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2014 NHL Entry Draft: Players to Watch

By Dan Di Sciullo, NHL Editor

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - The Florida Panthers will get their chance to host the annual NHL Entry Draft in about 12 months time, but the Cats won't have to wait for anybody when the 2014 draft gets underway in Philadelphia on June 27.

Florida has the top selection at this year's draft and unless the Panthers trade away the pick, it seems they will use it to select defenseman Aaron Ekblad.

Judging from scouting reports, this expects to be a down year for draft- eligible talent, with the 2015 edition in Sunrise, FL having this summer's draft beat by leaps and bounds in terms of depth.

The 2014 draft is particularly thin when it comes to high-end, two-way defensive prospects, a fact that almost helps Ekblad's case as the No. 1 player available.

This year's draft marks the first time Philadelphia will serve as the host, but unless the Flyers trade up, the home crowd will have to wait until pick No. 17 to see what new general manager Ron Hextall has planned for the Orange and Black.

Without further ado, here is a closer look at some of the players behind the names that will be called in the early part of this year's draft.

AARON EKBLAD - D - BARRIE (OHL)

This Canadian blueliner is the consensus pick for best all-around defensive prospect, and after Ekblad goes, it could be a while before another blueliner is selected in 2014 Ekblad was named the top defenseman in the Ontario Hockey League in 2013-14 after leading all OHL blueliners with 23 goals. At 6-foot-3, 213 pounds, Ekblad already has NHL size and the 18-year-old is billed as a complete package with the ability to excel at both ends of the ice. The Panthers could use help all over their NHL lineup, but with Ekblad they may get the only defenseman in this year's draft who is ready to make an immediate impact.

SAM BENNETT - C - KINGSTON (OHL)

A pair of Canadian centermen named Sam expect to go in the top-five, but it's anybody's guess as to who will go first -- Sam Bennett or Sam Reinhart. My guess is Buffalo will opt for Bennett at No. 2, as the rebuilding Sabres try to land a game-changing offensive player. Bennett has drawn comparisons to two-way star Jonathan Toews of the Chicago Blackhawks and the Canadian pivot is coming off a 36-goal, 91-point season for the Kingston Frontenacs of the OHL, more than doubling his point total (40) from the previous season.

SAM REINHART - C - KOOTENAY (WHL)

Reinhart will become the third son of former NHLer Paul Reinhart to be drafted into the league, and if he falls to No. 4, he'll get to join brother Max in the Calgary organization. After registering 105 points (36G, 69A) in 60 games for the Kootenay Ice, Reinhart was named the Western Hockey League's player of the year for 2013-14. Scouts rave about his hockey IQ and say he thinks the game at a higher speed than most of his contemporaries. Reinhart would give the Flames a third elite center prospect along with Sean Monahan and Mikael Backlund, as the club tries to rebuild from the center of the ice on out.

LEON DRAISAITL - C - PRINCE ALBERT (WHL)

The first European player expected to be taken in the 2014 draft, German centerman Leon Draisaitl also could be the most NHL-ready of this year's offensive prospects. At 6-foot-1, 208 pounds, Draisaitl notched a team-best 105 points (38G, 67A) in 64 games with the Prince Albert Raiders of the WHL in 2013-14. Although Edmonton would probably like to get its hands on a puck- moving defenseman, landing Draisaitl at No. 3 could be the Oilers' best option.

MICHAEL DAL COLLE - LW - OSHAWA (OHL)

If the 2014 draft has depth in any specific type of player, it's definitely skaters with the potential to become power forwards. Canadian winger Michael Dal Colle is one of the best examples and is coming off a strong 2013-14 OHL season that saw him post 39 goals and 95 points in 67 games for Oshawa. The 6- foot-2, 182-pound Dal Colle needs to add some weight to his frame before jumping to the NHL, but he already shown an ability to use his body to help him score goals. Many folks believe he could wind up being the top goal-scorer taken in this draft.

WILLIAM NYLANDER - RW - SODERTALJE (SWEDEN)

As usual there are several draft eligible players who are the sons of former NHLers, and one of them -- William Nylander -- could be the first player who skated in Europe last season to be selected in this year's draft. The son of former NHL veteran Michael Nylander is undersized at 5-foot-9, 169 pounds but his overall offensive skill set is too overwhelming to ignore. Nylander also proved his small stature wasn't a big issue during a 22-game run with MODO of the Swedish Elite League in 2013-14. He had seven points (1G, 6A) while playing among men, including his father, with MODO.

KASPERI KAPANEN - RW - KALPA (FINLAND)

Like Nylander, Kasperi Kapanen comes with an NHL pedigree and also got a chance to play on the same team with his father last season. Kapanen, son of Sami Kapanen, boasts tremendous one-on-one skills, but like Nylander is on the small side (5-foot-11, 180 pounds). Still, Kapanen's stickhandling ability could be tops in this year's draft, and having already played among men in Finland, he could jump right into the mix for an NHL club. Kapanen already announced his presence to the hockey world a few months back when he scored a between-the-legs goal to win a playoff game in overtime, the video of which went viral in hockey circles.

NIKOLAJ EHLERS - LW - HALIFAX (QMJHL)

Nikolaj Ehlers is widely considered to be the fastest skater available in the draft, and the Dane's stock has risen pretty quickly as well. Ehlers entered the 2013-14 season expecting to be a second-round pick in the draft, but he shot up the draft rankings thanks to a terrific first season in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. He torched QMJHL defenses for 49 goals in 63 games with Halifax last season, winning the league's rookie of the year award in the process and possibly turning himself into a top-10 pick. Ehlers may need a few years of seasoning at the junior and AHL levels, but with speed like his it could be worth the wait.

JULIUS HONKA - D - SWIFT CURRENT (WHL)

Julius Honka is an undersized defenseman playing in the WHL and although he is on the small side, the Finn's offensive upside is huge. He recorded 16 goals and 56 points in 62 games for the Swift Current Broncos in 2013-14 and is said to pattern his game after Ottawa Senators blueliner Erik Karlsson. While skating and creativity in the offensive end are hallmarks of Honka's game, his lack of size could cause him to drop into the mid-to-late portion of the first round. However, Honka's actual size is still up for debate. NHL Central Scouting has him officially listed at 5-foot-7, but more recent scouting reports have him in the 5-foot-10 range.

JOSHUA HO-SANG - RW/C - WINDSOR (OHL)

An explosive skater with dynamic stickhandling skills, Joshua Ho-Sang led the Windsor Spitfires with 85 points and tied for the team lead with 32 goals. Unfortunately, Ho-Sang is probably best known at this point for receiving a 15-game suspension for boarding London's Zach Bell, who broke his leg on the play. The suspension was eventually reduced to six games, meaning Ho-Sang will miss only a few games at the start of the 2014-15 OHL season but the incident still looms large. The play itself did not seem malicious by NHL standards, but every detail of a player is examined come draft time and the hit could hurt Ho-Sang's draft stock.

THATCHER DEMKO - G - BOSTON COLLEGE (HOCKEY EAST)

Although he may not go until late in the first round, or early in the second, there is no question Thatcher Demko is the top goaltending prospect at this year's draft. The butterfly-style goaltender is a native of San Diego, CA and is coming off a strong freshman season at Boston College, helping the Eagles reach the semifinals of the NCAA Tournament. Demko went 16-5-3 with a 2.24 goals against average and .919 save percentage with B.C. in 2013-14, and at 6- foot-4, 192 pounds, he has the size NHL teams are looking for when drafting a goalie.

06/20 14:35:18 ET

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