Now that the Los Angeles Kings have hoisted their second Stanley Cup in three years, the hockey world can now focus on the 2014 NHL Draft that will take place on June 27th and 28th at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
The Florida Panthers hold the first pick in the this draft, the fourth time in five years the organization has held a selection in the top three. Panthers' general manager Dale Tallon has publicly stated he plans to listen to offers for the first overall pick, but made no guarantees a trade would happen. Two teams, the Anaheim Ducks and the Tampa Bay Lightning, will each head into the draft with two picks in the first round.
Below is the Hockey's Future 2014 Staff Mock Draft. All selections were made by HF's NHL writers with input from the league writers and editorial staff.
1. Florida Panthers
As much as the Panthers still have a need for help up front, it is hard to pass on a potential cornerstone piece for their big, young group of defensemen. They have plenty of size and toughness with Erik Gudbranson and Alex Petrovic, and offensive skill in Dmitry Kulikov and eventually Mike Matheson, but Ekblad gives them that one piece who can tie it all together. He is a big, physical defenseman who can play in all situations and provides a strong offensive presence from the back end.
And with a draft class that has good – though not elite – scoring into the second round, the Panthers should still find a quality forward later in the draft.
The Buffalo Sabres are in an interesting spot, having to choose between the high-energy Sam Bennett or the two-way Sam Reinhart. As the Sabres transition into a new era, they will need a steady captain, something they have missed since Chris Drury and Danny Briere days, and Reinhart could fill that void.
Possessing excellent vision and hockey sense, Reinhart is able to elevate the play of those around him without making a lot of risky plays on the ice. A captain for the Ice, Reinhart is a contributor with or without the puck and manages to perform his best during crunch time.
Sam Bennett, C, Kingston Frontenacs (OHL)
Like Buffalo, the Oilers stood to make a tough decision between the big and powerful yet relatively unproven Leon Draisaitl, and the somewhat smaller, more complete player in Sam Bennett. Either one would bring a different but valuable skillset to a team that has been perennially weak up the middle, but Bennett could finish out as a more valuable asset over time. There are some concerns regarding his durability, but his puck movement, sharp on-ice vision, and willingness to play a tough brand of hockey are hard to pass up.
Leon Draisaitl, C, Prince Albert Raiders (WHL)
Calgary selects the 6'1", 200-pound Draisaitl to add to their growing group of centers. Draisaitl has the playmaking skills, soft hands, and hockey IQ that is coveted in a big center. With his size, he will need to add more of physical side to his game in order to help his overall package, along with filling in the truculence bill for the Flames. Draisaitl will need a few years to develop, but the Flames could afford to take their time with him given that they already have a handful of forwards vying for NHL time in the near future.
Michael Dal Colle, C/LW, Oshawa Generals (OHL)
Dal Colle is a dynamic offensive forward who possesses superb hockey sense, excellent vision, and an NHL-quality shot. He is not a particularly physical player, but is strong on his skates and not afraid to play in the dirty areas of the ice. He needs to fill out physically and improve his foot speed, especially in his first step, but he has the skillset to develop into a productive top-six forward who could one day complement John Tavares.
Kasperi Kapanen, RW, KalPa Kuopio (Liiga)
The Canucks enter the 2014 NHL Draft with its highest pick since the Sedin twins were drafted in 1999. Finnish winger Kasperi Kapanen is the type of cerebral offensive player that could one day develop into a productive forward in the NHL. He has excellent playmaking skills and would bring an element of skill and finesse that is in short supply within the Canucks' system. He also brings speed and agility to the table, which Vancouver could certainly use. Kapanen is not considered an overly physical player, but he is strong on his skates and good at protecting the puck. Kapanen could be the playmaking winger that the Canucks have coveted, replete with puck-handling panache.
William Nylander, C/RW, MODO (SHL)
The son of former NHL star Michael Nyalnder, William is also a top-notch point producer who can play center or right wing – the latter being an urgent need for Carolina – and could conceivably play right away due to his skill and experience playing in Sweden's top league.
