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NHL Draft: First Round Review

Jon Litterine

Jon Litterine

Jon Litterine is RotoWire's lead MMA Writer and MMA Editor. He has covered numerous MMA events live. He's also RW's NHL Prospect Analyst. Jon has been writing for RotoWire since 2005 as well as contributed to HockeysFuture.com. He is a graduate of U Mass-Lowell.


2014 NHL Entry Draft: First Round Review
By, Jon Litterine

The first round of the 2014 NHL Entry Draft is in the books. Our pick-by-pick analysis of the top 30 selections from Philadelphia on Friday night can be found below.

1) Florida Panthers: Aaron Ekblad (D, Barrie-OHL): The Panthers got a couple of decent trade offers for this pick, but in the end they decided to hold onto it. Florida has some solid young forwards in Jonathan Huberdeau, Aleksander Barkov, Nick Bjugstad, and Vincent Trocheck, but they needed help on defense so this pick makes a ton of sense. Ekblad figures to step into the lineup immediately and get all of the minutes he can handle. If Brian Campbell ends up being traded, Ekblad could get power play time next season and he may be worthy of a late round fantasy pick.

2) Buffalo Sabres: Sam Reinhart (C, Kootenay-WHL): Buffalo spent two first round picks last year on defensemen, so they were a near lock to take a forward this time around. Reinhart doesn't have elite physical skills, but his hockey sense allows him to make up for any shortcomings he may have. The Sabres aren't going to be any good next year and Reinhart figures to make the team and get a lot of ice time, yet a lack of talent around him may limit his fantasy value for his first couple of seasons.

3) Edmonton Oilers: Leon Draisaitl (C, Prince Albert-WHL): Draisaitl is one of the most physically mature players in the entire draft and is almost certainly ready for NHL duty next season. The Oilers have a ton of talented forwards in Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Jordan Eberle and Nail Yakupov, but Draisaitl provides a big, physical dimension that none of those other players have. He has fantastic offensive skills and considering that he will likely be playing with some talented offensive players next season, he has a real chance to have fantasy value immediately.

4) Calgary Flames: Sam Bennett (C, Kingston-OHL): Bennett has just average size but his compete level is off the charts and he has complete offensive game. There has been a lot of talk about how Bennett struggled with some of the strength tests at the draft combine, but he initiated contact all season long and will get stronger as he physically develops. He has a decent chance to play in the NHL next season, but it certainly wouldn't be a surprise if a rebuilding Calgary team decides that Bennett would be best served to play one more season in the OHL.

5) New York Islanders: Michael Dal Colle (LW, Oshawa-OHL): The top five picks of the draft played out exactly as everyone thought they would. Once the four players before him were selected, there was no doubt that the Isles would grab Dal Colle, who was clearly the best available player. He is an elite-scoring winger, but he is going to need to engage more physically at the NHL level. The Isles are going to be playing their tails off next season to avoid handing a 2015 lottery pick to the Sabres and it has already been known that they plan on courting several free agents come July 1st, so Dal Colle may be looking at another year in Oshawa.

6) Vancouver Canucks: Jake Virtanen (LW, Calgary-WHL): Virtanen's critics will argue that he brings very little to the table as far as setting up his teammates, but he may very well be the best pure goal scorer in the entire draft. A big, physical kid who's a great skater, Virtanen is currently rehabbing from shoulder surgery. Regardless of what new general manager Jim Benning may say, with the trades of Ryan Kesler and Jason Garrison and a new head coach, the Canucks are in full rebuild mode and they would gain very little by rushing Virtanen into their lineup next season.

7) Carolina Hurricanes: Haydn Fleury (D, Red Deer-WHL): Carolina decided that they wanted a defenseman and at this point in the draft, Fleury was really the only option. Lead by his skating ability, Fleury has all the tools to turn into a top pair NHL defenseman, but he needs more time to develop. Fleury seems likely to be spending at least one, and possibly two more years in the WHL.

8) Toronto Maple Leafs: William Nylander (C, MoDo-Sweden): Nylander's offensive ability is undeniable, but there is a real concern that he holds onto the puck too much and doesn't use his teammates enough. That's not unheard of amongst young players and the vast majority of them eventually grow out of it. Nylander's favorite player is Patrick Kane and he plays a very similar type game skill wise. The Leafs are on record as saying that Nylander will be given every opportunity to make the team next season, but that seems rather unlikely.

9) Winnipeg Jets: Nikolaj Ehlers (LW, Halifax-QMJHL): A personal favorite of mine, Winnipeg may have very well gotten a steal in Ehlers. There is absolutely no doubt that Ehlers needs to bulk up, but his offensive skills can't be taught. He also needs to work on his defensive play. Offensively, Ehlers is probably ready to contribute in the NHL right now, but the Jets don't figure to be winning anything next season so they would be wise to ship him back to junior for another season.

