The Seattle Kraken were presented with a plethora of intriguing choices on offense and defense in picking 20th overall at Wednesday’s opening round of the NHL Draft in Nashville, eventually opting for 6-foot-2, 175-pound left wing Eduard Sale from Czechia.
Sale, 18, had been expected to go higher by some pundits but remained available when the Kraken had their pick.
They could have opted for a defenseman — having been linked to a still-available Oliver Bonk — but had said heading in that overall talent would win out over position.
Two-way, intelligent threat Sale had been previously linked to the Kraken and was considered by many to be the best player still around once the 20th pick arrived.
Sale was voted Rookie of the Year playing for Brno in the Extraliga top Czech professional league this past season, scoring seven goals and adding seven assists in 43 games. He’s projected as a potential power play and penalty kill asset.
As expected, the Chicago Blackhawks selected center Connor Bedard from the Regina Pats of the Western Hockey League with the No. 1 overall selection.
“I can’t put into words growing up and obviously, that’s when they were going on their runs winning Cups,” said Bedard, who turns 18 on July 17. “You watched a lot of them and you see the United Center going crazy and all of Chicago getting behind them and you know (the) Original Six and so much history here.”
Anaheim went a bit off script in taking Swedish center Leo Carlsson at No. 2 ahead of University of Michigan centerman Adam Fantilli — who was immediately snatched up at No. 3 by Columbus.
San Jose went with center Will Smith from the U.S. National Team Development Program (USNTDP) at No. 4, Montreal picked Austrian defenseman David Reinbacher at No. 5 and Arizona surprisingly took defender Dmitri Simashev several spots higher than anyone expected at No. 6.
Highly touted Russian winger Matvei Michkov — considered by many to be the second best player in the draft behind Bedard — fell to Philadelphia at No. 7 after concerns arose about his availability.
Michkov is under contract to a Kontinental Hockey League team until 2026 and Russia’s war with Ukraine made scouting him in-person next to impossible this past season and could complicate negotiations to bring him to the U.S. any sooner.
Kraken general manager Ron Francis had said this week that taking the best player available was a priority for his team ahead of selecting for positional need.
The Kraken selected centermen Matty Beniers at No. 2 overall in 2021 and then saw center Shane Wright surprisingly fall their way at No. 4 a year ago in Montreal.
That lucking into Wright and selecting Jagger Firkus and Jani Nyman in the next round left the Kraken a little top-heavier at forward with their prospects compared to on defense.
For now, second round pick Ryker Evans from 2021 remains their top blueline asset after a stellar professional debut with AHL Coachella Valley this past season.
“There’s no sense passing on a particular forward, or defenseman or goaltender if you think he’s the best guy available just because you may need that position down the road,” Francis had said. “If you get the best player available and you develop that player and still need that other position down the road, at least you have talented players that you could look at switching to fill that void.
“The key is making sure you get the best players that when they start to develop, have the best chance of reaching the NHL.”
Francis will have nine additional picks when the draft continues on Thursday, three of them in the second round.
The Kraken will also have one each in Rounds 3, 4 and 5, two more in Round 6 and a final one in Round 7 barring any late trades.
Sale is viewed as somewhat of a high-risk, high reward type of player who needs to work on aspects of his game away from the puck if he’s to become a top NHL winger.
Sale had a goal and five assists last winter to help Czechia win a silver medal at the IIHF World Junior Hockey Championships, losing the gold medal game in overtime to Kraken prospect Shane Wright and Team Canada.