Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - The Florida Panthers picked defenseman Aaron Ekblad with the first overall selection in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft on Friday at Wells Fargo Center.
Ekblad, a dynamic presence on the blueline for the Barrie Colts of the Ontario Hockey League, posted 23 goals and 53 points in 58 regular-season games in 2013-14. He added two goals and four assists over nine playoff contests.
"It's unbelievable. It's cool to have my family and friends here supporting me," said Ekblad following his selection by the Panthers. "I believe they're an up-and-coming team and I feel that this is where I can facilitate my development and win a Stanley Cup in the next few years."
Florida, which won the draft lottery, retained its top-overall slot for the first time in 20 years, when defenseman Ed Jovanovski was taken at No. 1.
Buffalo used the second pick to take Kootenay Ice center Sam Reinhart. The 18- year-old native of Vancouver finished his fourth season for the Western Hockey League club with team highs of 69 assists and 105 points to go with 36 goals in only 60 games.
"I'm ecstatic right now. To be honest, this is the greatest feeling," Reinhart gushed. I'm looking forward to it. I want to get started right away. I'm familiar with the organization, it's a young team, they're very motivated. I'm excited for the future."
Reinhart also led his club with 17 assists and 23 points over 13 postseason contests. The son of former Calgary Flames and Vancouver Canucks defenseman Paul Reinhart, Sam was selected higher than either Paul (12th overall, 1979) or brothers Max (63rd overall, 2010) and Griffin (4th overall, 2012).
Leon Draisaitl now owns a piece of history: the highest German-born player ever picked by an NHL team, having gone third to the Edmonton Oilers. The 18- year-old left-handed shooting center finished a stellar second season for the Prince Albert Raiders in the WHL, leading his team with 38 goals, 67 assists and 105 points in 64 appearances. At 6-foot-1 and more than 200 pounds, Draisaitl will be counted on to provide an immediate physical presence.
"We all know how difficult centers are to obtain, so you have to draft big centers. Leon fits that bill for us. We compete in a difficult conference and difficult division and we're hoping Leon will answer the call against the opposition," noted Oilers GM Craig MacTavish.
Calgary used the fourth spot to draft 18-year-old winger Sam Bennett of the OHL's Kingston Frontenacs. Bennett, a native of Toronto, struck for 91 points (36G, 55A) in 57 games during his second season in juniors. He was listed as the top North American skater by NHL Central Scouting.
With the fifth overall pick, the New York Islanders took center Michael Dal Colle. A left-handed shooting winger, the 18-year-old led the Oshawa Generals with 95 points on 39 goals and 56 assists in 67 games.
The Canucks didn't need to look very far to utilize the sixth pick, taking Calgary Hitmen winger and British Columbia-born Jake Virtanen. Virtanen, a right-handed shot, tallied career highs of 45 goals, 26 assists and 71 points in 71 games a season ago, but will need time in the offseason to rehab due to shoulder surgery. He's the first B.C. native taken by the Canucks in the first round since Cam Neely in 1983.
At No. 7, the Carolina Hurricanes took 17-year-old defenseman Haydn Fleury from the Red Deer Rebels of the WHL, who tallied eight goals and 38 assists in 70 games. Toronto used its first selection in this draft on the first European-trained player in the top 10, Modo Hockey forward William Nylander, son of former NHLer Michael Nylander.
Nikolaj Ehlers, an 18-year-old native of Denmark who recorded 104 points for Halifax of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, was selected at nine by the Winnipeg Jets. With the 10th pick, Anaheim chose forward Nick Ritchie, a 74- point scorer during his third campaign for the OHL's Peterborough Petes.
Nashville selected Swiss winger Kevin Fiala at No. 11 and the newly-named Arizona Coyotes grabbed OHL forward Brendan Perlini with the 12th pick. Two more picks came and went before the first American player was drafted at No. 15 when Detroit picked Michigan native Dylan Larkin. The forward is set to play college hockey at the University of Michigan this fall.
Prior to Larkin's selection, the Washington Capitals grabbed Czech forward Jakub Vrana at No. 13 and Finnish defenseman Julius Honka was picked next by Dallas.
The remaining picks of the first round were as follows:
#16: Sonny Milano, forward, USA U-18 (USHL), Columbus
#17: Travis Sanheim, defenseman, Calgary (WHL), Philadelphia
#18: Alex Tuch, forward, USA U-18 (USHL), Minnesota
#19: Anthony DeAngelo, defenseman, Sarnia (OHL), Tampa Bay
#20: Nick Schmaltz, forward, Green Bay (USHL), Chicago
#21: Robert Fabbri, forward, Guelph (OHL), St. Louis
#22: Kasperi Kapanen, forward, Kalpa (Finland), Pittsburgh
#23: Connor Bleackley, forward, Red Deer (WHL), Colorado
#24: Jared McCann, forward, Sault Ste. Marie (OHL), Vancouver
#25: David Pastrnak, forward, Sodertalje (Sweden), Boston
#26: Nikita Scherbak, forward, Saskatoon (WHL), Montreal
#27: Nikolay Goldobin, forward, Sarnia (OHL), San Jose
#28: Joshua Ho-Sang, forward, Windsor (OHL), NY Islanders
#29: Adrian Kempe, forward, MODO (Sweden), Los Angeles
#30: John Quenneville, forward, Brandon (OHL), New Jersey
For a second straight year no goaltenders were selected in the opening round. The first netminder at the 2013 draft wasn't picked until No. 36 when Montreal grabbed Zachary Fucale.
The 2014 NHL Draft will wrap up on Saturday with the completion of Rounds 2-7.