10 Perfect Fits in the 1st Round of the 2014 NHL Draft
The NHL draft is all about taking the best player available. In the period leading up to the draft, general managers will use that phrase hundreds of times.
Yet in a draft like the 2014 edition, where there's no clear No. 1, teams may look for a best fit if all things are equal.
Here are 10 perfect matches for player and team in the first round of this year's NHL entry draft.
10. Brendan Lemieux to the Colorado Avalanche
Why Is This a Perfect Fit? Brendan is the son of Claude Lemieux and plays a similar style to Dad. He's a tough customer who scores his goals the old-fashioned way—he earns it!
How Could It Happen? The Colorado Avalanche are an up-and-coming team who play a rugged style. They have the top pieces in place, but will need hard-working role players to complete the roster.
How Do They Get There? The Avalanche currently pick 21st overall, and Lemieux is not expected to be selected that high. TSN.ca's Craig Button had him at No. 51 in his March rankings. The club could either make him a reach selection or deal down and take him later.
9. Nikolaj Ehlers to the Pittsburgh Penguins
Why Is This a Perfect Fit? Nikolaj Ehlers is an off-the-charts offensive talent with great speed, puck skills and creativity. The Pittsburgh Penguins have two of the best centers in the game—Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin—but have had difficulty finding wingers up to par. Ehlers could fill a major hole.
How Could It Happen? If they don't make the Stanley Cup Final, the Penguins will enter this summer with a lot of question marks. One of the main areas of concern is their skill wingers.
How Do They Get There? The Penguins currently select 27th overall, but that could change as the playoff seedings come into view. Button has Ehlers ranked seventh overall, so the club would have to give up the pick and one of its fine young defensive prospects.
8. Jake Virtanen to the St. Louis Blues
Why Is This a Perfect Fit? Jake Virtanen scored 45 goals this season in the WHL. That's an outstanding total for any draft-eligible player. He's a big, rugged winger, which fits the St. Louis Blues' drafting model.
How Could It Happen? The Blues were ousted early from the playoffs because they lacked offense. They could use another first-shot scorer. There were 65 NHL players who posted 200 or more shots in 2013-14, but St. Louis had only one—Alex Steen.
How Do They Get There? St. Louis has the No. 20 overall selection in this year's draft and will keep it if it fails to re-sign Ryan Miller. TSN.ca's Bob McKenzie has Virtanen ranked eighth overall, so the Blues will need to trade their pick and add something of value.
7. Nick Ritchie to the Montreal Canadiens
Why Is This a Perfect Fit? Nick Ritchie is a big, scoring winger. Ryan Kennedy of The Hockey News described him as a forward with size, skill and snarl. Ritchie already has the physical maturity and could soon be in the NHL.
How Could It Happen? The Montreal Canadiens are enjoying a deep run this spring, but it's also obvious they need big, offensive players. Ritchie is an ideal solution to that problem.
How Do They Get There? Montreal's pick is currently No. 25, and that could change as the playoffs roll along. They would need to trade into the top 10 overall—McKenzie has Ritchie ranked sixth—meaning a very significant piece would have to be added to the transaction. The Canadiens traded their second-round selection in the Thomas Vanek deal.
6. Robby Fabbri to the Buffalo Sabres
Why Is This a Perfect Fit? The Buffalo Sabres scored only 150 goals last season—by far the lowest in the NHL. They'll grab a quality offensive player at No. 2 overall, but if they can add another first-round pick, it could be worthwhile. Robby Fabbri is one of the best offensive players in the draft, but is badly underrated due to size.
How Do They Get There? The Sabres pick second and hold selections No. 31 and No. 39 in the second round. They might be able to trade both second-round selections to move back inside the first round for Fabbri. Two impact offensive prospects for Buffalo could change things in a hurry.
5. Michael Dal Colle to the Winnipeg Jets
Why Is This a Perfect Fit? The Winnipeg Jets are building through the draft, with an eye on strong players with great skills. Michael Dal Colle has across-the-board ability and would fit in with men like Andrew Ladd, Evander Kane and Blake Wheeler.
How Could It Happen? The Jets pick ninth overall, so they'd have to move up three or four spots to get him, as McKenzie has Dal Colle ranked fifth.
How Do They Get There? Dal Colle is one of the impact prospects in this year's draft, and the Jets have the assets to move up and get him. The club could get an impact player whose style fits its template perfectly.
4. Sam Reinhart to the New York Islanders
Why Is This a Perfect Fit? Sam Reinhart is a perfect fit for the New York Islanders for a couple of reasons. First, his brother Griffin is already there, as he was selected fourth overall in the 2012 draft. Second, the younger Reinhart is a perfect fit at center behind John Tavares and Frans Nielsen. That trio would give New York outstanding quality and depth at the position.
How Could It Happen? The Islanders would need to trade up a few spots. They currently own the fifth selection and McKenzie has him ranked second, so the price may not be overwhelming.
How Do They Get There? Reinhart could go first overall or fall to No. 4. The Islanders could trade their fifth overall pick and one of their young prospects to make it happen.
3. Leon Draisaitl to the Edmonton Oilers
Why Is This a Perfect Fit? The Edmonton Oilers have been searching for a big, skilled center since they traded Jason Arnott to New Jersey in 1998. Prince Albert Raider center Leon Draisaitl is an outstanding combination of size and skill, representing a perfect fit for Edmonton.
How Could It Happen? The Oilers would have to pick slightly against consensus. McKenzie's draft lottery rankings show Draisaitl as the fourth-best prospect, and Edmonton selects third overall.
How Do They Get There? The Oilers are already there. They will have to put up with the publicity nightmare of allowing a higher-ranked prospect to fall to the archrival Calgary Flames. Oiler fans will hammer management if it turns out badly.
2. Sam Bennett to the Toronto Maple Leafs
Why Is This a Perfect Fit? The Toronto Maple Leafs need a No. 1 center. They require a pivot with a wide range of skills who can help in all areas. This Toronto Star article by Dave Feschuk details the stylistic similarities between Bennett and former Leaf Doug Gilmour.
How Could It Happen? The Leafs would need to trade up from No. 8 into the top three overall. McKenzie has Bennett ranked third. Possible trade partners include Florida, Buffalo and Edmonton.
How Do They Get There? As Darren Dreger of TSN tweeted out this week, the Leafs are discussing the possibility of trading some very valuable pieces. No. 8 overall and some of these assets may get it done.
Some trade discussion with teams on a number of Leafs players. Kadri, Gardiner, Bolland and Kulemin included. Leafs brass is eager to talk.— Darren Dreger (@DarrenDreger) May 9, 2014
1. Aaron Ekblad to the Philadelphia Flyers
Why Is This a Perfect Fit? Aaron Ekblad is the best defenseman in the draft, offering a complete skill set. The Philadelphia Flyers have been looking for a franchise defenseman since the Chris Pronger injury. Shea Weber's offer sheet was matched, and there are no options via free agency. This is the best course of action available.
How Could It Happen? The Flyers host the draft and have a new GM in Ron Hextall. There will be a desire to make a splash, and Ekblad is already a famous player among hockey fans. "I think the one thing that hasn't changed in my mind about building a team is build through the middle—your goaltender, your defense and your centermen. You have to be strong there or you can't win," Hextall told Jay Greenberg of PhiladelphiaFlyers.com.
How Do They Get There? The Florida Panthers have already expressed an interest in trading down. NHL.com suggests Panthers GM Dale Tallon is willing to trade down or even trade out of the first round. There's a deal to be made between the two teams.