NHL draft winners and losers: Blackhawks, Blues, USNTDP

The party's over in Nashville. Well, at least the 2023 NHL draft party is -- as all the hockey people crowding Broadway learned this week, the party never really stops in Nashville.

But just like there are good nights and regrettable nights when touring the local establishments, the NHL draft was a success for some and a bummer for others.

Here are Ryan S. Clark, Kristen Shilton and Greg Wyshynski with the winners and losers for the 2023 NHL draft, which saw few trades but some significant surprises on the draft board -- except at the top.

Winner: Kyle Davidson

The next era of Chicago Blackhawks hockey officially began this week, and in many ways Davidson is as much the face of it as the phenom he drafted first overall, Connor Bedard. The 34-year-old general manager's enthusiasm was infectious, whether he was extolling the virtues of his many draft choices or his trade acquisitions ... or toying with a local podcast that mistook him for random Blackhawks fan "Kyle from Chicago" on Broadway.

Of course, it helps when one has a strong couple of days: drafting Bedard; having the fastest skater in the draft, Oliver Moore, fall to him at No. 19; and starting to rebuild the Blackhawks with character veterans such as Taylor Hall, Nick Foligno and Corey Perry, whose negotiating rights they acquired. Chicago has a lot of work ahead in repairing the franchise -- in every sense of the term -- but Davidson has confidently started that process. -- Wyshynski

Loser: Boston Bruins

The Bruins sent their first-round pick to the Washington Capitals in the moves for Dmitry Orlov and Garnet Hathaway and their second-round pick in their deal for Hampus Lindholm back in 2022.

So they didn't have a pick in this draft until No. 92 overall, when they selected USHL center Christopher Pelosi. To say they went off the board here would be an understatement: Pelosi, who will be joining Quinnipiac this fall, was ranked 128th overall among North American skaters. In selecting the 6-foot-2 Pelosi, the Bruins passed over Jayden Perron, a 5-9 winger who was selected at No. 94 by those shrewd operators, the Carolina Hurricanes. Hopefully this isn't "Boston drafts Trent Frederic over Alex DeBrincat" part deux. -- Wyshynski

Winner: Colorado Avalanche

Asset management is essentially how one can effectively navigate the draft, and the Avalanche did just that. They parlayed a pending restricted free agent in Alex Newhook into a trade that saw them land a first-round and a second-round pick from the Montreal Canadiens. Then it was about using that second-rounder and flipping it for Ross Colton in a trade with the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Those moves allowed the Avs to find a third-line center at a cheaper price than what it would have cost to re-sign J.T. Compher on the open market. It also led to the Avs getting two first-round picks to help replenish a system that was drained in the chase for the Stanley Cup they won in 2022. Being financially conscious is something every team must consider, and for the Avs, it has become their edict. This draft was a reflection of that concept. -- Clark

Loser: Reilly Smith

The Vegas Golden Knights have shown time and time again that they're not the sentimental types when it comes to managing their salary cap. They've shipped out beloved players before, and they did it again at the draft, trading "Golden Misfit" original Smith weeks after he helped them win the Stanley Cup.

Smith had two more years at $5 million annually on his contract. The Knights essentially hit the upgrade button: Ivan Barbashev, who was acquired at the trade deadline and played on their top line with Jack Eichel, was signed to a five-year deal worth $5 million against the salary cap annually. Smith does land with a very good organization and team in the Penguins. But that upcoming day with the Cup just got a little bittersweet. -- Wyshynski

Winner: St. Louis Blues

Let's start here: The megatrade that never was ultimately turned into the Blues giving up only a 2024 sixth-round pick to land a top-six center in Kevin Hayes. It's a contrast compared to what was thought to be on the table, which might have included one of the Blues' three first-round picks they would ultimately keep.

Retaining those first-round picks means the Blues were able to acquire even more players for the future who could potentially supplement their current reboot. Dalibor Dvorsky, who went 10th, projects to be the sort of talent that can be a top-six forward. Using those late first-round picks to take center Otto Stenberg and defenseman Theo Lindstein gives them players who could need more time compared to Dvorsky.

