It isn't uncommon for struggling teams to turn things around in short order in the NHL, and that starts with the NHL draft.
Although the 2014 draft may not be as hyped as next season's, it pretty much has it all. A handful of elite prospects have a great opportunity to make a splash in the NHL next season, while others still need time to develop.
With an eclectic mix of Canadian, American and European players in the class, a little bit of everything figures to happen during Friday's first round.
The NHL draft marks the first opportunity teams will have to truly improve this offseason. Here is a look at how each of the clubs picking in the first round can accomplish that.
1. Florida Panthers: Aaron Ekblad, D, Barrie (OHL)
The Panthers clearly need to start improving their defensive corps and it just so happens that one defenseman stands head and shoulders above the rest in this draft. Florida will have the pick of the litter, but Ekblad is too good of a fit to pass up.
2. Buffalo Sabres: Sam Reinhart, C, Kootenay (WHL)
Sabres fans have debated the merits of both Reinhart and Sam Bennett leading up to the draft, as Buffalo desperately needs a cornerstone forward. Both could be stars at the NHL level, but Reinhart could be a true superstar from a scoring perspective, so he has to be the pick.
3. Edmonton Oilers: Sam Bennett, C, Kingston (OHL)
Despite have so many high picks and bringing in so much talent over the past several years, the Edmonton Oilers can't seem to make any headway in the standings.
They are once again picking in the top five of the draft (No. 3) and desperately need to bring in another impact player. As much as Edmonton could use help on defense, the Oil may have to go in a different direction since Ekblad figures to go first overall.
If that is the case, then Edmonton's focus will shift toward one of Reinhart, Bennett or Leon Draisaitl.
The Oilers have drafted some very skilled forwards in recent years, including Jordan Eberle, Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Nail Yakupov. Eberle and Hall both look like legitimate stars, but the jury is still out on RNH and Yakupov.
With that in mind, the Oilers need to come through with the closest thing to a slam-dunk pick.
Provided the Sabres go with Reinhart at No. 2, Bennett makes the most sense for the Oilers. The fact that he is a center helps since Edmonton could use some depth there, but his style of play is what would help most.
As skilled as the Oilers are, they seemingly aren't always willing to compete at a high level or play with an edge.
Bennett has a nonstop motor and constantly outworks his opponents. As seen in this video courtesy of the Oilers' official Twitter account, Bennett has an ideal role model in the form of Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews:
If Bennett develops into even half the player that Toews is, then he will have a long and prosperous NHL career. The Oilers have done their due diligence on many top prospects in this draft, and Chris Wescott of EdmontonOilers.com notes that includes Bennett:
Bennett is hugely impressive both as a player and an individual, so it will be extremely tough for Edmonton to pass him up if he is available at No. 3.
The Oilers need players like Bennett in order to turn the corner and they simply can't afford to let him slip away.
4. Calgary Flames: Leon Draisaitl, C, Prince Albert (WHL)
In terms of size, speed and skill, Draisaitl is the total package. He may not be as polished as Reinhart or Bennett, but his ceiling may be higher than both. The Flames will be left with the final remaining member of the "Big Four" in this draft and they'll be happy with a talent like Draisaitl.
5. New York Islanders: Michael Dal Colle, LW, Oshawa (OHL)
The Islanders have plenty of young, gifted forward prospects, but it remains to be seen how many of them will ultimately pan out. New York needs to continue stockpiling talent to put around John Tavares, and a big winger like Dal Colle seems like an ideal pick.
6. Vancouver Canucks: Nick Ritchie, LW, Peterborough (OHL)
Vancouver is a team in limbo, as it still has productive veterans like the Sedins and Ryan Kesler, but its window of opportunity to be a contender may be shut. The Canucks have already started to build toward the future with forwards like Bo Horvat and Zack Kassian, and Ritchie would be a fine addition to that group.
7. Carolina Hurricanes: William Nylander, RW, MODO (SHL)
The Hurricanes have a lot of offensive talent, but they are trying to make all the pieces fit and are hoping to become perennial playoff contenders. Nylander is still at least a couple of years away, but his playmaking will mesh well with the likes of Eric Staal and Jeff Skinner in time.
8. Toronto Maple Leafs: Jake Virtanen, LW, Calgary (WHL)
Toronto is a tough team to figure out. It seems to have good players at every position, but it somehow always manages to come up short. Virtanen is a big, skilled and hard-working player who may be able to change the team's culture a bit when he comes to the NHL.
