Optimism is the order of the day at NHL draft

A general view of the NHL draft floor during the 2016 NHL draft on Saturday in Buffalo, N.Y.
(Jen Fuller / Getty Images)

Other than the Chicago Cubs’ past 100 opening days, few events trigger more optimism than the NHL entry draft.

By the time more than 200 players’ names have been called, they’ve been scrutinized by scouts in rinks from Southern California to Siberia and have undergone tests of their physical and mental strength. Still, even the surest shot can falter, making the draft an exercise in anticipation conducted while crossing your fingers that the kids you chose haven’t peaked at 18.

On Saturday, in the final six rounds of this annual game of hope, the defense-rich Ducks targeted offensive talent and took three forwards among their last four picks, supplementing their picks Friday of left wing Max Jones at No. 24 and center Sam Steel at No. 30. “Last year a few defensemen fell to us and could not pass,” said Martin Madden, the Ducks’ director of scouting. “This year at almost every pick we felt there was more value in the forward group.”

The Kings, who didn’t have a first-round selection, chose defensemen with three of their four picks. With their first selection and 51st overall they chose puck-moving defenseman Kale Clague of Brandon of the Western Hockey League. “We had talked as a group about trying to restock the shelves on the back end a little bit,” said Michael Futa, the Kings’ vice president of hockey operations and director of player personnel. “We’re very excited he fell to us.”

The Kings also added goaltending depth by acquiring former first-round pick Jack Campbell from Dallas for minor league defenseman Nick Ebert. In addition, after a futile attempt to re-sign left wing Milan Lucic, they turned their attention to loyal soldier Trevor Lewis and reached agreement on a four-year, $8-million contract.


“Trevor Lewis was put on the back burner and it’s really unfortunate,” Futa said in a phone interview. “He’s unheralded. Plays every position for us. He’s a coach’s dream.”

Campbell, 24, is a reclamation project for goaltending coach Bill Ranford. So promising with U.S. national youth teams that he was chosen 11th by Dallas in 2010, Campbell has struggled in the minor leagues. The Kings needed help on the minor league level after losing J.F. Berube on waivers and Patrik Bartosak to a suspension related to a domestic violence incident; Ebert wasn’t part of their future.

Futa called the Kings’ second selection and 113th overall, defenseman Jacob Moverare of HV71 U-20 in the Swedish junior league, “An incredible defender. Very similar to the way Willie Mitchell played with regards to just getting in the way and breaking up plays and moving pucks.” But Futa said Moverare — who’s likely to stay in Sweden next season — must improve his skating and said skating coach Dave Cruikshank, a former speedskater, had looked at tapes of the 17-year-old in an effort to fix his stride.

Center Michael Eyssimont, chosen in the fifth round and 142nd overall, is the Kings’ fourth selection from St. Cloud State. “One of those sleeper picks that people were probably hoping to pick up in the seventh round,” Futa said. Defenseman Jacob Friend of Owen Sound of the Ontario Hockey League “is just an old throwback-type defenseman. Real hard-nosed. Competes,” Futa said, adding that Friend must get quicker. “Kid is not afraid to muck it up. Kind of that Matt Greene mentality as far as an excellent penalty killer that will lay the lumber on you but defends well and just plays hockey the way it’s supposed to be played.”

Defenseman Josh Mahura of Red Deer of the Western Hockey League, who missed much of the season after undergoing knee surgery, was the Ducks’ first pick Saturday and 85th overall. “He was back in the lineup for the last few games of the regular and was a top four for Red Deer in the playoffs and at the Memorial Cup,” Madden said.

The Ducks used their two fourth-round picks on left wing Jack Kopacka of Sault Ste. Marie of the Ontario Hockey League (93rd) and center Alex Dostie (115th), who had 25 goals and 73 points in 54 games with Gatineau of the Quebec Major Hockey League. Madden called Kopacka “A smart, skilled, fast forward who needs to get a little stronger,” and said the 5-foot-11 Dostie is “a speed guy with really good skill and a competitive nature.” Tyler Soy, chosen in the seventh round and 205th overall, “is just a very good hockey player. Competitor. Needs to get stronger and needs to get faster,” Madden said.

Soon, most of these kids will attend prospect camps and begin to assert who they are and what they can do. But for one weekend, it’s OK to wallow in optimism while keeping those fingers crossed.

Twitter: @helenenothelen