There should be plenty of debate and intrigue when NHL Central Scouting starts its final meetings Wednesday in Toronto as they come together to set the final rankings for the 2014 NHL Draft.
While those rankings won't be released until next month, NHL.com has recruited two veteran NHL scouts, one from a team in each conference, in the interim to provide their first-round projections in exchange for anonymity.
The following mock drafts might be the closest thing you'll see anywhere on the Internet in terms of how the opening round of the 2014 NHL Draft at Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia turn out.
The draft order in place for this exercise was based on inverse order of the standings on March 18.
Things certainly could change between now and when the teams arrive in Philadelphia for the draft, but our scouts were more than willing to give it a shot.
What are the key questions a scout must ask himself when grading a blue-chip prospect?
"The NHL projection factor is always the key component, particularly with players ranked in the first round. Does he have the skills, assets and intangibles to translate his game, production and style of play to the National Hockey League?" NHL Director of Central Scouting Dan Marr said. "A scout can break down the player's assets into what they feel is most important for that particular player to get to the NHL. That emphasis can include skating, size, skills, hockey sense and competitiveness as it applies to that player's strengths and areas to improve."
The difficulty in determining the best prospect available this year was evident right at the top. Our Western scout feels center Sam Reinhart of the Kootenay Ice of the Western Hockey League will be the first player off the board. Our Eastern scout believes defenseman Aaron Ekblad of the Barrie Colts of the Ontario Hockey League is the logical No. 1 pick.
Both scouts believe Boston College freshman goalie Thatcher Demko, who had the seventh-highest winning percentage (.738) and 14th best goals-against average (1.15) in the nation, will be the first American-born goalie drafted in the first round since Jack Campbell by the Dallas Stars in 2010.
Our Eastern scout believes as many as six European players will hear their name called in the opening round, while the Western scout projects five European prospects taken among the first 30 picks.
Both scouts agreed on picks for three teams: The Nashville Predators will choose center Leon Draisaitl of the Prince Albert Raiders of the WHL; the Phoenix Coyotes will select left wing Sonny Milano of the United States National Team Development Program under-18 team; and the Anaheim Ducks will pick center Nick Schmaltz of the Green Bay Gamblers of the United States Hockey League with their second pick in the first round.
The Ducks are the only team right now with two picks in the top 30; they have the Ottawa Senators' pick through the Bobby Ryan trade last summer.
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mikemorrealeNHL
Author: Mike G. Morreale | NHL.com Staff Writer