*Originally published on White Cover Magazine…
1. Aaron Ekblad (Florida Panthers)
Think of Florida’s choice like you thought of the Houston Texans’ choice a week ago…
Maybe taking a defensive player at No. 1 isn’t the sexiest pick or the most typical – it’s been eight years since Erik Johnson was taken first overall by St. Louis, the last d-man to top the podium – but, in this case, it’s obvious.
Florida will be getting a great pick regardless, or at the very least a deserving pick. Sam Reinhart and Sam Bennett are both fine players, but Ekblad is the man right now. He’s the best player in this draft right now, much like Jadeveon Clowney was the best pick in last Thursday’s NFL Draft.
2. Sam Bennett (Buffalo Sabres)
Simply put, Bennett is the most explosive player in this year’s presumed Top Three, with the third to follow below. He models his game after his idol and his current GM in Kingston, Maple Leaf legend Doug Gilmour, and he’s as ferocious as Killer around the net and with the puck.
Bennett’s got high-speed talent and a yeoman’s work ethic that will serve him and the Sabres for a long time at the NHL level.
3. Sam Reinhart (Edmonton Oilers)
If the Oil can’t trade up to grab Ekblad, this is the pick they’ll make and it’s the pick they probably rather wouldn’t make. But, really, what choice do they have?
Reinhart is the best player left at this spot. There’s nothing wrong with him, but he’s the same guy they’ve been taking since Bush was in the White House – Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Taylor Hall, Nail Yakupov, Jordan Eberle, and Magnus Paajarvi are all forwards hatched from the same egg. Reinhart is a very, very good forward… but Edmonton has enough of those and they haven’t done anything with them yet.
They took a step in the right direction last year, picking up d-man Darnell Nurse at No. 7. But boy did they screw it up 12 months before that, choosing Yakupov over Ryan Murray. If they hadn’t botched that one, they could take Reinhart or Bennett or Dal Colle (or anyone) this year, and all would be fine.
4. Michael Dal Colle (Calgary Flames)
No way Brian Burke bites on Leon Draisaitl, who most have ranked fourth overall but who’s a little too much like the struggling Sven Baertschi for Cowtown’s taste. (And yeah, I know Burke isn’t technically the GM, but come on… of course he’s making this decision.)
Dal Colle is the winger Sean Monahan needs, and he’s another big, fast body for a rapidly improving, extremely young southern Alberta team that needs the fire to match their nickname.
5. William Nylander (New York Islanders)
Don’t know why. I just feel it…
The Islanders are the NHL’s odd ball thinkers. The only time they’ve done the obvious thing was when they picked John Tavares first overall in 2009. They took Rick DiPietro with the No. 1 pick nearly a decade earlier, which was also obvious, but they undid that when they signed him to a ludicrous 15-year deal in 2006.
Nylander is the most talked-about European player in this draft (Draisaitl and Ehlers played their junior hockey in Canada) and I bet Long Island takes a flyer on him.
He would bring a different, one-way touch to an Islander offence built around Tavares and Kyle Okposo.
6. Nikolaj Ehlers (Vancouver Canucks)
Talent spews out of his Danish fingers, and he’d be the third Dane to get a whale jersey – after Jannik Hansen and former first rounder Nicklas Jensen.
But Ehlers has a lot more upside than both and his past season with Halifax – 104 points and 49 goals in 60-plus games – will be too much for the Canucks’ new management (TBA) to pass on.
7. Leon Draisaitl (Carolina Hurricanes)
From Prince Albert to Raleigh… it’s hard to know which city gets less media attention.
Draisaitl could provide balance to a Hurricanes team that relies almost solely on the Staal brothers – Eric and Jordan – and a semi-conscious Alex Semin. He’s one of the most talented players in the draft, but his performance in the World Juniors took the shine out of some scouts’ smiles. If Draisaitl drops out of the top four, he could Plinko down to the Canes at seventh.
*But, seriously, should we be holding him accountable for his World Juniors? He plays for Germany, y’all.
8. Nick Ritchie (Toronto Maple Leafs)
The physically dominant power forward is a perfect fit for any team in this list, but Toronto will love him.
They have the sizzle with Phil Kessel and JVR. But they need Ritchie’s gristle. Then they’ll have a steak.
(Glad I didn’t waste more than one line on that metaphor?)
9. Jake Virtanen (Winnipeg Jets)
Bryan Little, Blake Wheeler, and now Jake Virtanen.
The Jets have finished their third year in the league, which means the Honeymoon is over for the franchise – both in its relationship with its players and the city of Winnipeg.
Virtanen will join the aforementioned right-handed power forwards (well, in the case of Little, just a forward) and the Jets will add some insurance for when one or more of Andrew Ladd, Evander Kane, Little or Wheeler inevitably bail on this ongoing, everlasting rebuild in Canada’s heartland.
10. Haydn Fleury (Anaheim Ducks, from Ottawa Senators)
They’ve got the forwards, and their premier offensive guys – Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf – are still on the good side of 30.
Adding Fleury is adding a damn big d-man who can skate, shoot, and hit. There’s probably no better player for a team in this first round than Fleury is for Anaheim.
11. Kasperi Kapanen (Nashville Predators)
Top 10 talent from Sami Kapanen’s kid. But his first-five potential is hurt by both Nylander and Ehlers – the better-known, probably better European skaters – and he’ll slip out of the dime because of it.
He’s not what Winnipeg needs and he’s not what Anaheim needs, but Nashville could use someone who knows where the net is. Mike Fisher, you can put the Globe down now.
12. Brendan Perlini (Phoenix Coyotes)
He barrels down at the net with incredible speed – much like Dal Colle – and he has a wicked shot. Not sure if Perlini’s a guy you can build an offence around, but he’ll certainly help.
13. Jared McCann (Washington Capitals)
A little like Perlini, or at least like what Perlini brings. He’ll add some stability to a woefully, perennially inconsistent Washington Capitals offence.
They’d probably like a defenceman, but this isn’t the draft to reach for one.
McCann’s points aren’t as high as the guys at the top of this list (just 62 points in 64 games with Sault Ste. Marie last year) but he’s certainly worth the 13th selection.