As the 2013-14 NHL season enters its final stage, the focus in NHL war rooms (particularly nonplayoff war rooms) shifts to the future, starting with the annual talent lottery known as the NHL draft.
As someone who has been on an NHL draft floor 17 times with three different organizations, I can speak from experience when I say that the selections rarely (never) proceed as predicted. There is always a point after the first few picks at which the order starts scattering all over each team's individual lists. It's why the draft is such a great day; you really don't know what you are going to end up with at the end of it.
With that in mind, I took ESPN NHL draft analyst Corey Pronman's draft prospect rankings list and put together my own fearless projections on where prospects might land on draft day, using the NHL standings as of April 1 as the order of selection. Within each selection, I've included my own thoughts on the team fit for the prospect, as well as some scouting notes from Corey.
Note that I did not allow myself the ability to trade picks in this exercise, though we may see that happen at the actual event this summer. The only thing I am fairly confident of in these projections is that much of the actual first round probably won't look anything like this. Enjoy.
TEAM: Kootenay (WHL)
Team fit: It is fair to say Buffalo GM Tim Murray is the NHL's version of HGTV's Nicole Curtis (though the physical similarities probably end with the glasses). Like his "Rehab Addict" counterpart, the rookie GM has set about to return the ramshackle mess that is the Sabres franchise to its former glory. Despite the fact that Murray earned rave reviews with the haul of future assets he brought back from the trade deadline, his real skill (and the reason he was given the job in the first place) is in the talent evaluation department. With the first overall pick, Buffalo will select Reinhart to bolster one of the weakest offensive attacks (1.82 goals per game) in the NHL modern era.
Pronman's take: Reinhart is the best pure passer in this draft class. His ability to dictate the tempo of a hockey game, in terms of increasing or decreasing pace and making plays at all those speeds, elevates his game to a distinct level. Reinhart can make all kinds of plays with the puck, and his elite hockey sense stands out regularly in terms of the passing lanes he sees.
TEAM: Barrie (OHL)
Team fit: The NHL draft has become Groundhog Day for the Oilers, as they once again find themselves in the front row of tables at the event. They should select Ekblad, add to their growing prospect pool of young defensemen and start filming "Oil Change 2: Back to the Well." Hopefully, this edition has a more favorable outcome for Edmonton's long-suffering fan base.
Pronman's take: Some might point to Ekblad's size as the reason he dominates, but he does so much more than just hit and win battles. Ekblad skates well, with good power in his stride and excellent pivots. He has really developed the offensive side of his game as well, and he has above-average puck skills and great coordination for a big man. He sees the ice well, can be creative along the point and will also join the attack on top of having a high-end shot from the point.
TEAM: Kingston (OHL)
Team fit: Having stockpiled an impressive array of young talent at the forward position over the past few playoff-barren seasons, the Panthers would most likely covet a player like Ekblad. Barring a lottery win, trade or continued gravitational pull in the standings over their final regular-season games, Florida will likely have to settle for yet another talented forward in Bennett. Not a bad consolation prize for an organization that desperately needs to establish some competitive credibility.
Pronman's take: Bennett's best quality is his hockey IQ and can make all kinds of offensive plays. He's dangerous off the rush, can embarrass defenders 1-on-1 and make really difficult passes. Bennett has flashy elements to his game while also being able to generate chances through work ethic and instincts. He has an impressive shot as well.