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Newest Sabres forward Taylor Hall ready to go, jokes about partaking in Bills Mafia tradition

Taylor Hall certainly knows how to make an entrance.

The day after he inked a one-year, $8 million contract with the Sabres, the winger recorded a message for his new fans.

“Buffalo, Taylor Hall here. It’s been a crazy past couple of days for me but can’t tell you how excited I am to be a Buffalo Sabre,” he said. “Hopefully, I get the chance to play in front of you great fans sometime soon.

“I was going to smash into a fold-up table for my intro but it’s probably safest if I don’t. Hopefully, we get back to playing hockey again sometime soon, but until then, go, Bills.”

Ah, yes, Bills Mafia, the cult of Bills fans infamous for throwing their bodies into folding tables. Why? Not sure. But while Sabres fans may have loved the hat tip to their favorite team, they’re even happier he didn’t partake in the ritual.

Fans of the blue and gold are also just happy that the 2018 Hart Trophy winner opted to join their squad. It was a bit of a surprise to many when the announcement came down Sunday night.

“When I sat down with my agent [Darren Ferris] and I talked to my dad and people close to me, it started making more and more sense,” Hall said on a Zoom call Monday with reporters. “I think when you break it down and you have an open mind about things and you’re able to maybe look past the smoke that has surrounded the Sabres the past couple years, I think you see a team that has elite players, ownership that’s really committed to building a winner — I’ve seen what they’ve done with the Bills — and a coach that I feel can get a lot out of his players.

“On a one-year contract, I think both sides are eager to see how this works out and there’s obviously a lot of possibilities for the future.”

The future is wide open for Hall, who said other teams offered him multiyear deals but felt Buffalo was the right spot for him. As he noted from his offseason home in Toronto, it’s close to his parents and the uncertainty of the season, and the world, also impacted his decision. Throw in a reunion with Sabres head coach Ralph Krueger, who coached him for three years — one as a head coach, which Hall called “probably my most successful year even though it was shortened, other than my MVP year” — in Edmonton and playing with Jack Eichel and the decision was a gimmie.

“There’s no doubt about it that [Eichel] being there is a big reason why I chose Buffalo,” Hall said. “He’s an amazing hockey player. I think that he took a great step last year. Now it’s about: Can we find a way to get him in the playoffs and really produce on a stage that I feel that he deserves?

“I’m excited to get on the ice with him. Hopefully we can, along with everyone else on the team, have a good year and take a step individually and as a team.”

Of course, Krueger is just as excited about the prospect of the pair playing together.

“You have to be excited when you think of two elite forwards of that caliber attacking the opposition with the system that we have. It will be lethal,” Krueger said Monday.

Hall is aware that he needs to have a big year after a disappointing 2019-20 campaign. He noted that he came off knee surgery in 2019 and that it ended up impacting his season more than he thought it would. He potted 52 points in 65 games between the Devils and Coyotes. 

But now, the 28-year-old Calgarian is focused on the future.

“I can’t sit here and complain,” he said on Thanksgiving in Canada. “I signed a . . . I’m playing hockey next year and my salary’s $8 million. I don’t have a lot to complain about.”

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Canucks add Braden Holtby, move on from Jacob Markstrom

As the chances of re-signing Jacob Markstrom got slimmer and slimmer, the Canucks went out and nabbed veteran netminder Braden Holtby on Friday with a two-year, $4.3 million deal.

“We are pleased to add Braden, an experienced and established goaltender, to our roster,” said Canucks GM Jim Benning in the team’s news release. “Braden is a Stanley Cup champion, brings leadership and has demonstrated the ability to rise to the occasion in big games. He will be an important part of our team.” 

The 2016 Vezina Trophy winner is heading west after 10 seasons with the Capitals, where he posted a 282-122-46 record, 2.53 goals-against average and .916 save percentage along with 35 shutouts. His tenure also included the aforementioned Stanley Cup championship in 2018 and the 2017 William M. Jennings Trophy.

He is coming off one of the worst seasons statistically of his career as his GAA went above 3.00 (3.11) and save percentage went below .900 (.897) for the first time in his career. 

“Obviously last year was a bit of a struggle at times. It didn’t go as planned,” he said on a call with reporters. “Really after things kind of shut down, it was kind of a blessing in disguise that way that myself and Scott Murray, our goalie coach, were able to really break things down and find some different ways to train. 

“When we came back, I felt as good as I have in a long time. I think that’s just the way things go sometimes. They’re up or down. You just keep working as hard as you can. The way last season was, especially at the end, I felt really strong and excited to keep going that way with the start of a new season.”

