The 2014 NHL Draft will be held on Friday so it's time to pump out my annual mock draft. As always, this is not the order that I would take the players but rather what my predictions are for how it could unfold in Philadelphia.
Feel free to weigh in with your criticisms in the comments section. The fun begins after the jump.
1. Florida Panthers
When I look at the organizational depth of the Panthers I see some nice pieces already on the way down the middle (V.Trocheck, R.Grimaldi) to compliment the young centers in Miami like Nick Bjugstad and Alex Barkov. There is also talent coming for the blueline in Michael Matheson, Ian McCoshen and Alex Petrovic. Goaltending is a little more suspect having moved Jacob Markstrom and oddly not signing (yet) Denver standout Sam Brittain. But the Panthers aren't going to take a goalie 1st overall.
The last four drafts, Florida has alternated between Center and Defence with their first pick. If that trend continues, it's time for another blueliner.
The choice for Florida, in my mind, is to either trade the pick and get something that can impact their roster or to just take the best player available. The latter for me is the big rearguard from the Barrie Colts.
Pick: Aaron Ekblad (Barrie Colts)
2. Buffalo Sabres
Buffalo's top two picks in 2012 were both centers; Zemgus Girgensons and Mikhail Grigorenko. The Sabres wouldn't be making a mistake by taking another middleman, don't get me wrong, but they might be better off taking a winger, or...a center who many predict will play as a winger in the NHL.
Pick: Sam Reinhart (Kootenay Ice)
3. Edmonton Oilers
The temptation to trade up will be there but I don't see the value of that top pick being equal to what the cost of making the deal probably is. On the flip side, moving back this year wouldn't be a bad plan and could either bring in a piece to this year's puzzle or help recoup picks in round 2 and 3 that the Oilers currently lack.
In the end I won't be surprised if Edmonton uses the pick and grabs the center that may one day center their second line.
Pick: Leon Draisaitl (Prince Albert Raiders)
4. Calgary Flames
The Flames will more than likely take a forward simply because the next best defenceman might come outside the top 10. But which forward will be interesting to see because there are a few different ways Calgary could go. If they want grit and leadership then Sam Bennett makes the most sense. If it's size mixed with scoring than Michael Dal Colle might be the eventual choice. Perhaps Calgary will covet a power forward that can skate but knows how to use his body too and that would be Nick Ritchie. Could Jake Virtanen, playing in the same building all year with the WHL's Hitmen, be the right fit?
I could make a valid argument for any one of those players being the best choice for Calgary but I know which one I would take if it were up to me.
Pick: Sam Bennett (Kingston Frontenacs)
5. New York Islanders
In 2012 the Islanders used all 7 of their picks on defencemen and followed that up with the top selection of rearguard Ryan Pulock of he Brandon Wheat Kings. That said, surely Garth Snow will take a forward this year. Right??
The options for the Islanders will be pretty much the same targets the Flames will have just considered but maybe include Swede William Nylander. To me, it was a mistake giving Buffalo their 2015 pick instead of this one but since that's the choice they made, it's crucial for the Isles to get a player that will contribute.
Pick: Michael Dal Colle (Oshawa Generals)
6. Vancouver Canucks
New management and new coaching in Vancouver means a new page for the organization and the Canucks have a chance to add some exciting skill to the fold. There is a need for defencemen in the organization but again, the next best blueliner in the draft is probably still a few picks away.
The Canucks have a successful history with Swedes so seeing Nylander go here wouldn't be a surprise. Perhaps Vancouver will see the need for size to contend in the big Pacific Division and look Ritchie's way. Vancouver chose Denmark's Nicklas Jensen with their 1st pick in 2011 and maybe fellow countrymen Nikolaj Ehlers of the Halifax Mooseheads gets some consideration here.
When it's all said and done I have Vancouver taking a local product with all the tools and still a ton of untapped potential.
