With less than a month to go before the 2014 NHL draft, it's time for my initial projection for the first round. To be clear, these are not draft rankings; for information on these players (and 70 others), please see my top 100 draft prospects feature, linked above.
The reporting aspect of this mock draft can only go so far after the lottery picks, because at that point, it's much more of a guessing game due to potential trades. There are also an unusual number of front office changes this summer, and it's unclear just how the new general managers around the league will behave.
Unlike the NFL draft -- where position is a much higher priority -- and the MLB draft -- where teams show indications of potential draftees through signing bonus discussions -- the NHL draft is extremely tough to project, as teams consider players for multiple seasons down the line, and aren't as tied in to going for a specific position. While the possibility of trades and lack of fits for certain teams are noted, I obviously cannot be in a position to account for potential trades here. When "best player" is referenced, that is according to the feeling in the scouting industry, and not my personal opinion.
Note that Los Angeles has been given the 29th pick because the Kings are the favorites to win the Stanley Cup finals.
The wild card near the top of this year's draft class is William Nylander. It's possible that he goes in the top five; it's possible he's still on the board after the first 10 picks have been announced.
1. Florida Panthers: Aaron Ekblad, D, Barrie (OHL)
DOB: 2/7/96 | Ht: 6-4 | Wt: 216
This is one of the tougher top overall picks to project in a few years, due to the uncertainty in how Florida values this draft slot. The Panthers are very strong up the middle in young NHLers and prospects, making a pick of Sam Reinhart or Sam Bennett more of a debate in terms of how much their value changes on the wing. Panthers GM Dale Tallon has made it known that he's listening to offers at the least, and may deal down to get a top forward in exchange, with wingers like William Nylander or Michael Dal Colle the target if they move back. If they stick at No. 1, Ekblad is the consensus as the top player through much of the industry, but it's not a sure thing by any means. Florida has good young defensemen, but could use another right-handed shot, especially with Erik Gudbranson's slow development.