Adding Holtby brings a veteran presence and fail-safe for head coach Travis Green. It’s expected that Thatcher Demko will get more time in net after his star-in-the-making performance in the bubble. While Holtby and Demko will probably split time in a 1A/1B setting, having the veteran there to mentor and back up the young goalie will be a plus for the Canucks.

“You can only be viewed as a leader if you actually lead. That’s always been my goal,” said the five-time All-Star. “The older you get, the more you play, that experience can help you if you use it in the right ways and can help others and help other teammates and the team in general. My goal is to use that.

“It’s not going to be a crutch because you really only live in today. The past is only useful for the moment. It’s not much to dwell on it. I’m going to try and use that to the best of my abilities, but it’s more about focusing on the moment.”

A native of Saskatchewan, Holtby also brings a playoff resume on which he has a 50-46 record in 97 games with a .926 save percentage and seven shutouts. He’ll add experience to a team that went on a run during the 2020 postseason and left a lot of hockey fans and pundits impressed.

It’s a strong core in Vancouver and includes the likes of 2019 Calder Trophy winner Elias Pettersson, 2020 Calder Trophy runner-up Quinn Hughes, Brock Boeser, Bo Horvat, Holtby’s former teammate in D.C. Jay Beagle, and the newly re-signed Tyler Motte (two-year, $2.45 million contract), who said the combo of Holtby and Demko in net “can be pretty dynamic.”

For Holtby, he’s just ready to go.

“I’m a guy that believes in hard work, competitiveness and a hard style of hockey,” he said. “I think you see a lot of the players that are on the Canucks and I think that [I] fit right into that mold. I just want to bring what I can contribute to that part, that I believe can help win and have success.

“I think it’s going to be a great fit and I’m really excited to get after it.”

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Maple Leafs sign Wayne Simmonds, add sandpaper to lineup

For weeks, Kyle Dubas repeatedly had said he wanted his Maple Leafs “to become harder to play against.”

Well, before free agency had even been open for an hour, he added gritty veteran forward Wayne Simmonds for one year, $1.5 million.

Simmonds spent 2019-20 with the Devils before being traded at the deadline in February to the Sabres. In 68 total games, he had eight goals and 17 assists and 66 penalty minutes. Over the course of his 13-year career, he’s potted 251 goals and 248 assists — 166 points on the power play — along with 1,123 penalty minutes in 909 career games. 

A native of Scarborough, Ont., Simmonds brings an element the Leafs have long been lacking. While they’re a highly skilled forward group with the likes of Mitchell Marner, John Tavares and Auston Matthews, the team needed some sandpaper. 

As he said on Sportsnet after the signing, per the Toronto Sun’s Lance Hornby: “I can play the game — and at the same time I can punch your head off (1,123 penalty minutes). I’m a team-first guy. Anything that happens to the boys, I will be the first to jump in.”

While Simmonds will add a physical, hard-nosed style to the squad, he also has a scoring touch and loves to head to the front of the net especially on the power play.

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Source: Ex-Rangers goalie Lundqvist joining Caps

    Emily Kaplan is ESPN’s national NHL reporter.

Henrik Lundqvist is signing a one-year deal with the Washington Capitals, a source confirmed to ESPN.

Lundqvist’s 15-year run with the Rangers ended in September when the team bought out the final year of his contract. The 38-year-old became an unrestricted free agent in a crowded field of goaltenders. Lundqvist still has a desire to win a Stanley Cup, which has eluded him so far in his career, and signing with one of the Rangers’ Metropolitan Division rivals allows him to stay on the East Coast with his wife and two daughters.

Lundqvist has a lengthy history playing against the Capitals; he has faced them in five playoff series in his career — winning three of the series.

The Capitals are parting ways with longtime goaltender Braden Holtby in free agency, turning to 23-year-old Ilya Samsonov as the primary starter for next season. With next year’s schedule in flux, but expected to be condensed with plenty of back-to-backs, Ludnqvist could get more starts than a typical backup.

“I still love to compete. I still love the game and I still want to WIN,” Lundqvist tweeted four days after the Rangers buyout was announced.

Lundqvist signing with the Capitals was first reported by TSN.

Capitals GM Brian MacLellan telegraphed the signing during a conference call with reporters after this week’s draft. When asked specifically about Lundqvist, MacLellan said: “We’re looking for a backup veteran goaltender. He’s a really solid candidate for us.”

Lundqvist carried an $8.5 million salary-cap hit with the Rangers and was scheduled to make $4.5 million with a $1 million signing bonus on the final year of a seven-year, $59.5 million contract he signed in December 2013. That contract carried a full no-movement clause, so a buyout was the most expedient way of moving on from Lundqvist.