Pick: Jake Virtanen (Calgary Hitmen)
7. Carolina Hurricanes
The 'Canes need offence and it will be intriguing to see which style of player new GM Ron Francis elects to go with. Outside of an injection of skill, Carolina hasn't drafted a lot of size over the last 2-3 years so that might play a role in Philly. That said, Nick Ritchie makes a lot of sense and Niagara IceDogs forward Brendan Perlini should work his way into the conversation here for the same reason.
But I think the desire for offence outweighs the need for size and a trio of Europeans could fit the bill. Swizz whiz kid Kevin Fiala would be a surprise here but the buzz on him is growing. Kasperi Kapanen's stock has never been lower thanks to an uninspiring U18s but make no mistake, the Finn is a talented prospect. But I'm going with my guy and suggesting that Carolina goes with their second Swede in a row.
Pick: William Nylander (Sodertalje)
8. Toronto Maple Leafs
The Leafs will have a tough choice to make between three players that all make a lot of sense for them. The first is Danish star Nikolaj Ehlers who racked up 104 points in Halifax but didn't leech those points by playing with Jonathan Drouin.
I would think that 6'3 Perlini would get consideration here as a guy with both wheels and hands not to mention a personal connection with the team as the son of a former Leaf.
Although I have my reservations about him, TPS regular Sam Cosentino has convinced me that Nick Ritchie is going to be a top 10 pick. The Peterborough Petes forward his already 225 lbs but apparently skates much better than most players his size.
Pick: Nick Ritchie (Peterborough Petes)
9. Winnipeg Jets
The Jets have drawn heavily from the WHL since their return to the NHL, especially last year with 4 of their first 5 picks coming from the 'Dub. Winnipeg doesn't need to draft a defenceman this early after taking Josh Morrissey and Jacob Trouba high in the last two drafts plus getting Brenden Kichton late last year. The Jets are as deep in prospect goalies as anyone so I'm expecting a forward.
The temptation is there to envision Kasperi Kapanen as a young Jet like Teemu Selanne once was and it would make sense. My initial belief was that Perlini would be Winnipeg's choice and it still feels to me like the IceDog would make a great linemate for Mark Scheifele one day.
However, I just can't see the Mooseheads import sensation dropping further than this so...
Pick: Nikolaj Ehlers (Halifax Mooseheads)
10. Anaheim Ducks (via Ottawa)
My instincts are telling me that the Ducks would be happy to add Perlini to their organization with this pick but I look at their prospect pool and see Stefan Noesen and Nic Kerdiles and think they already have that player.
Anaheim doesn't need a top defenceman after taking Shea Theodore, Hampus Lindholm, Sami Vatanen and Cam Fowler in 4 of the last 5 drafts let alone the trade to acquire Luca Sbisa.
So another forward is likely to come off the board and it could be another European as their first pick for the third time in four years.
Pick: Kasperi Kapanen (Kalpa)
11. Nashville Predators
Scoring has been an issue for the Predators for a while and still looks like an area that needs to be addressed via the draft if possible. If that scorer also has some size, that would be a bonus and if there was another dimension to that player then even better.
Alex Tuch of the US-NTDP enters the picture at this point as the best classic power forward. The New York product showed he can contribute physically and also alongside skilled linemates as he put up 29 goals and 64 points in 61 games with the U18 squad this year.
Yet Brendan Perlini is still available too and although not nearly as naturally physical as Tuch, he's taking fighting lessons in the off-season to try and round out his game. This one's a coin flip for me.
Pick: Brendan Perlini (Niagara IceDogs)
12. Arizona Coyotes
After reaching for Max Domi last year the Coyotes might want to play it a little safer this time around. The Desert Dogs haven't taken a blueliner with their first pick since 2011 (Connor Murphy) and it's probably time to add another one to the prospect pool.
Anthony DeAngelo was a scoring machine in the OHL leading the league in that category with 71 points. However, the concerns with the American are in his own end and off the ice.
Swift Current import Julius Honka is a fun player to watch as he has quick feet and a quick mind to go with them.
My pick for the Coyotes though is a big, smooth skating rearguard that can log a lot of ice time and play many different roles.
