The NHL draft lottery is complete, and NHL teams know where they will select in this year's first round. Each NHL draft year is unique, and this season has several candidates for top spot. There could be a lot of trade activity on the draft floor depending on early selections.
The big winner at this year's lottery is the Florida Panthers. In selecting first overall, they get their choice of several elite prospects. The key is choosing the one prospect who will grow into an impact player—an elite NHL asset they can build around in coming seasons.
This mock draft is based on the best player available for each selection. Teams draft for need, and some do it in the first round, but the quality of player available for a specific pick is the No. 1 consideration for this article.
Here's a look, with possible matches for players and team, at how the 2014 NHL draft's first round could play out. Note that the tense will often be presented as if each pick is happening.
1. Florida Panthers: Aaron Ekblad, D, Barrie (OHL)
The Florida Panthers chase for Aaron Ekblad came down to the final weekend, with an Edmonton Oilers Saturday night victory sealing 29th overall for the Panthers. That slot—29th overall—allowed the Panthers to win the lottery and earn the right to make the first overall selection.
The Panthers should take the best player available—defenseman Aaron Ekblad.
Craig Button from TSN tells us about Ekblad:
When you build a team, you need a solid foundation. Aaron is a pillar defenceman who can play 25 minutes or more and do so in all important situations. His on-ice maturity is exceptional.
The Panthers acquire a rare item: A franchise defenseman. Ekblad's size and maturity suggest he will likely come right to the NHL.
2. Buffalo Sabres: Sam Reinhart, C, Kootenay (WHL)
The Buffalo Sabres move down to No. 2, but they still select the best forward available—center Sam Reinhart. His playoff numbers prove he is taking a late-season step forward, and has earned the ranking.
Reinhart has a big brain and tremendous talent, as Corey Pronman (subscription required) from ESPN states:
Reinhart is the best pure passer in this draft class. His ability to dictate the tempo of a hockey game, in terms of increasing or decreasing pace and making plays at all those speeds, elevates his game to a distinct level. Reinhart can make all kinds of plays with the puck, and his elite hockey sense stands out regularly in terms of the passing lanes he sees.
There was speculation about the Sabres taking Aaron Ekblad if they retained the top selection, but as David Staples of the Edmonton Journal tells us, Buffalo GM Tim Murray is not sure Ekblad is a franchise player. Sam Reinhart is an outstanding selection at second overall.
3. Edmonton Oilers: Leon Draisaitl, C, Prince Albert (WHL)
The Edmonton Oilers make their annual appearance at the top of the draft, and their shopping list is once again a long one. The Oilers would dearly love to draft Ekblad, but they will consider themselves lucky to acquire a big center in German Leon Draisaitl.
Bruce McCurdy from the Cult of Hockey at the Edmonton Journal gives us a very nice look at Draisaitl:
The big centre (listed as 6’1, 209) was neither overly physically aggressive nor a speedster, but largely impressed this observer with his overall command of the game. The play went through his stick constantly, and for the most part, good or at least promising things developed thereafter. He showed a couple of bursts of what I would term “situational speed” but his A game is clearly one of controlling the play rather than pushing it. As I said to my voice recorder at one point, “When the puck is on Draisaitl’s stick, he owns it. Even if there’s a guy in his kitchen he’s in full control.” And later, “Very calm with the puck on his stick, not quite nonchalant but knows how much time he’s got, which in this league is a lot. Big and strong and can dangle the puck out of reach of the man who’s on him, pick his spot and distribute… A lot of subtle stuff, some little mistakes at the end of shifts, but with the puck on his stick he makes a lot of good decisions.”
Edmonton may be tempted to bring him right to the NHL, but patience may be required with this player. For GM Craig MacTavish, a big center with skill is high on the shopping list, and too much to pass on. Draisaitl to the Oilers, third overall.
4. Calgary Flames: Sam Bennett, C, Kingston (OHL)
The Flames would be thrilled to land Sam Bennett at No. 4. Mike Morreale of NHL.com quotes Central Scouting's Dan Marr, saying they see a player who could have a Jonathan Toews type of career. Calgary drafted a center—Sean Monahan—in the first round a year ago, and have needs at other positions.