9. Winnipeg Jets: Kasperi Kapanen, RW, KalPa (SM-Liiga)
Kapanen is the son of former NHL star Sami Kapanen and he possesses many of the same skills. He is smallish, but also has blazing speed and quick hands. He already has experience at the top level of Finnish hockey and could add another dimension to Winnipeg's attack down the line.
10. Anaheim Ducks (from Ottawa Senators): Brendan Perlini, LW, Niagara (OHL)
It is no secret that the Ducks have a thing for big forwards with offensive talent. Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry are the current anchors of the team, and Perlini could be next. After trading Bobby Ryan to the Ottawa Senators last offseason, perhaps Perlini can fill that role in the future.
11. Nashville Predators: Jared McCann, C, Sault Ste. Marie (OHL)
The Predators are expected to start playing more of an uptempo style now that new head coach Peter Laviolette is in charge, but more talent is needed up front in order to do that. McCann has top-six potential as a center and represents good value outside the top 10 as well.
12. Phoenix Coyotes: Nikolaj Ehlers, LW, Halifax (QMJHL)
The Phoenix Coyotes are a team that has had some success over the past few years due largely to a disciplined, defensive system.
That type of play can only take teams so far, though, as goal scoring is ultimately the name of the game. While Phoenix doesn't boast many dynamic offensive players, it may have a chance to land one in this draft in the form of Nikolaj Ehlers.
After coming over to the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League from the National League A in Switzerland, Ehlers exploded to the tune of 49 goals and 104 points for the Halifax Mooseheads this past season. Ehlers added an additional 28 points in the playoffs to erase any doubts about whether or not he is a legitimate offensive star.
According to ISS Hockey, Ehlers' skill level is through the roof:
It is difficult to get a good read on how much teams value Ehlers. He could potentially be an offensive star in the NHL, but he is very much on the small side, doesn't have much physicality in his game and isn't the best defender either.
All of that could cause him to slip a bit, since there is so much focus on grit in the NHL today.
The Coyotes already have grit in spades, though, so they can afford to take a chance on the talented Dane. Phoenix already has one Danish player in Mikkel Boedker, and he really seemed to come into his own this season.
Perhaps that will give the Coyotes the confidence they need to select Ehlers.
13. Washington Capitals: Haydn Fleury, D, Red Deer (WHL)
After a long run of forwards, the second defenseman of the draft finally comes off the board in the form of Fleury. The Capitals definitely have the pieces to be contenders in the near future, but they need to become stouter on defense, which is where Fleury comes in.
14. Dallas Stars: Alex Tuch, RW, USA U-18 (USHL)
The Stars seem to gravitate toward power forward types like Jamie Benn and Valeri Nichushkin, so Tuch seems like a natural selection for them. He is quickly becoming a stud within the United States' development program and still has even more room to grow.
15. Detroit Red Wings: Julius Honka, D, Swift Current (WHL)
It is well-documented that the Red Wings enjoy taking European-born prospects and integrating them into their system. That strategy has worked wonders for them over the years, and Honka fits the profile of the type of prospect they like.
16. Columbus Blue Jackets: Kevin Fiala, C, HV71 (SHL)
Fiala is somewhat of a late riser after really coming on late in the year over in Sweden. He is a pure offensive dynamo with excellent speed and sick hands, so he'll ultimately be a great asset to a Blue Jackets team that can be inconsistent from a scoring perspective.
17. Philadelphia Flyers: Dylan Larkin, C, USA U-18 (USHL)
The second half of the first round figures to be littered with American prospects who are starting to come into their own. Larkin is a complete forward who fits that mold and should mesh well with the Flyers' pure offensive talent in the coming years.
18. Minnesota Wild: Anthony DeAngelo, D, Sarnia (OHL)
There is no question that Ekblad is a better all-around defenseman, but DeAngelo may very well be the best pure offensive blueliner in this draft. DeAngelo racked up 71 points for the Sarnia Sting this past season and could be the Wild's power-play quarterback of the future.
19. Tampa Bay Lightning: Jakub Vrana, C, Linkoping (SHL)
Tampa Bay has an embarrassment of riches from an offensive perspective and will be a force to be reckoned with for a long time. It can't hurt to add more skill to that forward group, though, especially when it comes to a talent like Vrana at this juncture.
