The NFL draft consumes the United States from February to May. The NBA draft is really the only thing fans of tanking franchises have to look forward to. The MLB draft is just long, man.
So what is the calling card for the NHL's version?
No, the NHL draft doesn't have the flash of the NFL and NBA versions, but at least unlike the MLB edition, many of these players will make a quick impact with their team. And, you know, there aren't 5,172 rounds to keep track of.
Let's take a look at where this year's top prospects will potentially be taken.
1. Buffalo Sabres: Sam Reinhart, C, Kootenay (WHL)
Sam Reinhart's talent on the ice is unmistakable—105 points in 60 games is an indication of that, as his proficiency on both the power play and penalty kill. But his pedigree doesn't hurt, as Mike G. Morreale of NHL.com writes:
Max Reinhart, 21, was taken by the Calgary Flames in the third round (No. 63) of the 2010 NHL Draft. The only defenseman of the three Reinhart brothers, Griffin, 19, was selected fourth overall by the New York Islanders in 2012. His father, Paul Reinhart, was chosen No. 12 by the Atlanta Flames in 1979.
'Over the years, all of us talked to my dad after every game,' Reinhart told NHL.com. 'He'd give us advice. Max and Griffin went through the same things I am going through, so being able to watch them has had a huge positive influence on my career; it's nice having both of them.'
He's just the type of player the Sabres could use to turn things around, as the team has shown promise on defense. They could go in several directions with this selection, but the smart, crafty Reinhart is the safest bet.
2. Florida Panthers: Aaron Ekblad, D, Barrie (OHL)
Given the young talent the Panthers already have at forward, look for the top defender on the board, Aaron Ekblad, to be the pick. He's a true two-way defenseman who is fresh off a 23-goal, 30-assist season. Those are huge numbers for a man patrolling the blue line and one of the reasons he won't last past the Panthers.
3. Edmonton Oilers: Samuel Bennett, LW, Kingston (OHL)
This is basically a worst-case scenario for the Oilers. Yes, the team won't be worse off selecting the top North American player in the Central Scouting rankings, but a defenseman would have been preferable. Could the team reach for a defender like Haydn Fleury? Could they trade the pick?
Possibly. But if the board falls this way, I'd expect them to select the player that just scored 91 points in 57 games and has the ability to take over a game.
4. New York Islanders: Leon Draisaitl, C/LW, Prince Albert (WHL)*
He's got great size (6'1", 208 lbs) and strength. He wracks up the points (105 in 64 games this year). He's a true two-way player. This is great bang for the buck for the Islanders.
5. Calgary Flames: Michael Dal Colle, LW, Oshawa (OHL)
Sometimes, it's just as simple as taking the top option on the board. A willing and effective forechecker, Dal Colle also has the skill to bury the puck in the back of the net. He's also a high-character player and isn't the sort of prospect who will fail because he doesn't work his butt off—A solid addition for the Flames.
6. Carolina Hurricanes: Kasperi Kapanen, RW, Kalpa (FIN)
And this is about the point in the draft where the consensus on the top prospects on the board comes to an end. The Hurricanes could go in a number of directions here, but I think they'll roll with the flashy and exciting winger who also has an NHL pedigree (son of Sami Kapanen) and is Central Scouting's top European skater.
7. Winnipeg Jets: William Nylander, RW, Modo (SWE)
William Nylander is a sniper off the wing that skates well and has excellent hands. He could end up being one of the top scorers in this draft, if not the best one.
8. Vancouver Canucks: Jake Virtanen, LW, Calgary (WHL)
It's hard to argue with 45 goals and 71 total points in 71 games. He's a true power winger who will bang on the boards and shake things up on the forecheck. If he continues to grow more agile and nimble, look out.
9. Anaheim Ducks (from Ottawa Senators): Haydn Fleury, D, Red Deer (WHL)
He's big (6'2" and 203 pounds) and versatile (scored 46 points in 70 games this year). His combination of speed and size is something to see, as he can both join the rush and lay the wood on opposing forwards. Stick him at the point on the power play and watch him work.
10. Nashville Predators: Nikolaj Ehlers, LW, Halifax (QMJHL)
Do you need to know much more than the fact that he scored 105 points in 63 games? No, I didn't think so. Central Scouting's second-best skater could end up going much higher than this, as his blazing speed, top-notch shot and quick hands make him a tantalizing prospect.
11. Toronto Maple Leafs: Jared McCann, C, Sault Ste. Marie (OHL)
It's no secret that the Maple Leafs need to solidify up the middle, and Jared McCann fits that bill. A two-way center adept at involving his teammates and playing the role of table-setter, McCann seems like a natural fit for the Leafs.
12. Washington Capitals: David Pastrnak, RW, Sodertalje (SWE-2)
This might seem like a stretch for the Capitals, but the flashy forward has the dynamic skills that would make him a hit on this Capitals team. His value might have taken a slight dip after he was lost for the season due to injury in February, but this kid can light up the ice.
13. Phoenix Coyotes: Brendan Perlini, LW, Niagara (OHL)
A true power forward, Brendan Perlini scored 34 times and totaled 71 points in just 58 games. And he has room to grow (literally and figuratively) and add strength, as James Onusko of the Edmonton Journal noted:
He may not be done growing, as he doesn’t turn 18 until the last week of April. If first impressions mean anything, suffice it to say that Perlini makes a great first impression. He passes that, always interesting, eye test with flying colours. He’s got great reach and in the warm-up, he was constantly stickhandling. There wouldn’t have been more than 10 or 15 seconds when he wasn’t handling a puck over the 15 minutes or so.
Perlini could very well be a steal here.
