In a year without a consensus top prospect, the Florida Panthers will dictate how the draft floor domino effect will start as their ball was picked at the annual NHL draft lottery.
Only behind the Buffalo Sabres (25 per cent), Florida (18.8 per cent) had the second best odds of winning the lottery. It's ultimately fitting that the Panthers jumped over the Sabres to capture the top pick because they finished 30th overall last season, but drafted second as the Colorado Avalanche won the 2013 lottery.
This is the second time in the history of the franchise that the Panthers hold the first overall selection. In 1994, they chose Ed Jovanovski with the top pick.
Here is a look at how the lottery affected the draft and a projection of the top 10 selections.
1. Florida Panthers: Aaron Ekblad, defence, Barrie Colts (OHL) – Since Florida is loaded up front with Alexsander Barkov, Jonathon Huberdeau and Nick Bjugstad, Ekblad is a no-brainer for the Panthers hockey brass. The 6-foot-4, 217-pounder, who potted 20 goals and 53 points in 58 matches, is the perfect player to slot beside Erik Grudbranson in their future top defensive pairing. All indications are that he will blossom into a cornerstone defenceman as he can dominate play at both ends of the ice much like Nashville Predators star Shea Weber.
2. Buffalo Sabres: Sam Reinhart, centre, Kootenay Ice (WHL) – Reinhart seems to be the right prospect to complement the Sabres' young offensive core. The 6-foot-1, 183-pounder, who can play both centre and wing, would fit in nicely beside Cody Hodgson, Mikhail Grigorenko and Zemgus Girgensons. He has an enticing blend of impeccable instincts, vision and raw skill. The 18-year-old, who scored 36 goals and 105 points in 60 games, appears to be in the same calibre of talent as Edmonton Oilers centre Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, but he has a more complete game as he’s very responsible in all areas of the ice.
3. Edmonton Oilers: Leon Draisaitl, centre, Prince Albert Raiders (WHL) – Albeit the Oilers’ most evident need is on the back end, Draisaitl still fills a void in their offense. In addition to adding size down the middle, the 6-foot-1, 209-pounder would take some pressure off Nugent-Hopkins’ shoulders. What appeals the most about the Germany native, who netted 38 goals and 105 points in 64 contests, is his ability to control the tempo of the game with his composure, hockey IQ and uncanny offensive abilities.
4. Calgary Flames: Sam Bennett, centre, Kingston Frontenacs (OHL) – Bennett could very well be the top forward of the 2014 draft class. NHL Central Scouting Service thinks so as they ranked him first among North American skaters in their final ranking. That said, it should be an easy decision for Flames president Brian Burke to call Bennett’s name at the draft podium. The 6-foot, 180-pound Toronto native, who racked up 36 goals and 91 points in 57 games, and Sean Monahan would give the Flames a solid 1-2 punch at centre.
5. New York Islanders: Michael Dal Colle, wing, Oshawa Generals (OHL) – Dal Colle could be the perfect fit for John Tavares’ go-to winger of the future. He has the size, standing 6-foot-2, 171-pounds, the skill, scored 39 goals and 95 points in 67 games, and puts in the work to take care of business in his own zone. The Islanders will need patience, but this seems to be a match made in heaven for a club that couldn’t keep Matt Moulson or Tomas Vanek in town.
6. Vancouver Canucks: Brendan Perlini, wing, Niagara IceDogs (OHL) – Perlini alongside London Knights centre Bo Horvat, whom Vancouver chose ninth overall in 2013, would be a step forward in the Canucks’ rebuild. The 6-foot-3, 205-pound Perlini skyrocketed up draft rankings this year because of his breakout season, where he potted 34 goals and 71 points in 58 games. Besides his enticing stature, he possesses strong offensive instincts, a smooth stride and top-notch speed.
7. Carolina Hurricanes: William Nylander, centre/wing, Sodertalje (SWE) – With Nylander, who’s ranked fifth overall by International scouting Services, still available, it would make sense for the Hurricanes to go back to Sweden with their prized pick. They chose Elias Lindholm out of Brynas with their fifth-overall selection last year and plucked Victor Rask out of Leksands with the 42nd pick in 2011. The 5-foot-11, 170-pound Nylander, who’s the son of former NHLer Michael Nylander, is regarded as a dynamic player with superb hockey sense.
8. Toronto Maple Leafs: Nick Ritchie, wing, Peterborough Petes (OHL) – Ritchie fits the bill to provide future secondary scoring behind Phil Kessel and James Van Riemsdyk for the Leafs. He not only proved himself as an elite scorer this year by netting 39 goals and 74 points in 61 games, but he also brings an enticing 6-foot-3, 229-pound frame to the table. In addition, his 136 penalty minutes clearly show he isn’t afraid to throw his weight around.
9. Winnipeg Jets: Alex Tuch, wing/centre, NTDP-18 (USA) – The Jets filled their blueline cupboard in the past two drafts by investing their first-round picks on former University of Michigan star Jacob Trouba and Prince Albert Raiders captain Josh Morrissey. Therefore, now is the time to add a high-end forward such as Tuch to their future offensive core. The 6-foot-3, 216-pound Tuch, who’s committed to Boston College for the 2015-16 season, uses his big frame to protect the puck well and is an above-average skater. He could be a good fit to ride shotgun with Mark Scheifele.
10. Anaheim Ducks (Ottawa Senators): Nikolaj Ehlers, wing, Halifax Mooseheads (QMJHL) – With Teemu Selanne poised for retirement, the Ducks could use an explosive scorer like Ehlers to help replace his presence on the wing. The Denmark native quickly established himself as a major junior superstar this year by scoring 49 goals and 104 points in 63 contests in his rookie season. In doing so, the 5-foot-11, 163-pounder’s draft stock steadily rose into the top half of the first round.
Kelly Friesen is a Buzzing the Net columnist for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter @KellyFriesen
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- the Panthers
- Michael Dal Colle
- Michael Nylander
- Brendan Perlini
- Prince Albert Raiders
- Colorado Avalanche
- William Nylander
- Sam Reinhart
- Aaron Ekblad