Pick: Haydn Fleury (Red Deer Rebels)
13. Washington Capitals
Looking at wingers for the Caps although it wouldn't be out of the question to see them opt for a defenceman. Still, to me the better players here are up front and Washington has some fine guys to choose from.
Big Alex Tuch is still available as are his US-NTDP teammates Dylan Larkin and Sonny Milano, both of which have more natural offensive skills than Tuch but not his size. Larkin is a speedster of note while Milano's hand skills can be found on display at YouTube.
Any of those three would be reasonable but for a bit of a surprise twist, I'll go a little off the board for Washington here. The Swiss forward is undersized but he's been consistently impressive all year long regardless of opponent or event.
Pick: Kevin Fiala (HV71)
14. Dallas Stars
One of the things that the Detroit Red Wings showed while Jim Nill was still with them was the courage to select players with a lot of potential but red flags. There are a few of those guys available at this point of the draft that are worth considering.
Robby Fabbri is a below average sized skill player with average footspeed; not a combination that most teams are willing to gamble on. However, his skills can't be denied and neither can his work ethic.
I previously mentioned defenceman Anthony DeAngelo of the Sarnia Sting and he too would fit the bill as a boom/bust guy. Or the Stars could play it safer and take one of Milano or Larkin. Could they be in the market for an offensive blueliner like Honka?
Pick: Sonny Milano (US-NTDP)
15. Detroit Red Wings
I think it's reasonable to believe that Detroit and Dallas could be looking for very similar players and that if Milano doesn't get nabbed by the Stars, he could be headed to Michigan.
However, it's been three years since the Wings looked to the blueline with their first pick so it might be time to address that this year. Fans often stereotypically expect Detroit to take a Swede because of how much success they have had with them in the past. But this is a down year for Swedes and any they want they can probably get in the second round.
Pick: Julius Honka (Swift Current Broncos)
16. Columbus Blue Jackets
If Kevin Fiala happens to still be available, I think he'd be the choice for the Blue Jackets, however if things play out as I have outlined then Columbus won't have that option.
If there was another offensive minded blueliner other than DeAngelo still available here, like Honka, I could see Columbus going that direction. I just don't know the Blue Jackets are willing to gamble on the Sarnia d-man and his baggage, especially considering there are still some "safe" picks available.
Pick: Dylan Larkin (US-NTDP)
17. Philadelphia Flyers
Despite what new GM Ron Hextall says, I actually expect the Flyers to make a little noise and be picking a lot higher than this when Friday finally rolls around. Perhaps as high as 1st overall. If not, then I would be stunned if the choice wasn't for a forward.
A lot of people are saying that Philly will take DeAngelo, who hails from nearby Sewell, NJ. But with Shayne Gostisbehere turning pro and both Robert Hagg and Samuel Morin also in the pipeline, I don't see the need.
For me, there is one guy not yet claimed that just seems like a prototypical Flyer and it makes the choice an easy one. Sure he's big and tough but he's not limited to just being a one dimensional player as his production this year indicates.
Pick: Alex Tuch (US-NTDP)
18. Minnesota Wild
I'm not sure what the Wild are looking for this weekend; certainly a goalie but not this early in the draft and probably some defensive depth too but there are a couple of forwards who are ranked higher than this might give Minnesota cause to think twice.
Robby Fabbri won't last much longer than this and neither will Soo Greyhound Jarred McCann.
And yet it is a defenceman that I'm giving to Minnesota and one who has seen his stock continually rise as the year has gone on. His performance at the World U18s for Canada has created a lot of buzz and he's probably one of the bigger wild cards in the draft because of that. If a team wants a quality defenceman, they might have to take him earlier than where he is ranked and so...
Pick: Travis Sanheim (Calgary Hitmen)
19. Tampa Bay Lightning
I suspect Tampa would like to grab a defenceman here but with another pick a few spots later, now might be a better chance to choose a forward that has surprisingly slipped. There is zero need for the Lightning to upgrade their prospect goalie depth though so I'm once again looking at a forward.
The Guelph Storm scored more goals than anyone else in the CHL this year and Robby Fabbri scored 45 of them. It's true that he's a player with both below average size and no better than average speed but the Ontario product finds a way to be successful anyway.
