Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - The 2014 NHL Entry Draft will get underway Friday at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, with the Florida Panthers currently tabbed to kick off the event.
The Panthers hold the first overall selection for the first time since 2003, but the last time Florida actually used the No. 1 pick was when they selected defenseman Ed Jovanovski in 1994. The Cats dealt the No. 1 selection in both 2002 and '03, and there's a chance current Florida general manager Dale Tallon could trade the top pick in 2014 as well.
If Florida decides to use the No. 1 pick this year, the club could opt to select defenseman Aaron Ekblad -- the odds-on favorite to go first overall on Friday. The Canadian blueliner is the consensus pick for best all-around defensive prospect and he was named the top defenseman in the Ontario Hockey League in 2013-14 after leading all OHL D-men 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. The Panthers could use help all over their NHL lineup, but with Ekblad they may get the only defenseman in this year's draft who is ready to make an immediate impact.
Judging from scouting reports, this expects to be a down year for draft- eligible talent, with the 2015 edition in Sunrise, FL expected to have this summer's draft beat by leaps and bounds in terms of depth. The 2014 draft is particularly thin when it comes to high-end, two-way defensive prospects, a fact that almost certainly helps Ekblad's case as the No. 1 player available.
Buffalo holds the second pick this year and is followed by Edmonton, Calgary and the New York Islanders. A pair of Canadian centermen named Sam expect to go in the top-five, but it's anybody's guess as to who will go first -- Sam Bennett or Sam Reinhart.
Bennett has drawn comparisons to two-way star Jonathan Toews of the Chicago Blackhawks, while Reinhart -- the Western Hockey League's player of the year for 2013-14 -- has been praised for his hockey IQ and scouts say he thinks the game at a higher speed than most of his contemporaries. Reinhart is trying to 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.
Other players who could go in the top-five are German centerman Leon Draisaitl, who played 2013-14 with Prince Albert of the WHL, as well as OHL winger Michael Dal Colle.
A pair of wingers with NHL pedigrees -- Kasperi Kapanen and William Nylander -- could also go in the top-10. Nylander, the son of former NHL veteran Michael Nylander, is undersized at 5-foot-9, 169 pounds but his overall offensive skill set is too overwhelming to ignore. Kapanen is the son of Sami Kapanen, and at 5-foot-11, 180 pounds, also comes with size concerns. But Kapanen also boasts tremendous one-on-one skills and the young Finn already announced his presence to the hockey world a few months back when he scored a between-the-legs goal to win a playoff game in overtime, the video of which went viral in hockey circles.
Nikolaj Ehlers is widely considered to be the fastest skater available in the draft, and the Dane's stock has risen pretty quickly as well. Ehlers entered the 2013-14 season expecting to be a second-round pick in the draft, but he shot up the draft rankings thanks to a terrific first season in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. 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 and possibly turning himself into a possible top-10 pick.
Although goaltender is quite possibly the most important position for an NHL team, the need to have a quality presence in net doesn't mean one should expect a run on backstops in the first round. No goalies were selected in the opening round last year and the first netminder wasn't picked until No. 36 when Montreal grabbed Zachary Fucale.
The last time more than two goaltenders were picked in the first round was in 2006, when Jonathan Bernier and Semyon Varlamov were among the four goalies picked in Round 1.
Although he may not go until late in the first round, or early in the second, there is no question Thatcher Demko is the top goaltending prospect at this year's draft. The butterfly-style goaltender is a native of San Diego, CA and is coming off a strong freshman season at Boston College, helping the Eagles reach the semifinals of the NCAA Tournament. Demko is 6-foot-4, 192 pounds, giving him the size NHL teams are looking for when drafting a goalie.
This year's draft marks the first time Philadelphia will serve as the host, but unless the Flyers trade up, the home crowd will have to wait until pick No. 17 to see what new general manager Ron Hextall has planned for the Orange and Black.
Here is the complete first-round order for the 2014 draft: