‘A long time coming’: Top four picks from 2014 NHL Draft playing in Stanley Cup Finals

Sam Bennett saw the photo and couldn’t help but laugh.

“I had a lot more hair on my head back then,” Bennett said. “We were just a bunch of young kids, so it’s pretty funny.”

The photo in question is one of Aaron Ekblad, Sam Reinhart, Leon Draisaitl and Bennett sitting together in suits and ties at the 2014 NHL Draft. They were the top four selections that year.

Fast forward a decade, and the four are back together on the biggest stage. Ekblad, Reinhart and Bennett, all with the Florida Panthers, will face Draisaitl’s Edmonton Oilers in the Stanley Cup Finals, with Game 1 scheduled for an 8 p.m. puck drop Saturday at Sunrise’s Amerant Bank Arena.

It’s the first time in NHL history that the top four picks from the same draft class will all compete in the same Cup Finals.

“We were all just kids enjoying the experience back then,” Bennett said, “and 10 years later, we’re in the Stanley Cup Finals. It’s pretty cool how things work out sometimes.”

Ekblad and Draisaitl are the only two of the four still on their original team. Bennett was drafted fourth overall by the Calgary Flames and traded to the Panthers in 2021 and signed a four-year contract extension with the team the following offseason. Reinhart was drafted second by the Buffalo Sabres and got dealt to Florida during the 2021-22 offseason.

“It’s cool. It is,” said Ekblad, the No. 1 pick of that draft. “At the end of the day, the draft matters for one night, right? You see guys in the seventh round that are playing in the NHL and having fantastic careers. So that’s a bit of a lesson. It doesn’t matter where you get drafted. You could all end up on the same team.”

Added Draisaitl, the third overall pick from 2014: “It’s kind of funny how that happened. That’s not very common, but it’s a long time coming for all of us. I can speak for myself that it’s just a pleasure to be here and get it going.”

And all four of them have had productive careers to this point.

Ekblad is the longest-tenured defenseman in Panthers history, and his 676 career games with Florida trail only center and team captain Aleksander Barkov. He has the franchise records for goals (115), assists (232) and points (347) by a defenseman.

Reinhart has 255 career goals and 538 career points. He has logged at least 20 goals in eight of his nine full NHL seasons. Since joining the Panthers, Reinhart has 111 goals and 243 points. This year, he scored a career-high 57 goals in the regular season, including a franchise-record 27 on the power play.

Draisaitl has formed a dynamic one-two punch in Edmonton with star Connor McDavid. He has 850 career points (347 goals, 503 assists) in 719 regular-season games and has logged at least 100 points in five of the past six seasons.

And Bennett’s career has seen a renaissance since joining the Panthers. After logging just 140 points (67 goals, 73 assists) in 402 games with Calgary, Bennett has put up 145 points (70 goals, 75 assists) in 213 regular-season games with Florida.

But the success from that 2014 draft class goes beyond those four. Panthers defensemen Brandon Montour (second round, Anaheim) and Gustav Forsling (fifth round, Vancouver) were also part of the 2014 draft class. Edmonton forward Warren Foegele was a third-round pick by Carolina that draft, too.