Guessing Game: 2014 NHL Mock Draft
Some years, the NHL entry draft is rather predictable. This year, it is quite the opposite.
Most agree that there isn’t a generational talent available with the No. 1 overall pick, and the order of the top four — or even the names, according to some — are no certainty as those prospects haven’t separated themselves from the proverbial pack.
That said, a consensus seems to be forming that suggests Aaron Ekblad, a man-child defenceman for the Barrie Colts who was granted exceptional player status into the OHL a few years back and is presumably NHL-ready, has emerged as the favourite to hear his name called first.
Centres Sam Reinhart, Sam Bennett and late-riser Leon Draisaitl are considered Ekblad’s rivals for No. 1. The fact that pick is being aggressively shopped by the Florida Panthers, with plenty of trade potential within the top 10 selections, only makes this draft more of a crapshoot.
So anybody brave enough to attempt a mock draft this time around must also brace for a mocking in the aftermath.
With that in mind, I’m going to put forth two versions — a safe, straightforward, everybody keeps their own pick top 30, followed by a bold, brazen, wheeling-and-dealing first round.
Here goes nothing . . .
1. Florida Panthers: D Aaron Ekblad = In my opinion, he’s the best player available and the most NHL-ready, which would appeal to Florida. The Panthers could use upgrades at every position, including the blue-line. Their GM Dale Tallon took Aleksander Barkov over Seth Jones last year and may be regretting that decision in hindsight, thus will take the rearguard this year. Not saying Ekblad will be as electric as Jones or put as many butts in the seats, but he should be a consistent performer for the next couple decades, perhaps comparable to the last defenceman to go first overall in Erik Johnson.
2. Buffalo Sabres: C Sam Reinhart = Barring Reinhart going first overall, this pick appears to be the closest thing to a lock heading into the draft. The Sabres reportedly prefer Reinhart to the other centres and it does seem like a nice fit on paper with their depth chart going forward.
3. Edmonton Oilers: C Leon Draisaitl = The Oilers might prefer Ekblad here if he falls, but otherwise all signs point to them picking Draisaitl, a big body drawing favourable comparisons to Anze Kopitar. He’s of German descent but played in the WHL and matched Reinhart’s point total on a weaker team, so the upside is proving intriguing to many teams. Draisaitl has been on everybody’s radar all year long, but much like Mika Zibanejad’s surge to sixth overall in the 2011 draft, Draisaitl could also go even higher than third.
4. Calgary Flames: C Sam Bennett = Albeit hard to fathom Brian Burke’s team picking a player that failed to do a single pull-up, but the Flames will be hard-pressed to pass on Bennett here. He’s the top-ranked North American skater by NHL Central Scouting, ahead of the aforementioned trio, yet if any of them were to fall out of the top five, my money would be on Bennett. That probably comes across as contradictory, but with Bennett being called a Doug Gilmour-clone by more than one scout, that sure sounds like a player Burke and Co. would be willing to build around. I’m not sure if Bennett could make the jump next season, but a future 1-2 punch of Bennett and Sean Monahan up the middle is enticing for Calgary.
5. New York Islanders: LW Nikolaj Ehlers = Garth Snow is never one to take the conventional route — for if he was, Michael Dal Colle would probably make the most sense here. Yet, I have a funny feeling he’ll take more of a home-run swing with this pick in hopes Ehlers’ emergence this season is just a sign of things to come. He has the offensive skill-set to develop into the best player from this draft class — that could be said about a dozen 2014-eligible prospects — but he’s a bit on the small (or at least slight) side and probably a couple years away from making an NHL impact.
6. Vancouver Canucks: LW Jake Virtanen = With Dal Colle unexpectedly still on the board, the Canucks seriously consider him before deciding on the hometown product, a power-winger and pure goal-scorer from Abbotsford who was the first overall pick in the 2011 WHL bantam draft.
7. Carolina Hurricanes: C Michael Dal Colle = Ron Francis is all smiles in announcing his first pick as Carolina’s GM after this gift falls into his lap. The Canes also contemplate William Nylander to pair with Elias Lindholm, but Dal Colle becomes too good to pass up, especially envisioning him alongside Jeff Skinner and-or the Staal brothers.
8) Toronto Maple Leafs: F Alex Tuch = The Leafs would have loved to add Dal Colle, but settle for a big American forward that could be a second-coming of James van Riemsdyk or Bobby Ryan or Max Pacioretty, etc. The big power winger was probably projected to go between 10 and 15, but Tuch could very well be another riser.
