Sunday, July 21, 2024

2024 NHL Draft winners and losers: Canadiens nail Ivan Demidov pick, Lightning headed in wrong direction

The 2024 NHL Draft weekend is in the books, and it was a busy few days in Sin City. Not only were the future stars of the NHL drafted, but teams were wheeling and dealing behind the scenes.

A few clubs have to feel good about how the weekend went, especially the Montreal Canadiens. They got one of the most highly-coveted players at the top of the first round, and their already strong prospect pool looks even better as a result. In addition to the Canadiens, the Utah Hockey Club looks a lot more formidable than it did on Friday morning.

On the other side of the coin, not everyone was quite so lucky. Zeev Buium, one of the top prospects in the draft, had to wait a little longer than expected before hearing his name. The Tampa Bay Lightning also continued their curious offseason with another questionable trade.

Let’s take a deeper look at the biggest winners and losers from the 2024 NHL Draft weekend.

Winner: San Jose Sharks

This was an easy one. The Sharks were always going to be a winner the second they won the 2024 NHL Draft Lottery. With the No. 1 overall pick, San Jose selected Boston University star Macklin Celebrini. Just 18 years old, Celebrini just tallied 32 goals and 32 assists in 38 games with the Terriers. Whether Celebrini will make his NHL debut next season is still to be determined, but he gives Sharks general manager Mike Grier a cornerstone piece for the rebuild. Now San Jose has a strong prospect pool with a potential superstar at the top.

Loser: Zeev Buium

In the lead-up to the 2024 NHL Draft, numerous mock drafts projected Buium going in the top 10 picks, sometimes as high as No. 5 overall. Instead, Buium inexplicably fell to the Minnesota Wild at No. 12 overall. Perhaps some teams were worried about Buium’s size. At 6 feet and 186 pounds, Buium was a little smaller than some of his fellow defensemen in this draft class. The good news for Buium is that, unlike in other sports, the University of Denver defenseman didn’t lose money with each passing draft slot. Besides, going to the Wild may be a good situation for him. Buium just winds up in the loser category because he was one of the most notable fallers of the first round, and his pride might have been a little bruised.

Winner: Minnesota Wild

That brings us to the Wild, who got maybe the biggest steal of the first round after Buium fell to them outside the top 10. Minnesota already has Brock Faber, the 2024 Calder Trophy runner-up on its blue line, and adding now the team might have its top pairing for a very long time. Buium has already shown plenty of superstar potential at the college level. Last season, Buium posted 11 goals and 39 assists in 42 games while leading Denver to a national championship. Buium may not have been thrilled with his tumble, but the Wild sure were.

Loser: Tampa Bay Lightning

The Lighting didn’t land in the loser category as a result of their draft picks. They just made a curious trade over the weekend, and it left me scratching my head a little bit. Tampa sent 26-year-old defenseman Mikhail Sergachev to the Utah Hockey Club in exchange for J.J. Moser, Conor Geekie, a second-round pick and a fourth-round pick. I understand the reasoning behind why the Bolts made this deal. They needed to free up salary cap space to sign either Jake Guentzel or Steven Stamkos, and Sergachev carries an $8.5 million cap hit. Still, was shipping Sergachev the smartest way to free up space?

Sergachev is still relatively young and has proven he can be a No. 1 defenseman. Meanwhile, Tampa already reacquired 35-year-old Ryan McDonagh and his $6.75 million cap hit earlier this summer. Tampa has now been eliminated in the first round of the playoffs in two straight seasons, and the team is only getting older with these deals.

Winner: Utah Hockey Club

The team on the other end of the Sergachev trade, the Utah Hockey Club, has significantly improved its blue line over the last few days. Not only did Utah land Sergachev at a very reasonable price, but it also added John Marino (and a fourth-round pick) from the New Jersey Devils in exchange for two second-round picks. Utah did an excellent job of taking advantage of teams that needed to move out money in order to make big free agency splashes. The cherry on top of the weekend was when Utah signed defenseman Sean Durzi to a four-year contract at $24 million. Utah should be a stingy team in the 2024-25 season.

Loser: NHL schedule

The past week has been a whirlwind for the NHL, especially for the Edmonton Oilers and Florida Panthers. The Stanley Cup Final didn’t end until last Monday, then teams went to Las Vegas for the draft. Then teams had just a few days to prepare for free agency, which begins Monday. There is no breathing room, and not just because it was over 100 degrees in Las Vegas last weekend. The NHL crammed a few of its biggest tentpole events into the span of a week, and now there will be a couple months of silence before the next season begins. Moving forward, the NHL probably wants to consider a schedule that creates more room between the Final, the draft and free agency so that anticipation can build for fans.

Winner: Montreal Canadiens

It’s not much of a secret that a few clubs had their eye on winger Ivan Demidov, but the Canadiens held their ground and were able to scoop him up at No. 5 overall. Demidov is a highly skilled Russian winger, and some experts thought he could go as high as No. 2 overall. To complete their impressive first round, the Habs also selected Michael Hage with the No. 21 overall selection. Hage, a center for the USHL’s Chicago Steel, just put up 33 goals and 75 points last season. Montreal’s already impressive pipeline just got even deeper and more skilled.

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