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Forwards dominate first round of 2014 NHL Draft

Saturday, 06.28.2014 / 12:32 AM / 2014 NHL Draft - Philadelphia - June 27-28, 2014

By Adam Kimelman - NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor

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Forwards dominate first round of 2014 NHL Draft
The Florida Panthers started the 2014 NHL Draft by selecting a player most experts view as the most NHL-ready among this year's crop, defenseman Aaron Ekblad.

PHILADELPHIA -- The Los Angeles Kings won the Stanley Cup playing an attacking offensive style, and that came after a regular season when the top seven teams in the NHL standings finished in the top seven in scoring.

The rest of the League appears to be playing catch-up. Friday, in the first round of the 2014 NHL Draft, 11 of the first 13 players picked were highly skilled forwards.

Twenty-five forwards were taken in the 30-pick first round, the most in League history, surpassing the 23 drafted in 2003.

The forwards ranged from big and strong to small and skilled, but all are offensive-minded players who look to score goals and create offensive chances.

"I think it's where it's going," Buffalo Sabres general manager Tim Murray said. "The day they took the red line out it was inevitable it has to go that way. ... I think you've seen it the last couple years, high-scoring forwards or offensive forwards have been a priority early in the draft."

The Florida Panthers selected Barrie Colts defenseman Aaron Ekblad with the first pick. The 6-foot-3, 213-pound 18-year-old led OHL defensemen with 23 goals and was named the league's best defenseman.

"He's so mature for his age," Panthers general manager Dale Tallon said on TSN. "And he fits what we have, with [Aleksander] Barkov, [Erik] Gudbranson, [Nick] Bjugstad ... these are cornerstones of the franchise, guys you can build around for a long time."

Ekblad is the first defenseman picked No. 1 since the St. Louis Blues selected Erik Johnson in 2006. He's the first Canadian defenseman to go No. 1 since the Ottawa Senators selected Chris Phillips in 1996.

With three seasons of junior hockey experience -- he was granted exceptional-player status to join the OHL at age 15 -- Ekblad is confident he'll meet his goal of playing in the NHL this season.

"I'm going to expect to make it, and I'm going to make it because I work hard and do the right things," he said.

Murray started the run of skilled forwards when he drafted Kootenay Ice center Sam Reinhart with the second pick.

The 6-foot-1, 186-pound forward had 36 goals and 105 points, tied for fourth in the Western Hockey League, in 60 games. He had five points in seven games with Canada at the 2014 IIHF World Junior Championship and was invited to take part in Canada's training camp in Switzerland ahead of the 2014 World Championship.

He said that experience gave him a clue of what life in the NHL will be like and has him believing he can play in the League full-time this season.

"That's been my main focus for quite some time," Reinhart said. "I'm thrilled to be going through this process. To hear my name called was very exciting. It's been my focus for quite some time, to focus on the long run and make an impact with this organization."

Murray said he was sold on Reinhart after watching him at the CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game in January.

"We got the guy we wanted," Murray said. "He's a guy that I got to see a lot since the January day that I got hired in Buffalo. I made it a priority once I saw him in the prospect game to follow him that week and get back out there a few weeks later and go back again in the [WHL] playoffs. He was a dominant player. He's just so smart and makes players around him so much better. He would be extremely hard not to like."

The Edmonton Oilers continued the trend by selecting Prince Albert Raiders center Leon Draisaitl at No. 3, followed by the Calgary Flames taking Kingston Frontenacs center Samuel Bennett at No. 4. Oshawa Generals left wing Michael Dal Colle was taken at No. 5 by the New York Islanders, and Calgary Hitmen right wing Jake Virtanen went No. 6 to the Vancouver Canucks.

The Canucks also picked a forward at No. 24, Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds center Jared McCann, with the selection they obtained from the Anaheim Ducks earlier Friday in a trade involving Ryan Kesler.

"If you watched the NHL playoffs, you need size and strength to get to the net, stay in front of the net to deflect pucks, to get to rebounds," Canucks general manager Jim Benning said. "We were looking for that style of player and so we were happy that's who we ended up with."

Virtanen and McCann were two of the 16 forwards picked Friday who are taller than 6 feet. However, skill appeared to be the overwhelming need, regardless of whether a player was 6-5 or 5-6.

"There were a lot of smaller forwards drafted [Friday]," Minnesota Wild general manager Chuck Fletcher said. "A lot of small, skilled players ... some of them in the top 10."

The Carolina Hurricanes selected Red Deer Rebels defenseman Haydn Fleury at No. 7, and Swedish forward William Nylander, the son of former NHL player Michael Nylander, went No. 8 to the Toronto Maple Leafs. Danish-born left wing Nikolaj Ehlers of the Halifax Mooseheads went to the Winnipeg Jets at No. 9; the Anaheim Ducks picked left wing Nicholas Ritchie of the Peterborough Petes at No. 10; and the Nashville Predators picked Swiss-born left wing Kevin Fiala from HV 71 in the Swedish junior league at No. 11.

Fiala epitomizes the new way GM David Poile wants to build the Predators.

"It's a go-go game," he said. "A lot of speed in the game. There's a premium on skating and skill. We certainly emulate the teams that are having success. ... We want to make the acquisitions and selections based on where the game is going so you can have success."

The Arizona Coyotes picked left wing Brendan Perlini from the Niagara IceDogs at No. 12; the Washington Capitals chose Jakub Vrana from Linkoping in Sweden at No. 13; and Swift Current defenseman Julius Honka went No. 14 to the Dallas Stars. United States National Team Development Program teammates center Dylan Larkin and left wing Sonny Milano went No. 15 to the Detroit Red Wings and No. 16 to the Columbus Blue Jackets, and the host Philadelphia Flyers took Calgary Hitmen defenseman Travis Sanheim with the 17th pick.

“We really liked him," Flyers general manager Ron Hextall said. "In the second half of the year the kid just rose and rose and rose. And if you look at him, he’s a young boy. There’s a lot of upside. He’s going to fill out and get a lot bigger.”

At No. 18, the Minnesota Wild picked USNTDP right wing Alex Tuch, and at No. 19 the Tampa Bay Lightning picked defenseman Anthony DeAngelo from the Sarnia Sting.

The Chicago Blackhawks traded with the San Jose Sharks to move up to No. 20 for center Nick Schmaltz from the Green Bay Gamblers. At No. 21, the St. Louis Blues picked Guelph Storm center Robert Fabbri; Finnish forward Kasperi Kapanen, son of former NHL player Sami Kapanen, went No. 22 to the Pittsburgh Penguins; and the Colorado Avalanche picked center Connor Bleackley of the Red Deer Rebels at No. 23.

After the Canucks chose McCann at No. 24, the Boston Bruins selected Czech-born right wing David Pastrnak at No. 25. The Montreal Canadiens drafted Saskatoon Blades right wing Nikita Scherbak at No. 26; the San Jose Sharks picked Sarnia left wing Nikolay Goldobin at No. 27; the New York Islanders traded with the Tampa Bay Lightning to pick Windsor Spitfires center Joshua Ho-Sang at No. 28; the Los Angeles Kings picked Swedish forward Adrian Kempe at No. 29; and the New Jersey Devils chose Brandon Wheat Kings center John Quenneville at No. 30.

Rounds 2-7 will be held Saturday (10 a.m. ET; NHL Network), with the Sabres to make the first of their three second-round picks (they also have No. 39 and No. 49). The trend of forwards being picked often is likely to continue.

"There are a lot of good forwards," Fletcher said. "There are still a lot of good forwards on the board right now."

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