9) Winnipeg Jets: F William Nylander = The Jets haven’t taken a lot of European players in recent years, especially with their early picks, and the fact Alexander Burmistrov is still spurning them in favour of the KHL may make Kevin Cheveldayoff shy away and stay closer to home again. With Nick Ritchie still on the board, that’s a definite possibility, but the Jets could use a little more flair in their forward group and Nylander — like Ehlers — has a sky-is-the-limit ceiling that may be too irresistible.
10) Anaheim Ducks (from Ottawa): D Hadyn Fleury = I can’t see Fleury falling out of the top 10 and I can totally see the Ducks scooping up another falling defender much like they did with Cam Fowler in 2010. Adding Fleury to a defensive corps that already includes Fowler, Hampus Lindholm, Sami Vatanen and Shea Theodore would make for a formidable future on the blue-line. Fleury strikes me as a Francois Beauchemin type and the Ducks know full-well the value in that kind of player.
11) Nashville Predators: C Robby Fabbri = The Preds plan on playing a more offensive, attacking style under new coach Peter Laviolette and Fabbri could fit right in. He reminds me of another 2010 pick in Jeff Skinner and, similarly, his draft stock is definitely on the rise after starring in the Guelph Storm’s run to the Memorial Cup final. Maybe a smidgen of Nazem Kadri in Fabbri as well and not just because their names rhyme.
12) Arizona Coyotes: RW Nick Ritchie = Ritchie’s free-fall should stop here, with the Coyotes needing a future power forward. After going with the 5-foot-9 Max Domi at No. 12 last year, Arizona nabs 6-foot-3 Ritchie in the same spot this year. Put Domi between Ritchie and fellow 6-foot-3 winger Henrik Samuelsson, a 2012 first-rounder, and the Coyotes could have a dynamic line in the works.
13) Washington Capitals: LW Ivan Barbashev = The Capitals have a new, somewhat unknown GM in Brian MacLellan, but it’s doubtful he’ll shy away from Russians after past successes with Alex Ovechkin and Evgeni Kuznetsov. Plus Barbashev has been playing in North America and boasts a strong two-way game with scoring upside. Welcome to Washington.
14) Dallas Stars: RW Kasperi Kapanen = The Stars have historically had decent results with Finnish players, including longtime winger Jere Lehtinen, and Jim Nill helped Detroit land a few good ones over the years as well in his previous tenure. So I could see Kapanen, the best Finn in this year’s draft and debatably the best European, winding up with Dallas.
15) Detroit Red Wings: F Kevin Fiala = Another assumed riser who just seems destined to be the next steal for Detroit. The Red Wings will pick this Swiss stud and let him develop slowly but surely before debuting and taking the league by storm in a few years.
16) Columbus Blue Jackets: RW Nikita Scherbak = Columbus likely had an eye on the previous two picks, but is happy to select Scherbak as a consolation prize. A late bloomer who came out of nowhere to star for the WHL’s Saskatoon Blades this season, the raw Russian offers a nice package of size and skill.
17) Philadelphia Flyers: LW Brendan Perlini = Perlini is a tough one to rank, but the more I read about him, the more I think he could fit with the Flyers. With Ron Hextall calling the shots now, maybe he opts for a defenceman or even a goaltender, though the top netminders Thatcher Demko and Alex Nedeljkovic might still be a reach here.
18) Minnesota Wild: LW Sonny Milano = This kid showed off some serious off-ice puck skills at the recent scouting combine and he’s been generating a bit of momentum since, but I can’t see Milano going much higher than this. Minnesota seems to be drafting and developing some stellar forward prospects and Milano would make for a nice addition to that pipeline.
19) Tampa Bay Lightning: D Julius Honka = The Lightning have no shortage of up-and-coming forwards pushing for regular NHL duty. Their defence prospect pool isn’t as deep, so Honka could have caught their attention this winter and would be a pretty nice catch in this spot.
20) San Jose Sharks: C Dylan Larkin = Larkin can score goals, finishing second only to 2015 phenom Jack Eichel on the U.S. national under-18 team, so he’ll be a hot commodity on draft day and could easily go 5 to 10 spots higher than this — perhaps flip-flopping with teammate Alex Tuch. Larkin seems like the kind of prospect the Sharks would covet and could use in their system.
21) St. Louis Blues: RW Jakub Vrana = Much like Fiala, Vrana has skill to spare and his stock shot up with a strong showing at the under-18 tournament this spring. The Blues are like the Red Wings in that they could take their time with a Vrana type, avoid rushing him to the NHL and ultimately reap the rewards.
22) Pittsburgh Penguins: D Roland McKeown = McKeown isn’t as flashy as some of the other defenders available in this draft, but he’s mature beyond his years at both ends of the ice and could project in the mould of Paul Martin (best-case scenario) or Rob Scuderi. Either way, Pittsburgh would gladly add a prospect along those lines.
23) Colorado Avalanche: D Travis Sanheim = Not long ago, Sanheim would have been fortunate to get selected in the second round, but the closer the draft gets, the more likely it’s becoming that he’ll go in the first round. The Avs have gone to the well for WHL defence prospects more than a few times and Sanheim could be next in line. He’s a hard-charging darkhorse in this draft, but I think he’ll make some team happy in the long run and it wouldn’t surprise me if that’s Colorado.
24) Anaheim Ducks: C Jared McCann = Some would consider this a fall for McCann, but he’s a Mike Fisher type that does almost everything well but nothing exceptional. You need those players to win championships, but they tend to get passed over in light of shinier new toys on draft day. Still, one would imagine the Ducks to be fairly excited leaving Philadelphia with Fleury and McCann as their first-round picks.
25) Boston Bruins: D Marcus Pettersson = Like Sanheim, Pettersson has been rocketing up the rankings and has become the flavour of the month so to speak. I’m not buying the ‘next Erik Karlsson’ hype, but he’s got the size to back up his impressive skill-set so somebody will likely gamble on him sooner than later. Probably a team that could afford a boom-bust prospect on the back end — such as Boston.
26) Montreal Canadiens: C Adrian Kempe = Montreal could go many different directions with this pick, but the Habs have drafted a few Swedish forwards in recent years, such as Jacob De La Rose last year and Sebastian Collberg in 2012 (since traded to the Islanders for rental of Tomas Vanek). I could see that trend continuing with Kempe and he should be good value in that spot.
27) Chicago Blackhawks: C John Quenneville = A distant relative of Chicago coach Joel Quenneville, this pick could have some sentimental value but also pay dividends. By no means would this resemble the Devils drafting Martin Brodeur’s son last year as Quenneville is very deserving of this ranking should he become a Blackhawk.
28) Tampa Bay Lightning (from New York Rangers): RW Nikolay Goldobin = With the pick gained from former captain Martin St. Louis helping the Rangers reach the Stanley Cup final, Tampa rolls the dice on a boom-bust prospect with a high offensive upside in Goldobin.
29) Los Angeles Kings: C Conner Bleackley = Bleackley, on the other hand, is a meat-and-potatoes type prospect that has the intangibles needed to help a team in clutch situations. Think Jarret Stoll, who of course played a lesser-yet-integral role in the Kings winning their second Cup in three years.
30) New Jersey Devils: RW David Pastrnak = The Devils had forfeited this pick because of the Ilya Kovalchuk contract debacle, but the league gave it back after an ownership change. Nevertheless, New Jersey will round out the top 30 with a pick that can’t be traded — one of the only first-rounders that is assured not to move. Pastrnak is a Czech, not unlike longtime Devils winger Patrik Elias, and some see shades of the latter in the former. That should be enough to convince New Jersey.
Now, for the fun part — keyword, FUN. Take these ensuing predictions with a grain of salt as it’s doubtful many — if any — will come to fruition. But remember, if by some miracle they do, you heard them here first:
1. Florida Panthers: This pick is getting dealt, book it. The Panthers want to move down and are rumoured to covet other prospects more than the projected “top” tier. It won’t bring Eric Lindros-esque assets in return, but Florida has a chance to add a quality piece (or two, or three) to the puzzle while still picking in the top 10. Here are four potential trade scenarios, in no particular order, followed by my prediction:
1) To Edmonton, along with Scottie Upshall and Alex Petrovic, for Sam Gagner, Jeff Petry, No. 3 overall this year and a third-round pick in 2015. Edmonton takes Ekblad and Florida takes whichever Sam is left — either Reinhart or Bennett.
2) To the New York Islanders for Travis Hamonic, Anders Lee and No. 5. The Islanders draft Sam Reinhart, reuniting him with big brother (and hulking defenceman) Griffin Reinhart, while Florida takes Nylander or Ehlers unless Bennett falls to them.
3) To Vancouver, along with Tomas Fleischmann, Drew Shore and Dmitry Kulikov, for Ryan Kesler, Jason Garrison and No. 6. Vancouver picks the local boy, Reinhart, while Florida again targets Nylander or Ehlers.
4) To Toronto, along with Quinton Howden, for Nazem Kadri, Jake Gardiner and No. 8. Toronto takes Ekblad, Florida takes Nylander or Ehlers if available, otherwise an American forward like Tuch/Milano/Larkin.
Prediction: Islanders acquire the first overall pick, paying the biggest price but desperately wanting to draft Reinhart and secure another stud forward, especially with the risk of losing out on Connor McDavid or the aforementioned Eichel next year, having dealt their 2015 first-rounder to Buffalo as part of a different Vanek deal.