All of this builds on the draft class the Blues had last year that was led by Jimmy Snuggerud. Perhaps the most crucial component is that the Blues did not have to sacrifice their future in order to help themselves win now. -- Clark

Loser: Nashville weather

Picture this: You're Buffalo GM Kevyn Adams, sitting at a podium doing media availability after the draft. Suddenly there's a clap of thunder so loud it literally raises you from your seat and begets a "what the heck was that?" to assembled reporters. Told it was a raging thunderstorm just outside, Adams joked he hoped it was someone finally making a trade. Ha! He -- and everyone else -- wishes.

No, it was simply another end of the wild weather spectrum Nashville displayed over the past few days. Temperatures careened into the 80s and 90s with humidity so high it not only slapped you in the face upon going outdoors but made even the briefest of walks feel uncomfortably ... swampy. And on Thursday -- when everyone from prospects to coaches to executives were looking to leave town -- those thunderclouds grounded incoming and outgoing flights to put a multitude of travel parties in a lurch. The rain only made for more soupiness afterward, too.

The great city and good people of Nashville were tremendous hosts for an entire week's worth of events; it's too bad the weather systems across Tennessee weren't quite so hospitable. -- Shilton

Winner: The U.S. National Team Development Program

Enough is in place to suggest that this year's draft allowed the National Team Development Program to make a rather emphatic statement. Because that's what happens when you have 13 players get selected in a single draft class.

Perhaps the most telling detail about the NTDP's draft haul is that it's still not the most the program has had considering it had 17 players get drafted back in 2019. Still, this year's class had the familiar elements. Will Smith going fourth to the San Jose Sharks saw the NTDP produce a top-five pick for a fifth straight year, and that extends what was already the longest top-five streak by a single team. It's a streak that started with Jack Hughes (2019), Jake Sanderson (2020), Matty Beniers (2021), and Logan Cooley and Cutter Gauthier (2022).

Smith was one of four NTDP players who went in the first round, as he was joined by Ryan Leonard, who went eighth to the Washington Capitals; Oliver Moore, who went 19th to the Blackhawks; and Gabe Perreault, who went 23rd to the New York Rangers. -- Clark

Loser: Trades

For the first time since 2007, there were no trades completed during the first round of the NHL draft. While there was a bit more action on Day 2, the moves didn't involve the big names potentially on the trading block this offseason. Talking to the general managers, a combination of two factors hindered the trade market: the depth of the draft this year and the continuing salary cap crunch for teams.

"Nobody wanted to give up their picks or even move back because you're getting the guy that you want so quickly. It was a really strong draft," Minnesota Wild GM Bill Guerin said.

He's also one of those general managers handcuffed by the cap, having just over $8 million in available space and only 16 players under contract. "It's torture. You feel kind of helpless," Guerin said. There was a lot of that going on in Nashville. -- Wyshynski

Winner: Patience

Two of the most intriguing first-round picks were Kontinental Hockey League players Matvei Michkov, the dynamic winger drafted by the Philadelphia Flyers at No. 7 overall, and hulking defenseman Dmitriy Simashev, who was selected one pick before Michkov by the Arizona Coyotes.

Neither player offers immediate help to their teams: Simashev is signed with Lokomotiv for two more seasons, while the earliest Michkov can join the NHL is in the 2026-27 season due to his three-year deal with SKA St. Petersburg.

The Coyotes are in no rush for Simashev to come aboard, thanks to a robust prospect pipeline and -- let's face it -- playing in an NCAA arena for the foreseeable future. The Flyers will wait for Michkov because they have to.

"It is what it is," Flyers general manager Daniel Briere said. "We know he has a contract for three more seasons. But we just felt after watching him play and meeting him, we felt he's a talent we can't pass up. If we have to wait, we'll wait." -- Wyshynski

Loser: Intrigue

There was the debate about who the Anaheim Ducks took with the second pick. There were also the questions regarding who would ultimately draft Matvei Michkov, who was described as the most mysterious player in the draft. And while those events were discussed, they were not the sort of items that carried over into the second day.

