The NHL's Western Conference currently has the bragging rights to league supremacy as a a result of the Los Angeles Kings five-game Stanley Cup final win over the New York Rangers. While the results from the 2014 NHL Draft may not alter the current lock the West has on the NHL's most prized trophy, at least one team in the Eastern Conference might be offering a ray of hope for the future.
That team would be the Buffalo Sabres, who are currently in the midst of a rebuild that will continue into next year's draft at the very least. They chose nine more players at this year's draft after having chosen 11 players at the 2013 NHL Draft and eight players in 2012. And there's more to come in a deep 2015 draft.
Another Eastern club that would seem to be heading into a rebuild is the Carolina Hurricanes. The Hurricanes appeared to make good use of their seven selections at this draft, although they have nowhere near the prospect base to build on that the Sabres presently have.
Below is a team-by-team look at some of the highlights from the Eastern Conference's two days of drafting at the 2014 NHL Draft (the more detailed team reviews are still to come).
The Bruins made just five selections in this draft, with their top pick being spent on Sweden-based Czech right wing, David Pastrnak. Pastrnak is a skilled-but-slight player whose main strengths come in the offensive zone. While he is still a work in progress, Pastrnak should fill a need for some skill in the Bruins' prospect pool.
Second round selection Ryan Donato, son of former NHL forward Ted Donato, is an intriguing forward prospect with skill and a need to work on his speed and strength. Maybe the most interesting of the remaining Bruins picks is fifth round pick Anders Bjork. Bjork, a left wing, competed for the U.S. National Team Development Program this season and turned in a solid performance at the 2014 U18 World Championship.
As noted above, the Sabres were the busiest Eastern team at this NHL Draft. They began the draft with a player that seemed to be a perfect fit for their needs, center Sam Reinhart from the Kootenay Ice. Reinhart will bring a mixture of skill and leadership qualities that should eventually help to reinvigorate a team that was the worst in the NHL in 2013-14.
Three more forwards highlighted the second round selections, with Brandon Lemieux, son of Claude, being the most high-profile of the group. Lemieux brings much of the same sandpaper and brawn that made his father a successful NHL player, so he is likely to be a fan favorite but a player that other teams hate to play against.
The Sabres remaining picks are projects who are probably 3-4 years away from making the move to the pro game. The exception to that rule would be Swift Current Broncos defenseman Brycen Martin, a two-way defender with some upside who had his ups and downs over the course of the 2013-14 season.
Given the fact that five of the Red Wings seven selections at this draft were used in the fourth through seventh rounds, it is tempting to think that this crop could be a lesser one for the Red Wings. But never underestimate this club's ability to pull a diamond or two out of the rough, quite probably from Sweden.
But the Red Wings did pretty good with their first pick in the draft, taking center Dylan Larkin from the U.S. NTDP squad. The solidly-built forward was a force at times for the NTDP team, but like any young player, Larkin must polish some of the rough edges in his two-way power game.
Center Dominic Turgeon was the Red Wings second round pick. Turgeon is the son of former NHL forward Pierre Turgeon, but appears to lack the high-end skill for which his father was known. But the younger Turgeon is likely to receive a bigger role with the Portland Winterhawks, so he'll have a chance to show his own talents in 2014-15.
Panthers general manager Dale Tallon was said to be interested in moving his first overall selection in this draft for established talent that could help his team win now. But that deal never came to pass, so the Panthers elected to bolster their defensive corps by using that pick to take Barrie Colts defenseman Aaron Ekblad. Ekblad is said to be the most NHL-ready prospect from this draft class, and given the current state of that team's defensive group, it seems that Ekblad might be the right player at the right time for the Panthers.
From their remaining five selections, perhaps the most intriguing is third round selection Juho Lammikko from the Assat junior club in Finland. Lammikko has good size and skill but has yet to properly arrange the tools in the toolbox. His high-end would be a power forward with some offensive ability, but he is by no means a sure thing.
If nothing else, the Canadiens may have chosen the most gregarious prospect from the group of 30 first round picks. Saskatoon Blades right wing Nikita Scherbak certainly wowed the Montreal media in his post-selection media scrum, and he impressed the Canadiens' scouts enough to have them call his name in the first round of the 2014 draft. Scherbak is a skilled forward with great speed who will need to add some weight to his frame to handle the big bodies in the pro game.
The Canadiens' remaining five picks came in the third round of after, with the most recognizable name being that of Daniel Audette from the QMJHL's Sherbrooke Phoenix. Audette is the son of former NHL forward Donald Audette and, like his father, is a scorer packaged in a smaller body.
The Senators attempted to trade back into the first round on Friday but could not find any takers. Their first pick came in the second round, which was used on defenseman Andreas Englund of Djurgarden in Sweden's Allsvenskan league. Englund is tall defender who could stand to add some weight to his frame, but who is thought by some to be further along the development path than other Swedish defenders ranked ahead of him in this draft.
