The race to dethrone the Los Angeles Kings as NHL champions has already begun. Teams are posturing to put the best product on the ice next season and into the future.
On Thursday, the NHL announced the draft order for the 2014 draft. It will be held from June 27-28 at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia.
The order of all seven rounds was released, but here's a look at the first-round selections and projected picks. To see the entire order, visit NHL.com.
|First-Round Projections for 2014 NHL Draft|
|1||Florida Panthers||Aaron Ekblad (Barrie), D|
|2||Buffalo Sabres||Sam Reinhart (Kootenay), C|
|3||Edmonton Oilers||Sam Bennett (Kingston), C|
|4||Calgary Flames||Leon Draisaitl (Prince Albert), C|
|5||New York Islanders||Michael Dal Colle (Oshawa), LW|
|6||Vancouver Canucks||Nick Ritchie (Peterborough), LW|
|7||Carolina Hurricanes||Jake Virtanen (Calgary), LW|
|8||Toronto Maple Leafs||Brendan Perlini (Niagara), LW|
|9||Winnipeg Jets||William Nylander (Sodertalje), RW|
|10||Anaheim Ducks||Kasperi Kapanen (Kalpa), RW|
|11||Nashville Predators||Kevin Fiala (HV 71), C|
|12||Phoenix Coyotes||Haydn Fleury (Red Deer), D|
|13||Washington Capitals||Robby Fabbri (Guelph), C|
|14||Dallas Stars||Nikolaj Ehlers (Halifax), LW|
|15||Detroit Red Wings||Julius Honka (Swift Current), D|
|16||Columbus Blue Jackets||Jared McCann (Sault Ste. Marie), C|
|17||Philadelphia Flyers||Alex Tuch (U.S. NTDP), RW/C|
|18||Minnesota Wild||Thatcher Demko (NCAA, Boston College), G|
|19||Tampa Bay Lightning||Sonny Milano (U.S. NTDP), LW|
|20||San Jose Sharks||Dylan Larkin (U.S. NTDP), LW|
|21||St. Louis Blues||David Pastrnak (Sodertalje), LW|
|22||Pittsburgh Penguins||Ivan Barbashev (Moncton), LW|
|23||Colorado Avalanche||Nikita Scherbak (Saskatoon), LW|
|24||Anaheim Ducks||Anthony DeAngelo (Sarnia), D|
|25||Boston Bruins||Jakub Vrana (Linkoping), C|
|26||Montreal Canadiens||Joshua Ho-Sang (Windsor), RW/C|
|27||Chicago Blackhawks||Adrian Kempe (MODO), RW|
|28||Tampa Bay Lightning||Brendan Lemieux (Barrie), LW|
|29||Los Angeles Kings||Nick Schmaltz (Green Bay), C|
|30||New Jersey Devils||Jack Dougherty (U.S. NTDP), D|
|Draf order per NHL.com, picks per Brian Mazique|
Here's a closer look at the top prospects available in this year's draft.
Sam Reinhart, Kootenay (WHL)
Brian Burke, the president of hockey operations for the Calgary Flames, went gaga over Reinhart, per a recent article from Scott Cruickshank in the Calgary Herald. Burke described Reinhart as a: "brainiac centre. ... He dismantled our team, the Hitmen, in the playoffs. Smartest player available by a mile. This guy’s hockey IQ is off the charts. This is Albert Einstein on skates.”
In just 60 games with Kootenay, Reinhart tallied 36 goals and 69 assists. The fact that he knows his way around the ice should be no surprise.
He hails from a hockey family. His dad, Paul, played 11 years in the NHL, mostly with the Calgary Flames. Sam's brothers Max and Griffin are both currently playing professionally in the NHL's minor league system.
Griffin was the fourth overall pick in the 2012 by the New York Islanders.
Sam could hear his name called even earlier. He's a possibility at No. 1 to the Florida Panthers or could go to the Buffalo Sabres at No. 2.
Michael Dal Colle, Oshawa (OHL)
Dal Colle just turned 18 on Friday, so he'll have one heck of a belated birthday present when the draft begins. He won't have to wait very long to hear his name called. He should be the first wing off the board, and that could happen as early as No. 4 to the Flames or fifth to the New York Islanders.
At 6'2", 184 pounds, Dal Colle will need to add a little strength to be ready for the rigors of the NHL. However, he's already equipped with the mental toughness and heart necessary to succeed.
Dal Colle has had to overcome family tragedy and difficulty on his way to this early point in his career. His brother is autistic and his mother was diagnosed with breast cancer when Dal Colle was 10.
In addition to his amazing skills on the ice, Dal Colle has already shown remarkable resilience, maturity and intestinal fortitude to overcome impediments much bigger than anything he'll face on the ice.
If you can't root for this kid to succeed, who can you root for? Dal Colle talks about his journey in the video below:
Aaron Ekblad, Barrie (OHL)
It may come down to Ekblad and Reinhart for the No. 1 selection overall. In fact, the Panthers are said to be considering dealing the top pick, but if they keep it, they are leaning toward selecting Ekblad.
The source also said that if the Panthers don't like any of the many offers they're fielding from other teams regarding their overall No. 1 draft pick, then they're leaning toward selecting 6-foot-3, 218-pound defenseman Aaron Ekblad because he's considered the most NHL-ready of the projected top four prospects.
Who could blame the Panthers for being smitten with Ekblad? With that type of size at the age of 18, Ekblad projects to be a monstrous defenseman in the NHL when he fills out.
He was the captain of Canada's gold medal-winning U18 team at the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament last year. In five games, he was plus-four with a pair of goals and assists and just four penalty minutes. Some believe he could be ready to play in the NHL as soon as the Nashville Predators' Seth Jones was after being taken No. 4 overall in last year's draft.
Thatcher Demko, Boston College (NCAA)
Demko will probably be the only prospect from an NCAA collegiate program taken in the first round. He turns 19 in December and has established himself as the best goalie prospect in this year's draft class.
He was the youngest player in NCAA hockey this past season and could become the first American-born goalie taken in the first round since Jack Campbell went 10th to the Dallas Stars in 2010.
Elite Prospects said this about the 6'4" prospect:
"Demko is a butterfly-style stopper with the ideal pro size. He makes himself big in net even when he drops down to his knees and has outstanding lower coverage in the butterfly."
He should hear his name called in the middle of the first round.
All age, height and weight references per HockeyFutures.com unless otherwise stated.