The first round of the 2014 NHL draft didn't feature many big surprises, which underscores just how well every team scouted, evaluated and ultimately selected.
There wasn't much debate until after the top five, but even most of the picks thereafter went largely by the book. It will take several years before the true impact of this draft class is known, but it should yield plenty of impact players and leave a larger mark on the game than most anticipated.
Nearly all of the teams selecting in the first round did an excellent job, but some were better than others. In the aftermath of the opening round, here are early grades that reflect how every first-round team fared.
NHL Draft Round 1 Grades
|Florida Panthers||D Aaron Ekblad (1)||A|
|Buffalo Sabres||C Sam Reinhart (2)||A|
|Edmonton Oilers||C Leon Draisaitl (3)||A-|
|Calgary Flames||C Sam Bennett (4)||A|
|New York Islanders||LW Michael Dal Colle (5)||A-|
|Vancouver Canucks||RW Jake Virtanen (6), C Jared McCann (24)||A-|
|Carolina Hurricanes||D Haydn Fleury (7)||B|
|Toronto Maple Leafs||C William Nylander (8)||B|
|Winnipeg Jets||LW Nikolaj Ehlers (9)||B+|
|Anaheim Ducks||LW Nicholas Ritchie (10)||A-|
|Nashville Predators||LW Kevin Fiala (11)||B-|
|Arizona Coyotes||LW Brendan Perlini (12)||B+|
|Washington Capitals||W Jakub Vrana (13)||B|
|Dallas Stars||D Julius Honka (14)||B|
|Detroit Red Wings||C Dylan Larkin (15)||B+|
|Columbus Blue Jackets||LW Sonny Milano (16)||B+|
|Philadelphia Flyers||D Travis Sanheim (17)||C|
|Minnesota Wild||RW Alex Tuch (18)||B+|
|Tampa Bay Lightning||D Anthony Deangelo (19)||B|
|Chicago Blackhawks||C Nick Schmaltz (20)||B|
|St. Louis Blues||C Robert Fabbri (21)||B-|
|Pittsburgh Penguins||RW Kasperi Kapanen (22)||A-|
|Colorado Avalanche||C Conner Bleackley (23)||B-|
|Boston Bruins||RW David Pastrnak (25)||B|
|Montreal Canadiens||RW Nikita Scherbak (26)||B|
|San Jose Sharks||RW Nikolay Goldobin (27)||B+|
|New York Islanders||C Joshua Ho-Sang (28)||B|
|Los Angeles Kings||LW Adrian Kempe (29)||B|
|New Jersey Devils||C John Quenneville (30)||C+|
Results courtesy of NHL.com
Breaking Down Best Round 1 Picks
Sam Reinhart (BUF)
The Florida Panthers may have gotten the most polished player in the draft when they selected defenseman Aaron Ekblad first overall, but it can be argued that the Sabres got the best player in the form of center Sam Reinhart.
No player in junior hockey has been as consistently good as Reinhart over the past two seasons, and he brings a skill set to the table that the Sabres sorely lack.
Buffalo struggled mightily to score and generate offense this past season, but Reinhart should help turn that around quickly. Reinhart's hockey IQ is through the roof, and there is no better playmaker in this class. Not only is Reinhart a great player in his own right, but Sabres general manager Tim Murray believes he elevates the play of his teammates as well, according to the Sabres' official Twitter account:
Although it seemed like Ekblad was the consensus top pick entering Friday night's first round, Murray and his scouting staff didn't feel the same way:
The Sabres got a bit unlucky in losing the draft lottery despite being the worst team in the league, but it all worked out in the end since they got their guy at No. 2. Buffalo has a long way to go before it can be truly competitive, but it is building something special with a deep and talented prospect pool.
If Buffalo struggles again this season and adds another top forward prospect like Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel to the mix next year, then it will make Reinhart that much better. As it stands now, though, Reinhart is the face of the franchise, and he has the demeanor necessary to handle that.
Sam Bennett (CGY)
The 2014 draft appeared to have a very clear top tier of players including Ekblad, Reinhart, Leon Draisaitl and Sam Bennett. With the Calgary Flames sitting at No. 4, they had the luxury of allowing the three teams ahead of them to make the decisions before ultimately snapping up whoever was left. In the end, that player was Bennett.
It wouldn't have been a surprise at all if Bennett had gone No. 2 to the Sabres or No. 3 to the Edmonton Oilers, but they decided to take Reinhart and Draisaitl respectively.
It can be argued that Calgary didn't really have any other choice when its pick came up, but that doesn't make the selection any less impressive.
As pointed out by James Mirtle of The Globe and Mail, the Flames didn't get fancy and simply did the right thing:
Flames take Sam Bennett. Good choice. Right choice. The choice.— James Mirtle (@mirtle) June 27, 2014
The Flames are very much a team that is rebuilding, but they are starting to add some big pieces that will figure heavily into their future. After nabbing promising center Sean Monahan last year, Calgary has all the makings of a team that will excel offensively down the line, per Eric Duhatschek of The Globe and Mail:
No surprise. Sam Bennett goes 4th overall to Cgy. With Sean Monahan in place, in time, they'll be set at centre - for 1st time in awhile— Eric Duhatschek (@eduhatschek) June 27, 2014
Not only is Bennett a gifted player on the offensive end, but his compete level may be higher than any other player in the draft. He brings a ton of grit to the table, and his motor never stops. Add in the fact that Bennett skates like the wind and he is a hugely frustrating player to go up against.
The Flames haven't really been a tough team to face since winger Jarome Iginla left town, but the team is starting to evolve. Taking Bennett is a big step in the right direction, and it should help change the culture within the organization.
Jared McCann (VAN)
No team was busier Friday than the Vancouver Canucks as they made three trades before the first round even started. The most notable one was a deal that sent center Ryan Kesler to the Anaheim Ducks with a first-round pick coming back, among other pieces.
Which 2014 NHL draft first-round pick was best?
That pick was the No. 24-overall selection, and Vancouver made no mistake in taking the best player on the board at that point. With big winger Jake Virtanen already in their back pocket from the No. 6 pick, the Canucks went with skilled center Jared McCann at No. 24.
McCann was expected by most to go somewhere in the top 15, but there are always a few prospects who inexplicably fall.
Not only does McCann have decent size at 6'0" and 179 pounds, but he also excels on both ends of the ice. That is something the Canucks will need with Kesler no longer in the fold.
If McCann develops the way he intends to, then he could ultimately become quite similar to Kesler as a player, according to Stephen Whyno of The Canadian Press:
Jared McCann, the #Canucks' pick at 24, models his game after Ryan Kesler because, of course he does....— Stephen Whyno (@SWhyno) June 28, 2014
If that is the case, then the Canucks landed the steal of the draft at No. 24. After taking Bo Horvat and Hunter Shinkaruk in the first round last year along with Virtanen and McCann this year, it's tough not to get excited about Vancouver's future up front.
The Canucks are a team in transition as they try to establish some long-term viability, but the retooling phase may not take too long if a guy like McCann lives up to his fullest potential.
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