The Rangers went with three goaltenders during the 2019-20 season, as Lundqvist shared time with Alexandar Georgiev and Igor Shesterkin, both 24 years old. Georgiev played 34 games, Lundqvist played 30, and Shesterkin, a rookie sensation, went 10-2 in 12 contests.

Lundqvist has been the face of the franchise — and one of the most popular athletes in New York City — for over a decade. He was drafted in the seventh round in 2000 by the team and made the jump from Sweden to the NHL in 2005-06.

He has a record of 459-310-96 in 887 games, with a save percentage of .918, a 2.43 goals-against average and 64 shutouts. He is the franchise leader in all those categories.

Lundqvist is a five-time finalist for the Vezina Trophy, winning the award for the NHL’s top goaltender in 2011-12.

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When is NHL free agency 2020? Date, salary cap, best available players

Ah, NHL free agency. It’s like Christmas for general managers as teams look to gift themselves new players who could help push them over the line from Stanley Cup pretender to Stanley Cup contender. 

Who will wrap up an Alex Pietrangelo, a Torey Krug, or a Taylor Hall this year? Will Tyler Toffoli unwrap a new contract with his current team, the Canucks? And can they gift wrap Jacob Markstrom for their fans too? Speaking of goalies, the market is flush with top-end guys like Markstrom, Henrik Lundqvist, Corey Crawford Braden Holtby and Anton Khudobin.

NHL FREE AGENCY 2020: Complete list of all 31 teams’ RFAs, UFAs

Free agency should be a doozy this year, especially with the start date for the 2020-21 season an unknown.

Sporting News has all the information regarding when the opening bell will ring and the fun begins.

When will the NHL’s 2020 free agency period begin?

July 1 has long come and gone; that was the old school date of when the NHL’s free agency period would open up. With everything being pushed back, free agency will now begin in October, just a few days after the NHL’s draft (Oct. 6-7).

What is the salary cap in 2020?

There was an expectation that the salary cap for the 2020-21 season was going to move up to $84-88 million.

But then came COVID-19.

As a result, the salary cap will remain flat with an upper limit set at $81.5 million and a lower limit at $60.2 Million (midpoint is $70.9 Million).

Who are the 20 best UFA’s available?

Quite a lot of players may be heading elsewhere this year. The salary cap impacts who will have the cash flow to re-sign their best unrestricted free agents.

NHL free agency tracker 2020: Full list of signings, best available players

Who are the 10 best RFA players available?

Will we see an offer sheet this year? And one that won’t be met? There’s a strong possibility this could be the case as there are quite a few teams with cap issues that won’t be able to protect their top restricted free agents.

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NHL free agency 2020: What to know as signing period begins

More than three months after the standard start of unrestricted free agency, it is finally here. In a normal season, free agency would open July 1. But because of the coronavirus pandemic and season pause, Friday (noon ET) will mark the beginning of when teams can sign UFAs.

Defenseman Alex Pietrangelo, who captained the St. Louis Blues to the 2019 Stanley Cup, will be coveted. Goalies are also widely available, including Braden Holtby, Anton Khudobin and Jacob Markstrom. Henrik Lundqvist, whose contract was bought out by the New York Rangers, seems likely to sign with the Washington Capitals, a division rival, according to reports. Top-line forwards are scarce with Taylor Hall, Mike Hoffman, Evgenii Dadonov as the best options. Here is a ranking of the best 25 available. 

NHL DRAFT 2020: First-round picks, scouting reports of the players selected

THE LATEST: Updates, analysis of news, rumors from Day 1 of NHL draft

Free agent goalie Braden Holtby has won a Vezina Trophy and a Stanley Cup. (Photo: John E. Sokolowski, USA TODAY Sports)

The Ottawa Senators ($42 million), Buffalo Sabres ($32 million), New Jersey Devils ($30 million) and Detroit Red Wings ($28 million) have the most cap space, though they have several restricted free agents of their own to re-sign. The Boston Bruins ($14 million) are unlikely to retain unrestricted free agent defenseman Torey Krug and could be active in the market as they still aim to remain a contender.

How to watch: NHL Network will start its coverage at 9 a.m. ET. You can also follow USA TODAY's live free agency blog Friday for the latest news and rumors.

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Byfield the highest-drafted Black player in NHL

    Greg Wyshynski is ESPN’s senior NHL writer.

Center Quinton Byfield of the Sudbury Wolves was taken No. 2 overall by the Los Angeles Kings on Tuesday night, making him the highest-drafted Black player in NHL history.

“Quinton is an exceptional young man and talented player with a very bright future,” Kings general manager Rob Blake said. “We’re proud to be adding him to our organization and look forward to the next stages of his development and a promising career in L.A.”

