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Canes take defenseman with No. 7 NHL pick

Posted June 26
Updated June 27

Aaron Ekblad pulls on Florida Panthers sweater after being chosen first overall during the NHL hockey draft, Friday, June 27, 2014, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

— After the obligatory Philadelphia tour that included cheesesteaks, a run up to the Rocky statue and a baseball game at Citizens Bank Park, the top NHL prospects got down to business Friday night when the Florida Panthers drafted defenseman Aaron Ekbladl first overall.

The 6-foot-4, 214-pound Ekblad played for Barrie in the Ontario Hockey League. He is the first defenseman to go No. 1 since St. Louis took Erik Johnson in 2006.

The Panthers had a top-three pick in the NHL draft for the fourth time in the past five years. The first three — defenseman Erik Gudbranson (in 2010), wing Jonathan Huberdeau (2011) and center Aleksander Barkov (2013) — all played significant roles last season.

When the Carolina Hurricanes' turn came at No. 7, they too went with defense, drafting Haydn Fleury.

New GM Ron Francis and head coach Bill Peters had just about a week to officially put their heads together on the pick, and focused on the back line as expected.

Fleury, at 6'3" and 205 pounds, is was the second-highest rated prospect on defense going into the draft. The scouting line on him noted his outstanding skating and puck handling.

Flyers fans packed the arena for the first draft in the city. They gave one of the longest sustained boos in recent memory for NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman's draft introduction. He was drowned out for most of his two-minute speech thanking the city for its hospitality.

"Isn't this supposed to be the city of brotherly love," he asked.

Former Flyer Rod Brind'Amour received a huge ovation when the Carolina assistant coach made the pick for the Hurricanes.

The Sabres selected center Sam Reinhart with the second overall pick. He is the son of former NHL player Paul Reinhart, who was selected by the Atlanta Flames in the first round in 1979.

Reinhart has the potential to be a top-line center in filling a key need for the rebuilding Sabres, who are coming off one of their worst seasons in franchise history. Buffalo (21-51-10) finished last in the NHL standings, and set a franchise record for losses.

The Edmonton Oilers selected center Leon Draisaitl with the third overall pick, Calgary took center Sam Bennett with the fourth pick and the New York Islanders picked forward Michael Dal Colle fifth. Vancouver selected forward Jake Virtanen with the sixth pick, and Carolina took defenseman Haydn Fleury seventh.

There was a big trade in the hours before the draft, when the Anaheim Ducks acquired center Ryan Kesler from the Vancouver Canucks for center Nick Bonino, defenseman Luca Sbisa and the 24th overall pick Friday.

The 29-year-old Kesler is a standout two-way center who has spent his entire 10-season career in Vancouver, compiling six 20-goal seasons and 392 career points. The two-time U.S. Olympian won the Selke Trophy in 2011 as the NHL's best defensive forward.

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  • ktstcanes Jun 27, 9:03 p.m.

    Really wanted Nick Ritchie with this pick. Would have been protection for Skinner.

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