The NHL Draft is scheduled for Friday, June 27. The following is one man's opinion on who gets drafted in the first round.
Team: Florida: Player - Aaron Ekblad (Barrie), D
Notes: This Canadian blueliner is the consensus pick for best all-around defensive prospect and Ekblad expects to go No. 1 so long as Florida keeps the top pick and doesn't trade it away. Ekblad was named the top defenseman in the Ontario Hockey League in 2013-14 after leading all OHL blueliners with 23 goals. At 6-foot-3, 213 pounds, Ekblad already has NHL size and the 18-year- old is billed as a complete package with the ability to excel at both ends of the ice.
Team: Buffalo: Player - Sam Bennett (Kingston), C
Notes: The Sabres are in the midst of what expects to be a long rebuilding process and the club needs help just about everywhere, but center is a good place to start. With the second overall pick, Buffalo expects to choose between a pair of Sams -- Bennett and Reinhart -- to fill a need down the middle of the ice, and Bennett seems to be the likelier choice. Bennett has drawn comparisons to two-way star Jonathan Toews of the Chicago Blackhawks and the Canadian pivot is coming off a 36-goal, 91-point season for the Kingston Frontenacs of the OHL, more than doubling his point total (40) from the previous season.
Team: Edmonton: Player - Leon Draisaitl (Prince Albert), C
Notes: The Oilers are eager to break out of a lengthy rebuilding cycle and Draisaitl could be the most NHL-ready of this year's offensive prospects. At 6-foot-1, 208 pounds, the German centerman notched a team-best 105 points (38G, 67A) in 64 games with the Prince Albert Raiders of the Western Hockey League in 2013-14. The Oilers would probably like to get their hands on a puck-moving defenseman, but with Ekblad expected to be off the board it seems like taking a blueliner at No. 3 this year would be considered reaching.
Team: Calgary: Player - Sam Reinhart (Kootenay), C
Notes: Reinhart will become the third son of former NHLer Paul Reinhart to be drafted into the league, and if he falls to No. 4, he'll get to join brother Max in the Calgary organization. After registering 105 points (36G, 69A) in 60 games for the Kootenay Ice, Reinhart was named the WHL's player of the year for 2013-14. Scouts rave about his hockey IQ and say he thinks the game at a higher speed than most of his contemporaries. Reinhart would give the Flames a third elite center prospect along with Sean Monahan and Mikael Backlund, as the club tries to rebuild from the center of the ice on out.
Team: NY Islanders: Player - Michael Dal Colle (Oshawa), LW
Notes: The Islanders need to improve their scoring depth in a big way and Dal Colle could help in that regard. A Canadian winger in the power forward mold, Dal Colle had 39 goals and 95 points in 67 games for Oshawa of the OHL in 2013-14. The 6-foot-2, 182-pound Dal Colle needs to add some weight to his frame before jumping to the NHL, but he already shown an ability to use his body to help him score goals. He could wind up being the top goal-scorer taken in this draft.
Team: Vancouver: Player - Nicholas Ritchie (Peterborough), LW
Notes: Dal Colle could set off a run on power forwards, and with the sixth pick, the Canucks could grab either Ritchie or fellow left wingers Brendan Perlini and Jake Virtanen. Ritchie has the most NHL-ready body of that trio, however, and he gets the nod over Perlini and Virtanen. The 6-foot-2, 226- pound Ontario native led Peterborough with 39 goals in 2013-14. In addition to his size, Ritchie possesses a high-end shot and the quickness to create his own shot.
Team: Carolina: Player - Jake Virtanen (Calgary), LW
Notes: Virtanen is a fast-rising prospect coming off a tremendous breakout season with the Calgary Hitmen of the WHL. The Canadian son of a Finnish father, Virtanen went from 16 goals in 2012-13 to 45 this past season and also jumped from 34 points to 71. Has excellent speed to go with size (6-foot, 208 pounds), but he could get better getting his teammates involved. Projects as a power forward at the NHL level.
Team: Toronto: Player - Brendan Perlini (Niagara), LW
Notes: The son of former NHLer, Fred Perlini, suits up for Team Canada internationally but was born in Great Britain when dad was playing professionally for the Guildford Flames. Perlini has a terrific blend of size (6-foot-2, 205 pounds) and speed, leading to him being compared favorably to Montreal's Max Pacioretty. The fact that Perlini has shown chemistry with Niagara teammate Carter Verhaeghe, a center prospect drafted last year by Toronto, is a bonus for the Maple Leafs.
Team: Winnipeg: Player - William Nylander (Sodertalje), RW
Notes: The son of former NHL veteran Michael Nylander, could be the first player who played in Europe last season to be selected in this year's draft. William Nylander is undersized at 5-foot-9, 169 pounds but his overall offensive skill set is too overwhelming to ignore. Besides the Jets already boast enough size and need to start adding dynamic skill players. Nylander also proved his small stature wasn't a big issue during a 22-game run with MODO of the Swedish Elite League in 2013-14. He had seven points (1G, 6A) while playing among men, including his father, with MODO.
