The 59th NHL Entry Draft commenced July 23rd and 24th, with the Pacific Division holding five picks in the first round. Due to the coronavirus pandemic and a late finish to the NHL postseason, the draft was held a month later than usual, but promised just as much excitement of years past, even with a remote format. From the NHL studio in New York with live feeds around the league, Gary Bettman and a panel of analysts directed the night.
Pick No. 2: Seattle Kraken
Following on the heels of his first-overall Michigan University teammate Owen Power, newcomer Seattle Kraken selected Massachusetts native Matty Beniers with the second-overall pick.
At the University of Michigan, Beniers notched an impressive 24 points in 24 games, culminating in a jaw-dropping plus/minus rating of 21. Michigan’s NCAA season was cut short due to the pandemic, but even in a shortened season, Beniers demonstrated his offensive power (10 goals, 14 assists in 24 games) and physicality, which caught the eye of Seattle general manager Ron Francis.
It was a difficult year for NHL scouting, what with a lack of in-person attendance and abbreviated or suspended seasons in North American junior leagues. Scouts relied heavily on film and projections of NHL potential on the few performances they could see.
For Beniers, his exceptional performance as a gold-medal winning member of Team USA at the 2020 World Junior Championships and a bronze medal at World Championships were definite factors in showcasing is ability to play with maturity and control high-stakes competitions.
Pick No. 3: Anaheim Ducks
With the third-overall pick in the draft, the Anaheim Ducks snapped up sought-after power forward Mason Mctavish.
Mctavish was the first in a long line of Pacific Division picks who played last season in various European leagues. While Mctavish is ostensibly Canadian (he captained Canada’s U18 World Juniors team), he was born in Switzerland, and, as a result, holds a Swiss Player’s License, which allowed him to play on loan with the Swiss League’s EHC Olten.
In Switzerland, Mctavish snagged 9 goals, 2 assists in 13 games, for a total of 11 points and a +4 rating. He also held a 0.85 point-per-game rate, which led all Swiss League U18 players. This draft emphasized physicality, and while Mctavish isn’t the fastest player on the ice, his size and ability to maintain puck control and navigate tight spaces more than make up for what he lacks in skating finesse.
Pick No. 7: San Jose Sharks
Here at Fear The Fin, the majority of us were rooting for Sharks GM Doug Wilson to snatch up the SHL’s Rookie of the Year, Swedish native William Eklund with their seventh overall pick. To the delight of Sharks fans everywhere, Wilson heard us through the void — William Eklund will be a Shark.
As a two-way forward, Eklund brings with him a resumé complete with the E.J. McGuire Award, which is given by NHL Central Scouting for the prospect who best exemplifies the qualities of competition, athleticism and character.
Despite a season of setbacks (both a Covid-19 diagnosis and an appendectomy), Eklund’s hard-working nature is exemplified in his 11 goals, 12 assists, and 23 points in 40 games for the Swedish Hockey Leagues’s Djugårdens.
Eklund is a gloriously adaptable player, who is capable of excelling in either a center or wing position. His play-making sense and consistent performances maintain a maturity that is sought after in a wild-card draft.
Pick No. 8: Los Angeles Kings
The Los Angeles Kings made their first pick of the draft on the heels of their Northern California counterparts, taking the first defenseman of the night in Ottawa native Brandt Clarke.
The entry draft prioritized players with a crushing combination of physical size and end-to-end speed, and Clarke is no different. For a team like the Kings who have languished in the standings for the past few years, his showing in Slovakia paints an exciting future fro the young prospects of the Kings’ organization.
From the OHL, Clarke played the past season for HC Nove Zamky, where Clarke secured a more-than respectable 5 goals, 10 assists, for a total of 15 points and a +6 rating in 26 games.
Pick No. 30: Vegas Golden Knights
The Knights’ postseason ended with a whimper, but Vegas came out swinging with the Knights’ 30th overall pick, selecting Newfoundland native Zach Dean.
For the QMJHL Gatineau Olympiques, Dean’s offensively-minded 10 goals, 10 assists for a total of 20 points in 23 games made him an attractive option for the Knights, whose lack of goals by their forward lines led to their Stanley Cup semifinal loss to the Montreal Canadiens.
Dean is the epitome of an east-west player, with a dynamic combination of speed and size to maintain puck possession, drive the pace of play, and excel in face-offs — a useful skill coveted by NHL coaches everywhere.