4. Calgary Flames: RW Nick Ritchie = Pugnacity, truculence, all of Burke’s other fancy adjectives are fulfilled with this big, burly prospect. Whether he can dominate men the way he’s manhandled boys, only time will tell.
7. Winnipeg Jets (from Carolina): Only because I didn’t get enough ribbing at the trade deadline, I’m going to revisit this idea. Gary Bettman takes to the podium and says “I have a trade to announce. The Carolina Hurricanes trade the No. 7 selection in the 2014 draft, No. 67, goaltender Cam Ward and forward Drayson Bowman to the Winnipeg Jets for No. 9, forward Evander Kane and goaltender Ondrej Pavelec.” Amid stunned silence, Kevin Cheveldayoff takes the stage and selects LW Jake Virtanen as a future replacement for Kane.
12) Ottawa Senators (from Arizona): A darkhorse in the Jason Spezza sweepstakes, the Coyotes pony up for the first-line centre, acquiring him from Ottawa for the No. 12 overall pick, prospect Henrik Samuelsson and the rights to Viktor Tikhonov. Ottawa selects LW Ivan Barbashev.
14) Dallas Stars: RW Nikita Scherbak = A bit of a reach, but one Dallas can afford to take. The Stars see Scherbak and 2013 first-rounder Valeri Nichushkin as a future secondary scoring threat behind Benn-Seguin.
16) Edmonton Oilers (from Columbus): The Blue Jackets had three first-rounders in 2013 and took all forwards. They are closer to win-now mode than the Oilers and pull the trigger on a move in that direction. Columbus acquires forward Sam Gagner and No. 111 for No. 16 and forward Matt Frattin. Edmonton selects F Alex Tuch, with an eye on getting bigger and harder to play against up front.
17) Philadelphia Flyers: D Julius Honka = After taking Samuel Morin and Robert Hagg with their first two picks in 2013 and with 2012 third-rounder Shayne Gostisbehere ahead of the curve, the Flyers add another talented blue-liner in Honka. Kimmo Timonen, 39, and Mark Streit, 36, don’t have many years left in them, but replacements are on the way.
21) St. Louis Blues: D Travis Sanheim = Again, expect to hear this name before you, well, expect to hear it. The Blues have been known to “reach” for prospects they like — Jaden Schwartz (14th in 2010), Jordan Schmaltz (25th in 2012) and even T.J. Oshie (24th in 2005) to a lesser extent were picked ahead of schedule according to most rankings — and I wouldn’t be shocked if that trend continues this year. Sanheim could be another hidden gem.
22) New Jersey Devils (from Pittsburgh): Jim Rutherford starts to reshape Pittsburgh’s roster at this draft, sending James Neal and No. 22 to New Jersey for Michael Ryder, Adam Larsson and No. 41. The Devils take RW David Pastrnak, looking to land the next Elias.
24) Anaheim Ducks: RW Josh Ho-Sang = Undeterred by rumours of “character” issues, the Ducks take arguably the most talented forward still on the board and could have themselves a nice haul in hindsight if either/both Kapanen and Ho-Sang pan out.
26) Montreal Canadiens: C Dylan Larkin = I still think the Canadiens really like Kempe in this spot, but Larkin might be the better prospect overall and is probably ranked higher on most scouting lists.
27) Chicago Blackhawks: G Thatcher Demko = Corey Crawford and Antti Raanta seem to have the crease under control for the time being, but the depth chart beyond them is pretty bleak. Demko would help shore that up in a hurry.
28) Nashville Predators (from Tampa Bay via New York Rangers): The Preds acquire another first rounder, No. 28, along with former top-10 pick Brett Connolly, for Ryan Ellis and No. 46. Nashville drafts RW Jakub Vrana, another highly offensive talent to go with Fabbri.
29) Los Angeles Kings: RW Nikolay Goldobin = The Kings took Valentin Zykov in the 2013 second round and won’t hesitate in taking another Russian developing in the CHL by nabbing Goldobin with the second-to-last pick of the 2014 first round.
30) New Jersey Devils: C Adrian Kempe = The Devils go back overseas to select the talented Swede in Kempe. He’d be good value with the last pick of the first round and going home with Pastrnak and Kempe from a draft where they weren’t even supposed to have a first-round pick would be a real feather in the cap for Lou Lamoriello.
That’s a wrap. Time to sit back and be a spectator for what is sure to be a spectacle this year. Stay tuned and enjoy the shenanigans.
Larry Fisher is a sports reporter for The Daily Courier in Kelowna, B.C. Follow him on Twitter: @LarryFisher_KDC. All logos designed by Doyle Potenteau of The Daily Courier. All mugshots came from Hockey’s Future prospect profiles.