Apart from the obvious — and I’ll get to that in seconds — the biggest local news coming out of Friday night’s Draft in Sunrise, Florida has to be Garth Snow‘s sleight of hand.
The Islanders General Manager entered the fray without a first-round pick and when the dust had cleared he wound up with not one but two first-rounders at 16th and 28th overall.
That’s not all because his choices — center Mathew Barzal and left wing Anthony Beauvillier — are a study in contrasts.
The ice game’s bible, The Hockey News, rated Barzal, who skated for the Seattle Thunderbirds, as high as tenth.
Although Beauvillier was plucked 28th, The Hockey News listed him twenty notches lower. Then again, The Hockey News has been wrong before.
Nobody expects the top two picks to be wrong choices; not by a long shot nor a slap shot. Details later because The Maven cannot overlook the marquee men.
Jack Eichel is hot stuff and Buffalo’s got him in the first round with the second overall pick.
In Edmonton Connor (First Overall But Not Necessarily The Best) McDavid is now Cannor McSavior; or so the Oilers hope.
Everyone but some migrant polar bear in the Arctic Circle knew that this was the way the headliners would be launched. But nobody was too sure about all the trades.
Tim Murray, Buffalo’s major domo in charge of transforming the Sabres from abject losers to enthused playoff contenders, didn’t stop with his super-Eichel move.
Murray completed a wise deal, bolstering his goaltending and offense by sending his 21st overall first round Draft pick to Ottawa for goalie Robin Lehner and forward David Legwand.
Nor did Murray put on the brakes. He sped forward in a deal with Colorado, obtaining center Ryan O’Reilly and left wing Jamie McGinn.
To do so, Tim unloaded defenseman Nikita Zadorov, center Mikhail Grigorenko, left wing JT Compher and Buffalo’s second round pick (31st overall) in the current draft.
Beyond the Sabres — and looking ahead — the Devils had more than a passing interest in hockey’s annual beatification of beef.
That’s especially true for Ray Shero, New Jersey’s spanking new general manager, who selected sixth overall.
The debate was over his choice; would he surprise and go for a defender or do as expected and find a favorite forward?
True to the odds, Ray opted for Czech center Pavel Zacha who has drawn raves from several sources including Chris Edwards of NHL Central Scouting.
“Zacha has high-end skill,” reported Edwards. “He’s an excellent competitor who plays a physical and excellent two-way game. He’s solid on his skates and has the ability to separate guys from the puck.”
At 6-3, 214 pounds, Zacha is the second Czech drafted by New Jersey in the first round. The first, Petr Sykora, drafted 18th overall in 1994, enjoyed a long and successful NHL career.
Looking backward, scouts have compared Zacha with former Devil Bobby Holik, who starred on New Jersey’s first Cup-winning team in 1995.
Another avid Devils-watcher, Noam Kogen, sees Pavel as a new version of Joe Nieuwendyk while The Hockey News predicts that the Brno-born prodigy could very well wind up on the wing.
“Zacha,” observed Ryan Kennedy of The Hockey News, “has a combination of size and skill that makes him intriguing.”
It’s worth noting that Pavel has been mentored by ex-Ranger Petr Nedved, one of the smartest players to come down the pike. Or this from another scout:
“Zacha looks like a pro since he’s a big power forward with skill. He’s all-round solid and sure does compete.”
Shero also obtained forward Kyle Palmieri from Anaheim. Ray sent his pick at 41 and a selection next year. Born in Smithtown, Long Island, Palmieri grew up in New Jersey. He’s a solid offensive pick-up, no doubt about it.
Barzal wound up an Islanders pick after Snow dealt defense prospect — but not one of The Maven’s favorites — Griffin Reinhart to the Edmonton Oilers.
How good can Barzal be? One scout waxed delightfully about the Coquitlan, British Columbia native who stands 6-0, 183 pounds:
“Mathew is the best prospect in the West. He’s really smart and poised with the puck; I call him ‘a thinker.’ He’s strong on his feet which is deceptive because he’s not the biggest guy.”
Another bird dog was equally impressed: “Barzal sees the ice really well and has the ability to control the puck down low thanks to his elite skating.”
In an era where smaller players such as Tyler Johnson and Mats Zuccarello have succeeded, big-time, it’s surprising that the 5-10, 181 pound Beauvillier appears to be a victim of scouting size prejudice.
Many observers who have watched the French-Canadian who starred for Shawinigan believe he’ll be a pleasant surprise.
“He has so much drive,” opined one scout. “He plays at a high pace and has a really good skill set. He comes to play in every game and blocks shots.”
Snow, no doubt, also had this in mind when he took the gamble on Beauvillier:
“You would pay to see Anthony play,” concluded another scout.
And that explains why Snow and the Islanders may have pulled off one of the biggest upsets of the 2015 Entry Draft.