“We accomplished a lot of things,” Golden Knights general manager George McPhee said. “We got a lot of skill in the draft, we got some size, we got goaltending.”
A record crowd of more than 47,500 fans attended the two-day event, which included FanFest and the NHL Centennial Fan Arena. While Vegas created plenty of buzz, a lot more went on at United Center.
Here are 10 things learned during the 2017 draft:
1. Nico Hischier over Nolan Patrick
Months of speculation ended when Hischier was selected by the New Jersey Devils with the No. 1 pick on Friday.
The Devils won the NHL Draft Lottery on April 29, but general manager Ray Shero never gave any idea if he was leaning toward taking Hischier, a Switzerland-born center from Halifax of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, or Patrick, a center from Brandon of the Western Hockey League.
“It was a tough decision,” Shero said. “You spend time with the top players over the last six weeks and you get to know them personally, and it becomes a tough call. But for our organization, I think Nico made sense for us. He has great playmaking ability and has the ability to make other players better, and for our franchise I felt that was the best pick. So this was a good day for us.”
2. Finns are fantastic
A record six players born in Finland were selected in the first round, surpassing the five from 2002.
HIFK defenseman Miro Heiskanen was the first picked, going No. 3 to the Dallas Stars. He was followed by Tri-City defenseman Juuso Valimaki (No. 16, Calgary Flames), JYP defenseman Urho Vaakanainen (No. 18, Boston Bruins), Frolunda forward Kristian Vesalainen (No. 24, Winnipeg Jets), Portland defenseman Henri Jokiharju (No. 29, Chicago Blackhawks) and Sioux City forward Eeli Tolvanen (No. 30, Nashville Predators).
There were 23 Finns taken in all.
3. Vive la France
Draft history was made when Grenoble center Alexandre Texier was selected by the Columbus Blue Jackets in the second round (No. 45). He’s the first player drafted from a team in Ligue Magnus, France’s professional league. Texier had 19 points (10 goals, nine assists) in 40 games and would have centered France’s second line at the 2017 IIHF World Championship, but he missed the tournament because of a shoulder injury.
The Blue Jackets acquired the pick in a trade with the Golden Knights for forward prospect Keegan Kolesar.
Texier, 17, was No. 16 on NHL Central Scouting’s final ranking of international skaters.
“It’s great for the French league,” Texier said. “I’m proud to be from France, a French hockey player, and it’s great for Grenoble, my team last year. It feels good.”
4. Deep bloodlines in Draft
Hamilton forward Matthew Strome said he finally understands how his older brothers, Ryan Strome and Dylan Strome, felt when they were drafted.
Strome had to wait a bit longer than his brothers, going to the Philadelphia Flyers in the fourth round (No. 106), but said it felt just as good.
“When I got picked it was like I went top-five overall,” he said. “It was such an amazing experience and something I’ll never forget.
“Watching Ryan go fifth overall [to the New York Islanders] when I was 12 and not knowing too much and watching Dylan go third overall [to the Arizona Coyotes] two years ago, I was just so happy for them. I’ve been picked and I just know how they feel.”
Strome wasn’t the only player with NHL bloodlines to be drafted.
Among the more notable relations: Patrick’s uncle, James Patrick, played 1,280 games in 21 NHL seasons; defenseman Callan Foote, taken No. 14 by the Tampa Bay Lightning, is the son of two-time Stanley Cup champion Adam Foote; forward Jake Leschyshyn, selected by the Golden Knights in the second round (No. 62), is the son of Curtis Leschyshyn, who played 1,033 NHL games with seven teams; Lincoln goalie Cayden Primeau, taken by the Montreal Canadiens in the seventh round (No. 199), is the son of Keith Primeau, who played 909 NHL games; and Selects Academy forward Skylar Brind’Amour, picked by the Edmonton Oilers in the sixth round (No. 177), is the son of Rod Brind’Amour, who won the Stanley Cup in 2006 with the Carolina Hurricanes.
