The Florida Panthers used their first pick to select Barrie Colts blueliner Aaron Ekblad first overall in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft, marking the first time a defenceman has been the first selection since the Blues took Erik Johnson in 2006.
Interestingly, he’s the first Canadian defenceman to go in the top spot since Chris Phillips was taken by the Senators in 1996.
Ekblad was easily the defenceman of the season in the OHL, having stacked up 53 points in his third year with Barrie. He brings a big right-hand shot to the Panthers’ blueline, plus he’s already a sizable guy and that should pay dividends.
“I’m going to expect to make it, and I’m going to make it because I work hard and do the right things,” he said.
After Ekblad went, the floodgates opened at the draft for the forwards.
The Buffalo Sabres stepped up with the second pick and selected Sam Reinhart of the Kootenay Ice. The WHL forward is the youngest in the hockey-mad Reinhart family. He finished fourth in the WHL with 105 points in 60 regular season contests. He also had a good showing for Canada at the 2014 IIHF World Junior Championship tourney.
The third pick belonged to the Edmonton Oilers and they used it on centre Leon Draisaitl of the Prince Albert Raiders. The kid has been compared to Jaromir Jagr, amazingly enough, and Edmonton has to be hoping at least some of that projection is accurate. He had 105 points in 64 games this past season and should be a workhorse for the Oilers.
The Calgary Flames were up fourth and they selected Samuel Bennett of the Kingston Frotenacs. The centre posted 91 points in 57 games and was slated as the top CHL prospect.
The fifth pick saw the New York Islanders go with Michael Dal Colle from the Oshawa Generals. The left winger is a two-way player with the ability to bust games wide open. The Islanders took a good long look at him and find him in the same category of John Tavares, who also spent time with the Generals. It could be a great fit.
Also worth exploring are the Vancouver Canucks. They traded Ryan Kesler, as was discussed elsewhere, but they were also busy in the first round with two picks. The first, at sixth, saw them select Calgary Hitmen winger Jake Virtanen. They also landed Jared McCann, a centre with the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, at 24.
“If you watched the NHL playoffs, you need size and strength to get to the net, stay in front of the net to deflect pucks, to get to rebounds,” Canucks general manager Jim Benning said. “We were looking for that style of player and so we were happy that’s who we ended up with.”
Size and strength did seem to be the order of the day, with 11 of the first 13 selections skilled forwards. 25 forwards were taken in the first round of 30 picks, the most in NHL history. The last time things came even close to that was in 2003 when 23 forwards were drafted in the first round.