Sometimes, the best action at the NHL draft happens away from the floor.
This year, the first time the draft was held in person since 2019, it was a little bit of both.
The Montreal Canadiens threw off mock drafts when they chose Slovakian winger Juraj Slafkovsky instead of Canadian center Shane Wright, who had been mentioned all year as a potential top pick.
That set off a chain reaction that led Wright, the top-ranked North American skater, to drop all the way to the second-year Seattle Kraken at fourth.
“Definitely going to have a little chip on my shoulder from this, for sure,” he told reporters. “I’ve always been self-motivated, always been pushing myself internally, but it’s definitely going to give me a little more fire.”
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The New Jersey Devils, who are deep at center, chose Slovakian defenseman Simon Nemec, and the Arizona Coyotes chose American Logan Cooley.
Slafkovsky, who was MVP of the Beijing Olympics, had met with the Canadiens on Thursday but was surprised to go first.
“I think I didn’t even hear my name called,” Slafkovsky said. “I just heard ‘Slovakia,’ and then I was like shocked, and I didn’t even listen anymore. I was just like shaking. I had goosebumps. Yeah, unbelievable moment for me.”
Chicago Blackhawks make trades
The Canadiens got their center when they acquired Kirby Dach from the Chicago Blackhawks. Montreal sent defenseman Alexander Romanov to the New York Islanders in the three-team deal.
The Blackhawks, who had no first-round pick, ended up with three. The biggest trade was two-time 40-goal scorer Alex DeBrincat going to the Ottawa Senators for three picks, including seventh overall.
They also took goalie Petr Mrazek off the Toronto Maple Leafs’ hands for another first-rounder. They chose Kevin Korchinski (seven), Frank Nazar (13th) and Sam Rinzel (25th).
Chicago, which made a splash at last year’s draft by trading for Seth Jones, are expected to struggle next season as they rebuild.
Minnesota Wild goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury is off the market after signing a two-year, $7 million contract.
Stanley Cup-winning goaltender Darcy Kuemper is headed to free agency after the Colorado Avalanche acquired Alexandar Georgiev from the New York Rangers. He’ll supplement Pavel Francouz, who had six wins during Colorado’s run while Kuemper was hurt.
The money saved will help the Avalanche as they try to re-sign forwards Nazem Kadri and Valeri Nichushkin.
Around the rinks
The Coyotes acquired Zach Kassian from Edmonton, which could give the Oilers the flexibility they need in negotiations with Evander Kane. Arizona moved up in the first round as part of the deal. … Colorado’s Joe Sakic won the general manager of the year award. … Defenseman Kris Letang signed a six-year, $36.6 million contract and announced the Pittsburgh Penguins’ pick of defenseman Owen Pickering. … New San Jose Sharks GM Mike Grier had a touching tribute to Bryan Marchment, the former NHL defenseman and Sharks scout who died this week at 53 in Montreal.