NCAA hockey fans had to sit through the first 14 picks of the draft before hearing an NCAA player called, but once one went off the board, they started coming fast and furious. Four players committed to NCAA schools were taken within six picks of each other. Michigan recruit Dylan Larkin got things started off, going 15th to Detroit. Boston College commit Sonny Milano was taken with the next pick, 16th overall by Columbus. His future teammate Alex Tuch went two picks later at 18th to Minnesota, and Chicago traded up to 20th to select North Dakota commit Nick Schmaltz.
On the whole, for a draft that was expected to be kind of a crazy and all over the board, things ended up hewing pretty close to the conventional wisdom. There was a lot of talk about trades, including the number one overall pick being in play, but very few actually were actually completed, and none in the top ten. As it turns out, the depressed talent available had few teams willing to pay the price necessary to jump up in the order.
If there was any particular trend, it's that talent won out over questions of character this year. Anthony DeAngelo, Nikolay Goldobin, and Josh Ho-Sang were seen as three prospects with first round-caliber talent, but some red flags caused them to be ranked all over the board by teams. But in the end, all three heard their name called on the first night.
As things came to the actual pre-draft projections, there are always some surprises. Here are a few players that went significantly higher or lower than expected.
Who was picked earlier than expected:
Haydn Fleury(7th, Carolina Hurricanes)- Maybe not a huge shock. We actually had Fleury one spot higher at sixth in our mock draft. But Fleury went a little earlier than most other projections had him. I expressed skepticism about Fleury being the 7th best prospect in the draft, but he was pretty clearly the second best defenseman, and the obvious choice after Aaron Ekblad for any team looking for a defenseman.
Jakub Vrana(13th, Washington Capitals)- Vrana was the first big surprise of the first round. Most places had him in that 20th-30th group, but Washington really liked him and took him earlier than that.
Julius Honka(14th, Dallas Stars)-Another case of defensemen being more valued due to their scarcity. Honka is undersized, but a potentially excellent offensive defenseman.
Nick Schmaltz(20th, Chicago Blackhawks)-We pegged Schmaltz as going to Chicago with the 27th pick in our mock draft. It was a surprise to see Chicago feel the need to trade up seven spots in order to grab him.
Who dropped lower than expected:
Sam Bennett(4th, Calgary Flames)- We knew one of the three big forwards--Reinhart, Draisaitl, Bennett--would have to fall to fourth. It ended up being Bennett. I still think Bennett will end up being a very good NHL player.
Kasperi Kapanen(22nd, Pittsburgh Penguins)- Kapanen had a really tough year this past season, and that was reflected in his slide down the draft board from a potential top 10 pick, to falling out of the top 20.
Jared McCann(24th, Vancouver Canucks)- McCann is a solid two-way centerman, but a lack of offensive production this year seems to have scared some teams away.