NHL draft wraps up with 11 picks for Chicago, dearth of trades ahead of free agency

By TERESA M. WALKER

Associated Press

Published: 06-29-2023 8:06 PM

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The Chicago Blackhawks acquired their latest generational talent along with a big dose of speed in one of the NHL’s largest draft hauls.

They also made another big move for their future Thursday by adding veteran Corey Perry to help teach No. 1 overall pick Connor Bedard how to be the leader the Blackhawks need to contend for a Stanley Cup.

“I couldn’t be happier with how this worked out,” Chicago general manager Kyle Davidson said after wrapping up an 11-player class on a day that included trading a seventh-round pick in next year’s draft to acquire the 38-year-old Perry.

The Anaheim Ducks added a big Swedish center to their young, talented offense in Leo Carlsson at No. 2 overall.

The reigning Presidents’ Trophy champion Boston Bruins made the most of their five selections. They bulked up with each player at least 6 foot or taller, capped by 6-5 Swedish defenseman Kristian Kostadinski at No. 220 overall in the seventh round.

Now comes the very short wait for free agency, which starts Saturday after the two-day draft.

Minnesota general manager Bill Guerin, of Wilbraham, said this was a “pretty boring” draft with a dearth of trades swapping NHL players. A year ago in Montreal, four trades swapping NHL players took place on the second day alone. On Thursday, no player-for-player trades occurred.

“I really don’t have an answer for that,” Guerin said. “I think maybe teams just aren’t prepared to move on yet or to just get anything done. Not motivated yet.”

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Chicago followed up taking Bedard and perhaps the fastest skater in this draft in Oliver Moore at No. 19 overall.

On Thursday, Chicago had three picks in the second round, and Davidson made Adam Gajan the first goaltender drafted at No. 35. This was the second straight year and third time in six drafts that the first goalie wasn’t drafted until at least the second round.

Gajan is the highest Slovakian-born goalie in NFL draft history, easily topping Peter Budaj taken at No. 63 overall in 2001. The Blackhawks noticed how Gajan kept Slovakia in big games under pressure at the World Junior Championships — even though he gave up the overtime goal to Bedard.

“We loved his athleticism, ability to play the puck,” Davidson said. “Big game player. He was great for Slovakia in the world juniors, was excellent everywhere he played this year.”

Five of the 26 goalies drafted went in the second round, and the rebuilding Philadelphia Flyers took Carson Bjarnason. Then general manager Danny Briere added a second in the third round in Russian Egor Zavragin among his 10 draft selections.

Briere said Bjarnason was high on their list, and no NHL team can ever have too many goalies — especially with how long it can take some to hit their peak.

“If all these guys start hitting what we’d like to see from them, it’s going to be a nice thing to have,” Briere said.

Columbus continued stocking up on Wolverines despite playing in the home of Michigan’s Big Ten rival.

The Blue Jackets took Michigan captain Gavin Brindley with the second pick Thursday, reuniting him with center Adam Fantilli — the No. 3 overall pick. They join a roster that already features Kent Johnson, Zach Werenski and Nick Blankenburg.

Asked if Fantilli helped lobby for his teammate, Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen said they listen to their scouts even as Fantilli helped them pay close attention to Brindley. The center might have gone higher if not for being 5-8.

“It’s just fallen this way now that we’ve gotten a lot of Michigan players,” Kekalainen said. “It’s a great program obviously, and they have a long history of producing first round picks and high picks. In that way it’s not a coincidence, they have good players in that program.”

Fantilli credited Brindley for being a pillar of calmness during a season Michigan overcame hardship — the death of their longtime trainer, a serious illness to another player — and a roster of 12 freshmen to reach the national semifinals at the Frozen Four before losing to eventual champ Quinnipiac.

Now Fantilli is going to need tips about living in the heart of Buckeye country at Ohio State.

“We’re going to have to talk about that later,” Fantilli said.

The Stanley Cup champion Golden Knights made the final trade of the draft, sending the 224th pick to Columbus.

But the best moment Thursday came on the next to last trade.

New Jersey general manager Tom Fitzgerald, the first captain of the then-expansion Predators, traded the 218th selection to Nashville. That allowed David Poile to announce Aiden Fink as the final pick of the general manager’s 40th and final draft for the franchise he built from the ground up.

When Poile finished, his successor Barry Trotz and the rest of the Predators quickly rose for a standing ovation joined by everyone inside Bridgestone Arena for the NHL’s longest-tenured and winningest general manager.

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