The 2014 NHL draft might not draw the same attention as either the NBA or NFL draft, but it is just as important to the sport.
On the heels of an exciting run to the Stanley Cup Final and eventual championship by the Los Angeles Kings, every franchise in hockey will be looking to knock them off the throne—literally.
Teams like the Florida Panthers, Buffalo Sabres and Edmonton Oilers have the chance to choose a franchise-changing player. After horrid seasons, all three will need to get this selection right to turn things around.
With the selection process set to kick off on Friday night, here's a look at the draft order, viewing information and likely landing spots for the top prospects.
2014 NHL Draft Information
Where: Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia
When: Friday, June 27 at 7 p.m. ET
TV: NBC Sports Network
Live Stream: NBC Live Extra
|5||New York Islanders|
|8||Toronto Maple Leafs|
|10||Anaheim Ducks (From Ottawa)|
|15||Detroit Red Wings|
|16||Columbus Blue Jackets|
|19||Tampa Bay Lightning|
|20||San Jose Sharks|
|21||St. Louis Blues (Conditional to Buffalo)|
|28||Tampa Bay Lightning (From New York Rangers)|
|29||Los Angeles Kings|
|30||New Jersey Devils|
|33||St. Louis Blues (From Edmonton Oilers)|
|35||New York Islanders|
|38||Anaheim Ducks or Columbus Blue Jackets, at Anaheim's option (From Toronto)|
|39||Buffalo Sabres (From Winnipeg via Minnesota)|
|41||New Jersey Devils|
|46||Nashville Predators (From Detroit)|
|47||Columbus Blue Jackets|
|49||Buffalo Sabres (From Minnesota, conditional to St. Louis)|
|50||Tampa Bay Lightning|
|51||San Jose Sharks|
|52||St. Louis Blues|
|53||San Jose Sharks (from Pittsburgh)|
|54||Calgary Flames (From Colorado)|
|56||Boston Bruins (conditional to Philadelphia)|
|57||New York Islanders (From Montreal)|
|58||Phoenix Coyotes (From Chicago)|
|59||New York Rangers|
|60||Los Angeles Kings|
* Full seven-round draft order can be found here.
1. Florida Panthers: Aaron Ekblad, D, Barrie (OHL)
When it comes to defensemen in this year's draft, Aaron Ekblad might be the only can't-miss prospect.
For a team like the Panthers that surrendered an average of 3.20 goals per game, adding another top defensive prospect is a necessity. Kyle Woodlief of USA Today provides a look at Ekblad's skills:
Ekblad is both physically and mentally ready to join the NHL right away with his large frame and the poise that comes with being granted "exceptional status" to join the Ontario Hockey League at age 15. He already has three full years in at the OHL level, and is used to being the center of media attention, so handling his draft status should be no problem. With his mix of size, toughness, defensive acumen, and puck skills, Ekblad can impact games at both ends of the ice, and contributes in just about every aspect.
With the potential to make a huge impact at the next level almost immediately, Ekblad is the obvious choice here for the Panthers. The next defenseman on many boards, Haydn Fleury, could fall as far as outside of the top 10, making Ekblad far and away the best defensive prospect.
Harvey Fialkov of the Sun Sentinel believes the Panthers are leaning toward Ekblad but also presents another option for the team:
Panthers source tells Sun Sentinel if they don't like offers for No. 1 pick then most likely they'll go for D Aaron Ekblad #FlaPanthers— Harvey Fialkov (@hfialkov) June 9, 2014
At 6'4", 217 pounds, Ekblad already has the size projected for a defender in the NHL. If he can keep up with some of the top centers in the league, look for the 18-year-old to be a star for several years with Florida.
2. Buffalo Sabres: Sam Bennett, LW, Kingston (OHL)
It was a tough year for the Buffalo Sabres, but an offensive weapon like Sam Bennett offers a quick fix.
In 57 games last season with the Kingston Frontenacs, he scored a ridiculous 36 goals and had 91 points. Throw in the fact that he just turned 18 on June 20, and Buffalo has a prospect who can be a franchise player for more than a decade.
After comparing him to Hall of Famer and Frontenacs general manager Doug Gilmour, John Vogl of The Buffalo News provides a quote from David Gregory of NHL Central Scouting on Bennett:
He plays the kind of game you think cannot be sustained for a whole season because it’s a high-energy game and compete game at all ends of the ice. He ends up playing that game for the whole year. He just never stops, and put that with the skill package he has and how well he thinks the game, he’s pretty much a top-notch player.
Needless to say, Bennett appears to be the top offensive star in the draft alongside Sam Reinhart of the WHL. If he can show that same scoring flash at the next level and develop slightly more size than his current 6'0", 178-pound frame, Bennett has a chance to thrive in Buffalo.
3. Edmonton Oilers: Sam Reinhart, C, Kootenay (WHL)
With the maturity and skating ability to separate from defenders, Reinhart might be the most NHL-ready offensive prospect in the class.
Corey Pronman of ESPN (subscription required) passes along a detailed scouting report for the prospect:
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.
Who should go No. 1?
After posting a plus-minus of 24 as the captain of the Kootenay Ice last season, Reinhart will be a fast riser through the Edmonton Oilers system. With slightly more size and weight than Bennett, Reinhart can immediately make an impact in the Western Conference with Edmonton.
Not only will his speed show at the next level, but his creativity and vision make him special. His future appears to be as a front-line center, with the potential to take over as soon as necessary for a team that registered just 2.43 goals per game last season.
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