14. Dallas Stars: Nicholas Ritchie, LW, Peterborough (OHL)
Nicholas Ritchie is another promising power forward, though he already has grown-man size (6'2", 231 lbs). He has the size and strength to battle on the boards and fight through checks, but the touch and scoring acumen to light the lamp with regularity. He could easily be a top-10 pick.
15. Columbus Blue Jackets: Julius Honka, D, Swift Current (WHL)
One of the steadier defensive prospects in this draft—and with one of the best names, at that—Julius Honka would be a nice fit for the Blue Jackets. He'd quickly become an asset on the power play for this team.
16. Detroit Red Wings: Anthony DeAngelo, D, Sarnia (OHL)
He may play as a defenseman, but offense is where he makes his name, with 71 points in 51 games this season. He is the rare defender who has the ability to change the game with his offensive prowess. He'd certainly add an interesting dynamic to the Red Wings.
17. Philadelphia Flyers: Alex Tuch, C/RW, U.S. U-18 (USHL)
A power forward that would fit nicely into the old mold of Flyers attackers. He's smart and physical, continuing to improve and has a heavy shot. A nice fit for Philly.
18. New York Rangers: Dylan Larkin, C, USA U-18 (USHL)
He's a smart, well-rounded player that would fit nicely on the Rangers. He's as likely to bang on the boards as he is to use his strong skating to chase down a puck or challenge the opposing defense on the rush.
19. Tampa Bay Lightning: Kevin Fiala, LW, HV 71 (SWE)
Kevin Fiala's talent is obvious, but it is his work ethic and aggressiveness on the ice that really stands out. He's an explosive skater who dazzles with his stick-handing and creates for his teammates in the offensive zone.
20. Minnesota Wild: Thatcher Demko, G, Boston College (H-EAST)
Any mock drafter loves when a need meets value on the board, and the Wild certainly have a need for a young goalie. Some folks might think this is a stretch, but Thatcher Demko is the top goalie on the board and a logical selection for the Wild.
21. Los Angeles Kings: Nikolay Goldobin, RW, Sarnia (OHL)
Nikolay Goldobin isn't going to fool anyone into thinking he's a two-way forward at this point in his young career, but his impressive array of offensive skills will be enough for some team in the first round to overlook his flaws. The Russian is very skilled and dangerous in the offensive zone, but his lack of size and lack of defensive acumen could turn some teams off.
22. Montreal Canadiens: Sonny Milano, LW, USA U-18 (USHL)
Great hands and the ability to create scoring opportunities (24 goals and 73 points in 50 games) are the calling cards of Sonny Milano. He makes up for his lack of size with grit, skill and the ability to help out on the defensive end of the ice.
23. Chicago Blackhawks: Jakub Vrana, LW/RW, Linkoping (SWE)
He isn't the flashiest of players, but his reliability and playmaking ability means his game is effective even if it isn't always pretty. Steady is the way with Jakub Vrana, and steady is never boring if the results are positive.
24. Pittsburgh Penguins: Joshua Ho-Sang, C/RW, Windsor (OHL)
Joshua Ho-Sang has one of the most explosive games of any prospect in the draft, but he's currently in the news for all of the wrong reasons. From The Canadian Press (via The Globe and Mail):
The Ontario Hockey League has suspended Windsor Spitfires forward Josh Ho-Sang for 15 games for his hit from behind on London Knights defenceman Zach Bell.
The suspension will take effect at the start of the 2014-15 season.
The incident took place in the second period of Game 4 of the Western Conference quarter-final between Windsor and London last Tuesday. Ho-Sang tripped up Bell from behind, and the defenceman crashes into the boards.
Despite that poor decision, Ho-Sang's ability is unquestioned. He's fresh off an 85-point season and is the flashy, exciting player that fans pay to see.
25. San Jose Sharks: Adrian Kempe, LW, Modo (SWE)
Adrian Kempe is a well-rounded power forward who would do well with the Sharks. He's a pretty safe prospect whose ceiling may not be as high as others, but his floor appears to be higher at the moment. He skates well and, combined with his size and a nasty wrister, uses that to keep defensemen on their heels.
26. Colorado Avalanche: Brendan Lemieux, LW, Barrie (OHL)
Patrick Roy and Joe Sakic are in Colorado already—why not bring aboard Claude Lemieux's son? Brendan Lemieux can put the puck in the net, but like his father, he's not afraid to play the role of enforcer and spend his fair share of time observing the game from the penalty box.
27. Anaheim Ducks: Ivan Barbashev, LW, Moncton (QMJHL)
The Russian loves to play aggressively, both in terms of being physical and his ability to quickly reach top speed and put defenders on edge. There aren't any glaring weaknesses in Ivan Barbashev's game and he can also be utilized on special teams.
28. St. Louis Blues: Nick Schmaltz, C, Green Bay (USHL)
A center who does a little bit of everything and seems just as comfortable digging the puck out of the boards and making a play in a tight space as he is attacking on the rush. His older brother, Jordan, was also a first-round pick, so the hockey bloodlines are strong here.
29. Boston Bruins: Marcus Pettersson, D, Skelleftea Jr. (SWE-JR)
What do you get the team that just dominated the NHL's regular season? How about one of the top European defensemen in this draft? The rich get richer...
30. New Jersey Devils: Roland McKeown, D, Kingston (OHL) **
Physical? Check. Balanced? Check. Intelligent? Check. The first round won't end with the sexiest player on the ice, but he checks off all of the main boxes you'd like to see for a defenseman.
*Pick traded to Sabres but Islanders have the right to defer trade until 2015 if pick is in the top 10 of draft.
**Automatically the 30th pick due to NHL ruling and altered penalty on Ilya Kovalchuk cap situation.