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Top Shelf: Trades give draft weekend much-needed excitement
By Dan Di Sciullo, NHL Editor
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - We were supposed to believe there was drama surrounding the Edmonton Oilers and the No. 1 pick, but the real buzz of draft weekend was supplied by the hosts.
On Friday night at Pittsburgh's Consol Energy Center, the Oilers surprised few people by taking prolific Russian scorer Nail Yakupov with the first overall pick.
Edmonton didn't have much time to bask in the spotlight, however, because shortly after adding Yakupov to its impressive group of young forwards, the Penguins took center stage for dealing one of their own.
Pittsburgh general manager Ray Shero shook up the draft proceedings by sending centerman Jordan Staal to Carolina for a package that included the No. 8 pick as well as promising power forward Brandon Sutter.
Shero's move was prompted by Staal's recent decision to turn down a 10-year contract extension to remain with the Penguins. With the 23-year-old pivot destined to be a free agent after next season, Pittsburgh opted to part ways with Staal, who was a big part of the franchise's 2009 Stanley Cup championship team.
The move joins Staal with his older brother Eric, who is captain of the Hurricanes, and younger sibling Jared, a forward prospect in the Carolina organization. That leaves Marc Staal -- a defenseman for the New York Rangers -- as the odd man out in the family.
Fittingly, news of the deal that united three of the four Staal brothers in Carolina reached the family at Jordan's wedding reception on Friday night in Thunder Bay, Ontario. That must have made for a surreal scene. Certainly, the Staal family as a whole had to be happy about the move, but what about wedding guests like Sidney Crosby? Pittsburgh's captain began the night as Jordan's teammate only to see him switch sides before the evening was through.
Although the trade may have led to some awkward wedding conversations, this deal makes sense for both parties. Staal, a four-time 20-goal scorer, was often a forgotten man in Pittsburgh, always taking a place behind fellow centermen Crosby and recent Hart Trophy recipient Evgeni Malkin. The move offers Staal a chance for more offensive responsibility, as he'll likely fit in as the No. 2 pivot behind his brother Eric in Raleigh. The Hurricanes are a relatively young team, but the addition of another Staal could get Carolina back in the playoffs next season for the first time since 2009.
For Pittsburgh, the Staal move offers the club more breathing room down the road in terms of salary cap. Keeping star centermen Crosby and Malkin on the payroll for the foreseeable future was always going to make it difficult for the Pens to hold onto Staal as well.
Not to be outdone by their fellow Pennsylvanians, the Philadelphia Flyers also shook things up on the second day of the draft, dealing forward James van Riemsdyk to the Toronto Maple Leafs for defenseman Luke Schenn. The straight-up deal is a swap of former top-five picks, as van Riemsdyk was the second overall selection at the 2007 draft, while Schenn went fifth overall to the Maple Leafs a year later. Like the Staal move, the deal also united brothers, as Brayden Schenn is already a forward for the Flyers.
While the Flyers are in need of a defensive defenseman like Schenn, it's hard not to declare this trade a win for the Maple Leafs and general manager Brian Burke. Of the two players, Van Riemsdyk has the higher ceiling and he could become a valuable power forward if he can regain the form he displayed while scoring seven goals in an 11-game playoff run for Philadelphia in the spring of 2011. After missing out on the postseason for a seventh consecutive season, the Maple Leafs hope JVR offers a way out of the doldrums.
Meanwhile, the 6-foot-2, 220-pound Schenn gives the Flyers a physical edge at the back end and he could be Philly's only defenseman with a right-handed shot next season. The Flyers also are hoping that Schenn, who at 22, already has four NHL seasons under his belt, has had enough seasoning and is ready to deliver on his promise as a steady, defense-first player on the blue line.
The trade activity this weekend in Pittsburgh was a good way to kick off the NHL offseason. Deals were expected, but most of the trade rumors swirled around Columbus winger Rick Nash and Vancouver goaltender Roberto Luongo, not Jordan Staal.
With Yakupov considered to be the lone "can't-miss" prospect available in 2012, the draft needed an injection of excitement. Luckily, the Penguins delivered that buzz with an unexpected trade. With free agency set to begin on July 1, hopefully the NHL has more surprises in store over the coming months.
06/25 15:10:34 ET