VANCOUVER — Lassi Thomson thought he’d have to come back to Rogers Arena on Saturday morning for Round 2 of the NHL draft.
As it turns out, he’ll instead get the chance to explore Vancouver.
The Ottawa Senators selected the Finnish defenceman with the 19th pick in the NHL draft on Friday as the club in the midst of a major rebuild added to its blue line.
“I’m excited,” Thomson said. “We’ll see what happens the next couple years. Now it’s only hard work and try to show my best and keep going.”
The six-foot, 186-pound defenceman had 17 goals and 24 assists in 63 games with the Kelowna Rockets in 2018-19, his first season playing in North America.
He spoke with Ottawa general manager Pierre Dorion at the league’s annual combine, but didn’t get a sense one way or another he’d be heading to the nation’s capital.
“It was a pretty similar interview (like) everyone else,” Thomson said. “I (didn’t) expect that.”
There is some confusion as to where Thomson will play in the fall. He just signed a contract to play professionally in Finland. Ottawa Senators GM Pierre Dorion said they will talk with Thomson to learn where he wants to play, and support his decision.
Dorion said Thomson can return to Kelowna, play in the American Hockey League or in Finland.
“We’re going to sit down with him at development camp and see where we feel it’s best for him to develop properly and we’ll go from there,” Dorion said.
Thomson is one of seven Rockets eligible for the draft this weekend, and was ranked highest by NHL Central Scouting at 15 on the North American skaters list.
Nolan Foote was 37 on that list, but jumped 10 places when the Tampa Lightning chose him in the first round, 27th overall. It was something of a surprise, but also fitting since Tampa selected Nolan’s brother, Cal, 14th overall in the 2017 draft.
Nolan admitted to media in Vancouver after he was chosen that the brothers have talked about playing together again. They were both members of the Kelowna Rockets for two seasons.
“It’s crazy to now be in the same organization in the NHL,” Nolan said. “We didn’t think anything of it. We just thought it would be cool, but now it’s real and I can’t wait to celebrate with him.
Cal, a defenceman, just completed his first full season with Tampa’s AHL affiliate, the Syracuse Crunch.
Nolan said his older brother has been instrumental in helping him prepare for the whirlwind that surrounds the draft.
“He’s given me lots of advice,” Nolan said. “From the meetings at the combine to the draft, he’s been my biggest supporter all year. We stayed in touch lots when he was in Syracuse, so that helped a lot. He’s a great guy. He’s a great brother.”
Nolan led Kelowna this year with 36 goals. He said while his pre-draft interview with the Lightning was “fun,” there were no indications they’d try to unite the brothers.
“I didn’t have any clue about this at all,” Nolan said.
Jack Hughes was selected first overall by the New Jersey Devils.
The flashy centre put up a record 154 assists and 228 points over two seasons with the under-18 U.S. National Team Development Program.
“Obviously going first overall was a dream of mine,” Hughes said. “But the Devils are a great organization, a great team, lots of good players, a pretty rich history, too. It’s a spot that really wanted me, I knew that from the get go.
“I’m just excited to play with the organization now.”
The 18-year-old joins a team that already boasts fellow former No. 1 picks Taylor Hall and Nico Hischier up front. New Jersey made the playoffs for the first time in five seasons in 2017-18, but is coming off a last-place finish in the Metropolitan Division at 31-41-10.
The New York Rangers then stepped up to the podium to snag Finnish winger Kaapo Kakko with the second selection. Kakko scored 22 goals — a record for a draft-eligible prospect — and added 16 assists in his country’s top division in 2018-19.
“It was my dream to be No. 1, but the second (pick) is also good,” said Kakko. “I’m happy.”
Kirby Dach was the first Canadian off the draft board at Rogers Arena, with Chicago taking the centre at No. 3. The 18-year-old from Fort Saskatchewan, Alta., had 25 goals and 48 assists with the WHL’s Saskatoon Blades last season.
Next up was Colorado, which picked Bowen Byram fourth. The six-foot, 193-pound defenceman had 26 goals, 45 assists and a plus-33 rating for the WHL’s Vancouver Giants last season.
The Edmonton Oilers were the first Canadian team to make their pick, and selected defenceman Philip Broberg at No. 8. Broberg played last season with AIK in Sweden, scoring twice and adding seven assists. The 17-year-old was named the best defenceman at the U18 world championship.
The Vancouver Canucks picked Russian forward Vasily Podkolzin 10th overall.
The 17-year-old from Moscow played part of last season for St. Petersburg of the KHL and was the No. 2 European skater on the NHL Central Scouting prospect list behind Kakko.
Podkolzin, six-foot-one 196 pounds, captained Russia at the under-18 world championships.