NHL draft preview: Breaking down the first five probable picks
The city of Philadelphia is associated with freedom, brotherly love and sports underdogs, like Rocky Balboa. But the first five picks of this year's NHL draft could all be dominant someday, writes John Manasso.
Michael Dal Colle (left to right), Leon Draisaitl, Samuel Bennett, Aaron Ekblad and Sam Reinhart are all vying to be the No. 1 pick in Friday's NHL draft in Philadelphia, with Ekblad (white shirt/gray shorts) serving as the early favorite to be the top choice.
By John Manasso
Here's the conventional wisdom surrounding this year's NHL draft, which begins Friday in Philadelphia (Round 1):
The five best players have already separated from the pack.
However, the sequence of that quintet remains to be seen. No clear first overall pick has emerged.
"To me, in watching the games and then talking to our scouts and what have you, to me it looks like there is almost a consensus on the first five players," said Predators general manager David Poile. "Could be wrong by one but pretty sure it will go that way."
Has similar size to Nashville'sSeth Jones (6-foot-4, 217 pounds), which might be an important factor in Ekblad, 18, going No. 1.
Ekblad has a big-time offensive side, scoring 23 goals and adding 30 assists last season in 58 games. If he indeed goes first overall to the Panthers, he ought to have an excellent mentor in veteran defenseman Brian Campbell.
"I am always hesitant to label as a sure thing any young athlete as they have enough pressure on them as it is, but I would describe Ekblad as one of the most solid NHL prospects you will find in this year's draft class," NHL director of Central Scouting Dan Marr, the former Atlanta Thrashers chief amateur scout, told NHL.com. "He is the best defenseman available and would be projected to vie for an NHL job a lot sooner than most."
The one note of caution is that defensemen tend to develop at a slower rate than forwards, as they log more minutes and occupy a more difficult role on the ice. As a result, one of the forwards could go ahead of Ekblad -- if the team at the podium is more risk-averse.
The last of former NHLer Paul Reinhart's three sons to enter the draft. Max, 22, went in the third round in 2010 to Calgary; Griffin, 20, went fourth overall to the Islanders in 2012. Sam, the youngest, is vying to go the highest of all.
Sam Reinhart (6-1, 183) scored 36 goals and added 69 assists in 60 games last year; and in the WHL playoffs, he tallied six goals and 17 assists in 13 games.
With size similar to Jonathan Drouin -- the third overall pick last year by the Lightning -- Reinhart's best option might be to return to junior hockey. However, there could be plenty of pressure if the offensively challenged Buffalo Sabres select him at No. 2.
Some of that pressure could come from the box office, as well.