Nylander is another small-but-skilled forward to add to a stockpile of similar players like Jeff Skinner and Elias Lindholm. While many Hurricanes observers will lament more of the same, Nylander should quickly ease their worries with his top-end skill and pedigree.
Ehlers is small but fast, can handle the puck at high speed, and has a great wrist shot. He was not intimidated playing in the QMJHL despite his small stature and proved that with a 49-goal, 104-point season with the Halifax Mooseheads. He will need to get stronger and fill out physically, but his dynamic skating ability and high hockey sense would be a welcome addition to the Maple Leafs roster.
Brendan Perlini, LW, Niagara IceDogs (OHL)
The Jets need to add some size to their prospect pool, which features a bevy of smaller, skilled players. Jets' GM Kevin Cheveldayoff has publicly stated that he is looking for high hockey IQ come draft day, and Perlini's combination of size, skill, and overall hockey sense makes him a good fit for the Jets. His lightning quick release and willingness to get to the net do not hurt, either. He would instantly become the best pure goal-scorer in Winnipeg's prospect stable.
10. Anaheim Ducks (from Ottawa)
Nick Ritchie, LW, Peterborough Petes (OHL)
The Ducks enter the draft looking for an impact forward or two in the first round. Anaheim would love the combination of size, speed and skill that Nick Ritchie brings to the table. A prototypical power forward who can dominate players with his 6'2", 226-pound frame, Ritchie also has soft hands and good goal-scoring instincts. He is extremely strong and loves to crash and bang on the forecheck. He needs to maintain a more consistent level of play from game-to-game, as well as show a little more urgency in his defensive play, but he has the potential to be a quality NHL forward.
Julius Honka, D, Swift Current Broncos (WHL)
The Predators organization adds another highly-skilled young defenseman to a stable that already includes Seth Jones, Roman Josi, Mattias Ekholm, and Ryan Ellis. Honka made his WHL debut in 2013-14 and led the Swift Current blue line in goals (16) and points (56). Although not an imposing player physically, his quick skating and offensive acumen make him a dangerous player with the puck on his stick.
12. Arizona Coyotes
Jake Virtanen, LW, Calgary Hitmen (WHL)
A pure goal-scorer with a lightning release, Virtanen has arguably one of the most powerful shots in the 2014 draft class. He plays a gritty north-south style of game and is a willing physical combatant in the corners and around the net. He is also a strong skater with very good acceleration and speed.
Virtanen may have gone higher in the draft, but he underwent shoulder surgery in late May which will require four to six months of recovery time. The injury would not scare the Coyotes away, as they have drafted players with injury issues before, and Virtanen's skill is simply too good to pass at the 12th spot. Under the Coyotes' patient approach to player development, he will not seriously compete for an NHL roster spot for several years, giving him plenty of time to recover from his surgery and round any deficiencies in his game.
Hayden Fleury, D, Red Deer Rebels (WHL)
With good size and hockey sense, Fleury would be a great addition to a Washington Capitals prospect pool that already includes defenseman Madison Bowey. Fleury projects as a top-four defenseman who can play on both special teams and transition the puck up ice. He has good puck skills at both ends of the ice as well as a hard shot from the point. He needs to develop more game-to-game consistency and play with a greater level of physicality, but those are two things that should come with more experience.
14. Dallas Stars
Sonny Milano, LW, USNTDP
Milano provides a boatload of skill and great skating. He plays a fast-paced, skill game which fits the current style of player the Stars seem to be targeting. His one-on-one ability and puck-handling are among the best in the 2014 draft class. He can wheel with the puck and make plays at a high speed. Considered more of a playmaker, Milano is a capable goal-scorer with a strong backhand shot. He will need to get stronger and simplify his game, but Milano has the potential to be a high-energy, offensive threat who can make the players around him better.