5. Dallas gets future goalie in first round
Boston University goaltender Jake Oettinger was selected No. 26 by the Stars. He’s the first goalie picked in the first round since 2015, when the Washington Capitals selected Ilya Samsonov No. 22.
The Stars traded the No. 29 pick and a third-round pick (No. 70) to the Blackhawks to move up three spots to select Oettinger (6-foot-4, 218 pounds), who excelled as a freshman at Boston University this season.
“I think as the first round went on, we sort of got a little more tense. I think just thinking something might happen,” Stars director of amateur scouting Joe McDonnell said. “We’re looking at other teams’ depth lists and everything and their goaltending situations. We felt there were a couple of teams that might create problems for us.”
6. Very welcome return for Dale Tallon
The Florida Panthers general manager has been gone from the Blackhawks for seven years, but Chicago fans know how vital he was in building an organization that won the Stanley Cup in 2010, 2013 and 2015. He was the GM from 2005-09 and also oversaw drafts that helped the Blackhawks find, among others, forwards Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, defensemen Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook, and goaltender Corey Crawford.
When he stepped to the podium Friday to announce the No. 10 pick, he received a long, loud ovation.
“It was really special,” he said Saturday. “I’m still taken aback by it. It was incredible. … I never expected it. There were a lot of positives that happened here in Chicago. But it was overwhelming. On the street, anywhere I go in Chicago, it seems people are thanking me and that makes me feel terrific. [Friday] night was an emotional night and I was really happy.”
7. Cale Makar sets a standard
Taken by the Colorado Avalanche with the No. 4 pick, the Brooks defenseman is the highest-drafted player from the Alberta Junior Hockey League. The previous high was Avalanche forward Joe Colborne, who was picked No. 16 by the Bruins in 2008 out of Camrose.
“It’s pretty special,” Makar said. “I’m going to a team that picked Joe Colborne, he was the other AJHL pick way back when, so it’s pretty special and it’s very humbling to think about for sure.”
8. Three musketeers and seven brothers
Baie-Comeau forward D’Artagnan Joly, selected by the Flames in the sixth round (No. 171) has one of the more interesting stories among the prospects selected.
How did he get his first name?
“My parents were watching the movie ‘The Three Musketeers,’ and they decided to name me this name because they found it original. … They wanted something special,” he said.
Joly, 18, also is the youngest of seven brothers.
“We had a backyard rink and that’s where I stated to play at 2 years old,” he said. “They put skates on me and decided to make me a hockey player.”
Christian Joly, 34, the oldest of the brothers, said D’Artagnan was treated the way most little brothers are treated when they were growing up.
“We had to tease him, we had to make sure he had it hard,” he said. “But he developed some skills that he acquired through the older brothers. … Look what happened because of all the teasing. Maybe it made the difference in the end.”
9. Flyers still searching for goalie
Philadelphia general manager Ron Hextall is willing to be patient in his search for a starting goaltender next season.
Michal Neuvirth signed a two-year contract March 1, and rookie Anthony Stolarz was protected in the NHL Expansion Draft but has seven games of NHL experience.
“With [Stolarz] being very inexperienced and [Neuvirth] with his [injury] history, I don’t feel comfortable with that combination,” Hextall said. “Could it happen? You never know. … We’ll see how the process goes, but I would assume signing or acquiring a guy.”
Hextall said it’s a buyer’s market for goaltenders.
“My comfort level is there’s a number of goalies out there,” he said. “Not six No. 1 spots out there and one goalie out there. I have comfort in that. We’re still doing our due diligence, and in the end it’ll probably come down to the guys we like and then we’ll look at term and length. If we like this guy and he’s asking unreal terms or whatever, we’ll go somewhere else.”
10. Sweet home Chicago
A record crowd of 47,514 fans attended the two-day 2017 NHL Draft and NHL Fan Fest at United Center, with Blackhawks fans cheering loudly for every pick.
“It’s been an incredible weekend here,” Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman said. “I’ve gone to a lot of drafts, and I’ve never seen something like this. … There was a lot of energy. It was really neat.”