DRAFT: Top of 2014 NHL Draft could hold surprises
Will the Florida Panthers keep the No. 1 pick and opt for the projected best draft-eligible defenseman, Aaron Ekblad of the Barrie Colts? Would that open the door for the Buffalo Sabres to select a Doug Gilmour clone, Samuel Bennett of the Kingston Frontenacs?
Gilmour played parts of two seasons for Buffalo and was a fan favorite.
"My dad's favorite player was Gilmour, so he just naturally taught me to play like Doug, and that's the style I play," Bennett said. "I'm a laid-back guy off the ice but on the ice I've played with a mean streak. That's the way I've been taught and that's the way I think hockey should be played."
Bennett, No. 1 on NHL Central Scouting's list of the top North American skaters eligible for the 2014 draft, was one of six top prospects on hand at the NHL Scouting Combine national media availability Friday. The Combine ends Saturday with fitness tests at the Toronto International Centre.
The players participating in the meet-and-greet with the media were defenseman Ekblad; centers Bennett, Sam Reinhart of the Kootenay Ice and Leon Draisaitl of the Prince Albert Raiders; left wing Michael Dal Colle of the Oshawa Generals; and right wing Kasperi Kapanen of Kalpa in Finland.
If the Edmonton Oilers have their sights set on power-forward Draisaitl with the No. 3 choice, does that mean the Calgary Flames would use the No. 4 pick on Reinhart, the son of Paul Reinhart who spent eight seasons in Alberta?
If the Flames prefer Dal Colle with that pick, there's a chance Reinhart could join his brother, defenseman Griffin Reinhart, with the New York Islanders. The Islanders hold the No. 5 pick.
"It is a possibility and I've been aware of that for quite some time," Sam Reinhart said. "It would pretty cool to be with him. It's a lot easier to play with him than against him."
If the Panthers decide to trade their pick, perhaps Kapanen is in their crosshairs. No. 1 on NHL Central Scouting's list of the top international skaters, he is good friends with Alexander Barkov, who was selected by the Panthers with the second pick in the 2013 draft.
"Well, every interview has been good at the Combine and no one interview has been more interesting than the other," Kapanen said. "But when I talked to [the Panthers], we had a good meeting and they said they wanted to get me there because I'd help [Barkov] with his English, so I'd be that guy. Other than that, all the interviews went well.
"[Barkov] and me talk a lot and he actually sent me a couple of messages prior to the Combine to make sure I enjoy it. To see a friend go that early in the draft was great, but I also would like to be that high."
Ekblad had a successful career in the Ontario Hockey League. The 6-foot-3, 216-pound right-handed shot was granted exceptional-player status by Hockey Canada to be eligible for the 2011 OHL priority selection draft as a 15-year-old. That's a year younger than the standard age of 16.
He was selected by the Colts with the No. 1 pick in 2011, and had 10 goals and 29 points in 63 games, was named OHL Rookie of the Year and was selected to the OHL All-Rookie Team. In three OHL seasons, Ekblad had 40 goals, 116 points, 189 penalty minutes and a plus-31 rating in 175 regular-season games.
"It feels like a long time ago when I was granted exceptional-player status," Ekblad said. "I played a lot of years in the OHL and met a lot of great people along the way. I can't thank enough those people who helped me and supported me during my time [in the OHL]."
The first round of the 2014 NHL Draft is Friday, June 27. Rounds 2-7 will be Saturday. Unpredictability is what the prospects anticipate and what NHL scouts expect.
"For me, personally, I worked my way up into that top class of this group and being around them [this week], I feel I belong there and I'm confident in my abilities," Dal Colle said. "I don't get caught up too much in the mock drafts or anything like that. I know I'm No. 5 on Central Scouting's list right now, but it's all interchangeable.
"I'm ready for anything."