Byfield, 18, is a native of Newmarket, Ontario, Canada. His father, Clinton, is originally from Jamaica.

“Being on top for something is always cool and being the top pick among players of color would definitely be something really special to me,” Byfield told NHL.com earlier this year. “I think the game is changing, and the NHL is becoming more diverse. Definitely that would get kids motivated to start playing hockey, knowing that they can play and that hockey is for everyone.”

San Jose Sharks forward Evander Kane (2009, Atlanta Thrashers) and Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman Seth Jones (2103, Nashville Predators) shared the previous record for highest-drafted Black player in the NHL, at No. 4.

After Byfield was selected, Kane tweeted, “Congratulations to @byfield55 on his 2nd Overall selection and becoming the highest drafted black player in history.”

The 6-foot-4, 215-pound center has posted 143 points and a plus-38 rating in 109 regular-season games in his two seasons in the Ontario Hockey League. He was the No. 2-ranked North American skater behind Alexis Lafreniere, who was selected first overall by the New York Rangers.

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NHL Draft order by round 2020: Complete list of all 217 picks for Rounds 1-7

With the Stanley Cup handed off to its new caretakers in Tampa, the hockey world now sets its sights on the next generation of NHL talent.

From Oct. 6-7, more than 200 players will be selected by the 31 NHL teams looking for the next great player to fill their lineups. While there are 217 spots for selections, No. 49 has been forfeited by the Coyotes for a violating the NHL combine’s testing policy.

Although the No. 1 overall pick is practically solidified (Alexis Lafreniere), the rest of the draft order is anyone’s guess. 

Here is the complete order for all seven rounds:

JUMP TO ROUND: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7

What is the draft order for the 2020 NHL Draft?

Round 1

1. New York Rangers
2. Los Angeles Kings
3. Ottawa Senators (from San Jose Sharks)
4. Detroit Red Wings
5. Ottawa Senators
6. Anaheim Ducks
7. New Jersey Devils
8. Buffalo Sabres
9. Minnesota Wild
10. Winnipeg Jets
11. Nashville Predators
12. Florida Panthers
13. Carolina Hurricanes (from Toronto Maple Leafs)
14. Edmonton Oilers
15. Toronto Maple Leafs (from Pittsburgh Penguins)
16. Montreal Canadiens
17. Chicago Blackhawks
18. New Jersey Devils (from Arizona Coyotes)
19. Calgary Flames
20. New Jersey Devils (from Vancouver Canucks via Tampa Bay Lightning)
21. Columbus Blue Jackets
22. New York Rangers (from Carolina Hurricanes)
23. Philadelphia Flyers
24. Washington Capitals
25. Colorado Avalanche
26. St. Louis Blues
27. Anaheim Ducks (from Boston Bruins)
28. Ottawa Senators (from New York Islanders)
29. Vegas Golden Knights
30. Dallas Stars
31. San Jose Sharks (from Tampa Bay Lightning)

Round 2

32. Detroit Red Wings
33. Ottawa Senators
34. San Jose Sharks
35. Los Angeles Kings
36. Anaheim Ducks
37. Nashville Predators (from New Jersey Devils)
38. Buffalo Sabres
39. Minnesota Wild
40. Winnipeg Jets
41. Carolina Hurricanes (from New York Rangers)
42. Nashville Predators
43. Florida Panthers
44. Toronto Maple Leafs
45. Detroit Red Wings (from Edmonton Oilers)
46. Chicago Blackhawks (from Pittsburgh Penguins via Vegas Golden Knights)
47. Montreal Canadiens
48. Montreal Canadiens (from Chicago Blackhawks)
49. No selection
50. Calgary Flames
51. Los Angeles Kings (from Vancouver Canucks)
52. Ottawa Senators (from Columbus Blue Jackets)
53. Carolina Hurricanes
54. Philadelphia Flyers
55. Detroit Red Wings (from Washington Capitals)
56. San Jose Sharks (from Colorado Avalanche via Washington Capitals)
57. Montreal Canadiens (from St. Louis Blues)
58. Boston Bruins
59. Ottawa Senators (from New York Islanders)
60. Los Angeles Kings (from Vegas Golden Knights)
61. Ottawa Senators (from Dallas Stars via Vegas Golden Knights)
62. Tampa Bay Lightning

Pick 49 — The NHL directed the forfeiture of this pick in sanctions against the Arizona Coyotes.

