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Blackhawks make surprising trades while Devils take Nico Hischier first overall at NHL draft

Nico Hischier poses for photos after being selected first overall by the New Jersey Devils during the 2017 NHL Draft at the United Center in Chicago, on June 23, 2017.

Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

The NHL's annual entry draft almost always doubles as a big swap meet, the league's version of a spring garage sale, where teams look for hidden treasures amid all the clear-out merchandise.

But rarely does a draft host city, in this case, Chicago, complete the sort of massive overhaul to its team that we saw Friday.

The Blackhawks traded away two core pieces of their team – forward Artemi Panarin and defenceman Niklas Hjarmarsson – to upstage their own draft and start a significant reset that few saw coming.

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Chicago had the best record in the NHL's Western Conference last year, but was unexpectedly swept in the opening round of the playoffs by the Nashville Predators. Management promised changes and general manager Stan Bowman delivered in a big way.

Panarin, the NHL's 2016 rookie of the year, went to the Columbus Blue Jackets for Brandon Saad, who only two years ago, was traded away by the Blackhawks as a pre-emptive salary-cap measure. As for Hjalmarsson, one of the most underrated two-way defencemen in the NHL and an unsung hero of three Stanley Cup championships, he was sent to the Arizona Coyotes for two young players, Connor Murphy and Laurent Dauphin.

Once they actually got around to the business of drafting teenage prospects, the teams mostly stuck to it, beginning with New Jersey Devils, who used the first overall pick to select Swiss teenager Nico Hischier of the Halifax Mooseheads.

Hischier zoomed to the top of the draft charts after starting the year far off the NHL radar, a player with a high hockey IQ, who is most frequently compared to former Detroit Red Wings star Pavel Datsyuk.

The Philadelphia Flyers followed by selecting Brandon Wheat Kings centre Nolan Patrick, a Ryan Getzlaf-style of player, second overall.

After the Dallas Stars took Finnish defenceman Miro Heiskanen (of IFK Helsinki) and the Colorado Avalanche selected Cale Makar (of the Brooks Bandits), the Vancouver Canucks were the first of the NHL's seven Canadian-based teams to make a selection.

Vancouver was unlucky in last month's draft lottery, dropping three places from two to five, and ended up taking Elias Pettersson of Timra in the Swedish league. Pettersson, a skilled centre, will be mentored by Henrik and Daniel Sedin in Vancouver, but listed at 156 pounds, his NHL arrival is considered years away.

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Because five of the seven Canadian teams made the playoffs this year, and Winnipeg traded its pick to Vegas to secure Toby Enstrom's rights, it took more than an hour before the next Canadian team after Vancouver was on the clock.

That was Calgary and the Flames took Finnish-born defenceman Juuso Valimaki of the Tri-City Americans, a selection that signalled they probably weren't prepared to meet the New York Islanders' asking price (of two first-round picks) for defenceman Travis Hamonic, a player they've made inquiries about.

From there, the Toronto Maple Leafs took a calculated risk - Swedish defenceman Timothy Liljegren from Rogle, who was projected as a top-five prospect at the start of the year, but slipped to 17. But Liljegren has exceptional skating speed and could be a draft steal, if he can get back to his form from a year ago.

Then the Canadian team picks came in bunches: Edmonton, at 22, took small but skilled forward Kailer Yamamoto from Spokane; Winnipeg at 24, selected took Finnish power forward Kristian Vesalainen; Montreal, at 25, chose centre Ryan Poehling from St. Cloud State, the youngest player in the NCAA last year; and then Ottawa, at 28, landed Shane Bowers from Waterloo of the USHL.

A day after they traded Jordan Eberle to the New York Islanders for Ryan Strome, the Oilers gave defenceman Kris Russell a four-year, $16 million contract extension, which mostly completes general manager Peter Chiarelli's off-season to-do list.

Others – notably the Montreal Canadiens' Marc Bergevin and the Calgary Flames' Brad Treliving – still have work to do, bolstering defence corps that need to be reinforced.

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Apart from Russell's signing, there were two other significant contract extensions, the Washington Capitals giving T.J. Oshie a massive eight-year, $46 million deal to continue to play top line minutes with Alex Ovechkin; and the Anaheim Ducks, signing trade-deadline acquisition Patrick Eaves for three more years.

At No. 6, and with three total picks in the top 15, the Vegas Golden Knights made the first selection in franchise history, choosing centre Cody Glass of the Portland Winterhawks. Vegas also snagged Nick Suzuki (Owen Sound, OHL) 13th and Erik Brannstrom (Sweden's HV71) 15th overall.

Among the other fun/quirky selections was the Tampa Bay Lightning's choice of Cal Foote, 14th overall. Foote is the son of former Colorado Avalanche defenceman Adam Foote, who spent a lot of his career checking and otherwise making life hard on Steve Yzerman, the current Lightning GM.

Just before they completed proceedings for the evening, the Flyers made one more key move, trading versatile forward Brayden Schenn to the St. Louis Blues for Jori Lehtera, plus a 2017 first-round pick, and a conditional 2018 first-round pick.

But all eyes were on the Blackhawks, who also learned earlier this week that star forward Marian Hossa may be dealing with a career-ending skin condition. The Coyotes, positioned at the opposite end of the standings to Chicago, also made a second win-now deal Friday, adding center Derek Stepan and goaltender Antti Raanta from the New York Rangers for defence prospect Anthony DeAngelo and the seventh overall pick in the 2017 draft.

One day earlier, the Coyotes parted ways with coach Dave Tippett over "philosophical" differences. Presumably, Tippett opposed the decision to try to fast forward the Coyotes' rebuild, with an infusion of expensive veterans, which appears to be the new organizational goal, as they strive to make a greater splash in their marketplace.

The defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins, who were originally scheduled to make the final pick of the opening round, ultimately traded the selection along with prospect Oscar Sundqvist to St. Louis in exchange for forward Ryan Reaves, one of the heaviest and toughest players in the league, plus a second-rounder.

St. Louis used the choice to select Russian-born forward Klim Kostin from the Kontinental Hockey League's Moscow Dynamo team. Kostin was projected to go in the first half of the first round, but missed the second half of the season because of a shoulder injury, which saw his draft stock fall precipitously.

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