PHILADELPHIA -- Expect the unexpected when hunting season officially opens this weekend for scouts and general managers at the 2014 NHL Draft at Wells Fargo Center.
The first round of the two-day event will be held Friday (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, TSN, RDS); rounds 2-7 will take place Saturday (10 a.m. ET; NHL Network).
The phone lines of numerous general managers on the draft floor figured to be buzzing with activity prior to and during the opening round as teams look to make deals. The Anaheim Ducks made the first big move, acquiring Ryan Kesler from the Vancouver Canucks for a package that included the No. 24 pick as well as forward Nick Bonino and defenseman Luca Sbisa.
The Canucks weren't done, also trading defenseman Jason Garrison to the Tampa Bay Lightning for a second-round pick and trading the third-round pick they got from the Ducks to the New York Rangers for forward Derek Dorsett.
Florida Panthers GM Dale Tallon made public his willingness to trade the No. 1 pick for the right offer. Some other teams with high first-round picks also have said they're willing to deal.
"We consider trades at every draft, looking to move up or even moving back depending on who's there or who might be there when it's our turn to pick," Washington Capitals assistant general manager Ross Mahoney said. "That's part of our strategizing to see if we should move up, back or stay where we are."
The 2014 draft is considered one of the most unpredictable in recent years, not only because there could be a multitude of trades but because there's no clear-cut No. 1 selection.
Center Samuel Bennett of the Kingston Frontenacs in the Ontario Hockey League earned the No. 1 spot on NHL Central Scouting's final ranking of the top draft-eligible skaters in North America in April, but there's no guarantee he'll be the first player to have his name announced.
"You can look at the stats and the size of the player, since those are things we might try and factor in, but when all is said and done it's about the projection and where a player will be three to five years down the line," NHL Director of Central Scouting Dan Marr said.
Marr went as far as to say that teams might go for need earlier than expected since players might seem interchangeable to particular clubs at a certain point.
"The teams will stick to their philosophy in what they believe the player brings on the ice, his contributions, his production, his skills and intangibles," Marr said. "But there is a point where it's like dropping marbles on the floor. This is a good opportunity for those team regional scouts to step up and voice their opinion over what could turn out to be a diamond in the rough or late bloomer."
Bennett is considered by many a clone of Kingston general manager and Hockey Hall of Famer Doug Gilmour. He finished this season with career highs in goals (36), assists (55), points (91), power-play goals (10), plus/minus rating (plus-34) and penalty minutes (118).
He was named top prospect in the Canadian Hockey League and was first in three categories in the OHL's Eastern Conference: smartest player, best playmaker and best stickhandler.
"There are guys who elevate their game when it matters most and you're looking to project which players will do that consistently at the next level," Marr said. "The guys we have at the top all are in that mold but when we look at Sam Bennett, we see a guy who could potentially have a Jonathan Toews type of career."
Rounding out the top five among North America skaters are No. 2 Aaron Ekblad of the Barrie Colts (OHL), No. 3 Sam Reinhart of the Kootenay Ice in the Western Hockey League, No. 4 Leon Draisaitl of the Prince Albert Raiders (WHL), and No. 5 Michael Dal Colle of the Oshawa Generals (OHL).
Ekblad might be the only sure thing as the first defenseman off the draft board. If he's taken first overall, it would mark the first time in eight years a defenseman was picked No. 1.
In his third season in the OHL, he finished with career highs in goals (23), assists (30), points (53) and penalty minutes (91), and was named the league's best defenseman. He earned first-place finishes for best shot, hardest shot, best offensive defenseman and best defensive defenseman in the Eastern Conference of the OHL and was voted second in the category of best penalty-killer.
"I am always hesitant to label as a sure thing any young athlete as they have enough pressure on them as it is, but I would describe Ekblad as one of the most solid NHL prospects you will find in this year's draft class," Marr said. "He is the best defenseman available and would be projected to vie for an NHL job a lot sooner than most."
Reinhart, who had 36 goals and 105 points in 60 regular-season games, is the son of former NHL defenseman Paul Reinhart, who played 11 seasons with the Calgary Flames and Vancouver Canucks. He also has two successful hockey-playing brothers. Max Reinhart was a third-round pick (No. 63) of the Flames in 2010 and Griffin Reinhart was selected No. 4 by the New York Islanders in 2012.
Draisaitl finished in a fourth-place tie with Reinhart for the WHL scoring title with 105 points (38 goals, 67 assists) in 64 regular-season games. Reinhart had the same number of points in four fewer games.
"What sets Draisaitl apart from other prospects is his ability to protect the puck; he's very Jaromir Jagr-like in that sense," Central Scouting's B.J. MacDonald said. "He's got that same style. He'll connect with guys coming in late and hold onto that puck until the right play is there. He's got a great wrist shot and snap shot, and has surprised a lot of goalies."
Dal Colle, who had 39 goals and 95 points in 67 games for the Generals, was second in the categories of best stickhandler and best playmaker in the OHL's Eastern Conference.
Central Scouting has Boston College freshman goalie Thatcher Demko No. 1 in its rankings of the top North American players at his position, followed by Mason McDonald of the Charlottetown Islanders of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, Brent Moran of the Niagara IceDogs (OHL), Alex Nedeljkovic of the Plymouth Whalers (OHL) and Kevin Reich of the Dubuque Fighting Saints of the United States Hockey League.
Demko, who could become the first American-born goalie drafted in the first round since the Dallas Stars selected Jack Campbell with the 11th choice in 2010, was the youngest player in NCAA hockey this season. He went 16-5-3 with a 2.24 goals-against average and .919 save percentage in 24 games, earned All-Hockey East Rookie Team honors and Hockey East honorable mention, and backstopped Boston College to the Beanpot Tournament title and a berth in the Frozen Four.
The top European goalie is 6-foot-3, 205-pound Ville Husso of HIFK in Liiga, the top professional league in Finland. Husso was part of Finland's team that won the gold medal at the 2014 IIHF World Junior Championship in Sweden.
The top five skaters on Central Scouting's final European ratings are all forwards: No. 1 Kasperi Kapanen of KalPa in Finland, No. 2 William Nylander of Sodertalje in Sweden's second division, No. 3 Kevin Fiala of HV 71 Jr. in Sweden's junior division, No. 4 Jakub Vrana of Linkoping in Sweden, and No. 5 David Pastrnak of Sodertalje.
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