10) Anaheim Ducks: Nick Ritchie (LW, Peterborough-OHL): Finally, Ottawa is done paying off the Bobby Ryan trade. The Ducks have one of the deepest forward pools (especially after the addition of Ryan Kesler) in the entire league, so they afford to take a risk like this. Ritchie has all the tools to be a dominant power forward and perhaps the best player in the entire draft, but he can be remarkably inconsistent and his overall desire needs to improve. Ritchie may very well end up being a great player, but there's at least small chance that he ends up being the next Hugh Jessiman.

11) Nashville Predators: Kevin Fiala (LW, HV71-Sweden): Nashville just added a top-flight goal scorer in James Neal and they then spent their first round pick on another offensive weapon. Fiala isn't big, but he's a pure offensive player. Equally adept at both finishing and setting up his teammates, Fiala really shot up the rankings this season and turned himself into a mid first round pick. The Preds seem likely to let Fiala develop for a couple more seasons before trying to insert him into their lineup.

12) Arizona Coyotes: Brendan Perlini (LW, Niagara-OHL): Despite the fact he played on a bad team in Niagara, Perlini still managed to tally 34 goals this past season and at times, looked like a top ten pick. Unfortunately, at other times, Perlini was invisible. He has an NHL ready shot and NHL ready size, so if Perlini can put together a consistent season next year in Niagara, he could be an option for the Coyotes in 2015-16.

13) Washington Capitals: Jakub Vrana (C, Linkoping-Sweden): The Caps tend to draft skilled European forwards, so the selection of Vrana is no surprise. Vrana isn't big and he didn't produce much last season playing alongside men in Sweden, but he's viewed as a future potential front line goal scorer at the NHL level. He isn't physical and is often lost in his own zone, so if he isn't scoring goals, he isn't doing a ton to help your team. One thing that's certain, it's going to be a few seasons before he's an option to help Washington.

14) Dallas Stars: Julius Honka (D, Swift Current-WHL): There's an awful lot to like about Honka. Mainly his skating ability, hockey sense, and offensive skills. His offensive ability was on full display this past season with Swift Current when he tallied 16 goals and 56 points in 62 games. Some teams were concerned that at 5'10 and 180 pounds, that Honka could struggle defensively at the NHL level, but the Stars felt his offensively ability outweighed any potential defensive shortcomings.

15) Detroit Red Wings: Dylan Larkin (C, U.S. NTDP-USHL): The Red Wings hit a home run with their 2013 first round pick in Anthony Mantha. This time around they went with a different type of player. Larkin, a Michigan native, figures to be more of a third line type center who a lot of people think could be a potential captain one day down the road. The University of Michigan recruit plays as hard as anyone in the draft and is a very high character guy.

16) Columbus Blue Jackets: Sonny Milano (LW, U.S. NTDP-USHL): Skill, skill, and more skill. That's what Milano's game is all about. Milano has gotten some flack in the past for stickhandling too much and not using his teammates enough, but that's correctable and will almost certainly be fixed when he heads to Boston College next season. Milano is going to need at least two years of college to bulk up and become a better all-around player.

17) Philadelphia Flyers: Travis Sanheim (D, Calgary-WHL): At the start of the season, Sanheim wasn't on anyone's draft boards. Now, he's a mid-first round pick. Sanheim was a standout at the World U-18 Championship and has reminded some folks of a young Ryan McDonagh. That seems like a bit of a reach, but the size and skating ability are definitely there. The Flyers could have a good young defensive pair on their hands in a few years with Sanheim and 2013 first round pick Samuel Morin.

18) Minnesota Wild: Alex Tuch (RW, U.S. NTDP-USHL): Tuch had a good season with the U.S. NTDP and is following his teammate Sonny Milano to Boston College. The OHL champion Guelph Storm owns his CHL rights and there have been rumbles that he would consider going there if the team that drafted him thought it was best for his development (and they almost certainly would). Tuch is built like a truck (6'3, 215 pounds) and has a rocket of a shot. I've said it before - Tuch reminds me a lot of 2013 Montreal first round pick Michael McCarron (although McCarron is a bit bigger). McCarron had a dreadful first season in the OHL after being drafted and Tuch will probably turn out to be better, but there are definite similarities.

19) Tampa Bay Lightning: Anthony DeAngelo (D, Sarnia-OHL): DeAngelo has had character issues upon character issues in his young career, but his talent in undeniable. He was easily the best offensive defenseman in the entire draft and the Lightning obviously did extensive background work before selecting him. For his part, DeAngelo has admitted his past mistakes and has worked hard to put his past behind him. Considering the Lightning had two first round picks, DeAngelo was a worthwhile gamble. DeAngelo is likely ticketed for at least one more season in Sarnia. It's highly unlikely he would have made it to Tampa's next selection at number 28 overall.