Round 3

63. Detroit Red Wings
64. Ottawa Senators
65. Detroit Red Wings (from San Jose Sharks)
66. Los Angeles Kings
67. Anaheim Ducks
68. Vegas Golden Knights (from New Jersey Devils)
69. Carolina Hurricanes (from Buffalo Sabres)
70. Nashville Predators (from Minnesota Wild)
71. Ottawa Senators (from Winnipeg Jets)
72. New York Rangers
73. Nashville Predators
74. Florida Panthers
75. Colorado Avalanche (from Toronto Maple Leafs)
76. Edmonton Oilers (optional to Calgary Flames, conditional to Chicago Blackhawks)
77. Pittsburgh Penguins
78. Montreal Canadiens
79. Chicago Blackhawks
80. Washington Capitals (from Arizona Coyotes via Colorado Avalanche)
81. Calgary Flames (conditional to Chicago Blackhawks)
82. Vancouver Canucks
83. Los Angeles Kings (from Columbus Blue Jackets via Ottawa Senators and Toronto Maple Leafs)
84. New Jersey Devils (from Carolina Hurricanes)
85. Tampa Bay Lightning (from Philadelphia via San Jose Sharks)
86. St. Louis Blues (from Washington Capitals via Montreal Canadiens)
87. Florida Panthers (from Colorado Avalanche)
88. St. Louis Blues
89. Boston Bruins
90. New York Islanders
91. Vegas Golden Knights
92. New York Rangers (from Dallas Stars)
93. Tampa Bay Lightning

Pick 76 — From the James Neal-Milan Lucic trade: Edmonton will send a third-round pick in 2020 or 2021 to Calgary. If the Flames receive the 2020 pick, then they’ll send it to the Blackhawks under the terms of the Erik Gustafsson acquisition.

Pick 81 — If the Flames do not receive the Oilers’ 2020 third-round pick, then they will send their own third-round pick to the Blackhawks (see pick No. 76).

Round 4

94. Tampa Bay Lightning (from Detroit Red Wings)
95. Florida Panthers (from Ottawa Senators)
96. Calgary Flames (from San Jose Sharks via Montreal Canadiens and Buffalo Sabres)
97. Los Angeles Kings
98. Montreal Canadiens (from Anaheim Ducks)
99. New Jersey Devils
100. Buffalo Sabres
101. Minnesota Wild
102. Montreal Canadiens (from Winnipeg Jets)
103. New York Rangers
104. Anaheim Ducks (from Nashville Predators via Philadelphia Flyers)
105. Florida Panthers
106. Toronto Maple Leafs
107. Detroit Red Wings (from Edmonton Oilers)
108. Pittsburgh Penguins
109. Montreal Canadiens
110. Chicago Blackhawks
111. Arizona Coyotes
112. Los Angels Kings (from Calgary Flames)
113. Vancouver Canucks
114. Columbus Blue Jackets
115. Carolina Hurricanes
116. Philadelphia Flyers
117. Washington Capitals
118. Colorado Avalanche
119. St. Louis Blues
120. New Jersey Devils (from Boston Bruins)
121. New York Islanders
122. Toronto Maple Leafs (from Vegas Golden Knights)
123. Dallas Stars
124. Tampa Bay Lightning

Round 5

125. Detroit Red Wings
126. San Jose Sharks (from Ottawa Senators)
127. San Jose Sharks
128. Los Angeles Kings
129. Anaheim Ducks
130. New Jersey Devils
131. Buffalo Sabres
132. Minnesota Wild
133. Winnipeg Jets
134. New York Rangers
135. Nashville Predators
136. Montreal Canadiens (from Florida Panthers)
137. Florida Panthers (from Toronto Maple Leafs)
138. Edmonton Oilers
139. Pittsburgh Penguins
140. Carolina Hurricanes (from Montreal Canadiens)
141. Chicago Blackhawks
142. Arizona Coyotes
143. Calgary Flames
144. Vancouver Canucks
145. Columbus Blue Jackets
146. St. Louis Blues (from Carolina Hurricanes)
147. Philadelphia Flyers
148. Washington Capitals
149. Colorado Avalanche
150. St. Louis Blues
151. Boston Bruins
152. New York Islanders
153. Toronto Maple Leafs (from Vegas Golden Knights)
154. Dallas Stars
155. Ottawa Senators (from Tampa Bay Lightning)