Dylan Larkin, LW, USNTDP
The trade of Calle Jarnkrok and impending graduation of Riley Sheahan to the NHL leaves the Red Wings prospect pool a little thin down the middle. Dylan Larkin is an assertive, playmaking forward who has excellent hockey sense and can contribute at both ends of the ice. A Michigan native, he should be a great fit for the Wings and will be given plenty of time to develop at the University of Michigan. He should see loads of ice time from the minute he steps on campus, much like JT Compher (BUF) did last season.
16. Columbus Blue Jackets
Robby Fabbri, C, Guelph Storm (OHL)
Fabbri may be years away from reaching his potential due to his small frame, but the Blue Jackets' depth down the middle should allow him the time to develop. A quick and tenacious forward, Fabbri has the ability to slip through defensive coverage and find open ice in prime scoring position. He had a breakout offensive season in 2013-14, managing 45 goals and 42 assists during 58 regular season games and adding 28 points in 16 OHL postseason games as Guelph battled its way to the Memorial Cup final.
Nick Schmaltz, C, Green Bay Gamblers (USHL)
The Flyers have little depth in the prospect pool at center, and most of their players are very gritty forwards. The selection of Nick Schmaltz gives the system a center with a good hockey IQ and playmaking ability. He is also a quick forward who likes to push the pace offensively. In order to meet his potential, Schmaltz needs to improve his consistency in all three zones and play with more intensity away from the puck. He is committed to play for the University of North Dakota in 2014-15 and will likely need several seasons of development to meet his potential.
18. Minnesota Wild
Kevin Fiala, LW, HV71 (SHL)
There is a real need for a player with some offensive flair in the Wild's system now that the club has graduated skilled forwards like Charlie Coyle and Mikael Granlund to the pro level. Fiala has proven his competitive ability with a good showing playing against men in the SHL as well as in representing his nation at the Ivan Hlinka, the World Juniors, and the World Championship. The Swiss winger has a high hockey IQ and plays with the type of speed that fits the Wild's playing style.
19. Tampa Bay Lightning
Roland McKeown, D, Kingston Frontenacs (OHL)
Having recently selected skilled forward Jonathan Drouin with last year's first round pick, and with a trio of forward prospects – Tyler Johnson, Nikita Kucherov, J.T. Brown – establishing themselves as NHL-ready forwards last season, the Lightning will be pleased to select one of the top defenders left on the board in Roland McKeown. Scouts love the Kingston defenseman's ability to move the puck up the ice, as well as his hard, accurate shot. With current top defense prospect Slater Koekkoek's history of shoulder injuries, spending another first-round pick on a defenseman would provide some insurance.
20. San Jose Sharks
Alex Tuch, C/RW, USNTDP
Tuch's NHL size, coachability, and burgeoning skill game make him an easy pick at this spot in the draft. Not only does he provide a strong physical presence, but his puck protection ability and responsible two-way play make him a quintessential Doug Wilson pick. The Sharks do not have a lot of depth on the wings and even fewer prospects with upside like Tuch. He needs to continue to work on his offensive game and get quicker, but he is a quality prospect with power forward potential.
21. St. Louis Blues
Jakub Vrana, RW, Linkoping (SHL)
While the Blues have several promising forward prospects, none have the dynamic goal-scoring ability of Jakub Vrana. A speedy prospect with a hard and heavy shot, Vrana projects as a sniper who does his best work around the net and in high traffic areas.
The Czech forward will need a couple seasons to fill out physically and improve his defensive game, but he could eventually be a nice complement to current Blues forwards Jaden Schwartz or Vladimir Tarasenko.
22. Pittsburgh Penguins
Adrian Kempe, C/W, MODO (SHL)
A tough, physical forward who played men's level hockey in Sweden last year, Kempe possesses many qualities the Penguins are missing in their lineup. Standing at 6'1" and 187 pounds, Kempe has a projectable frame and plays a gritty, physical, north-south style that should allow for a smooth transition to the North American game. He has also been praised for his leadership both on and off the ice. Kempe's offensive game is still developing, but he has shown a willingness to drive to the net and battle in the dirty areas of the ice.