This is a case of taking the best player available, and worrying about everything else later. Sam Bennett at No. 4 represents terrific value.
5. New York Islanders: Nikolaj Ehlers, LW, Halifax (QMJHL).
Nikolaj Ehlers is a very skilled winger with terrific speed. Scouts believe he can have a large impact in the future. Edmonton Oilers GM Craig MacTavish was impressed with him, and told Andrew Rankin of Metro News that Ehlers was a dangerous, exciting player. This is the pick the New York Islanders may end up sending to Buffalo in order to complete the Tomas Vanek trade. For our purposes, New York keeps the pick.
6. Vancouver Canucks: Michael Dal Colle, LW, Oshawa (OHL).
Michael Dal Colle had a strong OHL season and finished 17GP, 7-17-24. He followed that up with a solid playoff. Craig Button of TSN mentioned his combination of speed, power and skill last fall, and he has progressed since then.
7. Carolina Hurricanes: William Nylander, C, MODO (SHL) and Södertälje (Allsvenskan) .
A center with terrific hands, William Nylander is one of the most skilled players in the draft. However, he has some defensive issues and lacks size, as detailed in this bio via Elite Prospects. Carolina had success with Elias Lindholm in the first round last season, and returns to Sweden for the second year in a row.
8. Toronto Maple Leafs: Jake Virtanen, LW, Calgary (WHL).
The Leafs acquire an intriguing offensive winger with size, speed and a scorer's touch. He scored 45 goals this season and plays a physical style—he posted 100 penalty minutes this year. Jake Virtanen was born August 1996—he is one of the youngest players available in this year's draft.
9. Winnipeg Jets: Kasperi Kapanen, RW, Kalpa (SM-Liiga).
Kasperi Kapanen is a teenager in a man's league—Finland's pro SM-Liiga. He scored 47GP, 7-7-14 this season, and displays great skill and speed. He might take time to arrive in the NHL, but the Jets appear content to develop their players on a slower timeline.
10. Anaheim Ducks via Ottawa Senators: Ivan Barbashev, C, Moncton (QMJHL).
Ivan Barbashev is a really nice player, a man in the middle with a wide range of skills. He finished the Q season strong (10GP, 8-10-18), and Central Scouting's Dan Marr tells NHL.com he's a powerful skater with good hands. This selection belongs to Anaheim because of the Bobby Ryan trade.
11. Nashville Predators: Alex Tuch, RW, U.S. NTDP (USHL).
Alex Tuch is a trending player, as described by Ryan Kennedy of the Hockey News. He plays a heavy power-game. NHL scouts value players with size and skill, and Tuch may end up inside the top 10 by draft day.
12. Phoenix Coyotes: David Pastrnak, RW, Södertälje (Allsvenskan).
David Pastrnak is another exceptional winger playing in Sweden. As a skilled forward, he's dangerous around the net and possesses quick hands. At 6'0", 168 lbs. he'll need to bulk up before he hits the NHL.
13. Washington Capitals: Nick Ritchie, LW, Peterborough (OHL).
Nick Ritchie is one of the biggest forwards in this year's draft. Mike Morreale wrote about him for NHL.com, quoting Central Scouting's Chris Edwards in describing Ritchie as a big, physical winger who is tough to knock off the puck. If he's available at No. 13, Washington will have a tough time passing on Ritchie.
14. Dallas Stars: Haydn Fleury, D, Red Deer (WHL).
A finesse defender with good size, Haydn Fleury's ability to move the puck effectively should get him drafted in the first half of round one. Teams may shy away a little because he isn't overly physical. There seems to be quite a degree of disagreement about this player.
15. Detroit Red Wings: Brendan Perlini, LW, Niagra (OHL).
Brendan Perlini is a throwback winger in that he has nice size and speed with a shot good enough to score from a distance. The Red Wings rarely draft this high, and Perlini is a quality pick at this point in the draft.