Round 6

156. Detroit Red Wings
157. Tampa Bay Lightning (from Ottawa Senators)
158. Ottawa Senators (from San Jose Sharks)
159. Los Angeles Kings
160. Anaheim Ducks
161. New Jersey Devils
162. Dallas Stars (from Buffalo Sabres via Carolina Hurricanes and Florida Panthers)
163. Minnesota Wild
164. Winnipeg Jets
165. New York Rangers
166. Nashville Predators
167. Colorado Avalanche (from Florida Panthers)
168. Toronto Maple Leafs
169. Edmonton Oilers
170. Pittsburgh Penguins
171. Montreal Canadiens
172. Chicago Blackhawks
173. Arizona Coyotes
174. Calgary Flames
175. Vancouver Canucks
176. Columbus Blue Jackets
177. Toronto Maple Leafs (from Carolina Hurricanes)
178. Philadelphia Flyers
179. Washington Capitals
180. Toronto Maple Leafs (from Colorado Avalanche)
181. Ottawa Senators (from St. Louis Blues via Edmonton Oilers)
182. Boston Bruins
183. New York Islanders
184. Vegas Golden Knights
185. Dallas Stars
186. Tampa Bay Lightning

Round 7

187. Detroit Red Wings
188. Montreal Canadiens (from Ottawa Senators)
189. Toronto Maple Leafs (from San Jose Sharks)
190. Los Angeles Kings
191. Vancouver Canucks (from Anaheim Ducks)
192. New Jersey Devils
193. Buffalo Sabres
194. Minnesota Wild
195. Toronto Maple Leafs (from Winnipeg Jets via Minnesota Wild)
196. New York Rangers
197. New York Rangers (from Nashville Predators)
198. Florida Panthers
199. Carolina Hurricanes (from Toronto Maple Leafs)
200. Edmonton Oilers
201. San Jose Sharks (from Pittsburgh Penguins)
202. Philadelphia Flyers (from Montreal Canadiens)
203. St. Louis Blues (from Chicago Blackhawks via Montreal Canadiens)
204. Arizona Coyotes
205. Calgary Flames
206. New York Rangers (from Vancouver Canucks)
207. Columbus Blue Jackets
208. Carolina Hurricanes
209. Philadelphia Flyers
210. San Jose Sharks (from Washington Capitals)
211. Colorado Avalanche
212. Toronto Maple Leafs (from St. Louis Blues)
213. Boston Bruins
214. New York Islanders
215. Vegas Golden Knights
216. Buffalo Sabres (from Dallas Stars)
217. Tampa Bay Lightning

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NHL Draft 2020: Brian Lawton on being drafted first overall, Alexis Lafreniere and selecting Victor Hedman

When it comes to the NHL’s draft, Brian Lawton has done it all.

In 1983, a 17-year-old Lawton was drafted first overall by the Minnesota North Stars, and to this day, he remains the lone player taken with the No. 1 overall pick straight from high school since the universal draft was adopted in 1969 and all juniors of qualifying age were made eligible for selection.

He has served as an agent and in 2009 was the Lightning’s general manager when the team drafted Stanley Cup champion — and 2020 Conn Smythe winner — Victor Hedman. 

Today, Lawton is an analyst for NHL Network and will break down everything about the draft on Tuesday, beginning at 5 p.m. ET, and Wednesday, beginning at 11:30 a.m. ET.

Sporting News spoke with Lawton about his time as a No. 1 pick, his decision to pick Hedman — which wasn’t the plan initially — and his thoughts on the 2020 NHL Draft.

(Note: This interview was edited for brevity and length.)

SPORTING NEWS: Obviously things were very different back when you were drafted; for example, there wasn’t any social media. Did you have an inkling going into the draft that you’d be taken No. 1 overall by Minnesota?

BRIAN LAWTON: Yeah, it wasn’t necessarily a big focus for me. I was just trying to play as good as I could play. I never was really worried about it. Obviously, you want to be picked as high as you can. Probably the only time that really hit me is — I wasn’t going to go to the draft. I was graduating from high school. Can’t go to the draft, I got to graduate. We got a lot of phone calls from different people in the industry who said, ‘Well, you have to go in the draft, you could be picked first.’ I grew up in a very modest family. My parents were amazing [and] they gave all four of us boys everything they could but there just wasn’t a lot of extra money for that type of stuff. Somehow I ended up there and it worked out well.

SN: What was it like when you heard your name called?

BL: You know what, it’s almost overwhelming at that time, when you’re 17 years old, that you can’t really process it. . . . I was surprised but it felt normal.

(Getty Images)
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SN: You were the Lightning’s general manager when the team drafted Victor Hedman No. 2 overall in 2009. Now, 11 years later, seeing what he’s done, did you have any inkling back then that he would be the superstar that he is?

BL: Everybody hopes that they’ll develop into that player, but the story for us was, it’s a long story, I’ll try to make it really quick.

When you’re the general manager, your draft is going to be run by your amateur scouts. For me, because I said this when I was there with our staff: ‘You guys are gonna run the draft. I’ll do everything I can to move us around but if we have a pick in the Top 5, I will reserve the right to make the final decision.’