Pick: Robby Fabbri (Guelph Storm)
20. San Jose Sharks
The Sharks are one of the teams in the NHL that have little concern when it comes to nationality of players. Tomas Hertl and Mirco Mueller are two recent selections and I'd be surprised to learn that there is another franchise that has drafted more Germans that San Jose.
So European talents like Ivan Barbashev, Jakub Vrana, David Pastrnak and Nikita Scherbak might be more in play now. However, so is Jarred McCann who is ranked at least several spots better than this by most. Any of the above make sense to me so I'll go with the highest scorer among them.
Pick: Nikita Scherbak (Saskatoon Blades)
21. St.Louis Blues
Goaltending might get addressed in the next few rounds but Jake Allen makes it a non-priority this early. The Blues also have a healthy crop of blueliners on the way so there is no panic there either. Up front though, you can make a good argument that St.Louis should take the best available forward because it's getting a bit thinner now.
With that in mind, there is no messing around, the Blues sprint to the podium and take...
Pick: Jarred McCann (Soo Greyhounds)
22. Pittsburgh Penguins
Pittsburgh is flush with prospect defencemen although that didn't stop them from drafting Derrick Pouliot and Olli Maatta in 2012. Still, I highly doubt they go to the blueline again and with Tristan Jarry between the pipes, the Pens don't need to take a goalie early either.
The same list of Europeans that San Jose may have been pondering will still be in play here and I suspect one that plays on the wing could be Pittsburgh's guy. However, the Penguins have largely stuck in North America over the last number of years; only 8 of the last 33 picks have been Europeans.
North Americans in this range could include Red Deer's Conner Bleackley, Windsor's Josh Ho-Sang and North Dakota recruit Nick Schmaltz.
Pick: Jakub Vrana (Linkoping)
23. Colorado Avalanche
I think the Avalanche should be taking a defenceman but unless Travis Sanheim is still available, I don't think the value is there for a blueliner this early.
The two names that I keep coming back to for Colorado are Conner Bleackley and Brendan Lemieux. One is cut from the same cloth as Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog while the other is the carbon copy of his father, a legendary agitator who played a long time in the NHL including a stint in Denver. Either one might be considered a reach by many fans but the difference between guys ranked 20th and 40th this year is miniscule.
In the end, the life-long Joe Sakic and Avalanche fan gets to realize his dream.
Pick: Conner Bleackley (Red Deer Rebels)
24. Vancouver Canucks (via Anaheim)
Following up their 6th overall pick, the Canucks might feel the courage to roll the dice a bit more than teams with only one 1st rounder. If that's the case then they could elect to draft a European that other teams might shy away from because of their passport (Barbashev, Pastrnak, Goldobin) or a guy with talent but some concerns (Ho-Sang, DeAngelo).
A couple of "safer" options could include big swede Adrian Kempe or USHL star Nick Schmaltz.
I was leaning towards Barbashev but the Canucks haven't drafted a Russian since 2007 and only 2 Czechs since 2002 so Pastrnak probably doesn't fit either. However, it's been a much different story with Swedes and so...
Pick: Adrian Kempe (MoDo)
25. Boston Bruins
Kempe might be Boston's guy if he's still available but in my scenario, he's not. I don't see many holes in the Bruins organization; they seem pretty deep in net and on the blueline as is although adding a guy for 3-4 years from now wouldn't be a bad idea.
With that in mind, I will give the B's a new defender and one who looks pretty comfortable in the same colours. Roland McKeown began the season several positions higher up the rankings than where he finished them but his balance overall game makes him worthy of a 1st round pick in my opinion.
Pick: Roland McKeown (Kingston Frontenacs)
26. Montreal Canadiéns
This will seem like a cliche answer but the player does make a lot of sense for where the Canadiens are at. Adding a feisty, aggressive player with a high level of determination in a 6'1, 210 lb package really is a good fit.