Among the remaining picks, one interesting selection is left wing Shane Eiserman from the USHL's Dubuque Fighting Saints. Eiserman spent the previous two seasons in the U.S. NTDP, then moved over to the Saints before heading to the University of New Hampshire this fall. Eiserman is a stocky winger with some offensive chops, but he and the other Senators' 2014 draft picks are at least two years away from turning pro.
As a result of a season marred by suspensions, it wasn't clear where Sarnia Sting defenseman Anthony DeAngelo would be chosen in this draft. But the Lightning put an end to that speculation fairly early in the draft when they used their first round selection on the offensively talented defender. DeAngelo isn't the ideal size that a team would like in a defenseman, but there is no denying his offensive abilities, a scary thought when you consider some of the offensive talent already in the Lightning's stable.
Defense was the name of the game at this draft for the Lightning as they used four of their seven selections on defenders, including their first three selections. But a pick that has great boom-or-bust potential is center Brayden Point from the Moose Jaw Warriors. Point is small (5'9", 160 lbs.), but there is no denying his offensive ability as he put up 91 points in 72 games in 2013-14.
With the Maple Leafs in a bit of a retooling phase, they elected to use their first pick on offensively talented forward William Nylander. The Leafs have had past success either drafting or acquiring Swedish talent (see Borje Salming and Mats Sundin), so they are hoping that Nylander, son of former NHL forward Michael Nylander, will boost their offensive attack for many years to come.
Looking at the remaining five selections, one name that stands out is that of defenseman Rinat Valiev from the Kootenay Ice. Valiev has a somewhat odd path to his selection by the Leafs, having moved from Russia to the U.S. to compete for the Indiana Ice in the 2012-13 season. The 19-year-old then moved to the WHL for the 2013-14 season to play for the Kootenay, and that move seems to have paid off for the solidly-built defender.
At this stage, the Hurricanes could use a bit of everything in their prospect pool. While they have some interesting prospects at the top end of their list, the talent level drops after the top 7 or 8 prospects. They used the 2014 draft to bolster their depth, starting with the selection of defenseman Haydn Fleury from the WHL's Red Deer Rebels. Fleury can move the puck and create some offense without being too major a liability in his own end.
Second round pick Alex Nedeljkovic just completed a strong 2013-14 season where he was named CHL Goaltender of the Year and also backstopped Team USA to a gold medal at the 2014 U18 World Championship. While nowhere near being ready to take the next step, in Nedeljkovic the Hurricanes may have their goaltender for the future.
Perhaps the most noteworthy of the remaining five picks is left wing Warren Foegele. Foegele played Canadian prep at St. Andrews College, an avenue rarely taken by players that are serious about a pro career. Foegele was dominating at that level, but still must show that he can bring that game to a higher level of play, something he'll be able to do starting in the fall when he attends the University of New Hampshire.
The Blue Jackets looked to juice up their offense with the selection of U.S. NTDP forward Sonny Milano. Milano has gained a reputation for his slick, stick-and-puck trick videos on YouTube, but he is also carving out a reputation for on-ice creativity and offensive ability. Milano generated 72 points in 50 games for the NTDP this season, and he'll now be taking his show to Boston College starting in the fall.
Columbus stuck with the NTDP with their second pick, landing hulking defender Ryan Collins from that program. At 6'5" and 202 pounds, Collins is one of the larger players from the 2014 draft class, not to mention one of the more difficult to play against. He'll be taking his robust style of play to the University of Minnesota this fall.
Of the Blue Jackets remaining selections, goaltender Elvis Merzlikins stands out due to his being another player taking a slightly different path to reach the NHL. Merzlikins is originally from Latvia but has competed in the HC Lugano organization in Switzerland the past three seasons. He took that route in the hopes of developing his game more fully, and the move seems to have paid off for him up to this point.
The Devils were granted the 30th pick in the first round of this NHL Draft after having lost the pick due to the contract situation with Ilya Kovalchuk. With that pick, the team selected John Quenneville from the Brandon Wheat Kings of the WHL. Quenneville, whose brother Peter was drafted by Columbus in 2013 and who is related to Chicago Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville, is a center with some offensive ability and some sandpaper to his game, attributes that should fit in well in the Devils' system.
Defenseman Joshua Jacobs from the USHL champion Indiana Ice was the Devils second round selection. Although his offensive totals last season weren't eye-popping, Jacobs brings some of offensive ability from the blueline along with a big frame. He'll be attending Michigan State University in the fall.
