Buffalo Sabres general manager Tim Murray acknowledged Thursday that he expects Ontario Hockey League defenseman Aaron Ekblad of the Barrie Colts to be the first player chosen at the 2014 NHL Draft at Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia.
The Florida Panthers currently have the No. 1 pick in the draft, and the Sabres hold the No. 2 selection.
"I believe that Ekblad is going to go one and then we pick who we have left; the next guy on our list," Murray said at his pre-draft press conference. "If he doesn’t go one, I'd be surprised, I guess, but we'll cross that bridge when we come to it."
The first round of the draft is June 27 (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, TSN). Rounds 2-7 will be June 28 (10 a.m. ET; NHLN-US, NHLN-CAN).
If Murray's prediction holds true, the Sabres would likely take one of four forwards: Samuel Bennett of the Kingston Frontenacs in the OHL, Sam Reinhart of the Kootenay Ice in the Western Hockey League, Leon Draisaitl of the Prince Albert Raiders in the WHL or Michael Dal Colle of the Oshawa Generals in the OHL.
Ekblad is No. 2 on NHL Central Scouting’s final list of the top North American players eligible for the draft, followed by Reinhart, Draisaitl and Dal Colle. Bennett is No. 1 on the list.
"There are guys that aren't being talked about that are potentially part of that," Murray said. "It's a copycat league, so L.A. wins the Stanley Cup again and the terminology is, 'They're heavy.' So you've got guys like forwards [Nicholas] Ritchie and [Jake] Virtanen that are good players that are heavy. Teams are looking for heavy."
Virtanen, who plays for the Calgary Hitmen (WHL), is No. 6 on NHL Central Scouting's final list of North American skaters. Ritchie of the Peterborough Petes (OHL) is No. 7.
Murray will be working his first draft as Sabres GM. Buffalo hired him after he spent seven seasons as Ottawa Senators assistant GM.
"We're taking the best player available. Our first pick is going to be what we consider a very good player. Use assets to get back into the first round and pick a player we feel down the road can play,” Murray responded when asked about his idea for a successful draft. “Hit on one or two of your seconds and hit somewhere later in the draft. I would consider that a very good draft."