Travis Sanheim, D, Calgary Hitmen (WHL)
Sanheim is a smart player with excellent offensive abilities. He is a late bloomer and had a bit of difficulty earlier this season but really found his stride once he and Ben Thomas both adjusted to the WHL. He has size and skills but still needs to work on using his size to his advantage, which is nothing a little coaching from Adam Foote could not fix. With Tyson Barrie graduated to the NHL and other defensive prospects on the verge as well, Sanheim adds quality depth to the blue line for the Avalanche.
24. Anaheim Ducks
Jared McCann, C, Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds (OHL)
McCann is a smart, two-way forward with great work ethic. The Ducks' second selection of the first round gives them another chance to replenish the forward depth in the system. Opinions on his upside vary from top-six sniper (think Jeff Carter), to a more defensive minded top-nine player (think David Bolland). The bottom line is that McCann is a very hard worker, and like the Ducks first pick in this mock draft (Nick Ritchie), he has one of the best shots in the draft – his snap shot is an absolute laser.
25. Boston Bruins
Thatcher Demko, G, Boston College Eagles (Hockey East)
The Bruins are likely going to make a big splash in the trade market this offseason, and with Zane Gothberg producing at a high level at North Dakota, Malcolm Subban could be a key asset to move. Boston College backstop Thatcher Demko would make up for the loss of Subban in that scenario or give the Bruins one of the most coveted goaltending pipelines in the league. At 6'3", the San Diego native has the size and the competitive makeup coveted by many NHL teams.
Brendan Lemieux, LW, Barrie Colts (OHL)
Brendan Lemieux is an agitator with the physicality, nastiness, and competitiveness of his father, Claude. He watched how hard his father worked to be an NHL player and has the same mentality and work ethic. A prospect that will fight for every inch, his offensive game has progressed and he has demonstrated the ability to raise his level of play in the postseason. Skating speed, acceleration, and his defensive game are areas that will need more improvement. He already possesses NHL size but could always use more strength to play his rugged game at the NHL level.
Ivan Barbashev, LW/C, Moncton Wildcats (QMJHL)
The Blackhawks are not a team that has invested many picks in Russian prospects in recent years, but Ivan Barbashev has potential that is hard to ignore this late in the first round. A late 1995 birthday, he would add to the organizational competition in the minors as soon as 2015-16 and provide some skill, depth, and versatility to the pipeline. With the upside to perhaps fill a triggerman role like Patrick Sharp in the Chicago lineup, he still has the grit and skill to be a safe bet to help out somewhere in the NHL lineup down the road.
28. Tampa Bay Lightning (from New York Rangers)
Conner Bleackley, C, Red Deer Rebels (WHL)
The Lightning's second pick of the first round gives the team an opportunity to replace some of the forward prospects that graduated to the NHL in 2013-14. Connor Bleackley had a breakout season in his second full year of hockey with Red Deer, finishing the year with 29 goals and 68 points in 71 games. The 17-year-old center is capable of making an impact at both ends of the ice, even if he does not possess a single standout skill. He played a hard-nosed game, and even at a young age was a leader on the ice for the Rebels.
29. Los Angeles Kings
John Quenneville, C/W, Brandon Wheat Kings (WHL)
Quenneville possesses everything the Kings look for in their young prospects. He is a big body that is described as being difficult to play against while having the potential to be a strong 200-foot player who can play multiple forward positions. He also has stated that his favorite player, and someone he tries to emulate in style, is Anze Kopitar. Noted as having leadership qualities and being a very hard worker, he fits right in with the character and identity that the Kings have built in recent years.
Brayden Point, C, Moose Jaw Warriors (WHL)
With a need for more talent up front, Brayden Point would instantly become one of the Devils best scoring forwards. There will be a good chance he is available because his size may scare teams away in the first round. Listed at 5'9" and 160 pounds, Point has proven he is not intimidated going against bigger players and plays with a lot of grit. He led Moose Jaw in 2013-14 with 91 points and in every other offensive category. A smart passer with good vision, he is a spark-plug with a strong work ethic and a high-entry style of play. Point's ability to play in all three zones makes him ideal for the Devils' style.
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