ST. PAUL, Minn. — The excitement of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft was tempered a bit on Friday night as the NHL remembered longtime head of Central Scouting E.J. McGuire, who lost his battle with cancer on April 7.
The letters “EJ” in a black circle donned the upper right corner of the draft board, and most of the NHL executives wore black pins that also featured his name.
McGuire’s widow, Teri, and her daughters, Jacqueline and Erin, walked out onto the stage with commissioner Gary Bettman at the start of the night, leading to an extended standing ovation from all in attendance. After a moving tribute video, the McGuire family, in unison, kicked off the draft by announcing that Edmonton had the first pick.
E.J. McGuire was a longtime member of the hockey fraternity. He coached in a number of organizations, most notably as an assistant for the Ottawa Senators, before becoming the first head of NHL Central Scouting. He started his coaching career at Division III Brockport in 1977.
Anyone who knew McGuire knew that he lived for the draft. In years past, he would provide commentary on the top available players to the media the day prior and always was one to know everything there was to know about draft-eligible players.
Winnipeg fans who made the trip to St. Paul en masse on Friday had plenty to cheer about when general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff slyly let slip the team’s new (well, old) name: the Winnipeg Jets.
Cheveldayoff said as he announced Mark Scheifele as the team’s first-round pick that “The Winnipeg Jets are pound to select … .” The passing remark got a massive ovation from the crowd at the Xcel Energy Center. At least 150 of the fans in the building, most sitting in a balcony section to the right of the stage, were wearing old Winnipeg Jets jerseys.
While Cheveldayoff may have excited fans with the Jets name, he didn’t make many friends in the Twin Cities when he thanked Minneapolis for its hospitality, leaving out St. Paul, which is where the Xcel Energy Center is located.
That led Peter Chiarelli, the GM of the Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins, to accentuate the words St. Paul when he thanked the cities of St. Paul and Minneapolis for hosting the draft.
Murphy not ruling out major junior
Though Connor Murphy, the 20th overall selection on Friday by the Phoenix Coyotes, has committed to attend Miami in the fall, he hasn’t totally ruled out changing his mind and going the major junior route.
“I trust in everyone’s opinion in Phoenix and I would do what they want,” Murphy said when asked if he would change his mind on college if the Coyotes told him to.
Murphy’s rights are owned by the Sarnia Sting in the OHL.
Poor turnout in the ‘State of Hockey’
There was a surprisingly small turnout for Friday’s draft, held in Minnesota for the first time since 1989.
Less than half of the seats in the Xcel Energy Center were full at the start, and after the Minnesota Wild made their first selection, selecting Swede Jonas Brodin with the 10th pick, many of those who decided to show up headed for the exits.
Little did those fans know that the Wild would make a trade that got them the 28th pick a few hours later. The Wild selected Zack Phillips with the third-to-last selection of the night.
What was most strange about the low turnout was that the Wild advertised the event in recent days in the media as “sold out.” That, though, may have been part of the reason so few came — no one thought they could get in.
OHL big winners on day one
A breakdown of the numbers from the opening day of the draft shows that the Ontario Hockey League was the big winner with 11 players selected. The Western Hockey League and Quebec Major Junior Hockey League each finished a distant second with five players each.
The USHL had three current players picked — all members of the U.S. Under-18 Team. Northeastern’s Jamie Oleksiak was the only current college player taken.
By country, Canada led the way with 16 players picked. Sweden was second with six players, one more than the United States (and that is counting Oleksiak as a dual Canadian/U.S. citizen).
BU’s Coyle dealt
Hockey East rookie of the year and Boston University sophomore-to-be Charlie Coyle became part of the draft on Friday when he was part of a blockbuster trade between the Minnesota Wild and the San Jose Sharks.
Coyle’s rights were traded to the Wild along with and forward Devin Setoguchi and San Jose’s first-round pick (28th overall) in exchange for defenseman Brent Burns.
That news might not be good, though, for the Terriers as Minnesota has significantly larger holes offensively than San Jose and thus might tab Coyle to play next fall.