Team: Anaheim: Player - Kasperi Kapanen (Kalpa), RW
Notes: Thanks to the deal that sent Bobby Ryan to Ottawa, the Ducks get a top-10 pick this summer despite coming off a Pacific Division title in 2013-14. They could use it to pick Kasperi Kapanen, who like Nylander comes with an NHL pedigree and also got a chance to play on the same team with his father last season. Kapanen, son of Sami Kapanen, boasts tremendous one-on-one skills, but like Nylander is on the small side (5-foot-11, 180 pounds). Still, Kapanen's stickhandling ability could be tops in this year's draft, and having already played among men in Finland, he could jump right into the mix for the Ducks.
Team: Nashville: Player - Kevin Fiala (HV 71), C
Notes: Fiala is a Swiss centerman coming off a strong showing in 2013-14 when he spent part of the season playing at the top level of Swedish hockey. Another highly-skilled player with size concerns (5-foot-9, 178 pounds), Fiala makes up for it with a strong skating stride and excellent stickhandling ability. Was good enough to represent Team Switzerland at the 2014 World Championships, where he posted two assists in seven games despite being a full three years younger than the next-youngest player on the team. Nashville, of course, is in need of skilled forwards to place on their top-two lines and Fiala could fill a void sometime in the next two seasons.
Team: Phoenix: Player - Haydn Fleury (Red Deer), D
Notes: The 2014 draft is lacking depth at defense, but Haydn Fleury -- no relation to ex-NHL star Theo or current Pittsburgh goaltender Marc-Andre -- could be the second-best option after Ekblad. That means a team could reach for Fleury in the top-10, but his lack of high-end offensive skill projects him more as a mid-round selection where his defense-first style of play could translate well to Dave Tippett's system in Phoenix.
Team: Washington: Player - Robby Fabbri (Guelph), C
Notes: With longtime GM George McPhee fired and replaced by Brian MacLellan, it should be interesting to see what Washington will do in the first round. The Capitals could take a shot with small centerman Robby Fabbri, a guy who has been polarizing among scouts. While his 5-foot-10, 170-pound body could scare off some teams, Washington always needs help down the middle and Fabbri is said to play bigger than his size suggests. After a 45-goal showing for Guelph in 2013-14, Fabbri could wind up being a steal if he falls to Washington at 13.
Team: Dallas: Player - Nikolaj Ehlers (Halifax), LW
Ehlers, a native of Denmark playing in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, is considered to be the fastest skater in this year's draft, and his speed alone could make him a top-10 pick. He torched QMJHL defenses for 49 goals in 63 games with Halifax last season, winning the league's rookie of the year award in the process. He entered the 2013-14 season projected as a second- round pick but come draft day he may not even be available for Dallas at No. 14.
Team: Detroit: Player - Julius Honka (Swift Current), D
Notes: Honka, a Finnish defenseman playing in the WHL for Swift Current, has a skill set modeled after Ottawa Senators blueliner Erik Karlsson. He recorded 16 goals and 56 points in 62 games for the Broncos in 2013-14 and at the very least Honka expects to be an effective power-play guy at the NHL level. Honka likely needs additional seasoning in juniors and the AHL, but he could help the Red Wings in a few years.
Team: Columbus: Player - Jared McCann (Sault Ste. Marie), C
Notes: Solid all-around player who could add depth at center for the ever- improving Blue Jackets. McCann had 27 goals and 62 points in 64 games for Salt Ste. Marie of the OHL in 2013-14 is a jack of all trades is another player who tries to emulate Toews. Doesn't project as a big-time scorer at the NHL, but McCann could easily become a second-line centerman for Columbus in a year or two.
Team: Philadelphia: Player - Alex Tuch (U.S. NTDP), RW/C
Notes: There's a solid chance the first American to be drafted this year will be headed to Boston College in the fall. Both Sonny Milano and Alex Tuch are committed to the Eagles and are rated similarly by scouts. The Flyers could opt for Tuch, who is big, mature and makes excellent decisions with the puck. The 6-foot-4, 213-pound upstate New York native could help Philadelphia improve its possession game down the line.
Team: Minnesota: Player - Sonny Milano (U.S. NTDP), LW
Notes: At 6-foot, 183 pounds, Milano is not nearly as big as fellow B.C. prospect Tuch but he also is superb possession player thanks to his speed and elusiveness. He could eventually help provide Minnesota with some offensive help for an offense that lacks in scoring depth.