Right wing Connor Chatham, the Devils third round pick, is another big body (6'1", 207 lbs.) who seems to fit the mold of grinding wingers that the Devils like to deploy. Chatham played for the Plymouth Whalers in 2013-14 where he posted 31 points in 54 games.
The Islanders apparently flirted with the idea of dealing the fifth overall selection for more immediate help, but those efforts failed to produce a deal. Instead, the team chose left wing Michael Dal Colle, an offensively talented player who competed for the Oshawa Generals in 2013-14. Dal Colle is dangerous in the offensive zone, talent that he displayed consistently over the course of the regular season and playoffs. He should in time add another offensive weapon to the Islanders core that includes John Tavares and Ryan Strome.
With a second first round pick acquired from the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Islanders chose Josh Ho-Sang from the Windsor Spitfires. Ho-Sang is regarded by some as one of the more offensively talented forwards from the 2014 draft class, but his draft stock seemed to dip slightly in the latter stages of the 2013-14 season. Still, there is no denying his talent, and he seems to have the motivation to prove any detrators wrong.
The Rangers first round selection was dealt to the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Martin St. Louis deal, with the Lightning then flipping that pick to the Islanders. Lacking that first round selection, the Rangers made goaltender Brandon Halverson their top pick with the 59th pick overall. Halverson played behind Pittsburgh Penguins' prospect Matt Murray with the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds but showed enough in his 19 starts that he climbed the draft ranks as the season progressed.
Of their remaining selections, one name that jumps out is that of right wing Ryan Mantha. Mantha is not related to Detroit Red Wings prospect Anthony Mantha, but is instead related to former NHL defenseman Moe Mantha. While Ryan plays a different position than Moe did, the younger Mantha brings some of the same grit that his uncle was known for during his NHL playing days.
While the NHL Draft host team sometimes makes a splash during the first round for the hometown crowd, the Flyers weren't able to make a deal to move up in the draft order. Instead, they used their own selection on defenseman Travis Sanheim. Sanheim plays for the Calgary Hitmen of the WHL but truly made his mark at the 2014 U18 World Championship where he was Canada's best defender in that tournament.
The Flyers looked to add to their offense up front with the selection of Nicolas Aube-Kubel in the second round. Aube-Kubel had a productive regular season for the Val d'Or Foreurs but really took off in the 2014 QMJHL playoffs as he helped the Foreuers advance to the Memorial Cup semifinal, where they fell to the eventual champion Edmonton Oil Kings.
Among the Flyers remaining picks, the name of Oskar Lindblom stands out, particularly for where he ended up being chosen. Lindblom was the fifth round pick of the Flyers, but he was rated as a first round talent at one point in the draft. Given his upside, though, the Flyers may have unearthed a jewel if Lindblom can reach his potential.
The Penguins made some noise at the draft with their trade of James Neal to the Nashville Predators for Patric Hornqvist and Nick Spaling, but they were relatively quiet over the course of the draft with just five selections in hand.
The Penguins did hang onto their own first round pick, which they used to select Kasperi Kapanen from Finland's KalPa Kuopio club. Kapanen was the highest-ranked European prospect according to Central Scouting, so it would seem that his stock fell slightly given his selection in the 22nd slot. Kapanen brings the speed and skill that his father Sami was known for, but he'll need to continue developing his game before making the jump to the North America.
Of the Penguins remaining selections, forward Jaden Lindo holds some promise of becoming a power forward with some modest ability. Lindo played for the Owen Sound Attack of the OHL, where he put up 18 points in 40 games. Lindo is definitely a project, but one with a bit of upside to his game.
The Capitals used a few of their top selections in recent years on players competing in Europe, and this year was no exception as they used their top two picks to choose players competing across the Atlantic.
Winger Jakub Vrana, a Czech native playing for Linkoping in Sweden, was the first round choice for the Capitals in this draft. Vrana is a skilled but smaller forward who has the creativity and shot to become a dangerous offensive player. Although already viewed as a potential first round selection, his draft stock seemed to climb after his performance at the 2014 U18 World Championship, where he helped lead the Czech Republic to their first-ever silver medal at that tournament.
Staying with the Czech-born talent, the Capitals moved up in the second round to select goaltender Vitek Vanecek from Billi Tygri Liberec. Vanecek is the type of larger, athletic goaltender that is in vogue these days in the NHL. He will likely conitnue to develop his game in the Czech Republic for the next couple of seasons.
Probably the most interesting player chosen at the 2014 draft is the Capitals third round selection, Nathan Walker. Walker was born in Great Britain but is from Australia. Given the lack of competitive hockey in that country, Walker headed to the Czech Republic to hone his skills. He played there for six seasons before making his way to North America, and in 2013-14 competed for the AHL's Hershey Bears, the Capitals' farm club. The Capitals abviously liked what they saw as he is now a part of their prospect pool.
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