If anything, it was a stark contrast compared to last year's draft in Montreal. That draft had trades. But it also featured fascination with the actual draft picks themselves. For months, there was an expectation that Shane Wright would go first overall, only for him to slip to fourth, with the Canadiens taking Juraj Slafkovsky with the first pick. It was the sort of discussion that continued over both days, and it even carried over when Wright scored his first career goal against the Canadiens at Climate Pledge Arena in Seattle.

Every draft has its narrative, and this one featured a level of talent that could shape the league for the years to come. And if so, maybe that's when the real intrigue will begin. -- Clark

Winner: Adam Fantilli

It's a natural assumption that every prospect wants to be drafted with the highest selection possible. However, there is something to be said about being taken by the right team, where a player will have the greatest opportunity to excel. That's what happened with Adam Fantilli.

Yes, Anaheim could have taken the University of Michigan product at No. 2. But the Ducks are stacked with center depth; Fantilli would be just one of many. Columbus, on the other hand, desperately needed a pivot like Fantilli who can be a franchise game-changer pretty much right away. Plus, the Blue Jackets aren't in rebuilding mode like the Ducks are; Fantilli could be part of a contending team sooner than later.

Those are a lot of positives there for a player who, while some may say "slipped" to the No. 3 spot, actually ended up somewhere that looks to be in his own best interest. Another win for Fantilli in this draft? How he honored those who helped him along the way by creating a custom suit with over 140 names -- of family members, friends, coaches et al -- stitched onto the inside. It truly takes a village for any prospect to reach this level, and Fantilli finding a way to highlight those important individuals is a reflection of the character he'll bring to the Blue Jackets, too. -- Shilton

Loser: Conformity

The NHL is infamous for being the "logo on the front, not the name on the back" league, with players' individuality muted for the sake of the franchise. That has started to a change a bit, with players getting attention for their pregame fits and, on some teams, getting a chance to pick their individual goal songs.

So it was encouraging to see those trends really gaining prominence at the draft. Prospects continue to pick attention-getting patterns with custom-made jacket linings. They also picked their own walk-up music at the draft, including San Jose Sharks No. 4 overall pick Will Smith strolling to the stage to the theme from "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air." It's wonderful to see the prospects get their moment of individual glory ... before putting that sweater with the logo on the front over their suits. -- Wyshynski

Winner: Tom Fitzgerald

New Jersey's GM is pushing all the right buttons this offseason. The Devils didn't have a first-round draft choice this year, but Fitzgerald arrived to the event having already taken care of business, from inking extensions with Timo Meier and Jesper Bratt to moving Damon Severson and Mackenzie Blackwood to acquiring Tyler Toffoli for an incredibly reasonable return.

That's all good stuff. But Fitzgerald truly lands as a winner here for how he handled the final moments of the draft on Thursday.

Once upon a time, Fitzgerald was the first captain in Nashville Predators history, and he swapped New Jersey's final pick in the seventh round for Nashville's seventh-round selection in 2024 so outgoing Predators GM David Poile could receive one final standing ovation from the assembled crowd. A wonderful, classy gesture and a genuine reflection of all that Poile has meant not just to Fitzgerald but the entire hockey community. -- Shilton

Loser: Atlantic Division teams

It didn't appear to be a banner few days in Nashville for some Atlantic Division clubs. First, Montreal passed on a potential franchise forward in Matvei Michkov at No. 5 to select defenseman David Reinbacher instead. Sure, it might be years before we know for sure whether the Canadiens were right to pass on Michkov, but at first glance it seems like Montreal might be missing out on a real gem.

Then there are the Ottawa Senators. One year ago, GM Pierre Dorion was bullishly making trades from the draft table. This year the Sens barely made a peep -- and everyone knows Ottawa is trying to move Alex DeBrincat, yet there weren't even any rumblings, it seemed, that it could happen.

Thursday, word comes out for Buffalo that winger Jack Quinn injured his Achilles tendon during offseason training and will now miss four to six months following surgery. GM Kevyn Adams didn't hide his disappointment at that development. All in all, a less-than-ideal 48 hours in Music City. -- Shilton