The 2021 NHL Draft on July 23-24 and the start of NHL free agency on Wednesday provided teams the opportunity to improve by adding new players to their rosters.
The trade market typically kicks into overdrive around the two, and that certainly was the case this year, with several blockbuster deals completed.
But what team is the most improved since the draft began?
Seven NHL.com writers weigh in with their opinions here (teams listed in alphabetical order):
The Bruins upgraded despite uncertainty surrounding goalie Tuukka Rask (hip surgery) and center David Krejci (unrestricted free agent) by signing goalie Linus Ullmark, defenseman Derek Forbort and forwards Nick Foligno, Erik Haula and Tomas Nosek. Ullmark will split the goaltending duties with rookie Jeremy Swayman, and Boston will be even stronger in net if Rask returns during the season. Forbort (6-foot-4, 219 pounds) brings size. With Taylor Hall returning after signing a four-year, $24 million contract July 23, and the additions of Foligno, Haula and Nosek, the Bruins have the forward depth they’ve been lacking, and they’ll be even deeper if Krejci re-signs. — Tom Gulitti, staff writer
To augment Tom’s point, the Bruins understand their window to challenge for the Stanley Cup in the Patrice Bergeron era could close in the next few years, so they identified positions of need to stay relevant in the championship hunt. Bergeron, 36, and linemate Brad Marchand, 33, each has plenty left in the tank, but Boston is taking no chances about how long that might last. The addition of Foligno was especially impressive. The 33-year-old can play center or wing, and he brings toughness. — Mike Zeisberger, staff writer
With the loss of defenseman Adam Larsson to the Seattle Kraken in the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft, the continuing absence of defenseman Oscar Klefbom because of a chronic shoulder injury, and a lack of depth at forward, the Oilers had major concerns a week ago. That changed when they re-signed defenseman Tyson Barrie, signed defenseman Cody Ceci and forwards Zach Hyman and Derek Ryan, and acquired forward Warren Foegele in a trade with the Carolina Hurricanes. Those moves put Edmonton into the much-improved category as it seeks to exploit the talents of the past two winners of the Hart Trophy voted as NHL MVP, Connor McDavid (2020-21) and Leon Draisaitl (2019-20). — Tim Campbell, staff writer
New Jersey Devils
The Devils were in dire need of help at defenseman and goalie after they finished tied for 27th in the NHL in goals-against per game (3.38) and 22nd in shots-against per game (31.0) last season. New Jersey selected defenseman Luke Hughes of the USA Hockey National Team Development Program Under-18 team with the No. 4 pick in the 2021 NHL Draft. The Devils signed goalie Jonathan Bernier to a two-year contract to compete with Mackenzie Blackwood for playing time, and then landed one of the biggest names in free agency, defenseman Dougie Hamilton, who agreed to a seven-year, $63 million contract. — Mike G. Morreale, staff writer
There were a lot of questions about Seattle’s strategy coming out of the expansion draft, but many were answered with its moves the first day of free agency. The Kraken signed goalie Philipp Grubauer, a Vezina Trophy finalist with the Colorado Avalanche last season, and for a price that didn’t break the bank (six years, $5.91 million average annual value). Add in the signings of forwards Jaden Schwartz and Alexander Wennberg, and this is a team that can compete. Seattle could use more offense, but it’s a good start for a team that’s going to have high expectations. — Amalie Benjamin, staff writer
After acquiring defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson and forward Conor Garland in a trade with the Arizona Coyotes on July 23, the Canucks signed dependable goalie Jaroslav Halak after buying out goalie Braden Holtby’s contract. Halak will team with incumbent No. 1 goalie Thatcher Demko in an upgrade from last season, and Vancouver’s defenseman group, led by Quinn Hughes, should benefit from Ekman-Larsson’s all-around play and bounce-back potential. Garland boosts an already strong top-nine forward group, which features Elias Pettersson, Bo Horvat, Brock Boeser, J.T. Miller, Nils Hoglander and rookie Vasily Podkolzin. After missing the Stanley Cup Playoffs last season, Vancouver is equipped to get back there out of the Pacific Division. — Pete Jensen, senior fantasy editor
The Jets needed help at defenseman, and they got it by acquiring Brenden Dillon and Nate Schmidt in separate trades. Dillon is physical, Schmidt is skilled, each can play in the top four, and each is great in the room, the community and with the media. Even better, center Paul Stastny not only stayed, he helped convince Schmidt, his former teammate with the Vegas Golden Knights, to waive his no-trade clause to come from the Canucks. Let’s face it: Winnipeg isn’t always at the top of players’ lists. It’s important for the Jets to get good players who want to be there, and they did just that. — Nicholas J. Cotsonika, columnist