Saturday, March 25, 2023

Stanley Cup Final Shows Value of Hitting on Top Draft Selections

DENVER ( Associated Press) — The Tampa Bay Lightning’s lean years helped them finish second to Steven Stamkos in the 2008 NHL Draft and Victor Heidman in 2009. Gabriel Landeskog finished second in 2011 for the Colorado Avalanche, with Nathan McKinnon in first place in 2013. And Black Capricorn finished fourth in 2017.

Lightning and Avalanche started from the bottom, and now they’re here in the Stanley Cup Finals, in large part to get those high picks.

“You have to go through tough times to get those players,” said Colorado general manager Joe Sakic. “You’re not bringing in those players in the middle rounds.”

sometimes. Brayden Point, Tampa Bay’s leading goal scorer in the last two Cup runs, was a third-round pick. But this final is an example to the league’s other 30 teams of how important it is to swing and miss in the top five of the draft.

“There is no doubt that talent is something that is difficult to acquire,” said six-time Stanley Cup champion Mark Messier. “Then you combine commodity with heart and patience and determination and skill and hard work and everything else, then you got something. Talent alone won’t get you to the championship. But you need talent.”

A handful of 2022 top prospects spotted that talent at Morning Skate in Colorado on Saturday and were slated to watch Game 2 against Tampa Bay. Shane Wright, the front-runner to become Montreal’s pick with the No. 1 pick, said a quick hello to McKinnon.

But in the long run, Wright wants to be in his skates on this stage with the Canadiens or whoever takes him.

“That’s what you work for the rest of your life,” Wright said. “It was definitely inspiring to see those guys here, see how hard they worked and see what it takes to make it to this level here.”

A lot of things went right along the way, but drafting well is the key to almost all winning franchises. Stamkos was the obvious choice for the Lightning, which he found headman after John Tavares debuted for the New York Islanders in ’09, and Avalanche was lucky that Capricorn fell to him eight years later.

Sakic and his staff faced a big question five years ago, when McKinnon, American defenseman Seth Jones and Finnish center Alexander Barkov were the top picks. Many considered Jones the best option to rebuild the Avalanche, but he decided well before draft day that McKinnon was his man.

“Those top three players have had great careers, but he was a game-changer who could also really entertain the fans,” Sakic said. “We are extremely fortunate to have Nathan on our team.”

Wright understands that this is a process. The Canadiens, the New Jersey Devils or wherever he lands probably won’t be in the Stanley Cup Finals just yet, but he’s ready to take that ride.

“The draft really affects the structure of a team and the trajectory of a team and where they want to go,” he said. “Tampa and Colorado both chose overall for the first time many years ago and now they are finally contenders. Well, Tampa over the years, but Colorado is a contender now this year – one of the best teams in the league.

“It certainly takes a few years to make those drafts and draft the right pieces and get the right pieces, but it’s definitely nice to look at, for sure.”


Associated Press Sports Writer Pat Graham contributed.


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