20) Chicago Blackhawks: Nick Schmaltz (RW, Green Bay-USHL): The Hawks liked Schmaltz enough to trade up from their number 27 overall pick to select him. Schmaltz might be the most gifted offensive player in the entire draft. Unfortunately, Schmaltz disappears for long stretches at a time and lacks consistency, even on a shift-to-shift basis. I tend to trust the Hawks scouting staff and Schmaltz could easily end up being one of the most dynamic players in the entire draft, but he could also easily end up being a bust. He will join his brother Jordan (who was a 2012 first round pick of the Blues) at the University of North Dakota next season.

21) St. Louis Blues: Robby Fabbri (C, Guelph-OHL): It's pretty ridiculous that a team that is as good and as deep as the Blues gets a prospect as good as Fabbri with their first round pick. I had him ranked 13th overall, so St. Louis got great value at pick 21. Fabbri and his 45 goals helped lead Guelph to the OHL Championship. He needs to bulk up, but a team that has depth like the Blues do can afford to ship him back to the OHL for another couple seasons.

22) Pittsburgh Penguins: Kasperi Kapanen (RW, KalPa-Finland): A lot of the high-end skill that scouts expected to see from Kapanen this year never materialized. In Kapanen's defense, he played for a dreadful team and missed time with a shoulder injury. He may end up being more of a second line winger than a first line winger, but his skill set should be good enough to fill a top six role. Kapanen is also fairly responsible in his own zone, so he could move a bit faster than other Europeans who are selected in the first round.

23) Colorado Avalanche: Conner Bleackley (C, Red Deer-WHL): Bleackley was a productive junior player (29G, 68P in 71GP) but his offensive upside figures to be limited at the NHL level. On the other hand, his heart and desire can't be questioned. Bleackley may eventually find himself as a third line center at the NHL level, but he can kill penalties and can do other things to help a team win. He's another player who has been talked about as a potential captain down the road.

24) Vancouver Canucks: Jared McCann (C, S.S. Marie-OHL): Scouts were disappointed that all McCann was able to manage this season was 62 points in 64 games. He's seen as having better offensive skills than those numbers would suggest. On the other hand, McCann competes hard and even if his offensive game never develops further, he should turn into a useful NHL regular for the Canucks. There's an outside chance he could be ready to help Vancouver after just one more season in the OHL.

25) Boston Bruins: David Pastrnak (LW, Sodertalje-Sweden): Pastrnak was very impressive at the World Juniors and he was very productive for Sodertalje in Sweden's second tier. Pastrnak missed a lot of time this year due to a back injury and while he was drafted for his offensive skills, he is actually pretty responsible in his own zone for a young European player. He needs to get stronger, but he has the potential to move quickly.

26) Montreal Canadiens: Nikita Scherbak (RW, Saskatoon-WHL): It was difficult to get a good read on Scherbak's season because he played for arguably the worst team in the entire CHL. On one hand, some scouts feel his numbers would have exploded if he played with better players. On the other hand, some scouts think playing on such a bad team turned Scherbak into an individual player and it really hurt his development. But he's a highly skilled player and is worth this risk this late in the first round.

27) San Jose Sharks: Nikolai Goldobin (RW, Sarnia-OHL): Goldobin isn't big, but he's a pure goal scorer. He also joined Anthony DeAngelo in playing for an absolutely awful Sarnia team. Some teams are concerned about his lack of size (5'11, 180 pounds) and a potential return to Russia down the line, but if it all pans out, Goldobin could be a steal at 27th overall. He definitely needs some more time to develop.

28) New York Islanders: Josh Ho-Sang (RW, Windsor-OHL): Garth Snow probably isn't going to have his job in two years (I honestly don't know how he has it now), so he mine as well try to hit a home run while he's still employed. As a result, he traded up to select Ho-Sang. No one is ever going to doubt Ho-Sang's skill level. He's a difference maker on the offensive end. But he's made waves both on and off the ice as a "me first" type player and there were several teams who wiped him off their draft boards completely. The Isles don't have the ability to lure any big free agents to their team, so they have to take risks like this to try and stay competitive. Keep in mind, Ho-Sang is suspended for the first 15 games of next year for a boarding incident that took place in this year's OHL playoffs.

29) Los Angeles Kings: Adrian Kempe (C, Modo-Sweden): The odds are against Kempe ever becoming a big time point producer at the NHL level. But the odds are high that he will turn into a productive third liner type. Kempe is a great skater and players who can skate like he can and who have great hockey sense usually find a way to play. The upside is limited, but it definitely looks like Kings got a future NHL regular.

30) New Jersey Devils: John Quenneville (C, Brandon-WHL): I must admit, I didn't like this pick at all. Mostly because I thought there were better options available for the Devils. Mainly forward Ivan Barbashev, defenseman Ronald McKeown, and goalie Thatcher Demko. Quenneville needs to work on his skating, but he projects as a serviceable NHL forward. Nothing spectacular. Pretty much what you would expect from the last pick of the first round. I felt all three players I mentioned offered way more upside than Quenneville brings.