16. Columbus Blue Jackets: Dylan Larkin, LW, U.S. NTDP (USHL).
A nice range of skills combined with decent size make Dylan Larkin an attractive option. More of a two-way talent, his offense doesn't get a lot of attention, but he'll have plenty of time to mature at the University of Michigan.
17. Philadelphia Flyers: Robert Fabbri, C, Guelph (OHL).
The OHL produced many of the top players available in this year's draft, and Robert Fabbri is among the best. The only reason he lasts this far is lack of size, but the Flyers have had success when choosing undersized forwards in the first round.
18. New York Rangers: Jared McCann, C, Sault Ste. Marie (OHL).
Jared McCann has explosiveness and plays a quality two-way game, according to Dan Stewart of Future Considerations via OHL Prospects. This pick could be transferred to the Tampa Bay Lightning as part of the Martin St. Louis trade. For our purposes, the pick stays with the Rangers.
19. Minnesota Wild: Anton Karlsson, LW, Frolunda (Swe-1).
Anton Karlsson is a gritty winger with two-way ability and good speed. Placing him this early is a bit of a stretch based on some scouting services—Bob McKenzie at TSN had him #31 at the mid-season—but his range of skills has a lot of value.
20. Los Angeles Kings: Josh Ho-Sang, C, Windsor (OHL).
Josh Ho-Sang is an interesting prospect who might end up being one of the best players in the draft. An anonymous panel member at OHL Prospects describes him as a player with hands that scouts dream about seeing in young centers.
21. Montreal Canadiens: Julius Honka, D, Swift Current (WHL).
Julius Honka is a gifted puck-moving defenseman with terrific skills and mobility, as reflected in his scouting report at Elite Prospects. He showed well at the World Junior Championships and has been moving up the draft list since the new year.
22. Tampa Bay Lightning: Sonny Milano, LW, U.S. NTDP (USHL).
Sonny Milano is a talented offensive winger with above-average skill. Craig Button of TSN described him as a confident player with magic hands in a mid-season report.
23. Chicago Blackhawks: Nick Schmaltz, C, Green Bay (USHL).
Nick Schmaltz is a quick skill player, and a tall, lean teenager. He is on his way to North Dakota (NCAA) in the fall, and posted two very nice seasons with the Green Bay Gamblers.
24. Pittsburgh Penguins: Jakub Vrana, LW, Linköping (SHL).
Jakub Vrana has a nice range of skills offensively, and played much of the season against men. He impressed at the World Junior Championships, and playing in the pro SHL league at this age is a positive sign.
25. San Jose Sharks: Nikolai Goldobin, LW, Sarnia (OHL).
Nikolai Goldobin is a quality offensive prospect who represents excellent value. Skating is sometimes mentioned as an issue. As reported by OHL Prospects, he stood out at the Top Prospects game in Calgary.
26. St. Louis Blues: Roland McKeown, D, Kingston (OHL).
Roland McKeown's skating will get him drafted in the first round, as described by the OHL Prospects panel. There is some concern expressed in that report about his lack of development this season, but his skill set is quality. This pick may end up with Buffalo depending on how things roll out this spring, but for our purposes it stays with St. Louis.
27. Colorado Avalanche: Nikita Scherbak, LW, Saskatoon (WHL).
Nikita Scherbak is a skilled, gritty winger whose offensive ability is well developed as indicated in his Elite Prospects bio. He's raw defensively and it may take some time to develop that side of his game.
28. Anaheim Ducks: Adrian Kempe, LW, MODO (SHL).
Adrian Kempe is a skill forward with speed and good size. He played in the SHL this season and scored well. The Anaheim Ducks have two picks in this round and if they end up with Barbashev and Kempe it'll be a good day.
29. Boston Bruins: Conner Bleackley, C, Red Deer (WHL). Connor Bleackley is an intelligent winger with impressive offensive ability. He scored at close to a point-per-game level in the WHL at age 17—a rare occurrence.
30. New Jersey Devils: John Quenneville, C, Brandon (WHL). John Quenneville is a center with good size and creativity. He is an excellent passer, which is often an underrated skill. This is the pick awarded to New Jersey by the NHL, details here.