted Nichushkin's speed is his most powerful tool, and if the winger has even the slightest advantage, "Nichushkin will likely be behind the defender in no time." If he has a step on a defender, it is all he will need to get around him. NHL Central Scouting ranked him as the second-best European skater behind Aleksander Barkov and above Elias Lindholm, who was selected by Carolina at fifth overall. Based on those praises, one would expect him to be taken among the top five picks in the draft.

Nichushkin was by far the best player available at the eighth pick, as he was not expected to fall this far. When Gary Bettman came onto the stage to annouce the Canucks acquired the Devils' ninth overall pick in exchange for Cory Schneider, the immediate speculation was the Canucks were going to take Nichushkin. However, the Canucks used their newly-acquired pick to draft Bo Horvat.

It must have felt like Christmas in June for the Dallas Stars' front office, as they were in position to select a top-5 talent with the 10th overall pick, and they selected the promising Russian winger.

Perhaps a major reason why Nichushkin fell down the draft board was a perceived attitude of arrogance by scouts, especially during the scouting combine. International Scouting Services head scout Ross MacLean even said, "He shows up at the combine and acts very arrogantly and has terrible interviews and quits on a lot of the tests, and has a lot of teams saying, 'You know what? No thanks.'"

Another reason why Nichushkin likely fell down the draft board was his stated desire to play in the NHL immediately. Any team that drafted him faced the possibility that he would accept a lucrative offer from the KHL and go back overseas if his NHL plans failed. This pick by the Stars does come with some risk that the teams above them were not willing to take, but if Nichushkin plays up to his talents, he will be one of the strongest Stars draft picks yet.

Newly-acquired Sergei Gonchar will be crucial for Nichushkin's development with the Stars, as Gonchar mentored Evgeni Malkin while he was with the Pittsburgh Penguins. Had the Stars not signed Gonchar, they might have passed on Nichushkin. The pieces were in place, though, and the Stars now have the blue-chip top prospect they had been missing for years.

Seth Jones has a sneaky good plus-minus. (Jeremy K. Gover/Creative Commons)
Seth Jones has a sneaky good plus-minus. (Jeremy K. Gover/Creative Commons)

#2: Nashville Drafts Seth Jones at 4th Overall

For many months leading up to the draft, the hockey media debated whether Seth Jones or Nathan MacKinnon would go first overall in the draft. However, during the Memorial Cup between Jones' Portland Winterhawks and MacKinnon's Halifax Mooseheads, MacKinnon outperformed Jones, scoring a hat trick in the Memorial Cup Final en route to a 6-4 win. Although Jones had a fantastic rookie season production-wise with the Winterhawks (14 goals, 42 assists in 61 regular season games), MacKinnon outperformed him in the Memorial Cup, and recency bias hurt Jones' draft stock.

The past few seasons, a widespread lack of defense has plagued the Colorado Avalanche, owners of the first overall pick. A nice draft story would have involved Jones going to the Avalanche, since the defenseman fell in love with the sport while watching the Avalanche win the Stanley Cup in 2001. It also would have helped Colorado address the glaring need for defense.

However, Colorado opted to go with the superstar center MacKinnon for first overall, and not many would say that was a bad choice. MacKinnon will likely center the third line for the Avalanche with Matt Duchene and Paul Stastny above him on the depth chart.

After Colorado picked MacKinnon, Florida passed on Jones to select Aleksander Barkov, a Finnish center, second overall. Barkov is NHL-ready and will definitely make a major impact with the Panthers.

Tampa Bay, who also struggled defensively like Colorado, picked third. The Lightning similarly ignored their defensive issues and picked MacKinnon's Mooseheads linemate Jonathan Drouin, who was ranked as the top prospect by Hockey Prospectus. The Lightning will not have offensive issues for the next few years, but if they do not address the defense in free agency or trades, they will continue to struggle.

Then it was Nashville's turn. Unlike Tampa Bay and Colorado, Nashville could not score (averaging an abysmal 2.3 goals per game) and almost never had the puck (sixth worst puck possession team at even strength.) Predictably, mock drafts had Nashville drafting an offensive player like Barkov, MacKinnon or Drouin, but they were all taken. Jones was the best player available, but he was a defenseman and not an offensive machine like the top three people picked before him were.

With a slight force of hand, Predators general manager David Poile went with the Dallas-area native and picked Jones fourth overall. For Nashville, this was a sensational pick.

The Predators have a reputation for being a defensive juggernaut under head coach Barry Trotz, and adding Jones will only help them. As a rookie with the Winterhawks, Jones sported a +42 even strength goal differential (77 goals for, 35 goals against) when he was on the ice. Additionally, Jones was on the ice for 23.12 percent of Portland's goals scored, and only for 5.4 percent of the team's goals allowed, suggesting that he was a major on-ice presence to the team. The decision to draft Jones, the best player available, was easy for the Predators, and only his defensive assignment remains to be seen.

Cory Schneider's new home is Newark, New Jersey. (kurichan+/Creative Commons)
Cory Schneider's new home is Newark, New Jersey. (kurichan+/Creative Commons)

#1: New Jersey Acquires Cory Schneider from Vancouver

The biggest story to come from this draft was not a draft pick, but rather a trade between the Vancouver Canucks and the host New Jersey Devils. The Canucks traded starting goaltender Cory Schneider to the Devils in exchange for New Jersey's ninth overall pick that they used to select Bo Horvat. 

Before the draft, the Canucks and Edmonton Oilers were reportedly trade partners, and Schneider's name was floating around. The Canucks were asking for a first round pick, a second round pick and a prospect for Schneider from the Oilers, but the Oilers would not pull the trigger on that trade. Rather than risk trading within the division, the Canucks sent him to the Eastern Conference instead for a dramatically reduced asking price of a first round pick.

The Canucks trading a goaltender to dump salary was never going to be a surprise. For the last 15 months, the speculation around the league was that Luongo was going to be traded because that would free up more cap space. Unfortunatley for Canucks general manager Mike Gillis, he did not find a team willing to take on Luongo's contract, which doesn't expire until 2022. On Sunday, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman's announcement that the Canucks had traded Schneider rather than Luongo to the Devils was rather surprising. Schneider was supposed to be the future goaltender for the Canucks, especially after Luongo asked for a trade in April 2012. That is not the case anymore, as it appears the Canucks are sticking with Luongo after all.

As far as New Jersey is concerned, the eventual replacement for future Hall-of-Famer Martin Brodeur is no longer a mystery, as they traded an unknown quantity for a top goaltender in Schneider with at least two more years of control.

Sure, Schneider did not perform well during this year's playoffs for the Canucks in two games against the San Jose Sharks. However, his defense made him face 75 shots on goal in those two games, which did not necessarily help his cause. He was pulled four minutes into the third period of Game 3 after he surrendered five goals on 28 shots, three of which he allowed during a putrid 2:27 span. During the regular season, however, Schneider posted a 2.20 goals against average (GAA) and a .927 save percentage, which are close to his career averages of a 2.11 GAA and .927 save percentage. Devils fans will hope his performance in this year's playoffs was anomalous and not a sign of things to come.

The fact that the Devils only had to give up a first round pick for Schneider, who himself was a first round pick in 2004 for Vancouver, suggests the Devils got away with highway robbery, especially when the actual trade is compared to Vancouver's initial asking price. This trade is another reason why Devils fans put their trust in general manager Lou Lamiorello. He knows what he is doing.



Reach Staff Writer Graham Jenkins here, or follow him on Twitter.



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