Florida Panthers leap-frog the Buffalo Sabres and will select first overall in the NHL draft. Now the speculation begins. Who among the top four equally ranked prospects will they select. Or will they trade the pick?
Turnabout is fair play for the Florida Panthers. At last year's draft lottery, the second-to-last Colorado Avalanche leap-frogged the Panthers to win first overall pick. This year, it was the Panthers who did the leap-frogging.
Florida moved up one spot in the draft and won the right to select first overall in the 2014 NHL draft June 27 in Philadelphia. The Panthers had an 18.8 percent chance of winning the lottery, held Tuesday night in Toronto. The last-place Buffalo Sabres had the best chance of winning – 25 percent – but will slip to the second overall spot.
The remainder of the top 13 picks follow in reverse order of NHL standings. Edmonton picks third followed by Calgary fourth and the New York Islanders fifth. Vancouver is sixth, Carolina seventh, Toronto eighth, Winnipeg ninth, Anaheim (from Ottawa in the Bobby Ryan trade) 10th, Nashville 11th, Phoenix 12th and Washington 13th. The New Jersey Devils slip to the 30th spot as league penalty for trying to circumvent the NHL salary cap.
Winning the lottery is nice for the Panthers, but it doesn't mean as much in a draft that is considered very equal among the top three, four, even five prospects according to most scouts. Florida is weakest on the blueline and will surely be tempted to select Barrie defenseman Aaron Ekblad first overall.
However, the Sabres are quite strong in blueline prospects and likely would have selected a forward first overall anyway, leaving Ekblad to be taken second by Florida.
The Panthers also need some help among the forwards and wouldn't go wrong selecting any one of Kootenay center Sam Reinhart, Kingston left winger Sam Bennett or Prince Albert center Leon Drasaitl. If Florida GM Dale Tallon and his scouting staff aren't fussy which of the big four prospects they wind up with, the Panthers might be willing to trade down two or three spots in the draft in order to pick up another asset.
Edmonton, picking third, and Calgary, selecting fourth, both could use a rugged rearguard like Ekblad. Would either of those teams be willing to perhaps offer Florida their second-round pick for the right to flip spots in the first round?
In that regard, Florida is in a position of strength, taking that away from Buffalo. Of course, the Oilers and Flames have their own agendas, and as we know, they also have holes in their lineups. Any of the aforementioned forwards would look solid some day in an Alberta lineup.
So 10 weeks of draft speculation begins tonight...at least for a handful of teams.
Brian Costello is The Hockey News’s senior editor and a regular contributor to the thn.com Post-To-Post blog. For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Brian Costello on Twitter at @BCostelloTHN