For whatever reason, the NHL Draft, whose first round went down at First Niagara Center in Buffalo, NY last night, doesn’t seem to carry the weight of the other pro sports drafts. Whether it’s due that a good number of the prospects come from places like Moose Jaw, Medicine Hat and Thunder Bay…no I didn’t make any of those up…or the lack of true immediate impact guys in the Draft, it’s not the highly anticipated event like it is in the other leagues, particularly the NFL and NBA.
Nonetheless, there’s plenty to know about the Draft, whose later rounds are currently airing on NHL Network, and you of course would love nothing more than to impress your ignorant friends come next season, right? Here are four factoids you should know about the Draft…
1) USA! USA! USA!
When generally asked what country is best known for hockey, most fans wouldn’t hesitate to say Canada for a second. And when you take a look at our neighbors to the north’s success in international play, success that they’ll have a great chance to add to at this September’s World Cup of Hockey, it’s no surprise that Canada’s style of play is often imitated, though never quite duplicated. It’s also no surprise that 12 Canada natives were chosen in yesterday’s first round, tied with one other country…our very own United States!
The US set a record for players chosen in the first round, with 12 going within the first 30 picks. Going at #1 was Auston Matthews, who grew up in not one of the American hockey breeding grounds like Minnesota or North Dakota, but Arizona, growing up on a steady diet of Phoenix Coyotes games. The Yotes got their own American stud at #7, taking Clayton Keller, the MVP of the IIHF U18 Championships this year, while the Ottawa Senators traded up with New Jersey to select Logan Brown.
2) A Family Affair
The first ten picks of the draft saw two offspring of former NHL stars selected, succeeding in both their dreams and making me feel really old. The other American picked in the top 10 was Matthew Tkachuk, whose father Keith played over 1,000 games in the NHL. Matthew will suit up for the Calgary Flames, picked at #6, 13 picks before the slot his father was selected by the Winnipeg Jets in 1990.
Two picks after Matthew, another son of an NHL alum, Alexander Nylander, was swooped up by the hosts of the evening, the Buffalo Sabres. His father Michael had played 920 games in the NHL, having gone in the 3rd round of the 1991 Draft. Ironically, Alexander’s brother William was also selected at #8, going to Toronto in the 2014 Draft.
3) Traders of the Lost Cup
The Draft selections aren’t the only way transactions going down at the draft. In particular, the Montreal Canadiens have a made a couple of major moves, even before they hit the clock at #9, where they took Russian defenseman Mikhail Sergachev. Following a disappointing playoff-free season, the Habs took the first step in getting back. First, Lars Eller, who had spent the past 6 years in red, was traded to Washington in exchange for two 2nd round picks. They lated added a veteran, bringing in two-time Stanley Cup champion Andrew Shaw from Chicago.
Montreal’s fellow countrymen in Toronto also made a major move shortly before the Draft, picking up Anaheim’s goaltender Frederick Anderson to (again) be their franchise goalie. Could the long-dormant Maple Leafs-Canadiens rivalry finally be revived?
4) Practical Hosters
This year’s hosts of the draft, the Buffalo Sabres, are hoping that a successful draft is the first step into recapturing their former glory, as the team has gone playoff-free since 2011. They’re hoping that this year’s pick of Nylander, as well as last year’s #2 pick of Jack Eichel, will be enough to lead them out of the abyss of NHL purgatory.
One player who will not contribute to that success is Taro Tsujimoto….a player so great he didn’t exist.
Back in 1974, then-Sabres GM Punch Imlach was fed up with the draft process, then done over the phone. As a prank, Imlach and his staffers created a fictional Asian player named Taro Tsujimoto, whose last name came from an Asian grocery store Imlach would pass in college. Said to be a star from the Japanese Hockey League’s Tokyo Katanas (a team that, while bearing a name similar to Sabres, did not exist), Tsujimoto was “taken” with the 183rd pick of the draft. The story went on to become a part of Buffalo sports lore, with fans often chanting “We Want Taro” at the end of blowout games.
Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffMags5490