The NHL released the full seven-round 2014 draft order today, eight days out from the event in Philadelphia. Round 1 goes June 27 and Rounds 2-7 go June 28.
Today we’ll take a look at the first round. There are lots of rumors about which picks will be in play, either because teams are interested in moving up, or because there are so many big names on the trading block that first-rounders will be made available to try and acquire them. This is a weird year. The UFA class is rather weak, the trade market is rather full and everyone seems open to talking about trading their first round pick. Which are the most likely to get dealt at or before the draft? Here’s a look at our top five.
First overall pick, Florida Panthers
It’s no secret the top pick of the draft is in play, and in a year without a clear favorite and generational talent available at the top, this is even a likely result. The Panthers could just stand pat and add Aaron Ekblad to a promising young defense corps, or they could look to expand their asset base by picking up another two or three in this deal. You’d think they couldn’t lose in this scenario, but then you remember this is the Panthers we’re talking about and all bets are off the table.
The first overall pick has only been traded by its original owner five times in history and three of those were made by Florida. It seems highly likely they’ll trade it for a fourth time, too.
Fifth overall, New York Islanders
Next season is a big year for the Islanders. In keeping this year’s fifth overall pick, GM Garth Snow is surrendering next year’s first round pick to the Buffalo Sabres to finish the Thomas Vanek trade. So the Islanders absolutely cannot finish this low, or lower, next season, when Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel are available. They already acquired a goalie in Jaroslav Halak and tried to sign Dan Boyle for their defense, so Snow has signaled this will be a busy and aggressive summer. The Islanders need players – good players – to make this a playoff team once again. They don’t need to use this pick as much as they have in the past – this summer is all about immediate needs. Since the UFA market is weak – and UFAs aren’t too eager to sign with the Islanders anyway – Snow needs to pick up those needs via trade. If they can find the right player, they can afford to give up the No. 5 pick to get him.
10th overall, Anaheim Ducks
The Ducks had the top-ranked prospect system in our Future Watch issue this year. Because of that solid base they’re in the running to add a big center this summer, whether it’s Ryan Kesler, Jason Spezza, or someone out of left field. And even though the Ducks had the second-most points in the NHL this season, they hold the 10th pick thanks to the Bobby Ryan trade with Ottawa. If the Ducks are going to open the prospect cupboard to acquire a big-name second-line center, the 10th overall pick would have to also be in the conversation. And why not the No. 24 pick as well? If this is the summer the Ducks go big on the NHL roster, all future options are on the table. They have a strong prospect base and a couple of picks at opposite ends of the first round. Don’t be surprised if one, or both, are moved.
17th overall, Philadelphia Flyers
Not that I think new GM Ron Hextall will definitely trade this pick, but anything is possible in Flyer Land, especially with the draft in their backyard. The Flyers’ defense corps was a real drag on them this season and to help address that need through this draft, they’d need to take Aaron Ekblad, who is likely going to be the only defender to step right into the NHL from this class. That might mean Philadelphia would have to acquire the top pick to make it happen. There has been speculation Philadelphia will chase the No. 1 pick, but is it worth it? Ekblad is the top defenseman available this year by a fairly wide margin, but it’s not clear if he’ll become an elite No. 1 defenseman in the NHL, or a second (or even third) pair guy with a 15-year career. The latter wouldn’t be bad, but is that what you want to give up assets for to move up to No. 1? Or do the Flyers use No. 17 as part of another trade to acquire a defender already in the NHL? Whether or not you believe Ekblad will be a star, he surely won’t turn around the Flyers’ blueline on his own as a rookie. But the bottom line is the Flyers are wild and unpredictable – and the fact they are hosting this draft makes them a team to watch on the floor.
19th and/or 28th overall, Tampa Bay Lightning
The Lightning are in an interesting position. They have plenty of NHL-ready or near NHL-ready prospects. Heck, they had two finalists for the Calder Trophy this season. They have a good young core, led by superstar scorer Steven Stamkos, towering defenseman Victor Hedman, and Vezina finalist Ben Bishop. And they have two first round picks in this year’s draft as well as 2015. It’s a good base to build on and, given the East is a weak conference, a good time to pounce on an opportunity to get better, fast. And if Ryan Callahan’s contract demands don’t come down to a reasonable level, they’ll have a top-two line spot to fill anyway. So, with a good, young NHL roster to start from and a strong prospect base to barter with, the Lightning are a prime candidate to use these picks to acquire a player who will help them take another step in 2014-15.