We finalized our pick around June, but I knew where it was going — and that was that we would take Matt Duchene. I never said a word to anybody. About 10 days before the actual draft, I called the ownership group to tell them that we were not going to go with the pick that we had come up with as a group and that I was going to exercise my right to make the pick and that it died with me; it went wrong, it’s totally my fault too. It went good, it’s a good group decision. Too important for the club.

Can’t do it until the ownership say, ‘Fine. It’s up to you, Brian, your decision,’ I say, ‘Thank you, appreciate the support.’ 

Went to the draft, told all our scouts in person: ‘We’re not going to go with Matt Duchene. I know he’s first on our list but we’re going to adjust it.’ I explained why: my own personal experiences . . . how I valued D just as much as scorers. I go over the history; [it] hasn’t really been that great, there’s been some kids that were picked high and didn’t work out as D.

I didn’t care about that. It’s an individual basis, we’re evaluating one player in this position. Most people were really good about it. A couple guys were upset. I understood it, but ultimately it’s on me and if I couldn’t take that pressure, then, you know, I shouldn’t be running the club. And that was it. We picked Hedman — and to be honest with you, Matt Duchene was a better player the first year, no doubt about it, and I ate a little bit of crow.

But I wasn’t worried about it. I didn’t pick Victor Hedman for his 19-year-old season. We picked him for the next 15 years. When it’s all said and done, it ended up fine.

SN: As a GM, what’s it like leading up to the draft? What’s it like [normally] at the draft table?

BL: A little bit like a duck, you know, trying to ride smoothly across the water but pedaling like crazy down below — and not a lot of sleep. There’s a ton of things going on. You’re talking to people in a really heightened state . . .  it’s just a super-busy, crazy time . . . doesn’t matter if you’re picking first or 30th, just a very, very busy time. One of three times where you’re in overdraft. Of course, the draft, [the] unrestricted period when that opens and then the trade deadline. But the draft, to me, is probably one of the most enjoyable times because you’re looking at young men that are going to get an opportunity to pursue their dream, and you get an opportunity to hopefully make some good decisions that will affect your organization for 10, 15 years down the road.

Overall, to be honest with you, I enjoyed it. It’s pressurized, but it’s good pressure. It’s [the] kind of pressure you want to wake up to and say, ‘Let’s go try to make a difference today,’ because being a manager is very, very cerebral. It moves incredibly slowly. This is one of three times when you have a chance to feel like you can contribute more.

SN: How different is it going to be this year since it’s all virtual?

BL: Going to be significantly different. . . . The NHL has considered many times, at the request of general managers, to do it the way we’re going to do it this year — from our home base, our war room, a la football, so to speak. That’s how football does it. . . . I think the NHL has rightly rejected that concept because it’s such a wonderful event. It really, truly is, and there are a lot of general managers that feel differently that say: ‘You know what? Yeah, it would be great to have our own war room, our own video setups, our own everything. Sleep in our own beds, you name it.’

But they enjoy and value the ability to have a face-to-face conversation with other guys.

This year we’ll get a chance to see what that war-room feel looks like and I think a lot of guys will be happy about it. I think they’ll relish in it. I know they will; I’ve already talked to a number of them. But in terms of, you know, the uniqueness this year . . . every single person that you would normally see at a draft when it’s in person will be available to the staff, they just won’t physically be there. 

DRAFT ORDER: Rounds 1-7 | Team-by-team

SN: Because of the setup this year, without that face-to-face interaction, do you think there’ll still be trades?

BL: I think there’ll be tons of movement still, I really do, and not because and not because of anything to do with how it’s set up, [but] more to do with where the salary cap is at, how entwined and entangled a lot of teams are with that cap and their desire as the Stanley Cup appears to be wide-open.

SN: Do you think the Rangers will keep the No. 1 pick?

BL: I do think they’ll keep it. But I think [Rangers GM] Jeff Gorton has a responsibility to look at every way possible to improve that team. The rebuild has gone very well. If they can add a player that could change their lives, I think he would consider it. But my gut feeling is that he won’t get that in an offer and he will keep and make the pick.

SN: And what is your take on that expected No. 1 pick, Alexis Lafreniere?

BL: I think he’s amazing. I interviewed him for about an hour, maybe two or three months ago, for the network here. Super impressive kid, very mature, has a little bit of the commonality that I saw even going back to when I was a GM when we picked first one year, second the other year. And some of these kids are men already, particularly the ones that are rated as high as Alexis has been. 

