The 2014 NHL Entry Draft is 29 days away and the Wild are looking to find that next NHL star to raise their franchise to the next level. Hockey Wilderness is counting down the days with a daily mock draft. Today, we are at pick number 1.
Despite being perennial also-rans, the Florida Panthers have managed to go 20 years without picking No. 1 Overall in the NHL Draft. In that time Eastern Conference-mates Ottawa, Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh, as well as former division rival Winnipeg have all picked #1 Overall twice. The Edmonton Oilers have had the dubious fortune of picking in that spot three times.
But the lottery ping-pong balls have failed to bounce for Florida, and it's been 20 years since Ed Jovanovski became a Florida Panther. No matter. They may be bad enough to pick first this season, but there's a lot of hope. The Panthers are in the middle of a rebuild, but they've got a great opportunity to add an elite piece to their young group.
And with that opportunity, I'm pleased to announce that the Florida Panthers will take Aaron Ekblad as the 1st Overall pick in the 2014 Hockey Wilderness Staff Mock Draft.
Florida Panthers Prospect Overview
The Panthers have graduated a lot of their young prospects to the NHL, so we'll be including them in this overview. It's impossible to start this conversation without talking about Jonathan Huberdeau. Huberdeau's 29 points in 69 games was a pretty big step back from his rookie season (14-17 in 48 GP), but there's reason to believe the electric forward can deliver on the promise he showed as a rookie. Nick Bjugstad is a name you all should be familiar with, and the hulking centerman led the Panthers in scoring last season. Aleksander Barkov was picked second overall last year, and the Finnish forward scored impressed, scoring 8 goals and 24 points. Erik Gudbranson and Dmitry Kulikov were both positive Corsi players. Drew Shore, Dylan Olson, and Vincent Trocheck had fine showings.
And that's just the NHL guys. In the NCAA, they've got Kyle Rau, a solid prospect and Bjugstad's former linemate. They have a toolsy defender in Boston College's Mike Matheson. They also have one of the more intriguing prospects in Rocco Grimaldi. The only thing that limits Grimaldi is his size- he's 5'6". And you thought Mikael Granlund was small. But all he's done is produce- he scored 17 goals en route to 39 points in 42 games with North Dakota.
What I see lacking from the Panthers system is game-breaking defensemen that can get it done at both ends of the ice, and this is what pushes Ekblad over the talented forward Sams Bennett or Reinhart. I'm confident in Florida's young forwards.
About Aaron Ekblad
I'm not going to say it any better than Corey Pronman of ESPN:
He projects to be an above-average offensive player.... The areas where he separates from the pack are his physical game and defensive value, with both being elite.... In addition, he has high-end to elite hockey IQ on both ends and a huge shot. That total package looks like a player who has an NHL All-Star floor and the ceiling of being one of the NHL's elite blueliners.
If his defense is as elite as been projected here (and his 6'4", 216 lb frame would sure back that up), then you'd certainly take merely above-average offense and run with it. It can always be tricky to project a player's defensive game to the NHL level, but Ekblad is universally seen to be the real deal in that regard.
From what I can tell, he doesn't have the easy skating of a Jonas Brodin, nor does he carry the elite offensive game like that of Erik Karlsson. But when you're that big, play defense that well, and shoot as well as he does, you'll be just fine.
As for production, Ekblad has certainly done well in that department. He was tied for 5th in points in the OHL 53, including a league-leading 23 goals. He's a very worthy pick at #1 Overall.
How Would He Fit With The Wild?
Are you kidding me? Aaron Ekblad would be a great fit in the Wild's system. If he falls to #18, I wouldn't think twice. And I would send 17 other GMs a fruit basket of some sort. Or ask how Garth Snow became GM of 17 other teams. Or wake up.