Of course his name bar will add some pressure but one gets the impression that he, like most sons of former NHLers, have learned to live with that pressure already. Of course not every market in Montreal but whatever. The fact is he models his game after the old man and by all accounts has managed to emulate him very well. Most teams would like to have that kind of a player on their team and I can already see him in action against the Bruins or the Leafs.
Pick: Brendan Lemieux (Barrie Colts)
27. Chicago Blackhawks
If any team actually takes a goaltender in the first round this year many feel that it could be the Hawks but that's not the choice I'm making for them. Chicago has drafted an assortment of goalies over the last number of years, mostly in the late rounds. I don't see the pressing need that others do.
The Hawks are so deep that they can take guys considered boom/bust picks or others that have fallen for some perceived weakness. There is more depth up the middle than on the wings but although my pick for Chicago is a winger, that's not the deciding factor.
Ivan Barbashev and Josh Ho-Sang are in the picture and both could turn out to be great value picks this late in the round. However, it's a Blackhawks fan from Wisconsin that I'm taking if I'm Chicago. As a North Dakota recruit, you know he's going to play with and against top players and he could be there for up to 4 years while your deep prospect pool continues to feed your NHL roster. Perfect fit.
Pick: Nick Schmaltz (Green Bay Gamblers)
28. Tampa Bay Lightning (via NY Rangers)
Another choice that will seem like a cliche but clearly the Lightning are a team that has no qualms about taking a Russian or a Czech as they have done so more often than most clubs.
Two Europeans have dropped in my scenario and either one would fit in with Tampa. Do they go for Russian Ivan Barbashev or Czech forward David Pastrnak? One has played in North America for two seasons already, the other has played against men in Sweden.
Pick: Ivan Barbashev (Moncton Wildcats)
29. Los Angeles Kings
The Stanley Cup champs don't have many holes and have done very well to keep the cupboards full to replace players that do move on. The same is true now so it's possible we see the Kings draft a project like Tanner Pearson was considered a couple of years ago.
I considered big 6'7 Oshawa forward Hunter Smith, Brett Pollock of the Edmonton Oil Kings, Josh Ho-Sang from Windsor and Eric Cornel of the Peterborough Petes. However, I go back to a player that has slid in my scenario because I get the sense that he's too good to fall out of the first round.
Pick: David Pastrnak (Sodertalje)
30. New Jersey Devils
A pick the Devils shouldn't even have but I digress.
Three names jump to mind for me here, the first being the New Jersey product on the back end; Anthony DeAngelo. I think he would give the Devils a look they don't have in a pure offence first blueliner to lead the attack from the back end.
Josh Ho-Sang has first round talent but size and character concerns could have him drop outside the top-30.
My pick is a Swedish forward who fellow TSN 1260 colleague Jason Strudwick has sold me on after covering the 2014 WJC. He's got size and a willingness to compete. Plus, in the system, the Devils are thin on the right side so it addresses a positional need too. It's still a reach but the Devils shouldn't even have this pick anyway!
Pick: Anton Karlsson (Frolunda)
Summary1. FLA - Aaron Ekblad
2. BUF - Sam Reinhart
3. EDM - Leon Draisaitl
4. CGY - Sam Bennett
5. NYI - Michael Dal Colle
6. VAN - Jake Virtanen
7. CAR - William Nylander
8. TOR - Nick Ritchie
9. WPG - Nik Ehlers
10. ANH - Kasperi Kapanen
11. NSH - Brendan Perlini
12. PHX - Haydn Fleury
13. WSH - Kevin Fiala
14. DAL - Sonny Milano
15. DET - Julius Honka
16. CBJ - Dylan Larkin
17. PHI - Alex Tuch
18. MIN - Travis Sanheim
19. TBY - Robby Fabbri
20. SJS - Nikita Scherbak
21. STL - Jarred McCann
22. PGH - Jakub Vrana
23. COL - Conner Bleackley
24. VAN - Adrian Kempe
25. BOS - Roland McKeown
26. MTL - Brendan Lemieux
27. CHI - Nick Schmaltz
28. TBY - Ivan Barbashev
29. LAK - David Pastrnak
30. NJD - Anton Karlsson
OK...feel free to rip it apart!