John Tavares was a guy who was rated first overall when we picked Victor Hedman. And in our meets, I would say John’s a TSN-made superstar already from the World Juniors. And that was a real advantage for him in handling men and stardom. Victor Hedman was the same way in terms of playing in a professional league his 17-year-old year in Sweden. Matt Duchene was the third pick in that draft . . . and it was kind of a leap [between the top two and Duchene]. . . . I actually interviewed all three of these kids together for about three days, had them in Tampa, and you could really see the differences. 

So Alexis Lafreniere is much closer to Tavares and Hedman in terms of worldliness and understanding and dealing with the responsibilities and pressures of being an elite player.

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NHL

2020 NHL draft: Time, TV, first-round order and tidbits from two-day event

The next generation of NHL prospects will learn their teams Tuesday and Wednesday, but the coronavirus pandemic has changed the presentation.

Instead of having first-round draft picks walking across the stage in Montreal and put on their jerseys on a Friday night in late June, the event will be all-virtual with commissioner Gary Bettman and deputy commissioner Bill Daly working out of Secaucus, New Jersey. It will be held in the middle of the week for the first time since 1994.

With the salary cap flat next season because of uncertainty about when the 2020-21 season will start and whether fans can attend, there could be more trades than usual. But general managers will have to work the phones more because they won't be seated next to one another to make trades easier.

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Germany's Tim Stutzle is the top-ranked international player in the draft. (Photo: Ryan Remiorz, AP)

Everything to know about this year's NHL draft:

The essentials

Time, TV: The first round will begin Tuesday at 7 p.m. ET on NBCSN. The second through seventh rounds will start at 11:30 a.m. ET Wednesday on NHL Network.

Who's on the clock? The New York Rangers have the first-overall pick after winning the second drawing of the draft lottery. The first drawing determined that a team that lost in the qualifying round would draft first.

Who are they expected to pick?Left wing Alexis Lafreniere, who had 112 points in 52 games for the Rimouski Oceanic of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. He was named MVP of the QMJHL the past two seasons and helped Canada win the world junior championships. He also was named the Canadian Hockey Leauge Player of the Year.

First-round order

1. New York Rangers

2. Los Angeles Kings

3. Ottawa Senators (from San Jose)

4. Detroit Red Wings

5. Ottawa Senators

6. Anaheim Ducks

7. New Jersey Devils

8. Buffalo Sabres

9. Minnesota Wild

10. Winnipeg Jets

11. Nashville Predators

12. Florida Panthers

13. Carolina Hurricanes (from Toronto)

14. Edmonton Oilers

15. Toronto Maple Leafs (from Pittsburgh)

16. Montreal Canadiens

17. Chicago Blackhawks

18. New Jersey Devils (from Arizona)

19. Calgary Flames

20. New Jersey Devils (from Vancouver via Tampa Bay)

21. Columbus Blue Jackets

22. New York Rangers (from Carolina)

23. Philadelphia Flyers

24. Washington Capitals

25. Colorado Avalanche

26. St. Louis Blues

27. Anaheim Ducks (from Boston)

28. Ottawa Senators (from N.Y. Islanders)

29. Vegas Golden Knights

30. Dallas Stars

31. San Jose Sharks (from Tampa Bay)

Draft tidbits

-Sudbury (Ontario) Wolves center Quinton Byfield, the second-ranked North American skater, could become the highest-drafted Black player. Evander Kane (2009) and Seth Jones (2013) were taken fourth overall.

-The top-ranked international prospect is Tim Stutzle. Like Hart Trophy winner Leon Draisaitl, he is from Germany. Also like Draisaitl (third overall in 2014), he is expected to go high in the first round.

-The top-ranked defenseman is the Erie (Pennsylvania) Otters' Jamie Drysdale, who plays well in both ends of the ice and had 47 points in 49 games last season.

-The Arizona Coyotes won't pick until the fourth round. They traded their first-rounder (for Taylor Hall) and third-rounder (for Carl Soderberg). Their second-rounder was forfeited because of an NHL sanction for violating the league's combine testing policy. Also, newly hired GM Bill Armstrong can't take part because he had prepped for the draft in his recent job as St. Louis Blues assistant general manager.

-The Senators have the most selections with 12, including three first-rounders (two in the first five picks). The Coyotes, Jets and Penguins have the fewest with four.

-Defenseman Jake Sanderson is projected to be the first American taken. The No. 4-ranked North American prospect is the son of two-time NHL All-Star Geoff Sanderson.

-Stanley Cup winners Kris Draper (Kienan), Jamie Langenbrunner (Mason), Brian Rolston (Ryder) and Doug Weight (Danny) have sons eligible for draft. So do NBC analyst Pierre McGuire (Ryan) and agent Pat Brisson (Brendan). 

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