As the NHL’s 2013-14 season progressed, it was only natural to view each team's point totals in regards to not only playoff possibilities but also in terms of draft position.
With draft order based on reversing the standings, teams like the Sabres, Oilers and Islanders – barring major second-half turnarounds – looked to be in the running for the top picks. Once the season ended, the official order of the draft was finalized and the first pick goes to….the Florida Panthers as the 52nd NHL Draft takes place later this week -- June 27-28 -- at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia.
Like every year, the age old question for every team's front office is: Do we select the best player available or do we pick based on need, looking at selections to fill specific roster weaknesses?
While the class of 2014 is not considered to be particularly strong, the following players have headed mock drafts and scouting reports as the top prospects:
The early favorite to go first overall is forward Sam Reinhart of the Kootenay Ice, in his third full WHL season. The 18-year-old Vancouver native is not only offensively skilled, but has great bloodlines. Father Paul played in more than 700 NHL games; brother Max is currently in the Calgary Flames system; and brother Griffin plays defense for the Edmonton Oil Kings and was signed by the New York Islanders.
Scouts love Reinhart's hockey sense, his strong on-ice vision, his solid two-way play and his ability to anticipate. Adding to his already impressive list of accomplishments is that Hockey Canada named Reinhart as just one of two players from his draft class to be invited to the World Junior Championship selection camp.
Another top prospect from the WHL is center Leon Draisaitl of the Prince Albert Raiders. Draisaitl has the opportunity to be the highest draft selection from his native Germany (previous high being Marcel Goc by San Jose, 20th overall in 2001). Draisaitl has shown dramatic improvement in his offensive game this season and while his scoring has improved, he is most noted for his playmaking ability. Draisaitl played for Germany at the 2014 U20 WJC in Sweden.
The top defensive prospect is Aaron Ekblad, a 17-year-old from the OHL's Barrie Colts. Looking at Ekblad's size (6-4, 217 lbs.), his mobility is very impressive. While Ekblad is expected to contribute both offensively and defensively, NHL teams have not chosen defensemen with high picks in recent years but he may be the exception.
As the result of trades, several teams may move up, down or out of draft order. For example, the New Jersey Devils will forfeit their first round pick due to salary cap circumvention when they signed Ilya Kovalchuk. The Devils had the choice and decided to keep first round picks in 2011, 2012 and 2013 drafts.
The Ottawa Senators’ first round pick goes to the Anaheim Ducks as a result of the July 2013 trade that sent Bobby Ryan to the Sens for two players and this pick.
By the way, the Kings’ second rounder goes to Buffalo as a result of the April 2013 deal where the Sabres sent Robyn Regehr to LA. Buffalo also traded for the Minnesota Wild's second rounder. One more note on Buffalo stockpiling picks: the Sabres could receive the New York Islanders first round pick from the recent Thomas Vanek trade. If the pick is in the top 10 in 2014, the Islanders can choose to give it up in 2014 or 2015. If the pick is outside the top 10, then this remains a 2014 Sabres choice.
And one final note involving the Kings. LA could end up with Toronto's second round pick. The Kings acquired the choice in the June 2013 trade that sent Jonathan Bernier to Toronto. The Leafs have the choice of giving up their second rounder in either 2014 or 2015.
The Kings are currently slated to pick 29th overall on Friday. The last time the Kings made a selection in the first-round after winning the Stanley Cup they grabbed Tanner Pearson 30th overall. Pearson played in 25 regular season games this year and 24 more postseason contests.
LAKingsInsider.com’s Jon Rosen will be in Philly as will Kings Vision. Check back often for interviews and reports. Follow the Kings Communications Department on Twitter @LAKingsPR.