The NHL draft turned into a Michigan maize and blue affair Friday night. And there’s a Hughes sibling reunion set to happen in New Jersey.
Whatever challenges the coronavirus pandemic presented scouts in grading prospects, many of whom played shortened seasons, was unable to put a dent on the Wolverines’ hold on the top rankings. Four players with ties to Michigan were taken among the top five selections.
The run began with defenseman Owen Power going No. 1 to the Buffalo Sabres followed by center Matthew Beniers being selected second by the expansion Seattle Kraken.
It marked the first time since 1969 that teammates went with the first two selections.
Things developed so quickly, Beniers was in the middle of an interview when he watched a third Michigan player, forward Kent Johnson, get selected fifth by Columbus.
“I’m kind of lost for words right now,” Beniers said. “I’m just so excited for my teammates and for what’s next.”
The trio made Michigan college hockey’s first program to have three teammates selected in the first round.
That wasn’t all, however. Luke Hughes, who is committed to playing at Michigan this season, was chosen fourth overall by the the Devils, where the defenseman is united with brother Jack, who was the No. 1 pick in the 2019 draft.
Hughes watched the draft on his family’s living room couch with both of his NHL-playing brothers, rounded out by Quinn, who was selected seventh overall by Vancouver in 2018. Jack Hughes immediately jumped up and began hugging Luke upon hearing Devils GM Tom Fitzgerald announce the pick.
“I think Jack’s even more excited — that might be the happiest I’ve ever seen him,” said Luke Hughes, who spent last season playing for USA Hockey’s developmental program. “It’s a dream come true to play in the NHL and it’s also a dream come true to play with your brother. Both those things are happening tonight.
The draft had it’s controversial moment as well. The Montreal Canadiens used their 31st selection to select Logan Mailloux, who was criminally convicted in Sweden last year for sharing an explicit photo of a woman performing a sex act without her consent. Mailloux had asked teams not to select him even though a player cannot remove himself from the draft.
“I know he’s been remorseful about the incident, which we truly don’t agree with it in all sense of the world,” general manager Marc Bergevin said. “But he’s a young man who made a serious mistake of judgment and we really have to work with him.”
Ontario junior center Mason McTavish was the only player without Michigan ties to round out the top five, after he was selected third overall by Anahiem.
NHL scouting officials entered the draft expressing concern over projecting prospects because of a lack of playing time due to COVID-19 and after the combine was canceled for a second consecutive year.
Michigan played 26 games before its season abruptly ended with a series of positive tests just before the start of the NCAA Tournament. The Ontario Hockey League, by comparison, had its entire season canceled.
The difference in playing time was reflected in the leagues represented by the top picks. Michigan, USA Hockey and the USHL combined for seven of the first 15 players selected, while there were five players selected from the Canadian junior ranks, and three from Sweden.
Sabres GM Kevyn Adams said the yearlong focus on Michigan’s prospects was justified.
“When you have that much talent on one team, there’s going to be a lot of eyes on them. And certainly the draft eligible players that was the case,” Adams said, in noting how the teammates fed off each other. “When you’re in practice every single day going with and against elite players, that helps your development. I absolutely tip my cap to Michigan and the way they’ve been able to bring in the players that they have.”
The draft was held remotely for a second consecutive year due to the coronavirus pandemic, with commissioner Gary Bettman hosting the draft in New Jersey, where he introduced teams to make their selections from their home arenas.
The Sabres had among the busier days.
Adams acquired a second first-round pick which he used to select Swedish forward Isak Rosen at No. 13, by trading defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen to the Philadelphia Flyers. After the draft, Adams confirmed he’s had discussions to trade forward Sam Reinhart to the Florida Panthers, while stressing the deal hasn’t yet been completed.
In the meantime, Adams is also shopping captain Jack Eichel in a bid to transform a team that finished last in the overall standings for the fourth time in eight years and is in the midst of an NHL record-matching 10-year playoff drought.
Power is listed at 6-foot-6 and 213 pounds and was the NHL’s Central Scouting Bureau’s top-ranked North American prospect. After scoring three goals and adding 13 assists in 26 games during his freshman season at Michigan, the 18-year-old Power cemented his draft stock by helping Canada win the world hockey championships.
From Mississauga, Ontario, Power is leaning toward returning to school for his sophomore season, something Adams has said would not play a factor into his selection.
Power was the third player drafted first directly out of college, joining Michigan State forward Joe Murphy in 1986 and Boston University goalie Rick DiPietro in 2000. And he became the 16th defenseman to go No. 1 since 1970, and first since the Sabres chose Rasmus Dahlin at No. 1 in 2018.
Beniers was ranked sixth overall among North American prospects. He had 14 goals and 24 points in 24 games for the Wolverines.
In 1969, Rejean Houle and Marc Tardif were Montreal Junior Canadiens teammates, who were selected with the first two picks by Montreal. In 1963, Garry Monahan and St. Michael’s Juveniles teammate Peter Mahovlich were selected first and second.
The first European players selected were from Sweden in back to back selections. Defenseman Simon Edvinsson went sixth to the Detroit Red Wings, followed by under-sized forward William Eklund, who was chosen seventh by the San Jose Sharks.
The Arizona Coyotes had their first-round pick, 11th overall, stripped by the NHL for testing players in violation of league’s combine policy. Arizona however traded back into the first round by acquiring the ninth pick and select Canadian junior forward Dylan Guenther following a five-player trade that sent Arizona captain Oliver Ekman-Larsson to Vancouver earlier in the day.
The Detroit Red Wings moved up eight draft spots in a trade with Dallas to make WHL Edmonton’s Sebastian Cossa the first goalie selected.
At pick No. 20, Minnesota moved up two spots in a trade with Edmonton to make Jesper Wallstedt the first Swedish goalie to be selected in the first round.
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