20. San Jose Sharks: Adrian Kempe, RW, MODO (SHL)
The Sharks' top stars such as Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau are aging, so it is time to start retooling. Provided players like Joe Pavelski, Logan Couture and Tomas Hertl are productive a few years from now, Kempe will make for a nice addition to that stable.
21. St. Louis Blues: Ivan Barbashev, LW, Moncton (QMJHL)
Mystery and apprehension are seemingly always involved when it comes to drafting Russian players. The Blues have proven capable of handling it with Vladimir Tarasenko, though, and will hope to strike pay dirt for a second time by taking Barbashev.
22. Pittsburgh Penguins: Sonny Milano, LW, USA U-18 (USHL)
The Penguins aren't going to get the help they need now at this point in the draft, but Milano is a guy who could potentially be a star down the line if he is allowed to play alongside Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin. Milano has magical hands and could really benefit from those types of world-class players.
23. Colorado Avalanche: Roland McKeown, D, Kingston (OHL)
Colorado has one of the NHL's most exciting teams. A player like McKeown wouldn't necessarily fit that profile, but the Avs need to fortify their defense. He is a smart player who excels at making the simple plays, which makes him a great pick here.
24. Anaheim Ducks: Marcus Pettersson, D, Skelleftea (SHL)
Swedish defenseman Hampus Lindholm looks like a potential future star for the Ducks, so why not go to the well one more time? Pettersson isn't as highly touted as Lindholm was, but he has plenty of raw talent and could be molded into something special overseas.
25. Boston Bruins: Ryan MacInnis, C, Kitchener (OHL)
Although he is very much a work in progress, forward Ryan MacInnis has the potential to be an excellent player at the NHL level.
After spending a year with the United States National Development Team, MacInnis made the transition to the Ontario Hockey League's Kitchener Rangers. With 16 goals and 37 points, he was one of the better first-year players in the league in 2013-14.
MacInnis' progress in his second year will say a lot about how good he might ultimately become, but what he has shown to this point is already worth buying into.
MacInnis also stands out because of his name. He is the son of Hall of Famer Al MacInnis, who was one of the greatest defensemen in NHL history.
The younger MacInnis is plying his trade as a center, but his bloodlines will always be part of the conversation. Being the son of an all-time great could be difficult for some. However, NHL Central Scouting's David Gregory told NHL.com's Mike G. Morreale he doesn't believe it negatively impacts MacInnis:
He improved over the second half of the season with his mobility and speed to position himself to create more offensively, be on the attack and shoot really well. I think Ryan has handled himself very well considering who his dad is. I give him credit for playing under that spotlight and continuing to work on his game. I think he's got a bright future and I like his upside.
The Boston Bruins could benefit from restocking their system, but they aren't a team that needs to rush players to the NHL. That makes MacInnis a perfect fit, since Boston can afford to let his growth continue.
MacInnis' true impact may not be felt until five years down the road, but banking on potential is often the right way to go at this point in the first round.
26. Montreal Canadiens: Nick Schmaltz, C, Green Bay (USHL)
Yet another promising American forward comes off the board here in the form of Schmaltz. The Canadiens boast several top Americans including Max Pacioretty and Alex Galchenyuk, so Schmaltz definitely figures to be a target at No. 26.
27. Chicago Blackhawks: John Quenneville, C, Brandon (WHL)
Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville is John's cousin, so one can only assume that Chicago has a lot of information on the youngster. Quenneville averaged nearly a point per game during his second Western Hockey League season and performed well in the playoffs too, which makes him a good option for Chicago.
28. Tampa Bay Lightning (from New York Rangers): Nikolay Goldobin, RW, Sarnia (OHL)
Steven Stamkos is the Lightning's cornerstone player and others get better by simply playing alongside him. Goldobin has a lot of development left and is far from a sure thing, but he could potentially do some special things on a line with Stamkos in the future.
29. Los Angeles Kings: David Pastrnak, LW, Sodertalje (Allsvenskan)
The Kings have had the Midas touch over the past few years, as everything they put their hands on has turned to gold. Los Angeles makes its early draft picks count each and every year, and it is easy to see the team drafting and cultivating a forward like Pastrnak from Swedish hockey's second tier.
30. New Jersey Devils: Thatcher Demko, G, Boston College (NCAA)
A changing of the guard is on the horizon in New Jersey, as legendary goalie Martin Brodeur is seemingly on his way out. Cory Schneider is more than ready to take the reins, but organizational depth is needed at the position. Demko is far and away the best netminder in this draft.
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