Panthers leap over Sabres to land top pick in NHL Draft Lottery

By Ken McKenna

Bill Daly - 2014 NHL Draft Lottery

Photo: NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly holds up the card showing the Florida Panthers as the winner of the 2014 NHL Draft Lottery (courtesy of Bill Wippert/NHLI via Getty Images)

Maybe second is the new first, at least when it comes to the NHL Draft Lottery, the latest of which took place on Tuesday evening. In the prior two lotteries, the 29th-ranked club ended up with the first selection, and that trend held in the 2014 edition as this season's 29th club, the Florida Panthers, ended up walking away with the first selection overall in the 2014 NHL Draft.

The worst team in the 2013-14 season, the Buffalo Sabres, ended up with the second pick in the draft. This would have been the case regardless of where they had landed — other than the first pick, of course — given the fact that no team can fall more than one position in the draft order.

The Panthers head into this year's draft in Philadelphia with a definite need on the blueline. As it happens, many draft observers see Barrie Colts defenseman Aaron Ekblad as the top propsect in this draft, a match that could be a perfect fit for the Panthers.

And, as luck would have it, the Sabres have more of a need for upgrades in the forward ranks, with this draft being top-heavy with talented forward prospects. As a result, the second pick could be used on one of the Sam's available in this draft, either Sam Reinhart of the Kootenay Ice or Sam Bennett of the Kingston Frontenacs. Both players would likely provide an upgrade to the Sabres' forward prospect contingent, if not next season, then in the very near future.

The team with the third selection, the Edmonton Oilers, may have been hoping to land the first pick to have a shot at Ekblad, but will likely settle for adding another talented forward to their stable. The remaining Sam available after the Sabres selection might be the pick, but other, bigger forwards of note include the Prince Albert Raiders' Leon Draisaitl and the Oshawa Generals' Michael Dal Colle.

Picking fourth is the Calgary Flames, whose rebuild process seems to be progressing nicely if their performance in the second half of the 2013-14 season is any indication. Some of the forwards already mentioned above would seem to be obvious choices, but the Flames' President of Hockey Operations and current interim GM Brian Burke is known for making the occasional splashy move on Draft Day.

The New York Islanders presently hold the fifth selection in the 2014 draft. Islanders General Manager Garth Snow has a decision to make with this pick, however, a decision that must be made by June 1st. The Islanders have to decide whether to hold or deal this year's pick to the Buffalo Sabres as a result of the trade early in the 2013-14 season that sent Thomas Vanek to the Islanders (Vanek was later dealt to the Montreal Canadiens). If the 2014 pick remains in hand, then the Islanders would have to send their first round pick in 2015 to the Sabres, a draft that is said to have a more impressive crop of prospects in the top portion of the draft. A top-5 pick might be difficult to send away, though, since it is difficult to predict how the Islanders will finish in 2015. By retaining the 2014 pick, the Islanders could be passing on a chance to draft Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel, two apparent superstars in the making from the 2015 draft. But a better finish in 2014-15 after letting go of the 2014 pick could mean that the Islanders would likely miss out on the top players in the 2015 draft, plus they would fail to grab a top talent in the 2014 draft.

With the exception of the top two selections, the draft order for 2014 NHL Draft mirrors the way the teams finished in the standings. One exception among those 13 lottery teams is the Anaheim Ducks, one of the teams expected to challenge for the Stanley Cup in 2014. The Ducks, who hold the tenth selection in the coming draft, acquired that pick in the deal that sent Bobby Ryan to the Ottawa Senators. So, Ducks' Executive Vice President and General Manager Bob Murray has a chance to add another good player to an already solid group of prospects.

Another team name missing from this draft lottery was the New Jersey Devils, who were one of the 14 teams to miss the 2014 NHL playoffs. The Devils had lost their 2014 first round pick as a penalty for their faulty contract with former NHL forward Ilya Kovalchuk, but the league has since decided to give the Devils the 30th pick in the first round of this year's draft.

Below is the draft order for the top 13 selections in the 2014 NHL Draft.

1.  Florida Panthers
2.  Buffalo Sabres
3.  Edmonton Oilers
4.  Calgary Flames
5.  New York Islanders
6.  Vancouver Canucks
7.  Carolina Hurricanes
8.  Toronto Maple Leafs
9.  Winnipeg Jets
10. Anaheim Ducks (from Ottawa)
11. Nashville Predators
12. Phoenix Coyotes
13. Washington Capitals

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