Team: Tampa Bay: Player - Dylan Larkin (U.S. NTDP), LW
Notes: The Lightning could help a continue a run on forwards from the U.S. National Team Development Program if they can get Larkin at No. 19. He plays an aggressive style on offense and scouts love how Larkin is able to always keep up the intensity. May not be a big-time offensive talent at the NHL level, but it's believed he could play a top-six role thanks to his combination of size, skill and the ability to play a two-way game.
Team: San Jose: Player - David Pastrnak (Sodertalje), LW
Notes: Czech winger played among men in Sweden's second division in 2013-14 and led Sodertalje with 16 assists and 24 points over 26 games. Will likely stay in Sweden for a few more seasons to build strength and develop a better all-around game, but his superb offensive instincts could make him a fit with San Jose in a couple of years.
Team: St. Louis: Player - Ivan Barbashev (Moncton), LW
Notes: A skilled playmaker with excellent offensive instincts, Barbashev, a Russian playing for Moncton of the QMJHL, has gone over 60 points in each of his two seasons for the Wildcats at the Canadian major junior level. He also helped Team Russia take bronze as the youngest member of the country's 2014 World Junior Championship team.
Team: Pittsburgh: Player - Nikita Scherbak (Saskatoon), LW
Notes: Russian winger led all WHL rookies in scoring by a wide margin 2013-14, notching 78 points (28G, 50A) in 65 games for the Saskatoon Blades. Versatility allows him to play all three forward positions and that's good news for Pittsburgh, which needs help adding scoring depth to go with the likes of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.
Team: Colorado: Player - Anthony DeAngelo (Sarnia), D
Notes: DeAngelo grew up as a Philadelphia Flyers fan in Sewell, NJ and he expects to see his name called at nearby Wells Fargo Center in Round 1. Although undersized at 5-foot-10, 170 pounds, he did lead all OHL defenseman in assists (56) and points (71) in 2013-14. With plenty of talent up front in Colorado, the Avalanche could wind up landing the offensive-minded blueliner late in the opening round.
Team: Anaheim: Player - Jakub Vrana (Linkoping), C
Notes: With their second pick of the first round, the Ducks could go back to the offensive well to take this Czech centerman. Still considered a few years away from making the jump to the NHL, he did play professionally in the Swedish Elite League last season and made strides while skating among men. The Ducks can afford to wait a few seasons for Vrana's all-around game to catch up with his natural playmaking ability.
Team: Boston: Player - Joshua Ho-Sang (Windsor), RW/C
Notes: An explosive skater with dynamic stickhandling skills, Ho-Sang led the Windsor Spitfires with 85 points and tied for the team lead with 32 goals. Unfortunately, Ho-Sang is probably best known at this point for receiving a 15-game suspension for boarding London's Zach Bell, who broke his leg on the play. The suspension was eventually reduced to six games, meaning Ho-Sang will miss only a few games at the start of the 2014-15 OHL season. Boston doesn't seem like the kind of club to be scared off by a suspension, and the Bruins do have a need for high-end skill guys at the offensive end.
Team: Montreal: Player - Adrian Kempe (MODO), RW
Notes: A left-handed shooting winger who plays on the right side, Kempe acquitted himself nicely in a 45-game run with MODO of the Swedish Elite League in 2013-14, posting five goals and six assists in the top level of Swedish hockey. Kempe utilizes size more than speed and this burgeoning power forward could fill a need for the already slick-skating Canadiens.
Team: Chicago: Player - Brendan Lemieux (Barrie), LW
Notes: The son of former NHL agitator Claude Lemieux, this big winger could bring some attitude to the highly-skilled Blackhawks. Could become a power forward capable of scoring goals from in close at the NHL level, or at least a gritty player worthy of a spot on the third line.
Team: Tampa Bay: Player - Nick Schmaltz (Green Bay), C
Notes: The Lightning earned this pick from the Rangers as part of the trade that sent former captain Martin St. Louis to New York and GM Steve Yzerman could use it on Schmaltz, a highly-skilled offensive talent from Wisconsin. Schmaltz models his game after Chicago's Patrick Kane and is off to the University of North Dakota in the fall where he'll join his brother Jordan, a defenseman who was drafted 25th overall by St. Louis in 2012.
Team: Los Angeles: Player - Jack Dougherty (U.S. NTDP), D
Notes: The recently crowned Stanley Cup champions obviously don't need help right away and they could wait for Dougherty to blossom into an NHL-ready defenseman. Dougherty needs to develop a better all-around game, but the American is already considered a skilled power-play quarterback. The Minnesota native is headed to play collegiality at the University of Wisconsin in the fall.
Team: New Jersey: Player - John Quenneville (Brandon), C
Notes: The second cousin of Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville is not considered to be a big-time offensive star in the making, but Quenneville does the little things well and the Devils may only have to wait a year or two for him to reach the NHL. Considering New Jersey needs to add depth up front, this could be a start in the right direction.