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2015 Draft Heads To Sunrise

by Glenn Odebralski / Florida Panthers
2015 potential top pick Erie forward Connor McDavid was tagged by the USA Today as the "LeBron James of hockey".

Hockey’s future will get a blast of some fun in the sun when the NHL Entry Draft returns to South Florida in 2015.

As announced by the league on Tuesday, the BB&T Center and Broward County will host the 2015 NHL Entry Draft over the June 26-27 weekend. The next wave of young stars, together with front office staffs, scouts, media and fans from around the league will descend on the home of the Panthers and take part in a slew of exciting draft-week activities.

“The Draft is where the future of the NHL begins to take shape, and the BB&T Center is an ideal setting in which to enjoy the excitement as we welcome our next generation of stars,” NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said in a statement. “Vinnie Viola, Doug Cifu, Michael R Yormark, the Panthers' fans and the South Florida community will be outstanding hosts to our Clubs, our media and our incoming class of 2015 draftees.”

The arena was previously the site of the 2001 Draft which was highlighted by the first two overall selections, Ilya Kovalchuk and Jason Spezza as well as Florida’s selection of future Panthers points and games-played record-holder Stephen Weiss with the fourth overall pick.

"We are thrilled and honored to welcome the NHL Entry Draft back to the BB&T Center and Broward County,” said Panthers President & CEO Michael R. Yormark in a release. “The 2015 NHL Entry Draft will be a spectacular event for this community on a number of levels, bringing material and economic impact to, and shining the spotlight on, Broward County while also giving our fans a glimpse of the future stars of the National Hockey League.”

The 2015 draft class is already being discussed in hockey circles for the unique collection of talent, led by Canadian forward Connor McDavid, currently a member of the Erie Otters of the Ontario Hockey League. McDavid has been dubbed the “Next Big Thing” and was recently tagged in USA Today as being “the LeBron James of Hockey”.

Pittsburgh Penguins captain and 2005 first overall pick Sidney Crosby lavished perhaps the greatest praise of all on McDavid, saying “he reminds me of me”.

Joining McDavid on the 2015 watch list is American forward Jack Eichel who has posted more than two points a game with the US Development Program and like McDavid, recently competed at the World Juniors in Sweden in a tournament dominated by 19 and 20 year olds.

The popularity of the NHL Draft has skyrocketed in recent years, a far cry from inaugural 1963 event that was held in a single ballroom in Montreal. In years past, the Draft has been held in sold-out arenas and has been the focus of wall-to-wall television and media coverage.

"The excitement of this event is made even better by the economic impact of the Draft," said Nicki Grossman, President of the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention & Vistors Bureau. "Nearly $10 million will be added to our economy and the world will get to see what summer is like here.”

The Panthers have enjoyed recent success at the draft table, using their selections to build a strong core that will be South Florida mainstays for years to come. The crop of young guns includes forwards Aleksander Barkov (2nd overall, 2013), Jonathan Huberdeau (3rd overall, 2011) and Nick Bjugstad (19th overall, 2010) together with defeseman Erik Gudbranson (3rd overall, 2010) as well as a number of current prospects rated in the upper echelon by many hockey observers. And the Panthers are still reaping the rewards from their first ever draft selection, as they used the top pick in the 1994 Draft to select their current captain -- five-time All Star and Olympic gold medalist, Ed Jovanovski.

The buildup to the 2015 Draft is sure to be exciting, and Panthers fans and the South Florida community certainly have much to look forward to as the energy builds.

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