It can be argued that the 2014 NHL draft isn't as stacked as some recent classes in terms of elite star power, but there will be plenty of talent to be had Friday and Saturday.
The top of the draft features a potential top-flight defenseman and two intriguing centers who could potentially step in and produce immediately at the NHL level. Add plenty of European and American flair throughout the first round, and there is a lot to get excited about.
With the draft nearly set to commence, here is everything you need to know, including when and where to watch, the first-round draft order, prospect rankings and much more.
Where: Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia
When: Friday, June 27 at 7 p.m. ET and Saturday, June 28 at 10 a.m. ET
Watch: NBC Sports Network (Day 1), TSN (Day 1), NHL Network (Day 2)
First-Round Draft Order
|2014 NHL Draft First-Round Order|
|5||New York Islanders|
|8||Toronto Maple Leafs|
|10||Anaheim Ducks (from Ottawa Senators)|
|15||Detroit Red Wings|
|16||Columbus Blue Jackets|
|19||Tampa Bay Lightning|
|20||San Jose Sharks|
|21||St. Louis Blues|
|28||Tampa Bay Lightning (from New York Rangers)|
|29||Los Angeles Kings|
|30||New Jersey Devils|
Top Prospect Rankings
|2014 NHL Draft Top 30 Prospects|
|4||Leon Draisaitl||C||Prince Albert||WHL|
|5||Michael Dal Colle||LW||Oshawa||OHL|
|9||Haydn Fleury||D||Red Deer||WHL|
|13||Jared McCann||C||Sault Ste. Marie||OHL|
|14||Alex Tuch||RW||USA U-18||USHL|
|15||Julius Honka||D||Swift Current||WHL|
|16||Dylan Larkin||C||USA U-18||USHL|
|17||Sonny Milano||LW||USA U-18||USHL|
|18||Kevin Fiala||C||HV 71 Jr.||Sweden-Jr.|
|21||Thatcher Demko||G||Boston College||NCAA|
|23||Nick Schmaltz||C||Green Bay||USHL|
|24||Adrian Kempe||RW||Modo Jr.||Sweden-Jr.|
|Mike Chiari's Rankings|
NHL Draft Predictions
Aaron Ekblad Goes No. 1
After winning the draft lottery, the Florida Panthers hold the No. 1 overall selection. Florida has been trying to build itself into a true contender for quite some time, but everything has yet to come together. The Panthers have largely focused on bringing in offensive talent, such as Jonathan Huberdeau and Aleksander Barkov, over the past couple of years, so it may be time to look toward the blue line.
There is absolutely no question that Aaron Ekblad is the No. 1 defenseman in this draft and a surefire top-three pick. Ekblad already has an NHL frame, and he developed in every facet with each passing year with the OHL's Barrie Colts. Ekblad is very much trending upward, and that figures to continue.
The Panthers are likely listening to trade offers for the top selection, but Harvey Fialkov of the South Florida Sun Sentinel reports that Ekblad is their target if they stand pat:
Ekblad knows that going No. 1 to Florida is a distinct possibility, but he plans on performing to the best of his abilities regardless of where he ultimately lands, according to NHL.com's ike Morreale:
There's always the chance that one of the five of us will go No. 1; you just don't know because it's such a tight draft. But wherever I get picked I'm going to go, and I want to make that team better next year and for many years after that. That's my goal and what I believe in, so I think I can do it.
Florida's need on defense may be what puts Ekblad over the top, but he is definitely worthy from an overall skills perspective as well. Ekblad has everything teams look for in a cornerstone rearguard, and that will be enough to help him top the draft.
Sam Reinhart Goes Before Sam Bennett
Assuming the Panthers take Ekblad with the first pick of the 2014 NHL draft, the focus will then shift toward which forward goes No. 2. The Buffalo Sabres will pick second after a miserable season, but their reward is nabbing a potential superstar in the first round. Although a case can be made for Leon Draisaitl or Michael Dal Colle, most would probably agree that Buffalo is deciding between Sam Reinhart and Sam Bennett.
Both Sams are excellent offensive centers who have top-line upside in the NHL. With that said, they are very different types of players. As pointed out by Jeremy White of WGR 550 in Buffalo, Reinhart may have more overall talent, but Bennett rules the intangibles category:
Sabres fans probably wouldn't complain about either, but one of them is bound to be at least slightly better in the NHL. Reinhart has the higher ceiling due to his incredible passing ability, but Bennett likely has the higher floor due to his overall effort.
With that in mind, former Sabre Matthew Barnaby favors Bennett slightly over Reinhart:
In baseball terms, Bennett may be a guaranteed double, but he may not progress much beyond that. Reinhart, on the other hand, has home run potential. The Sabres are offensively challenged and need a cornerstone guy who can carry the offensive load. Reinhart fits the description better than Bennett.
William Nylander Will Be First European-Based Player Off Board
Although Draisaitl is likely to be the first European-born player off the board Friday, he plays his junior hockey in Canada. In terms of European players who are still based overseas, William Nylander of Sodertalje is in direct competition with Finland's Kasperi Kapanen to hear his name called first.
Both are sons of former NHL stars, but Nylander may have a slight advantage. He is looking to follow in the footsteps of his dad—Michael Nylander—but he has a different skill set. William is smaller, faster and probably more skilled overall. According to ISS Hockey, Nylander has elite offensive weapons:
Nylander is on the small side, though, and doesn't play with much physicality. That doesn't mean he can't be successful in the NHL, but it is important that he falls into the right situation and is surrounded with some bigger players who can handle the physical aspect of the game.
Nylander is an option to be taken at any point outside the top five. The Carolina Hurricanes at No. 7 seem like an ideal fit for him, as he would have players such as Eric Staal and Jeff Skinner in the fold to accentuate his playmaking ability. Nylander is definitely a player who needs to continue developing, but he has the talent to be a superstar.
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