First: Florida: Aaron Ekblad. The Panthers already have a great crop of young forwards from recent drafts led by Jonathan Huberdeau so it only made sense they went with a blueliner. After rumours all week GM Dale Tallon would move the pick, he made the smart call in keeping it, even if the choice will be debated for years. Ekblad is hailed by scouts as the most mature, NHL-ready player in the entire draft and he certainly already looks and acts the part of a star player despite his youth. Big, with a cannon of a shot, there’s still debate over exactly how much offence he’ll produce as a pro. He's done in junior after three years with the Barrie Colts. “I feel like I can step in next year and make a difference,” Ekblad said.
Third: Edmonton: Leon Draisaitl. A trailblazer, Draisaitl became the highest picked German born and trained player in NHL history on Friday, surpassing Marcel Goc, who went 20th overall 13 years ago. Big, earnest and already a dominant force with Prince Albert in the WHL – where he had 105 points in 64 games this season – he will give the Oilers a different element down the middle to counterbalance Ryan Nugent-Hopkins’s high end skill. This may also allow Edmonton to potentially deal one of their other kids for help on the blueline, with Sam Gagner the most likely target. “They have a really talented young group there and they really want to be good,” Draisaitl said.
Fourth: Calgary: Sam Bennett. No one had a bigger smile on their face than Bennett after the Frontenacs centre slipped to the Flames in fourth. From the small town of Holland Landing, Ont., north of Toronto, he had toured Calgary prior to the draft and came away so impressed he told his parents afterwards definitively that “I want to be a Calgary Flame.” A terrific two-way player with a strong mind for the game, he often gets compared to a former Flame in Doug Gilmour, his current Kingston general manager. May take some time to be NHL ready but already a remarkable talent who can help the Flames rebuild take another step forward.
Sixth: Vancouver: Jake Virtanen. Projected as a power forward, he broke out for 45 goals as an 18-year-old with Calgary in the WHL this season to shoot up draft lists all year. A remarkable skater given he’s already listed at 210 pounds, Virtanen isn’t your typical one-dimensional big man and will give Vancouver some badly needed grit and depth on the wing as the Sedins move toward retirement. While most players were surprised where they landed on Friday, Virtanen knew Vancouver was a strong possibility after having plenty of contact with them in the lead-up to the draft. He wanted to go there and they wanted him right from the start of the interview process. “We’re trying to change the culture and he’s a piece of the puzzle,” Canucks GM Jim Benning said, calling him rugged and mean.
Eighth: Toronto: William Nylander. The son of long-time NHLer Michael Nylander bounced all over draft lists all year but settled in as a question mark expected to go somewhere in the top 10. That it was Toronto was a bit of a surprised as many had the Leafs tabbed to take a bigger, meaner body under new president Brendan Shanahan, but what Nylander brings is plenty of high end skill down the middle, something the organization clearly still lacks. He’s viewed as somewhat individualistic and offence-first but can dangle with some of the best prospects and may simply need more strength and maturity to make the jump to the next level. “He might be the most skilled player in the draft,” Leafs GM Dave Nonis said. "[He's] electrifying. He has NHL speed, NHL hands and an NHL shot right now."
Ninth: Winnipeg: Nikolaj Ehlers. Undersized winger from Denmark lit up the QMJHL with Halifax with an incredible 104 points in his first season in North America. A dynamic skater with elite level offensive instincts, the only thing really holding him back is his size, as at just 165 pounds, he has a ways to go to be able to make an impact in the NHL. On a Jets team that will likely struggle to woo top free agents, however, he is a worthwhile gamble at No. 9 in a relatively weak draft given his potential to turn into a point producer.